The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, form the basis for modern western civilization. In their summary of the proper attitude to God and one another, they provide fundamental concepts that allow people to function in obedience to God. The relevance of the Ten Commandments for the Christian lies in the timeless principles they describe. Paul explained that the Christian is no longer bound by the old covenant, including the ten commandments, because Christ brought the Jew and the Gentile together, “having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). In giving His life, Christ was “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Colossians 2.14). Christians are “delivered from the law” (Romans 7:6-7) to live under the better covenant of Christianity (Hebrews 8:6-7). 

The first commandment emphasizes that God must be first in the life of His children. “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1-3). As God reminded Israel that He had delivered them from Egyptian bondage, the first commandment demands, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

The Israelites lived in a world of many gods vying for the allegiance of men. God demanded that they recognize Him and Him alone as God. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is literally “Thou shalt have no other gods before my face.” Just as a woman with two husbands would be unacceptable to either husband, God demands undivided loyalty from all who claim to follow Him. The Jews could not adopt the pagan practices of their neighbors and maintain the purity God demanded. Peter and the other apostles understood the principle, refusing to be silenced by the Sanhedrin, saying, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In like manner, Christ demanded undivided loyalty from His followers. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38). 

The command, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” is also a demand for wholehearted love. God redeemed Israel from Egyptian bondage, and today He redeems mankind from the bondage of sin. The magnificence of His creation and the sacrifice of Christ for us shows that He truly is worthy of our love. Jesus summed up the proper attitude to the Father: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). If we do this, we can truly insure that we put no other gods before Him.