I had been searching for the source text for what I 'thought' was a quote by Luther, and ended up providentially coming across a compilation of writing of like-minded fellows called the Book of Concord. In it was Luther's commentary on the very subject this next segment tackles. Thank you, God.
p.s. The picture is just a silly picture of our oldest son pretending to have antlers growing out of his head. It makes me smile.
In 1529 Martin Luther penned a series of re-edited sermons, later known as the Larger Catechism, to educate the laity (the common people) in the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. In fact in his preface to the work, Dr. Luther confessed that, “this sermon is designed and undertaken that it might be an instruction for children and the simple-minded…in other words, what every Christian must know, so that he who does not know this could not be numbered with the Christians…”[i] The irony today is that many Christians are not even aware of these works, much less have known them from childhood and studied them for the sake of being “numbered with the Christians.” I confess that aside from attempting to teach parts of the Shorter Catechism to my children and hearing parts of the Larger Catechism in church liturgy, I was wholly unfamiliar with its content until last night. And now I feel compelled to share what I’ve learned in just one night with you.
The “fundamentals” of the Christian Faith, according to Luther, start with the Ten Commandments. And since I figured it was only reasonable to put the first things first, I dove into Luther’s commentary here.
And God spoke all these words: "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 20:1-3)
You shall have no other gods before me. What, really, does it mean to ‘have a god’? According to Luther, it is anything we expect all good from or take refuge in when in distress. “So to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart…that which you set your heart and put your trust is properly you god. [ii]
This first commandment, then, requires true faith and trust of the heart upon the only true God. Luther goes so far as to suggest that God himself is saying, “See to it that you let Me alone be your God, and never seek another.”[iii]
Well, don’t we do that as we profess Christ as our Savior. Don’t we say that Christ is the way, the truth and the life when we confess our sins, seek His forgiveness and choose to follow His ways? Ideally, yes. In reality, most definitely, No.
You don’t ‘have a god’ when you trust in all the things in life that make living grand. When money is abundant, and possessions are flowing around you; when skills are honed, power is mighty, favor is bestowed, and honor is given you don’t ‘have a god’. You have many gods. But to ‘have a god’ of the 1st Commandment, is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts. The 1st Commandment requires much. It requires man to cling to God alone and to trust Him completely. Whatever you might look to or trust in to make living grand, expect it all of God. True honor and worship is a heart that knows no other comfort or confidence than God alone[iv]. Alas, have each and every one of us, Christian or not, most likely already failed the 1st Commandment to ‘have no other gods’? Do we trust in anything more than we trust God? Do we turn to anything (or anyone) else first, before we turn to God? Do we expect anything less than good from our God? Do we turn anywhere else for shelter in the storms of life? If the answer to any of these is yes, then the answer to whether or not we’ve failed the 1st Commandment is a resounding, Yes! And if we duly affirm our tendency to look to anything other than God alone, we also duly affirm our tendency to run to other gods – to our idols.
Don’t take this commandment as a joke![v] God is not willing to throw this commandment to the wind, and you should not either.
“For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:5-6)
God is angry with those who trust in anything but Him. His anger doesn’t even cease until the 4th generation! And yet again, He is amazingly gracious to those who trust and believe in Him alone. His blessings continue to the 1000th generation. So what is that you would desire more than God that would compel you to forgo His blessings to the 1000th generation, and instead choose God’s wrath upon your family clear through to your great-great-grandchild? What is it that you set upon your mantle and bow down to in place of falling before the feet of the God alone? Isn’t it time we begin to recognize those false gods, and crush the idols which so easily entangle us?
“[God] requires nothing higher of us than confidence from the heart for everything good.”[vi] What does your heart reveal? What are you willing to do about it? For you shall “have no other gods” before Him.