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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:God says, Serve me only
Text:LD 34 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 1st Commandment (God alone)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

All songs from the 2010 Book of Praise:

Psalm 47
Psalm 115:1-4
Psalm 96:1-3
Hymn 1
Hymn 66

Readings:  2 Kings 17:1-23, Colossians 3:1-17
Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 34

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Bill spent most of his spare time in worship.  He put in his eight hours a day at his job – he would come home and then worship.  But even in his spare moments at work Bill would be worshipping.  Sometimes he would even take time away from his work to worship.  His boss was not very clued into these sorts of things, so Bill got away with it.  Hours and hours every week were spent at home and work devoted to the one thing that gave Bill pleasure and relief from the stresses he faced.  Bill was an avid worshipper of pornography.

Then there was Sue.  She was also a worshipper.  She too had something in her life that absorbed her heart and captivated her attention.  She had something she loved more than anything else in the world.  It was something that gave her comfort and hope from day to day.  It gave her life meaning and made her feel secure.  If she would lose it, it would have stripped her life of all purpose.  Like Bill, she devoted hours to her worship.  Sue was an avid worshipper of her self-image.  She spent hours devoted to diet, exercise, and her appearance.

Now those are just two examples – and, by the way, they are interchangeable.  I could have described Sue as the worshipper of pornography and Bill as the worshipper of self-image.  They’re not exclusively male or female things.  And we could add all kinds of other objects of worship:  money, sports, music, other people, pride, your children, your job, alcohol, drugs, the list is endless.   

What I want you to realize is that human beings are always worshippers.  When we were created, we were designed to serve and worship our Creator.  It was in our DNA, so to speak.  But with the fall into sin, the drive to worship became distorted.  Rather than serving the Creator, human beings turned into idol factories.  After the fall, everyone still worships, but not everyone worships the true God and him only.  And even those who only worship the true God in principle, they don’t always worship him alone in practice.  As Christians too, we easily devise idols, things that take the place of God in our lives. 

We are very clever and inventive when it comes to our idols.  We can take anything created in this world and turn it into an idol.  Things that were created good by God become the objects of our devotion in place of him.  Want an example?  Take food.  Food is a good thing.  We need food to live.  We can even enjoy food and find pleasure in it.  All the different varieties of food that are out there are there for our enjoyment.  But food can become an idol.  People can take food and easily, without even thinking, mould it into an object of worship.  You don’t have to be overweight to do this.  People can be gluttonous idolaters while staying well within their BMI.  That’s how deceptive sin is, that’s how idolatry captivates us and corrupts our thinking and lives. 

We are worshippers and we always will be.  As long as we live here on this earth, there will always be something enticing us away from the worship of the one true God.  That’s why we need to heed the call of God’s law.  As a whole, God’s law calls us to love him and him only.  But then the first commandment sharpens this further.  This commandment recognizes that we are worshippers, but we need to direct our worship and devotion to the one true God.  This afternoon, as we consider the biblical teachings of our Catechism, we’ll consider:

1.      The reasons we serve him only

2.      The consequences of failing to serve him only

3.      The blessings of serving him only 

The first commandment says that we shall have no other gods before Yahweh, the true God.  This means that he alone is to be the One who receives our dedication and devotion.  We are to find the meaning and purpose of our lives in him alone.  As the Catechism puts it, the first commandment tells us that we are to know this true God, trust in him only, submit to him, expect all our good from him, and love, fear, and honour him with everything in our being.  God is to be our everything, our all in all.  Our lives are to be centered on him, and not on ourselves or anything or anyone else.

Okay, you say, but give me some reasons why I should do that.  After all, having many gods can be a lot of fun.  Idols can give you a lot of pleasure.  You can serve God and other things too, can’t you?  Why can’t Bill look at pornography and be a Christian who serves God?  Why can’t Sue be a Christian and also be devoted to her self-image?  Lots of people are syncretists, they blend the worship of idols with the worship of God.  Why shouldn’t we?

