Exodus 20:1-6 Sermon Notes


Pastor Rick Duncan

For the next several weeks, we’re going to be looking at the 10 Commandments.

We don’t have the 10 Commandments because God takes some kind of twisted pleasure in watching us struggle to obey. We don’t have the 10 Commandments because God‘s trying to make robots out of us. We have the 10 Commandments because they reflect the character of God and, when we follow them, we and the people around us flourish. This is the way we express our love to God and this is the way we love our fellow man.

God‘s people had been suffering oppression, in slavery in Egypt. God heard their cries, remembered his promises, and sent a man named Moses to Help set them free. A series of miraculous signs and wonders, God defeated the Egyptians, and lead the people and fed the people through the desert. On their way to their new home, the promised land. He’s building a new nation, a new community. So, the people needed laws, so that they might be able to flourish in a just society. And God gives them the 10 Commandments. 

Now, although we’re going to launch from Exodus 20, this series will be, in a sense, a New Testament series. It’s because Jesus – who lived about 1400 years after these commands were given – obeyed and taught these Commandments.

In Matthew 5:17 He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Exodus 20:1-6

The LORD is the God who saves, so…

The LORD is the God who commands, because…

The LORD is the God who loves. 

This is important. Why? Some of us grew up with parents or teachers or religious leaders, who taught us (maybe not with their words, but with their actions) that the Lord is a god who is a cosmic killjoy, who restricts us, because He’s impossible to please.

Notice the order. 

The LORD says, “I saved you; now, obey Me.” He doesn’t say, “Obey Me and then I will save you.”

God is the One who initiates the relationship. Then, His people respond in obedience. We don’t somehow qualify for a relationship with God because we keep the 10 Commandments! 

I’ve asked people, “If you were to die today and God were to say to you, ’Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?“ And sometimes people will answer, “Well, I’ve kept the 10 Commandments!”

That’s wrong on at least two levels. 

First, as we go through this series looking at the 10 (and as we’ll see today by exploring these first 2), we can’t keep the 10 Commandments! We don’t. We fail. We fall short. If keeping the 10 Commandments is what saves us, then no one will be saved. 

Second, it’s failing to recognize that God is the one who must initiate the relationship with us. His love proceeds ours. In fact, 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.“ And then Jesus says in John 14:21, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.“

The order is important. God loves us. We respond to Him in love. And that’s the motivation for keeping the commandments.

God is saying, “I’m a Promise Keeper: I remembered My promise to your forefathers to make you a great nation. I’m a Prayer Answerer: I heard your cries when you were in bondage. I’m your Protector: I protected you from the death angel at the Passover when you put the blood on the doorposts and the lintel of your house. I’m your Deliverer: I’m the one who brought you through the Red Sea on dry ground and then destroyed your enemies. I’m your Provider: I fed you and quenched your thirst with manna from heaven and with water from a rock. I love you. I’ve proved it over and over. Now, love me back. Obey Me.

As we go through this entire series through the Ten Commandments, remember that it starts with verses 1 and 2. God doesn’t say, “Obey Me and I will save you. He says, “I’ve saved you; now, obey Me.”

God does not give us these Commandments – these rules – so that we can earn a right relationship with Him. He always sets His love on undeserving people.

He shows us that we are not law-keepers, but law-breakers. He calls us to Himself. Then He gives is the desire and the power to obey. 

The LORD is the God who saves, so… 

2. The LORD is the God who commands. vv. 3-5a

Sometimes skeptics of our faith – maybe a college professor or an antagonistic friend – will ask questions that we can’t answer very well. “You Christians sure are super-selective about which verses in the Old Testament you’re going to obey. Why don’t you obey the ones about stoning a teenager who’s copping an attitude toward their parents? (Dt. 21) Why don’t you obey the ones about not making or wearing a garment mixed with wool and linen? (Dt. 22) If you’re not going to obey those kinds of commands, why should we obey the 10 Commandments?” 

Here’s why. Old Testament law is divided into three main categories:

1) Civil law,

2) Ceremonial law, and

3) Moral law.

