IntroductionObviously, people struggle to remember the Ten Commandments. Even Christians—who value and seek to follow the Ten Commandments—struggle to remember them. That’s a shame, because the Ten Commandments are a fundamental element of our faith.
Exodus 31:18 says the Ten Commandments were written “by the finger of God.” This is the only example of scripture in the Bible being written directly by God. There are 613 laws written in the Old Testament, but The Ten Commandments represent the essence of them all. They must be important, because Jesus often quoted them in the New Testament. Not only do the Ten Commandments show us how to live a godly life, they also show us how desperately we need God’s grace and forgiveness because we fail to keep the commandments so often—even when we try hard to be good.
We will study the Ten Commandments all summer longer—looking at one commandment each Sunday. As we go through the list, I challenge you to commit the Commandments to memory and to come each Sunday to learn how they apply to your life. Today we will look at the Second Commandment. But before we do, take a moment to read all 10 together.
The following list is my paraphrase of the 10 commandments from Exodus20:1-18.
The 10 Commandments1. Do not worship any god except the Lord.
2. Do not make idols of any kind.
3. Do not misuse the name of the Lord.
4. Remember to observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. Do not murder.
7. Do not commit adultery.
8. Do not steal.
9. Do not testify falsely against you neighbor.
10. Do not covet.
Here's a cool (cough, cough) video that might help you remember them.
Exodus 20:4-64 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. 6 But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.
The second half of verse 5 is very troubling. People often ask me about the statement, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children… [to] the third and fourth generation…” That is a very troubling statement and I promise I will address it. However, before we get to that, let’s look at the second commandment itself. I promise I will come back to verse 5 in a few minutes.
The second commandment says, “Do not make for yourself an idol of any kind…” You might think that is an easy commandment to keep in our time. Modern Americans are not is the habit of casting golden statues to worship the like people in Old Testament times. However, we may struggle with this second commandment more than any other.
We engage in idol worship anytime we put something or someone (even ourselves) before God. It is the very definition of Sin—letting something else besides God be the first priority in your life. This is not what God created us for. God created us in His image to worship Him as the center of our lives.
Pastor Timothy Keller wrote an excellent book on the subject of Idolatry called Counterfeit Gods. I highly recommend it. In his book, Keller writes, “…the human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”[i]
Our sin-infected hearts tend to take the good things God gives us and turn them into ultimate things. We give them power they do not have. We can make an idol out of anything when we trust it to give us what only God can give.
“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry… An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.””[ii]
Some idols we worship today are:
· Money. Many people will agree that money can be an idol. We understand that greed can be a powerful and negative influence that destroys lives and break the hearts of its worshipers.
· Children. I have known parents who make idols out of their children. All good parents want the best for their children, but some parents go too far by spoiling their children rotten or by overprotecting them or by pushing them relentlessly to succeed.
· Success. Some professional athletes take performance enhancing drugs because they have to be the absolute best. They are already phenomenal athletes, but that’s not enough for them. They will risk their bodies and the reputations for their “idol.” It’s not just athletes. The same idol of success is found in the workplace, in churches, and even in families. Anytime you have put succeeding before God, you have made success and idol.
· Love. Some people stake all their hopes and dreams in love. If they could just find that special guy or gal, their problems would be solved. If they could just find someone who really cares, they would be fine. Yet even love becomes and idol when we expect it to fulfill us the way only God can.
Again, we make an idol out of anything we trust to give us what only God can give. Idol worship is a severe problem in America. And it is just as abominable to God today as it ever was.Idolatry is such an affront to God because it fundamentally goes against the very core of who God is, who we are, and our whole purpose for being. When we make an idol, we attempt to change the whole order of creation. We try to make God the way we want Him to be. We make Him in our image instead of recognizing we are made in His image. We switch the roles of our relationship around until we pretend to be the creator while demoting the God of the universe to our underling. It is a reversal that is an outrage to all of creation, and an abomination to God.
Idols always disappoint us. They do not have the power to fulfill our hopes and dreams. They turn to dust in our hands. The leave us empty, broken, frustrated, and discontent. And so God commands us, “Do not make idols of any kind.”
A Troubling Statement
I promised I would come back to the troubling statement in the second half of verse 5. Let’s read it again. “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.”
This is troubling, because we don’t like to think of God being jealous. That emotion seems too unappealing to belong to a righteous God. Furthermore, doesn’t it seem rather unfair for God to lay the sins of parents upon their children—even to the third and fourth generation? Do you feel you should be held responsible for sins of idolatry your great, great grandparents committed? Such emotions and behaviors do not seem fitting for the Christian God. We would much rather think of our God as treating each person individually and being unbegrudging rather than jealous.
Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What are we doing when we think like this? Are we not wanting to re-make God into the image of what we want God to be like? What do we call that? Isn’t that idolatry? We are trying to make God the way we want Him to be. What gives us the right to do that? We are the creatures and God is the Creator. But we want to switch things around. We want to create a perfect god according to our concept of what is perfect.
God is who He is. We do not get to re-configure Him to be the way we want Him to be. Even if the best we can do in this instance is say “We don’t understand this verse or we are confused by it,” let us not try and manipulate the character of God and make it what we want it to be. That is idolatry.
I think I can say something helpful about God’s jealousy and generational punishment. First of all, God’s jealousy is not like human jealousy, which is so often misplaced and corrupt. God’s jealousy flows out of righteousness. He made us. He has every right to demand our faithfulness. He shouldn’t even have to demand it. Our love and honor and admiration for God ought to be the most naturally flowing characteristic of our lives—it is what we were design by God to do. And yet, we trade in our affection for God for almost anything else—things that are not gods at all, only figments of our imagination (idols that have no power, no life, nothing at all to offer). It is no wonder at all that God should be jealous, that He should be angry. On the contrary, it is amazing to me that God has not obliterated humanity from the face of creation because we have turned our backs on Him so many times.
And the truth is, the sins we commit have dire consequences—not just for us but for many others as well. Like a stone tossed upon the waters of a still lake, our sin sends out ripples that spread out to affect many others. Those ripples even span across generations—to the third and fourth (or even more) generations. If you ever find yourself thinking, “My sin does not affect anyone else,” think again. Even if you do not see it, your sin has contributed to the pain, suffering and evil of the world, and it might even affect your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. In this way, I understand that it is not unusual at all that Exodus 20:5 says, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children…” I will tell you what is truly amazing though—verse 6.
Verse 6 says, “I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.” This is statement is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. For even though we have all broken the second commandment in one way or another at some point in our life, even though we are worthy only of God’s jealous wrath, instead we receive grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 10:13 – “All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Ephesians 2: 9-10 – “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
The Ten Commandments show us how sinful we are and how desperate we are for a savior. The Good News is, Jesus can save you! Forgiveness, mercy, and grace are available to you through Jesus Christ. If you recognize your need, call out to Jesus today. Pray to him and beg for forgiveness. Surrender your life to him and ask him to lead from this day forward. Commit to follow Him and you shall be saved. Then when God looks at your heart on judgment day, he will not see your sin. He will see Jesus living in you and you will be redeemed.