The Priority God Demands in Our Hearts
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Sunday, April 13, 2013 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1645
Pastor Don Horban

Exodus 20:1-3 - ďAnd God spoke all these words, saying, [2] ĎI 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.íĒ

In any life there can only be one dominating priority. No person can give himself to two ultimate loyalties. This, of course, is the basic wisdom Jesus pointed to when He said no one could serve two masters. Of course, anyone can have two interests. Thatís not hard at all. But you truly cannot have two masters. Masters, by definition, demands absolute loyalty. And you canít be ultimately loyal to more than one. Only one priority can be at the center of a life.

All of this is the theme of our text today. This commandment is first because it alone defines what true religious commitment is all about. And the emphasis is different from what most people think about true, holy faith.

The commandment begins, not with the command to believe in God. Thereís no invitation or instruction to accept what the Bible says about God, or to prove His existence, or to include Him in the plans and details of our lives.

In fact, the command isnít really about an invitation to include God in your life at all. The command is totally different in nature. Itís totally negative in its instruction. Itís less about what we are to do and more about what we must never, ever do. It has to do with the gateway to my heart. Itís all about what I allow into my life and, even more precisely, what I refuse - what I shut out of my life. Itís all about the things I am careful to renounce and reject.

The command is about worship, but not the way we usually think about our worship. Itís not so much about passion in worship as it is about loyalty in worship. This command is a reminder that nothing is genuine or obedient with God until itís exclusive. The command isnít about loving God. Thatís not quite it. This command is more directly about loving only God. And thatís very different indeed.

When I was still in high school I was given a little book, now long out of print, written by Elton Trueblood. He is still one of my favorite authors. This book was all about the ten commandments. When he wrote about the first commandment he started out the chapter with these important words:

ďThe number one differs from all other numbers, not in degree but in kind. The step from two to three is relatively slight, but the step from one to two is enormous. A man who has two wives and a man who has three wives are both in the same class. They are both polygamists - they are both divided in their affections and loyalties. But both are totally different from the man who, because he cannot divide his affection, is wholly devoted to one wife. The greatest distinction we make in religion is the distinction between singular and plural - no matter what the degree of plurality may be. In this truest sense, there is a more essential difference in kind between one and two than there is between two and a million.Ē

Absolutely brilliant! So this command starts everything else off on the right foot with God and life. To miss this summons is to miss what is essential. Itís the first commandment because nothing else will work until this is settled.

And something else. This commandment is the costly commandment. This commandment will never be settled by accident. False Gods must be rooted out of the heart like the bleeding roots of a pulled tooth. It takes constant care and purity of heart to keep this command.

But keep it we must, perhaps primarily because Jesus Himself re-emphasized its pivotal importance to New Testament discipleship:

Mark 12:28-31 - ďAnd one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" [29] Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. [30] And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' [31] The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Jesus restates the first command in even stronger terms. He relates the exclusive claim of God on all fronts of my life - the mind with its thoughts - the heart with its secret affections - the will with its daily choices - and the body with its physical strength. Thatís what this command is all about.


Many of us grew up into the Christian life with very little choice of doing anything else. We were taken to church or Sunday School. We were ushered into family devotions with our parents. Many of us had the blessing of being sheltered from other corrupting influences that were very real options for those less blessed. All of those things are a precious heritage for those who grew up with them. But none of them demonstrates a committed choice to make God your God.

Then there comes a time, later on in life, when you are confronted with genuine options to choose something other than God. Perhaps at university or college - perhaps at high school - perhaps at work where the spiritual tone is so different from the one Christians inhabit - but the choices of your unsupervised loyalties are put to the test.

And itís what you do at those moments that decides whether or not God is your God. Itís what you choose when you are not forced to break off a relationship that you know isnít honoring to the Lord. Itís what you choose when you know about a practice that isnít quite honest. Itís what you choose when you find your friends pulling you in a direction that your parents never will find out about. What you choose when you have competing available options is the test of who you really are.

Those are the situations that determine whether or not God is your God. And even more specifically, those are the situations that reveal whether or not you have any other Gods before Him.


This is really the road test of point number one (to love God exclusively is to love Him by choice). Because only God is God, and because He only dwells where He rules unchallenged, then it stands to reason that most of the choices He calls me to make for Him will be choices to eliminate the things that displease Him. And those same things frequently please me greatly.

So hereís the test. At His word, do I instantly relinquish what He calls me to relinquish? Thatís the only way to demonstrate my daily choice to follow Him.

Take a very familiar example of this truth from the Scriptures: Luke 18:18-23 - ďAnd a ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" [19] And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. [20] You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.' " [21] And he said, "All these I have kept from my youth." [22] When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." [23] But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.Ē

We all tend to remember this poor fellow for what he didnít do. We should probably, at least occasionally, ponder the fact that he kept every single command Jesus referred to, perfectly, from birth onward. And when he makes that claim, Jesus doesnít say heís lying. There is no challenge to the truthfulness of the rich manís claim to perfect obedience.

In fact, I find something very upsetting in Jesusí words to this man in verse 22 when He says, ďOne thing you still lack...Ē Lack? If this man lacks then what hope is there for me? If heís still not in the kingdom then who is?

And the key to this whole story of this young ruler and his decision not to follow Jesus is at the heart of the second point in this message: loving God exclusively means being instantly willing to relinquish all else at only His word. The story of the rich young ruler is in the Scriptures to correct one very common discipleship mistake. I tend to measure righteousness solely in terms of the best things I do.

