Guest contributor: Ed Trego
“I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)
The first of the Ten Commandments seems pretty simple. God saved the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt and they were to worship him and him alone.
Unfortunately, the Israelites couldn’t seem to follow this simple rule. They found any number of gods to worship other than the one true God. Even while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Commandments, the Israelites were already melting gold and shaping it into a bull for them to worship. In most every place they journeyed, they found other gods to worship. God punished them when they turned from him; they repented; God forgave them and the cycle began all over. You would think that at some point God would simply give up on them and let them go their own way and worship whatever they wanted.
But God loves his people and wants them to share eternity with him. So every time the Israelites strayed, God welcomed them back with open arms.
Things haven’t changed so much since the time of the Israelites and the exodus from Egypt. Today we also find other gods to worship. We may not worship golden bulls or Baal or some of the other pagan gods that the Israelites worshiped but we still have our gods that we put in place of the one true God whom we should worship in all we do. Satan is well aware that we, just like the Israelites, can be tricked into worshiping other gods.
What are our false gods today? In reality, anything that interferes with our relationship with the one true God can be seen as a false god. For some it may be their looks; maybe their car or home. Even our family, that God wants us to love above anyone other than him, can become a false god if we place them on a pedestal above God. Virtually anything can become a false god if we allow it to become the focus of our happiness and satisfaction. True happiness is only attainable through a strong, loving relationship with God.
I think three of the biggest false gods today are money, sex and pride. Each of these can have elements of good and can be used to accomplish good; however, they can very easily obtain god-like status when used for selfish purposes. Satan is aware of our attraction to certain things and will use that attraction to place it between us and God.
“And behold, one came up to him saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have observed; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:16-22)
This scripture has always interested me. There is nothing here to indicate how the young man had gained his wealth or for what purpose he used it. If anything was standing in his way to perfection it was his love of his wealth. He was sad at the thought of selling everything and giving it away. Notice, however, that we are never told whether or not the young man actually did what Jesus had told him he must do to gain eternal life. Even though he went away sad, it’s possible that he followed Jesus’ advice, sold everything he had, gave the money to the poor and returned to follow Jesus.
God loves us, so he wants us to be successful. In our society today money is often equated with success. Does that mean that having lots of money is an indication that God has blessed the rich? It certainly may be a blessing, but we can turn that blessing into evil by misusing it. What of those who gain riches illegally or through unfair treatment of others? While God may bless us with money, he expects us to obtain it honestly and use it properly.
First Timothy, chapter 6, verse 10 is frequently misquoted when the discussion turns to money and its place in our life. “For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.” All too often the first four words of the verse are omitted, leaving “Money is the root of all evils”. With this omission this verse is often used to indicate that anyone with money must be evil. Even some politicians foster this misconception by pitting the rich against the poor for their own political gain. There is nothing wrong with having money or being rich. People of wealth have used their money to begin and support numerous charities, benefiting many. Universities benefit greatly from endowments from the rich, helping to provide scholarships and financial aid to those deserving of it. We used to hear stories celebrating these philanthropists and their generosity. It seems all we hear about the wealthy today is negative. People seem to have the idea that one person’s wealth necessarily means someone else can’t be wealthy. They forget that wealth is not a finite item, it can be grown through proper investment and provide many others the opportunity to increase their own wealth. Rather than envy or deride the wealthy for their success, we should look to how it was gained and how it is used. If gained honestly and used properly, we should applaud their success and even look to them as possible examples to emulate.
Of course, there are also those who have made their money through dishonorable means and cling to it rather than use it for the good of others. Unfortunately, these are the ones we hear of most often. For every story of wealth being used for the good of others, there are several told of how the rich got their money from the hard work of others. They refuse to recognize the great good accomplished by many of the wealthy. The fact is there is both good and evil in everything, including wealth.
“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” (1 John 2:16)
Sex and personal sexual gratification is another false god many people allow to interfere with their relationship with God. Human sexuality is a tremendous blessing from God when experienced as intended. The love, devotion, and oneness shared in the sexual life of a committed couple in a sacramental marriage are God’s intentions for the proper use of human sexuality. The problem arises when it is used for selfish gratification and pleasure. Sex itself isn’t the issue; sinfulness occurs in the misuse of God’s blessing.
