No Gods Before Me

Exodus 20:1 Then God spoke all these words, saying, 2 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 "You shall have no other gods before Me."

That was the first of the Ten Commandments. There isn't one of those ten that's more important than the others, or is worse to break than the others. But this one is foundational. If you have any gods before the LORD God, then why obey His other commandments at all? You can go to your other gods for a different set of command-ments, or maybe your other god doesn't have any commandments. Why bind yourself to such a confining set of rules if you have another god who says you can ignore the Sabbath, or it's okay to tell a lie for a good cause? If God is not God in your heart and in your life, then the rest of the commandments are just good ideas. But if He is God, then He has the right to say, "Thou shalt not." So having another god in your life is a very serious thing.

How do you know if you have another god before the Lord God? I'll give you a simple test, and I'll give more details as I go into this message. The simple test is this: any time you offer up a sacrifice to something that isn't God, then chances are you just made an offering to some other god. Remember this as we discuss some of the more popular gods in our lives. And our first "other god" is:

Mammon, the god of money.

Jesus explicitly warned us about him in Matthew 6:24 —

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
So we know right away that God and Mammon are not on good terms. Why is this, aside from the fact that Mammon is another god? Mostly it's because money can get a hold on our hearts and minds like very few other things can.

How many of you are familiar with the Bible verse that says, "Money is the root of all evil"? Wrong! That's not what it says. Turn to I Timothy 6:10, if you would —

For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Popular folklore has taken out the "love of" part. Now think for a second. Why do you think popular folklore has dropped the part about loving money, and just made money itself the root of all evil? I'll tell you. It's because anybody can love money, but most people don't have as much of it as they want. So if you make money itself the evil, you let most of the population off the hook. Whereas if you keep the verse as it is, and make the loving of money the evil, that convicts just about everybody. Poor people can love money just as much as rich people do.

What does love of money do to you? That verse in I Timothy tells you. It entices you to wander away from the faith, and as a result, you will pierce yourself with many griefs. God does not want us to be pierced with many griefs. Jesus was pierced, and died and rose again, so we could live in holiness, not in self-inflicted pain. But according to I Timothy 6:10, that's exactly what we get if we turn aside after money.

So, what's the simple way to know if you're serving Mammon? Consider this. If you've ever held on to money that you knew God wanted you to give to the church, or missions, or some other Godly cause, then you've actually offered up that money as a sacrifice to Mammon.

Our next "other god" is one whose name you'll recognize, even if you didn't know she was a goddess. I'm talking about Nike, the goddess of victory.

Nike is all about competition, and coming out on top. Professional athletes who are Christians have a terrible struggle keeping her in her place. When Vince Lombardi said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," he was speaking as a prophet of Nike. But she doesn't limit her flock to the actual competitors. She receives just as much homage from the spectators. Anyone who trash-talks the other team, or screams abusively at the officials, or neglects his family or his chores to watch the game, is offering worship to the goddess of victory.

But competition can take many forms. How about keeping up with the Joneses? Making sure you have more and better gadgets than your neighbor, or your brother, or your friends from school? If they get something new, you can't rest until you've gotten something better — does this sound like you? Nike doesn't care what the competition is about. She just wants your eyes on victory. And not on God.

If you've ever been a bad sport, either in defeat or in victory, then you've offered up your testimony as a sacrifice to Nike.

If you've ever bought something you didn't need, for no reason except that a neighbor or relative had something like it and you didn't want them to get one-up on you, then that, too, is worship of Nike.

Then we have Sarke, the goddess of pleasure.

Now, this one might seem obvious, and I won't miss the chance to point out the obvious, which is about physical pleasure. Sarke is honored when we commit immorality, or indulge in pornography, or fantasize about someone who isn't the one we're married to. But there are many kinds of pleasure, and this goddess isn't choosy.