The civil law was given to the people of Israel in the ancient world to help them know how they should live with one another in adjust society. They were rules for a particular people at a particular time as they lived in a theocracy – under the rule of God Himself. The old Jewish civil laws don’t apply to us today.

The ceremonial law was given to the people of Israel to guide them in their religious practices. It detailed how sacrifices were to be made, and how worship was to be conducted. The Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the ceremonial law. He’s the sacrifice. He’s the high priest. Therefore, those Jewish religious laws don’t apply to us today.

The moral law Reflects the character of God. It is instructive and binding on all people everywhere. It helps us know how to love God, how to love one another, and how to live full, abundant, meaningful, and flourishing lives. The 10 Commandments are the pinnacle of the moral law of God.

We can divide the Ten Commandments into 2 sections.

Love God.

Love others. 

The first four Commandments are focused on how to love God well. The last six Commandments are focused on how to love one another well. Jesus taught us this.

The Ten Commandments are summarized by Jesus in Mathew 22. A lawyer once came to Jesus and asked a question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The First Commandment

It’s helpful to think in two ways about all ten of these commands.

1. What do they require? and  

2. What do they forbid?

This first Commandment requires us to know and acknowledge the LORD to be the only true God. It requires us to make Him our God and to worship and glorify Him alone.

Your comfort and affluence are not God. Your job is not God. Your ministry is not God. Your fitness and health are not God. Your family and friends are not God.

So, what does having the LORD as our God look like? We remember Him. We think about Him. We choose Him, thank Him, desire Him, and trust Him. We praise Him and please Him. And we are careful not to offend Him.

And this first Commandment forbids us from giving worship and first place to anyone or anything else. It forbids us from being ignorant about God, having unworthy thoughts about God, and having wrong beliefs about God. It forbids us being hard-hearted toward God, being lukewarm about God, and being discontented with His plan for our lives.  

Do you know as much about the LORD as you could know? Are you ever been ticked at Him because He’s not making life work the way you want? Has your heart always been soft toward Him? Has your faith in God always been on fire?

If you answer is “not always” you’ve broken the first Commandment. And so have I.

When Jesus began his public ministry, He was tempted to break this very first Commandment. He went into the wilderness and was tempted by the devil. 

The devil led Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world. The devil said to Him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:8-10). 

Jesus reaffirmed this first Commandment and showed us how to obey. We can say “no” because there’s a better “yes.”

The Second Commandment

The late Pastor Tim Keller’s explanation of our idolatry is profound, and, I think, spot on.

An idol 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. Anything that is so central and essential to your life, that should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. Tim Keller

The theologian John Calvin once famously said, “The heart is an idol factory.” That means mine and that means yours.

It’s common for people to say today, “Follow your heart!” But the Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9 that our hearts are “deceitful and desperately wicked.” The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. Our hearts are idol factories.

Something gets us out of bed in the morning and gets us going. Money, jobs, kids, hobbies, comfort, happiness, and the list goes on. Everyone is driven by something. Everyone has an idol.

What are idols? Idols are anything more important to you than God. An idol is anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything that you seek to give you what only God can give.

Idols can be exterior, like money, sex, or drugs. But perhaps the most sinister idols are interior like, power, status, respect, and comfort. What drives your life?

Idols aren’t necessarily “bad” things. We can turn work or fun or family or faith into an idol. An idol is anything other than the LORD that gives us a sense of security or a sense of fulfillment.

Take work. Work is good. God created it for us even before the Fall. But when the money from work or the success through work is taken to an extreme, it will destroy you. You start working 60-80 hour weeks. You take on multiple side projects. You step on others to get ahead. You’ll do whatever it takes to win at work.

How can you identify your idols? 

  • What distracts you and pulls your attention and affection away from God? (Ask “Is there something here too important to me, something I must have at all costs?”)
  • Where you spend your time and money?
  • What occupies your attention when you have nothing to think about? (Where do your thoughts effortlessly go to when there’s nothing else demanding your attention?)
  • Where do you turn to find comfort?
  • What, if you lost it, would make life not worth living? (What are you afraid of? What if the stock market crashed and your investments were worthless? Would your life be ruined if you lost your job? What if your kids turn on you or ignore you?)
  • What triggers your negative, selfish emotions like unrighteous anger, jealousy, and sadness? (When you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.)
  • What or who do you trust more than God?
  • What or who do you serve more than God?