And thatís very important. But itís not the whole story. Jesus does value our righteous good deeds greatly. But the test He applies to the rich young ruler measures something in addition. Righteous deeds can reveal that I love Jesus. But relinquishment of other loves is the only measurement of unrivaled devotion.

And that simple story of the rich young ruler gets played out a thousand times a week in our own church. The details are changed. But the test is exactly the same. Itís easy for me to claim righteousness before the Lord with a list of all the good things I do. ďI go to church. I sing in the choir. I give to missions. I donít steal. I donít commit adultery. Iím a good person, Lord!Ē

And Jesus says, ďYes Don, thatís all fine. Iím not denying that you love me on these levels of your life. But Iím pressing you on the issue of exclusivity. Iím revealing other masters screaming their orders into your heart. Iím casting out rivals.Ē

Throughout your Christian life you begin to discern spirituality on two levels. At least we like to think there are two levels. The first level is a commitment to basic goodness of life. Itís what I would call the righteousness of decency - the keeping of expected rules.

But thatís only the entry level to the spiritual life. The second level is what could be called the righteousness of crucifixion. It probes deeper than morality. It seeks out and destroys self-love. It deals with future disasters by culling out secret longings and desires. Itís the kind of righteousness Jesus called for when He said if any person wanted to follow Him, it wasnít just a matter of doing good things, it required taking up a cross everyday.

But what is it that dies on this cross? And hereís the secret of undiscovered joy for many disciples. Because what the cross kills is the root of future sin and misery. The trick, of course, is when we renounce these secret masters they kick and scream and tell us weíll be miserable without them. Theyíre like a burglar who tells us he only broke into our house at night to polish our silverware.

Self-crucifixion always involved faith in Godís future joy for our lives. Joy can only enter our hearts as the idols exit. Thatís the hard-to-learn lesson that escapes many Christians until itís too late.

The Apostle James challenges this very issue in our hearts as we follow Jesus: James 4:13-16 - ďCome now, you who say, ĎToday or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profitíó [14] yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. [15] Instead you ought to say, ĎIf the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.í [16] As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.Ē

So many miss the heart of those words. This is not a passage against planning or organizing your life. And it doesnít mean that every time you utter a sentence you have to stick the words, ďthe Lord willingĒ on the end.

Itís an attitude of heart that James is dealing with. He sees these Christian people, slowly but surely starting to live their lives like they were totally their own to do with as they pleased. Thatís the whole issue of those words. And with an aching heart, he says, ďWhat are you people doing? You left the right to organize your own lives at your own discretion a long time ago. Youíre starting to talk and act like you are the determiner of your future plans and actions.Ē

And then he says those words in verse 16 - ďThatís a sin! Donít allow that kind of thing to grow in your hearts anymore!Ē Get into the habit of bringing God - your true Master - into absolutely everything you do.Ē

This kind of self-evacuation of the heart and will never comes naturally for any of us. There a reason we sing about the ďold rugged cross.Ē Itís not for the faint-hearted or half-hearted. Itís a very rugged place of decision and commitment. But thatís what it means to recognize God alone as God and to have no other gods before Him. The challenge of that command leads into the third point:


Let me share with you what may be the most important words David ever penned: Psalm 16:8 - ďI have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.Ē

Those arenít Davidís theological words. Theyíre his lifestyle words. They describe a practice that, by his own admission, was the habit that kept him on his feet in his relationship with God. And the important word for our study at this point is that word, ďalways.Ē This is not something David did one time, or occasionally, or even frequently. Only ďalwaysĒ means always.

Thereís a phrase people use, usually in a negative way, to describe the irritation that someone can be when you just canít avoid their presence or influence. We say theyíre ďin my face.Ē Or we use the expression to show the determination weíre going to exercise in not letting an issue die with someone else. We say weíre going to hound them to death - relentlessly - weíre going to be ďin their faceĒ until we get what weíre after.

Now, what we usually use in a negative sense, David uses in a positive way: ďIn absolutely everything I do, in every minute of the day, whether Iím happy or sad, sick or healthy, in rain or shine, I keep God in my face! Right in front of my face. Eyeball to eyeball close, so I donít lose the imprint of His style, His influence, the look on His face of pleasure or sorrow, in anything I do.Ē

Those who have lived the Christian life for a little while and have matured in the Lord know that you donít just choose God like you vote for a leader.

The choice for an exclusive relationship with God must be re-established with each fresh situation where something else must be relinquished to His rule. Establishing the exclusive rule of God in life is challenging because itís like holding inflated balloons under water. False gods press towards the surface of life.

I was reminded of this a while back when shopping at The Bay. Somehow I wasnít charged enough on a sale item. I went back to the counter on the way out of the store. The same clerk was shocked that anyone would come back like that when they didnít have to.

She would have been less impressed if she had known that for one brief moment the thought went through my mind that it was the storeís own fault. Judas sold out his Lord for thirty pieces of silver. I almost did it for eight dollars.

The only thing that saves you at those times is keeping the Lord continually before you. Thatís what this command is all about. You havenít made God your God until you have made a choice that excludes every other possibility.

Exodus 20:1-2 - ďAnd God spoke all these words, saying, [2] ĎI am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.íĒ

Godís commands always lead out of the house of slavery. All other gods only bring bondage. Hear Godís reminder today: ďIím the One who led you out of Egypt. Back there, in Egypt, the bondage gods still reign. The only reason those Egyptians donít know it, is theyíve lived there all their lives. But Iím calling you out of all of that.Ē

Kick out the enslaving gods. You recognize them because they scream whenever you threaten them. Give your devotion to the One who constantly brings people out of slavery.