If you delight in the pleasure that comes from alcohol abuse, or from illegal drugs, you're worshiping Sarke. People do those things because they make you feel good; that's pleasure. Some people get pleasure from gambling; they're worshiping Sarke and Mammon at the same time.

How about food? We all enjoy food, right? But if that enjoyment goes beyond what your body needs and enters the area of gluttony, that's not a righteous pleasure. Sleep is pleasant, too, right? But the book of Proverbs repeatedly warns us not to be lovers of sleep, because that's the first step on the road to poverty. Sarke loves it when we take a good thing too far.

Even the innocent pleasures of a hobby can become a sin if they're misused. If you spend time on your hobby that should be spent with your family or on meeting your obligations, or if you spend money on your hobby that you know should be spent on more important things, you're offering that time and that money up as sacrifices to the goddess of pleasure.

Our next "other god" is Ergos, the god of work.

This one is an oddity, because work is something most of us naturally avoid if we can. No, think about this! Man was not made for hard work. When Adam was created, all he was meant to do was to take care of a garden that never had any weeds. But as a result of the fall, man has to earn a living by the sweat of his brow. Long, hard work is part of the curse. So why do some of us embrace our jobs and elevate our careers to the place of godhood in our lives?

Our culture doesn't help. In their endless drive to squeeze more and more profit out of less and less resources, our big corporations practically demand more work than one man can do in forty hours a week. The way to the top is paved with unpaid overtime, coming in early, staying late, working nights and weekends, neglecting your relation-ships with God and your family for the sake of a big company that doesn't know you exist.

And when you've made it big, what does it get you? You've got a fine house, nice cars, all kinds of luxury goods. I guess your wife and children can enjoy them. You won't have time for them — you've got to keep your nose to that corporate grindstone so you can get ahead some more. Do you think your family prefers all that stuff to just having you around now and then?

Or maybe you've renounced the big-corporation stuff, and you're self-employed. Can a small business be a drain on your time and energy? Oh, yes. Sometimes it can be worse. When you're self-employed, there's no one else to turn to when something comes up on short notice. You feel like you have to get it all done, no matter how long it takes.

You've probably heard this before, but it's worth repeating. How many people, do you think, reach the end of their lives, look back on all that they've accomplished and all that they've done, and say, "I wish I'd spent less time with my family and more time on my career"? Or are you one of those who say, "Yes, I don't spend that much time with my family, but when I do, it's quality time"? Well, it's true. Your familiy needs quality time from you. Lots and lots of quality time.

If you've ever spent time at work that should have been spent with your family, then you've offered up your relationships with your family as a sacrifice to Ergos. Your career has come between you and God.

Next on our list is Strateia, the goddess of the cause.

There are a lot of good causes out there. Some, like opposing abortion or supporting the traditional family, are clearly taught in the Bible. Others, like electing conservatives to public office, are more of a means to an end. The trouble comes when the cause becomes more important to you than the Lord.

When this happens, you'll find a worshiper of Strateia accommodating religious people who don't name the name of Christ or acknowledge the basics of the Gospel, just because they add more weight to "the cause." They do a better job of promoting "the cause" than they do evangelizing the lost. "The cause" is all they can talk about; they try to turn every conversation around to their only favorite subject, until they start to sound like a broken record. In their zeal to accomplish a good thing, they sacrifice the truth, which is not a good thing.

If you've compromised a Biblical principle for the sake of accomplishing something good, that is not pleasing to God, because to God, the way we do things is as important as what we do and why we do it. That kind of action is worshiping Strateia, not God.

Now, let's look at Nomos, the god of law.

The Pharisees were the ultimate worshipers of Nomos. It was God who gave the law, but the Pharisees turned the law into God. Jesus did amazing miracles of healing, and they rebuked Him because He did those miracles on the wrong day of the week. They adhered to the letter of the law, and in so doing, they completely missed what the law really meant.

