When something is labeled “exclusive” or “one-of-a-kind,” we know there is something unique about it. Sometimes those labels are just marketing fodder bending our ear with a promise of elitism or stoking the fear of missing out. But sometimes, something is truly one-of-a-kind. Another example of exclusivity is the marriage vows where, in essence, we are promising to have a husband/wife relationship with one person for the rest of our life. Another call to exclusivity is found at the very beginning of the Ten Commandments.
Exodus records, “Then God gave the people all these instructions: “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. “You must not have any other god but me.” (Exodus 20:2-3, NASB). This is a command of exclusivity.
In this first commandment, God declares His name, LORD = YHWH, what theologians call the tetragrammaton and is often transliterated as Yahweh or Jehovah. But the foundation for this exclusiveness isn’t just who God is but also what He has done for them. In the case of the Hebrews, it was freedom from slavery in Egypt. For us as Christ-followers, it is freedom from sin and release from the kingdom of darkness.
God’s call for exclusive worship is not like that of a despotic dictator. It’s not “worship me or else…” It is instead a call to love God above everything else in our life. We will have other loves, but our love of God is to be the highest priority.
You see, worshiping and loving God is not just an add-on option to our lives. It is the foundation for everything. So much so that anything less violates this commandment. God is asking for an exclusive relationship, very similar but much deeper than that promised between husband and wife. Like most wedding vows, our relationship with God is chosen, not forced, but it does have the same expectation of exclusiveness.
There are so many other loves that may crowd God out from that highest place. Our family, our culture, our desires, our self, our need for acceptance may, at times, all try to dethrone God in our life. But the call of the commandment is “no other.” It doesn’t mean those things are wrong, but they must have the right priority in our lives behind our love for God. We get into trouble anytime we try to have two or more gods. You can’t serve God and money, Jesus said (See Matthew 6:24).
All the other commandments flow from this number one command. Breaking any of the other nine means that our love and worship of God are compromised, and less than this command expects. The Apostle John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3, NASB95)
The floodlight of this command shines on our priorities and our choices. Do we worship God out of love or a sense of duty? Do we place God first in our decisions? Do our desires flow from God into our hearts, or do we try to force God into our desires? If we love God, this commandment is a joy to keep.