AGCC. Sun. a.m. 2/21/99



TEXT: Ex. 20:1-2; I Kings. 11:1-8; Rom. 12:1-2


The 10 commandments represent God's design to make the human experience the best it can possibly be. Followed correctly, these commandments become the healthy foundation for a society or a soul.

The 10 commandments deal with the two important issues all humans must face, our relationship with God and our relationship with each other. They are written on two tablets of stone, but were meant for tablets of flesh. Tablet one probably contained the first four commandments dealing with our relationship to God and the second tablet probably contained the last six dealing with man's relationship with man.

The first two are not the same, #1 deals with worshipping idols in the way they should have been worshipping God - making them a greater priority than anything else in life, and #2 deals with worshipping the right God in the wrong way by representing him by things less than He is.

Israel's problems in their relationship with God were similar in scope to what they are today, God rarely had first place in their lives! This is the starting point however for a healthy relationship with God. Unfortunately today there is more religion than righteousness, God is not the first passion of people's hearts.

ILLUS: Feeling better has become more important to us than finding God. -- Larry Crabb in Finding God. Christianity Today, Vol. 39, no. 8.

Even in the Church the priority of God can be lost, Israel proved this many times, and the lives of too many Christians today demonstrate the same thing too!

ILLUS: "Now pastor, how can you say our church has no outreach when our Brunswick stew sale touches hundreds?" -- Cartoonist Andy Robertson in Leadership, Vol. 13, no. 1

How easy it can be to lose focus!!

PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that God must be first in our lives, that just "tagging" Him onto our lives will not make for an adequate experience with God. God will not accept any place less than first place!

I. GOD'S PRESENCE Ex. 20:1-2

A. Starting Point 20:1 1. The commandments are not from man, "and GOD spoke all these words." 2. For us to be all that God designed us to be we must start with a relationship with Him. a. This is a must since God created us for fellowship with Him. b. If we don't worship Him we will worship something! 3. The commandments begin with God's presence and His speaking. 4. What got Israel and individuals always in trouble is when they followed something other than God. a. So often they took their eyes off of God and put it on idols or man. b. With their attention drawn elsewhere they missed God's purposes for their lives. c. Whenever we follow anything other than God our lives will end up going nowhere!

ILLUS: Richard Armstrong and Edward Watkin tell the story of a biologist's experiment with "processional caterpillars." On the rim of a clay pot that held a plant, he lined them up so that the leader was head-to-head with the last caterpillar. The tiny creatures circled the rim of the pot for a full week. Not once did any one of them break away to go over to the plant and eat. Eventually, all caterpillars died from exhaustion and starvation. The story of the processional caterpillars is a kind of parable of human behavior. People are reluctant to break away from the rhythmic pattern of daily life. They don't want to be different. We must break away from the crowd, however, if we are to accept Jesus' invitation to "go off alone" with him in prayer. --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 121.

5. God's jealousy isn't selfish, it is to protect us from experiencing less than what He had planned for us. a. This makes His jealousy very different from our concept of jealousy. b. He is not protecting Himself in the commandments, He is protecting us.

B. Savior's Power 20:2 1. Ancient contracts between kings and their subjects had 4 elements to them: a. Identify the king b. Identify what he has done for his subjects c. Identify promises of protection and blessings to his subjects d. Identify his demands for exclusive loyalty from subjects 2. The verse here contains the first two elements of these four items while verse three and what follows contain the last two. 3. God states that He is "the Lord your God" … He is no stranger or idol. a. The relationship is personal and real. b. This tells us God is a moral God, He is concerned about them individually and as a people. c. While He speaks to them, idols do not! 4. He also states that He is the one who brought them up out of Egypt. a. He is the deliverer. b. He is not only the God of their present, but their past, and if He is first their future also! 5. Because He has saved them He has the right to tell them what is right, to protect them from harm … this sets the stage for the 10 commandments that will bring them life if they obey them.

ILLUS: Ever since the Ten Commandments were given, legislators have been busy passing millions of laws trying to enforce them. - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entries 1517-1520.

6. God in granting them His protection continues to do so through these commandments. a. God brought them out of slavery not to put them into bondage again, but to keep them free. b. The 10 commandments which places God first is not about putting people or nations in bondage, it is all about freeing them to be what God designed us to be. 7. It is His saving power that free them from slavery, and this is still true when God is given first place in our lives, He still frees us from slavery, the slavery of sin and selfishness.