We used to have a few Nomos worshipers in Plainville Baptist Church. They had some doctrines that were supported by a selected few Bible verses, if you ignored the plain teaching of the rest of Scripture. And they wanted the rest of the church to adopt those doctrines. When we didn't, they left. And they left a lot of gaping holes in our church, both in ministries and in friendships. But they didn't care. Their man-made teachings were more important to them than anything else.

This one really makes me sad, because you can't reason with people like this. They have fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4), they won't allow love to cover a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8), and they won't keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Nomos has convinced them that their personal convictions are as important as the clear commandments of Scripture, or more so. There's a group who are so committed to the King James-only position that they believe and teach that the KJV is superior to the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. And that's heresy.

If you've ever refused to fellowship with another Christian because they don't share a belief of yours, and that belief doesn't involve any of the fundamentals of the faith, then you've offered up our Christian unity as a sacrifice to Nomos. Your home-made commandments have come between you and God.

Next, we come to Dunamis, the god of power.

It's a law of human existence that somebody has to be in charge of things. Whether it's the pastor at church, or a manager at work, or the coach of a football team, somebody has to be able to make decisions for the group, and give them instructions, and expect them to obey. That's how it is. But like most laws of human existence, this one can be abused. And when you leave off the right use of authority, and start exercising power for its own sake, you're stepping into the temple of Dunamis.

I have heard, from reliable sources, of a Baptist pastor in this area who stopped in the middle of a sermon and told everyone in church to get up, go out the front door, run around the building once, and then go back to their seats. Why? Because he was the pastor, and they had to do what he said. That's called pastoral abuse. That's not a right use of the authority that comes with being a pastor. I Peter 5:2-3 says,

shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
Some of you may have encountered this in the workplace as well — a manager who throws his weight around, just to see how far he can throw it. Even lesser roles of authority can be abused. Little League coach. Boy Scout master. It's wrong there, and it's even more wrong in the church. But to some people, power and authority are like a drug. Once they get a taste of it, they can't live without it, and they need to have more and more to keep them satisfied. Can any of you think of any conquerors or emperors throughout history who reached a point where they were happy with what they'd conquered? Any who said, "Okay, that's enough for one lifetime"? Once Dunamis gets his hooks into you, it's a very hard thing to get free.

And how about that common expression of Dunamis in our own homes? Husbands, you're the spiritual head of the family. Does that mean that whatever you say, goes? Are you leading gently, by example, or are you misusing the authority God gave you?

I recently heard about a man who was reading a book called Head of the House. When he finished it, he walked up to his wife, shook his finger in her face, and said, "I want you to know that I am the head of this house, and my word is law! I expect a gourmet dinner on the table tonight, followed by a fine dessert. I expect to spend some time watching TV tonight without you interrupting or asking me to do any chores. And tomorrow morning, who do you think is going to dress me and brush my hair?"

His wife thought for a moment and answered, "Probably the funeral director."

Now, her response was not the response of a woman of God. But I can't blame her, because her husband was not setting a Godly example. Loving your wife as Christ loves the church does not mean you are the drill sergeant. Christ gave us a wonderful example of how Biblical authority works when He washed His disciples' feet. I'll bet Dunamis cringed when he heard about that episode.

Remember this, and remember it well: whenever God gives authority, He gives greater responsibility. Everyone who gives orders or instruction to others will be called to give an account for it. James 3:1 —

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
And Hebrews 13:17 —
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.

Authority and power aren't things that a Christian seeks out. They're things that a Christian accepts, as gifts from God, to accomplish the callings of God. They're like any other spiritual gift — they're to be used in a Godly way, for a Godly purpose, so that God may be glorified and the church may be built up in Christ.

But to a follower of Dunamis, power and authority aren't a means to an end, they are the goal. And if you have ever misused the authority God has given you, whether in church, at home, at work, or wherever, then you have proclaimed yourself to those under you as a follower of Dunamis, and you have offered up your testimony as a sacrifice to Dunamis.

Now, let us consider Anthropareskos, the god of popularity.