Additional questions from Pastor Josh Stone:

  • What do you ask God for the most?
  • In what area of life is your heart never at rest?
  • What do you sacrifice your family for?
  • What provokes your anger the quickest?
  • Which sin have you stopped fighting?
  • What are you willing to spend lavishly for?
  • What are you willing to lie about?
  • What causes you sadness when you hear about someone else’s success?

How do you answer? These kinds of questions will expose the idolatry that’s hidden in your heart.

A young man came to Jesus one day. His question? What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus said, “Keep the Commandments!” The young man asked, “Which ones?” Jesus listed some of the Commandments in the last half of the list of 10. “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The young man said, “I’ve done all that!” Really? Jesus wants to show him that he hasn’t really kept those last commandments by showing him that he hadn’t obeyed the first two.

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 19:21-22).

His money, his comfort, his affluence, his greed was his God. Therefore, he wasn’t loving God, and if he wasn’t loving God, then he wasn’t really loving his fellow man because he wasn’t willing to give it up to bless them.

If you had an encounter like this with Jesus, what false god, what idol would He be asking you to give up so that you could follow Him?

We are not commandment-keepers. We are commandment-breakers. Where and how have you been breaking these first two commandments?

The LORD is the God who saves, so…

the LORD is the God who commands, because… 

3. The LORD is the God who loves. vv. 5b-6

God isn’t saying “Thou shalt not” because He’s a cosmic killjoy. God says “Thou shalt not” because He has a better “thou shalt.“

God says “no” because He has a better “yes” in mind for us. His “no” is a function of His love.

Why wouldn’t you want to obey a God like that who loves you so much?

Is the LORD somehow so needy He has to command us and threaten us to put Him first?

Atlanta Pastor Louie Giglio says,

“It’s not that the LORD needs any more worship to be worthy. He knows what He’s worth… In calling us to prize Him above all else, God is both gaining the praise that is rightfully His alone and causing us to gain the greatest treasure we will ever know.”

Our middle schoolers have been using something called The New City Catechism to help them learn Biblical truth. And part of that catechism – which is a series of questions, and answers based on the scriptures – teach us about the 10 Commandments.

I encourage you to download the app. It is elegant and user-friendly. You could make it part of your devotional life. There are songs on here. And it’s not just for kids. You’ll find thoughtful commentary here from some of the best biblical scholars. So, go to the App Store. Go to our website. Find links in our worship guide. And download this app.

This morning, we’re going to read from the catechism. Just five questions. I’ll read the question and you read the answer with me. Ready?

What does the law of God require?

That we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves. 

What does God require in the first, second, and third commandments?

First, that we know God as the only true God. Second, that we avoid all idolatry. Third, that we treat God’s name with fear and reverence. 

Can anyone keep the law of God perfectly?

Since the fall, no human has been able to keep the law of God perfectly.

Did God create us unable to keep his law?

No, but because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve we are all born in sin and guilt, unable to keep God’s law.

Since no one can keep the law, what is its purpose?

That we may know the holy nature of God, and the sinful nature of our hearts; and thus our need of a Savior.

We are not commandment – keepers. We are commandment – breakers. And we need a Savior.

Jesus is the One who did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He came to this earth – God, the Son – and lived a life of perfect obedience to not only these 10 Commandments, but to all the commands of His Father. He obeyed in our place.

And then, He died on the cross in our place for our sin. He became sin in our behalf. God the Father saw Him as the commandment-breaker, even though he was the Commandment-Keeper. Jesus paid the price that we should have paid for not keeping God as the one true God, and for creating idols. He suffered so we wouldn’t have to.

Then He rose again from the grave. He ascended into heaven. He sent His Holy Spirit to live inside us. Now, when we make Him our Forgiver and Leader, our hearts can be changed. And we have a power to obey that we never had before.

That’s the gospel. That’s the good news. We who were commandment-breakers can become commandment-keepers through a living, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Do you have Jesus as your Savior?

So, what do I do about my idols? Four words:

Discover and destroy.

Repent and replace.