II. GOD'S PRIORITY 20:3; I Kings 11:1-8; Rom. 12:1-2

A. Spiritual Priority 20:3 I Kings 11:1-8 1. The first commandment stakes out a claim for God's priority in our lives. a. There is to be no other gods "before me" the Lord said. b. The use of "before me" had the sense in Hebrew of a man taking a second wife while the first one was still alive and thus throwing it in her face that his love was no longer exclusive for her. 2. God would not allow for a diluted love toward Him, He who gives 100% will expect 100%. 3. Solomon who started off with God as his top priority however diluted his love toward the lord, or more accurately, redirected it away from the Lord. a. As Solomon sought to manage his life and nation in his own strength and wisdom he found political solutions to insure prosperity and strength rather than spiritual ways of establishing Israel's foothold in the world. b. It is tragic to think that most of those who faltered in the Bible did so in the latter half of their lives, not the first half! c. Solomon who only tolerated his foreign wife's gods later is himself building altars to them and worshipping at them, his love for his wives gradually became greater than his love for God. d. A similar process can be seen in our country, we started as a nation "unto God" but the Lord is hardly a national priority anymore, even among those who would identify themselves as Christians. 4. This first commandment if kept establishes the desire for all the other ones.

ILLUS: Moral erosion continues in America, according to James Patterson and Peter Kim. They report that 74 percent of Americans will steal from those who won't miss it, and 64 percent will lie for convenience as long as no one is hurt. Most Americans (93 percent) say they alone decide moral issues, basing their decisions on their own experience or whims. Eighty-four percent say they would break the rules of their own religion. And 81 percent have violated a law they felt to be inappropriate. Only 30 percent say they would be willing to die for their religious beliefs or for God. -- Reported in The Day America Told the Truth (Prentice Hall, 1991). "To Verify," Leadership.

5. God did not wait for Israel to define Him before expecting their full commitment, He calls on them to be fully committed to the God HE IS, not the one they may want!

ILLUS: The turning point in our lives is when we stop seeking the God we want and start seeking the God who is. -- Patrick Morley in The Seasons of a Man's Life. Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 3.

6. If they failed to give priority to God, they would certainly fail to give a commitment to His laws…hence why this one is first and foremost.
B. Secure Position Rom. 12:1-2 1. The only way to secure our heart is to secure our commitment to Christ. a. Paul urged the early believers in view of God's mercies to offer themselves as living sacrifices, to make the Lord #1 in their lives. b. Paul says this is the only reasonable service … meaning the only right and sensible thing to do! 2. It should be inconceivable to not make God the greatest priority of our lives!

ILLUS: I was listening to my 5-year-old son, Matthew, as he worked on his Speak and Spell (TM) computer. He was concentrating intensely, typing words for the computer to say back to him. Matthew punched in the word "God." To his surprise, the computer said, "Word not found." He tried again with the same reply. With great disgust, he stared at the computer and told it in no uncertain terms, "Jesus is not going to like this!" -- Mary Farwell, Green Castle, Missouri. Christian Reader, "Lite Fare."

3. If we follow Paul's advice there will be no problem making God the greatest love of our lives, and this in turn will so transform our minds and hearts that we will not be conformed any longer to this world, then we can test and approve what God's good and perfect will is! a. The problem with some Christians is that they are not placing God in the top position of their hearts and so their thinking is not transformed into godly thinking. b. Where God is placed has a direct bearing on what our heart sees and our attitudes show.

ILLUS: Jim Smith went to church on Sunday morning. He heard the organist miss a note during the prelude, and he winced. He saw a teenager talking when everybody was supposed to be bowed in silent prayer. He felt like the usher was watching to see what he put in the offering plate and it made him boil. He caught the preacher making a slip of the tongue five times in the sermon by actual count. As he slipped out through the side door during the closing hymn, he muttered to himself, "Never again, what a bunch of clods and hypocrites!"

Ron Jones went to church one Sunday morning. He heard the organist play an arrangement of "A Mighty Fortress" and he thrilled at the majesty of it. He heard a young girl take a moment in the service to speak her simple moving message of the difference her faith makes in her life. He was glad to see that this church was sharing in a special offering for the hungry children of Nigeria. He especially appreciated the sermon that Sunday--it answered a question that had bothered him for a long time. He thought as he walked out the doors of the church, "How can a man come here and not feel the presence of God?"

Both men went to the same church, on the same Sunday morning. Each found what he was looking for. What do we look for on Sunday morning? --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 409.

4. Nothing in the other 9 commandments will command our attention if the very first and foundational commandment is not in place. We must make God the only God in our life, to offer up to Him the love and commitment we all too often show to the things of this world instead of Him. a. God will not be second fiddle in our hearts and lives. b. God will not accept anything less than top priority! 5. If you were to judge your actions, where do you think God is in your heart? 6. Would others look at our lives and accuse us of an absolute commitment to Christ or would they hardly even know that we are believers? 7. Our top priority can be determined by our top commitment! Where does God show up in your life?

CONCLUSION: All too often Israel worshipped the wrong gods in the way they should have worshipped God - with all their being! A healthy society and a healthy soul can only happen when God is the top priority. God does not settle for less than first place in our lives. Is He number one in your life?