The name "Anthropareskos" means, "Man-pleaser." That's the kind of popularity I'm talking about here. The kind that backs away from being all that Christ wants you to be, because of what other people might think.

Anthropareskos can tie some Christians up in knots. And I'll be honest with you, I struggle with him. Like the Roman god Janus, he is a two-headed god, like a coin with a head and a tail, expressing the two sides of his nature. One side is popularity — wanting people to like you. The other side is fear of man — not wanting to be disliked. Both are natural feelings. But God has called us to live His way, not the natural way.

We know that some people don't like the Gospel. They don't want to be called sinners. Some people are upset if you tell them that the church they've belonged to all their life can't save them, or that their good works aren't good enough. Telling people the truth of the Scriptures will not make them like you. Was Jesus persecuted for telling the truth? "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (John 15:20). So we don't need to wonder about people's reactions if we open our mouths to speak for God.

On the other hand, what if you share Jesus with someone, and he believes and gets saved? Will He thank God for you and your faithfulness? If we want to be popular, that's a good kind of popularity to seek after.

Any time you fail to speak up for Jesus because you're afraid of what others will think, you just offered up the Gospel as a sacrifice to Anthropareskos. And you may have offered someone else's eternal soul up, too. Think about that.

Now, how about Telios, the god of perfection?

We all have our ideas about how things ought to be, or how they would be in a perfect world. Does anyone remember the title of Rush Limbaugh's first book? ("The Way Things Ought to Be.") But to the worshiper of Telios, the ideal becomes the standard, and anything that falls short of that standard of perfection is unacceptable. Perfection in your work is good. Perfection in your relationships with others, however, is bad. Very bad. Why? Because none of us is perfect.

Someone who practices Teliolotry will have a good set of excuses why his own life falls so short of perfection. Human frailty, a sinner saved by grace, you know how it goes. And it's all true. But those excuses somehow don't apply to others. They should know better. They should be better. The quest for perfection in relationships guarantees that those relationships will be stressful and full of strife, and will eventually fail. Because no one except Jesus can measure up to that standard. Everyone else will disappoint you eventually, and if you're a true disciple of Telios, that's it.

It's a very destructive thing. Even if the relationship doesn't end, you'll withdraw some of your trust and your commitment to that relationship, because the other person isn't worthy. You'll probably hop from relationship to relationship, looking for something you'll never find in anyone but Jesus, and you'll leave a trail of broken hearts behind you. To say nothing of the broken heart inside you.

Another aspect of Teliolotry is searching for the perfect situation in your life. The perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect furniture, the perfect car, the perfect hobby. If your life has been spent in a search for perfection in some way, allow me to set you free from that search, in five words.

You ain't gonna find it!

No matter how you look, perfection is going to elude you. In this fallen world, there is no perfection to be found outside of God. There will always be something that isn't quite right, and if you can't live with a few imperfections here and there, that little something will eat at you until it ruins your joy. Paul said, "If we have food and clothing, let us be content with that." (I Timothy 6:8) Being content with what you have is the only way to find happiness in this world, but to a follower of Telios, being content is impossible.

So if you're looking for perfection, either in relationships or in material things, and you can't find contentment and joy until you find that perfection, then you're offering up the joy of the Lord as a sacrifice to Telios. The search for perfection has come between you and God.

Then comes Semios and Teras, the twin gods of signs and wonders.

"Oh!" you say. "We're Baptists. We don't seek after signs and wonders." Well, maybe not officially, we don't. But in our hearts, in the places where no one but God sees, sometimes there's that temptation to ask God to make His will a little clearer. "God, please show me what You want me to do." There are times when we really don't know what's best. But there are those other times where we do know, but we don't want to do it. So we stall a little, and ask God to show us some kind of a sign. Nothing big, you understand — He doesn't have to move a mountain or make water come out of a rock. Just some little "coincidence" that proves what He's been telling you all along.

