The Second Commandment

Ten Commandments WatsonOur study through the ten commandments now brings us to the second commandment, which says,

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6, ESV)

The first thing that you might notice is that this commandment is much longer and more detailed than the first commandment, which simply says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The very length of this commandment should get your attention.

The simplest way to summarize this commandment is to say that in it God forbids the sin of idolatryBut what is idolatry? In its most literal sense it is the use of images in worship. In the commandment above the Lord forbids us from the making of images, bowing down to them, and serving them. But it also includes worshiping God in any way that he himself has not ordained. That is the basic meaning of this commandment.

The old Puritan writer, Thomas Watson (1620-1686), put it this way:

“In the first commandment worshiping a false god is forbidden; in this, worshiping the true God in a false manner [is forbidden].” (The Ten Commandments, p.59)

That is a helpful way to understand the relationship between the first and second commandments. The first forbids the worship of false gods; the second forbids false worship, even of the one true God.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism points out that in this commandment the Lord gives us not only a prohibition against a particular form of sin (i.e. the making and serving of images of anything in all of creation), but also gives us several reasons why we should be careful to obey it:

Q. 52. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God’s sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship.

The first reason why we should be careful to obey this commandment is because God is sovereign over us – He is the Lord. In other words, we should not commit idolatry because God alone is God. In v.5 he calls himself “the LORD your God.” He alone is worthy of worship and obedience.

The second reason is because of God’s redemption and ownership of his people. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have even more reason to refrain from any form of idolatry. If he is “your God” (v.5), then you simply have no business committing idolatry.

The third reason given here is God’s own zeal for His worship – that the Lord “is a jealous God” (v.5) who will judge the “iniquity” of those who commit idolatry. And what motive does the Lord assign to those who would practice idolatry? Hatred of God. Think about that. Idolatry is essentially an expression of hatred toward God. No wonder God warns of judgment against those who practice it!

If you truly love God you will keep his commandments (v.6), especially his commandments regarding his worship! We are not left to worship the Lord according to our own imagination or preferences. The second commandment shows that God is jealous (or zealous) that he alone be worshiped, and that he be worshiped according to his revealed will in Scripture alone.


A Dangerous Love

Love of Money

Paul has some sobering words for us about a dangerous love – the love of money:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10, ESV)

Think about that for a moment.  The love of money, which by any reasonable measure is far more prominent among professing believers than we might imagine, is also far more dangerous than we might think.  I am often far more prone to the temptation to love money than I imagine.  Maybe you are too.

I don’t know about you, but the first way that I tend to mis-read this warning is to somehow assume that it must be primarily for the benefit of someone else (i.e. someone other than me, of course). We do that with a lot of the warnings and admonitions found in Scripture, don’t we?  And that serves to demonstrate the truth of Jeremiah 17:9, which tells us that our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”  Our hearts can be tricky things, can’t they?  Our hearts can fool or deceive us.  (Next time someone tell you to “just follow your heart,” remind them of Jeremiah 17:9!)

Another way that I tend to mis-read this warning is to assume that it must primarily be for the rich. (And by “rich” of course, I mean someone who has more than I do.)  But that is not what Paul says at all, is it?  He doesn’t say that having too much money is a root of all kinds of evils, but rather loving money.  So it is not a matter of being one of the haves or the have-nots, but a matter of loving money.  Both haves and have-nots can and do love money. Rich people can certainly love money, but so can the poor.  In fact, the poor person can easily spend just as much time obsessing about money as anyone else, rich or otherwise.  So being poor is no sure defense from the love of money, and neither is living comfortably somewhere in the middle.

Paul warns about at least three (3) dangers inherent in the love of money:

First, loving money is a “root of all kinds of evils.”  In other words, it is the cause or source of all kinds of other sins.  So to fail to guard your heart against the love of money is to effectively leave the door wide open for a host of other sins/evils.

A thoughtful examination of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21) will reveal that the love of money can lead to any number of the sins listed there.  Can the love of money lead to breaking the first commandment (i.e. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3, ESV)? You bet!  Jesus Himself tells us that we “cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).  How about the second commandment?  Paul tells us that greed or covetousness is “idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).  The fourth commandment practically spells it out for us:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11, ESV)

It is easy to see how the love of money (and/or a lack of faith in God’s provision for our needs) can cause someone to work unnecessarily on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) in order to make more money.  While there are certainly vocations in which working on the Lord’s day cannot be avoided (e.g. emergency service personnel, doctors, etc.), it must be said that most forms of work in our day simply do not fit that description. 

If you skip out on the public worship of the Lord Jesus Christ on Sundays in order to work and make more money, the love of money may be the culprit. After all, the Lord has given us “six days” (v.9) in which to work. (Six days sounds like plenty of time to work, right?)

How about murder? Certainly. (What do they always seem to say in the crime shows on TV? “Follow the money!”)  Adultery? Again, yes. Theft? Well, duh.  You get the picture.

Second, loving money is a “craving” that has led many a soul to ‘wander away from the faith.’  This alone should cause us to beware the love of money, and to guard our hearts closely.  Again, Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:24 come to mind – we cannot serve God and money at the same time. It is one or the other.

Third and finally, loving money leads to pain and regret.  To use Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 6:10, through the love of money some have “pierced themselves with many pangs.” Now to be sure this piercing with many pangs is something that Paul connected directly with wandering away from the faith.  The one leads to the other. In v.9 Paul says that a desire to be rich leads people into “many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” This is deadly serious stuff that Paul is talking about here.  The love of money is a very dangerous love.

Now think about the so-called “prosperity gospel” in light of all of this.  At the end of the day, what the proponents of the prosperity gospel are proclaiming is a false gospel that actively encourages the love of money (the very thing that Paul warns us against in 1 Timothy 6:10).  Their false gospel leads to “all kinds of evils.” Their false gospel leads its followers down a road that is likely to lead to wandering away from the faith!

The preachers of the prosperity gospel would have you to believe that earthly prosperity is your divine birthright, that you should have your best life now.  Paul warns us that such a message is a lie straight from the mouth of hell and that it leads to nothing but regret and heartache, and destruction.

But beyond even that, how many of us would never fall for the false teaching of the prosperity preachers on TV, but still in many ways seem to make it our goal to live our best life now?  How many of us are not content to live within our means? (Hello, credit card debt!) How many of us give God the leftovers rather than tithing? How many of us are desperate to seem successful, even in the eyes of others in the church?

No wonder the Apostle Paul also tells us that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6, ESV). May the Lord give us grace to guard our hearts from the love of money, and so spare us from all kinds of evils, wanderings, and pangs.  And may he drive out the love of money by pouring out His love in our hearts, that we might love Him first and foremost.

At the end of the day, the great commandment (to the love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. – Matthew 22:37) is not only for the glory of God, but for our own good as well.