Put no other gods before God
The crowd standing at the foot of the mountain was quite literally quaking in their sandals as the voice of God spoke from the peak. The whole top of Mount Sinai was engulfed in clouds that glowed a brilliant red, as if a volcanic eruption were taking place. The roar and flash of lightning and thunder surrounded them, and the ground shook under their feet with each syllable.
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:2-3 New International Version)
Ninety days before, God had killed the firstborn of the Egyptians, sparing his own people by having them paint the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their houses, instituting the first Passover.
And ever since, the Israelites had experienced miracle after miracle. God enabled them to escape from the Egyptian army by dividing the Red Sea, allowing them to pass through on dry ground with the water heaped up on both sides, and then bringing the waters crashing down on the pursuing army. God had miraculously provided food and water for them and had personally led them to the mountain, going before them in a pillar of cloud that glowed brightly as a fire at night.
Before their release, the Israelites had lived 430 years in Egypt, most of that time as slaves. And, in many ways, they were more familiar with the gods of Egypt than they were with the God that had been served by their forefathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But now this God who had delivered them from Egypt was demanding that they serve him alone.
That turned out to be much more difficult than we would think. Within 40 days of hearing this commandment from God's own lips, the Israelites were dancing around a golden calf at the foot of that same mountain. And, over the next thousand years, they repeatedly fell into worshiping the gods of the people who lived in their area.
Today, most Christians feel pretty safe from the temptation to worship other gods. We have no urge to build a golden calf to bow down to, or to pour out a drink offering to a storm god to ensure adequate rain for our crops. But this is not the only form that idolatry can take.
We effectively elevate to the position of god whatever it is that we put in first place in our life. The thing that we think most about, devote the most time and energy to, or rely on for our security becomes the god that we serve. For some people, that thing is money, or the pursuit of financial security. For others, it is Facebook or other social media. For still others, it is television shows or hobbies.
Most of these are seen as fairly innocuous by most people, even by most Christians. And, kept in their proper perspectives in our lives, they can be. But when those things take first place in our lives, when we complain that we have no time to read our Bibles or pray but spend several hours a week pursuing those other activities or goals, that shows where God fits into our priorities, and demonstrates what we see as most important.
God's standard for the church is the same as for the Israelites: "You shall have no other gods before me." Or, as Jesus identified as the greatest commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30 NIV) If we will do that, nothing else will be able to slip into first place in our lives ahead of the God who has saved us.