Like Gideon, who asked for sign after sign until God finally talked him into obeying. Gideon is not a good example for us to follow. God showed unbelievable patience with Gideon. He often shows unbelievable patience with us, too. But we don't want to push His patience. If we keep waiting for a sign, when He's already made it clear what He wants, there will come a time when He will say to you, "Fine. If you want to sit on the shelf, waiting for a sign that will never come, and rejecting My blessings, you may. I won't twist your arm. Maybe I'll find someone else who will obey Me, or maybe the work I called you to do, just won't get done. Either way, you will get no reward for this."

If you ever refused to do something God wanted you to do, because He didn't send some tangible sign that that's what He wanted, then you've offered up a piece of your relationship with Him as a sacrifice to Semios and Teras.

Lastly, we consider Autos, the god of self.

Worshiping Autos can take many forms. It can be self-pride, or it can go the opposite direction, into self-pity. As Pastor Dave preached some time ago, some people look in the mirror and say, "You!" Other people look in the mirror and say, "Eww!" But they're both wrong, because we're not supposed to be looking at ourselves at all.

Do you know who Autos' first and greatest follower is? Satan. Satan wanted to be like God and be worshipped, but he's still worshiping Autos, and has been ever since he fell. What were his exact words?

Isa 14:13 "But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. 14 'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' "

I will, I will, I, I, I. Satan was the first being to take his eyes off the Lord and focus on himself. And nothing would make him happier than if we all did the same thing. What did he say to Eve? "You will not surely die... you will be as gods, knowing good and evil."

Eyes off God, eyes on self. That's how you worship Autos. And as for sacrifices, Autos will gladly accept every moment of time you spend focused on you and not God. Those moments of time were given to you by God to serve Him, and if you waste them on yourself instead, Autos will be well-pleased.

So what do you do if you realize you've been worshipping other gods, and offering sacrifices to them?

Almost all of these gods are gods of things that aren't evil, in and of themselves. Money is not evil. Working for a living is not evil. Having a hobby is not evil. These things become gods to us when they become exaggerated in our lives. When they take precedence over God and our relationship with Him. "You shall have no gods before me." So if one of these things has become a god to you, should you sell everything and live in a hole in the ground? That's been taught in the past, but it's not a biblical solution.

Maybe you need to take a break from something, to devalue it and bring it back down where it belongs. You probably can't take a break from working for a living. But if you've been worshiping Sarke, the goddess of pleasure, with your hobbies, then maybe it would be good to set that hobby aside for a few months. If you've been honoring Dunamis, the god of power, with your pursuit of authority in church, then it might be a good thing to step down from your positions in the church for a while. I can't say for sure. God deals with different people in different ways. You'll have to talk it over with God and find His perfect solution to your particular issue.

But the real solution to having another god is not to drag that other god back down to where it belongs. The solution is to restore the one true God back up to where He belongs. Jesus explained this in Revelation 2:1 —

To the angel in the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked man, that you have tested those who claim to be apolstles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

Not loving God as you should, is a sin that you need to repent of. It also leaves a gap in your heart that some other god will quickly fill.

That's why Israel in the times of the judges never stayed faithful to God for very long. They'd knock down their idols when a righteous judge told them to, but they never gave their hearts fully to the Lord. They still had room in their hearts for some other god. And as soon as the opportunity arose, they went chasing off after that other god. Over and over and over again.

And if that sounds like your spiritual life — knocking down the idols in your heart, and then finding them popping up, and knocking them down, over and over and over again — here's your solution. God. The God. I AM THAT I AM. If your relationship with God is where it ought to be, there won't be any other gods before Him. If other gods keep appearing in your life, that's a clear sign that you aren't as close to God as you should be.

A plant that thrives in the shade can't grow in full sunlight. And another god can't grow in a heart that's fully given over to the Light of the World.

Repent. Restore your first love. That's how to deal with other gods in your life. There's nothing more I can say about this. It's simple, and there's just no other way.

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