Sex was never intended to be a spectator sport. Nor was it intended to be part of random encounters or traded for favors or money. The intensity of the emotion and love inherent in the properly exercised use of sexuality is one of the greatest blessings God has given mankind. When experienced as intended, within the bonds of a sacramental marriage, human sexuality is beautiful. Unfortunately, sex has been perverted by the open flaunting of sex in fashion, film, stage, music and most other aspects of our lives.
Sex, in its’ proper environment, provides an extreme physical and emotional high for the couple. This pleasure was intended by God. It not only helps solidify the covenant of marriage, it is the only appropriate means of procreation of humanity. It is perhaps the extreme high experienced by a couple in a truly loving, faith filled marriage that others are trying to find in their casual, meaningless sexual encounters. In a jealousy-driven effort to attain the beauty of sex as God intended, they pervert it into a sinful, lustful act of selfishness and degradation.
Sex is everywhere today. In books, magazines, movies, and on TV, it’s there, right in our faces. When we shop, sex is used to entice us to buy this particular dress or shirt or shoes or whatever we are shopping for. Some of the stores in our malls are virtually pornographic in their store front ads and displays. It’s not unusual to see glaringly sexual clothing even for pre-teen children. Multiple marriages, with multiple partners during marriage seem to be the norm for many of those who are considered heroes and stars of the entertainment industry.
Pornography is rampant in society today. What used to be the “family hour” on network television has disappeared and has been replaced by sexual innuendo, as well as barely hidden references to sexual activities of all types. The relationships that are depicted are more likely to be adulterous than sacramental in nature. Bed hopping is common and open presentations of sexual encounters, both heterosexual and homosexual, are the subject of the comedy in many popular sitcoms. In the sitcoms of today, those who refuse to engage in wanton sexual activity are portrayed as fools and the brunt of vicious jokes. Cable television and movies are even worse since they can be more blatant in the graphic presentation of sexual activity. Open, promiscuous sexual lifestyles are presented as the norm with few examples of committed, married relationships. In many cases it seems the more depraved the act, the more it is “honored” in the film industry.
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
In our society we are taught in many ways that pride is a good thing. In some ways pride can be useful. It can motivate us to do better. It can help us resist temptation in some instances. It can serve to push us a little harder to do something to which we have committed. Sometimes our pride won’t let us quit when our body or our mind says we can’t go on. In these cases pride can be a good thing. It can be help us to be a better person. However, pride is also a very dangerous thing. Remember, Satan used pride to tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. All of humanity suffers the results of their pride.
Job’s pride put him in direct conflict with God. When tested, he complained to God and his friends of his hardships and blamed God. God replied to him, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:2-3) The Lord continues to question Job for the next four chapters of the book of Job. If you want to understand humility in your relationship to God and his creation, read Job 38 – 41. It is quite a lesson on exactly how little we understand of the true nature of God and his creation. If you can still be prideful after reading those chapters, you should probably read it again. You’ve obviously missed the point.
Pride can very quickly degrade most anything, regardless of its’ potential good, to sinfulness. Even the good of providing for the needy can become sinful if pride enters.
“Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward.” (Matthew 6:2-4)
This same principal applies to most anything we do. If you sing in the choir, or usher, or assist in the readings, is it to praise God or for the attention you receive? If you give large sums to the building fund, is it to get your name mentioned in the church bulletin? If you donate to a university, is it to help those who need it or to get a building named for you? If you knew that no one would ever know the good that you do, would you still do it? We need to understand that our purpose should always be to please God, not other people. We must always keep in mind that regardless the blessings, talents and success we may have, they come from God. Even doing good can become a false god when done for the wrong reasons.
Money, sex, pride; three of the greatest obstacles to keeping our focus on the one true God, rather than our selves. Those are only three, there are many others. Only you can say what interferes with your worship of God. Whatever that is, put it in its proper place. God should always be first in our lives. Everything, family, friends and self, especially self, should come after God. In this way we can be assured that we know who our God is and keep Him in the place of honor in all aspects of our lives.