Shorter Catechism Qs. 45–48

Q. 45. What is the first commandment?

A. The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Q. 46. What is required in the first commandment?

A. The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly.

Q. 47. What is forbidden in the first commandment?

A. The first commandment forbiddeth the denying, or not worshipping and glorifying, the true God as God, and our God; and the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.

Q. 48. What are we specially taught by these words before me in the first commandment?

_A. These words before me in the first commandment teach us, that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other god._

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“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exod 20:3)

See Psalm 115 (think about how we become like what we worship)

“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10:6–12)

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Unless you've been living under a rock last few years, you’ve no doubt heard of the TV sensation “American Idol.” It is a happy meeting place of those who want to be idolized and those looking for idols. And thanks in no small part to “American Idol” (credit is due to others as well) the sting of idol and idolatry have been lost on a generation of people. No, this is not a new phenomenon. As long as people have been sinners idolatry has always been a problem. Still, we certainly face the challenge of idolatry in a very intense way today.

Our thinking about idolatry tends to be simplistic. We think of people of the bygone years and culture, who made figures of deity out of wood, stone, metal - what have you - for their religious devotion. That is certainly a form of idolatry, a form which we often find in the Old Testament. But now, thanks in some ways to the general cynicism of the age about all things religious, as well as generally a more scientific-minded culture, most modern people do not really need to be told the futility of worshipping things made of wood, stone, metal, what have you. Yes, there are always exceptions, but you get the point. Most people do not engage in this kind of idolatry any more, especially not Christians.

But the Bible’s teaching of idolatry is actually quite sophisticated, because not all forms of idolatry are simplistic and crass like the kinds mentioned above. The Bible well knows the subtler, more sophisticated kinds of idolatry that take us unawares. See, for example, Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 10:6–12. Paul warned the Corinthian believers of idolatry. But, surprisingly, the OT precedents he cited for them were not always incidents of Israel bowing before things made with hands! Rather, the idolatry that gripped the people of Israel was a far more subtler, and therefore more dangerous, type.

This insidious idolatry is the idolatry of our finding joy and satisfaction in any thing other than God. The problem is that idolatry of this kind often masquerades as life-vision, harmless entertainment, or even as a blessing from God. In this regard, not only are Christians not exempt from this temptation, but may even be more susceptible to it. Think about that for a moment. Ask yourself what really makes you happy? What is the consuming passion in your life? What are the things without which you will never be happy in this life? What things, if God withheld them from you, would make you doubt his goodness? What would finally prove to you that God loves you?

Some of us will answer with “success.” We can idolize relationships. We think unless he or she returned our love, we will never be happy. We can idolize what people think of us. We feel fulfilled and happy when people think well of us, but feel miserable when we are criticized. Idolatry of this kind is subtle because we can justify our desire for these things as things good in and of themselves. And they may be, properly contextualized, good things. The problem is we make them the “bottom line” of our lives, the thing that grips our heart, motivates us, and drives us. Idolatry is the One Ring that binds every thing - good things - in darkness.

In other words, with good reasons the Ten Commandments begin with idolatry. For if our hearts are taking delight in who God is, if we find security in his will for us, if we live by his word, then the rest of the Ten Commandments will seem natural. But if our heart is not in the right place to begin with, then we may even find ourselves trying to keep the Ten Commandments not in grateful service to God, but in pursuit of idols.

It seems that at least in some Christian circles talks about idol and idolatry have become trendy. People talk about it, maybe even read books about it, but without the kind of self-introspection that leads us to cry, “Lord, have mercy on me!” Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis a little bit here, Trendy words come and go. They mostly go. May the Lord have mercy on us, that idol and idolatry are not just another passing thought of the moment. But that we find lasting delight in God, find our satisfaction and contentment in him who said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”