Let’s look at Colossians 3 and see what Paul says about this.  In verse 5, Paul identifies several sins:  sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed.  Greed summarizes the four sins that precede.  Every sin is about wanting something.  There’s a close connection between the tenth commandment (which speaks about coveting) and the first commandment (which speaks of idolatry).  Here Paul identifies them as being basically the same thing.  When you are greedy, and that’s not just greedy for money, but when you want something and crave it obsessively, it becomes an object of worship, it becomes your idol.  It takes the place of God in your life.  God says that you should desire and crave him, but you have put this thing in the place of him.  Psalm 73:25 has the psalmist Asaph praying to God, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”  The greedy idolater sneers at that.  He wants his idol, and if God will be in the picture, it has to be on the idolater’s terms.  Paul says that this manner of thinking is out of place for a Christian.  Christians have to put all this to death, they have to kill it.  They have to war against their idols and destroy them.  He’s saying that you can’t be peacefully living in a state of affairs where you have your idols and you claim to worship God.  Christians fight against their idolatry – they hate it and they seek to put it in the grave.  They aim to serve the one true God only.    

Paul gives the reasons why Christians should do that.  Almost all the reasons Paul gives have to do with Christ.  The reasons are found in verses 1-4 of Colossians 3.  It will be helpful if you have your Bible open with me as we look at these reasons.

The first reason:  you have been raised with Christ.  As a believer, you share in Christ’s resurrection.  You share in his victory over sin and death.  How can you live like a loser?  How can you live as if this victory is not yours?  As if you are not united to him.  Brothers and sisters, you have been raised with Christ.  Where he is now (at the right hand of God), someday you will be too.  It’s time to be who you are!  Right now! 

The second reason Paul gives is that “you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”  When Jesus died on the cross, he secured your salvation for eternity.  He is your Saviour.  He bought you with a price.  Your sins were nailed to his cross, your sinful nature crucified with him.  As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, in Christ we are a new creation.  How can such a new creation have divided loyalties?  It shouldn’t.  Still, in this age, we often do have divided loyalties.  It’s a struggle for us, but none of us should be content to let things sit.  Why?  Because we have a great Saviour in Jesus and we are united to his resurrection and his death. 

The third reason we find here is in verse 4.  We have a promise.  Christ is our life and someday he will appear.  We have the promise that we will appear with him in glory.  That should motivate us to serve the one true God only, because here we see his love.  He loves us and will come for us.  He loves us and will someday perfect us.  He holds out to us this gracious promise and this fills us with a desire to please him and follow his will.  We love him who first so greatly loved us, we love him who has shown his love for us in the past, and will show it even more fully in the future. 

Taken together, these three reasons in verses 1-4 add up to the gospel.  Why should you serve God alone?  Because of the gospel, because of what Christ has done for you in his grace.  Because you have been deeply loved and redeemed.  Because of the gospel, idolatry doesn’t fit with who you are.

In case you need it, Paul adds one more reason further down in verse 6.  “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”  Though humans often are, God is never indifferent about idolatry.  He will punish it with a just judgment both now and eternally.  For those who live in this sin and refuse to repent, there is divine wrath on the horizon.  God is a jealous God and he tolerates no competition.  God is a holy God and when he judges he shows no mercy to the unrepentant.  All need to turn from this sin, hate it and flee it, and look to Christ for salvation.  Having done that, all of us must be committed to serving the one true God alone, recognizing how much he hates this sin.  Because we are being recreated in his image, we likewise are going to hate the sin of idolatry, fight it, and devote ourselves to him only.                            

Along those same lines, let’s also briefly consider the consequences of failing to serve God only.  What happens when we hear all this and go “whatever” and just continue with our idols?  There’s a lot that could be said on this point.  But let’s just restrict ourselves to what we find revealed in our reading from 2 Kings 17. 

Here we have a powerful illustration of the consequences of idolatry.  The Israelites had become syncretists.  They worshipped Yahweh, the true God, but they didn’t worship him alone.  It was always Yahweh plus.  Yahweh plus Molech.  Yahweh plus Baal.  Yahweh plus Ashtoreth.  Prophets were sent to the people to warn them.  But the people said, “Whatever” and just continued living in their sin.  They didn’t care.  They were having a good time.  Some of these pagan gods were rather fun to worship.  Much of this pagan worship involved sex.  Others were more demanding, some were even gruesome, involving human sacrifices of little children.  But the Jews were hooked.  Addicted to idols, they couldn’t and wouldn’t break free.  God had to finally do an intervention through the Assyrians.  The Jews described here were sent into exile.  The biggest sin that accounted for the exile into Assyria was idolatry.   

The person who wrote Kings describes all of this in some detail.  He was not a detached observer just noting the facts.  He gives moral judgments – he clearly indicates that the Jews were doing wicked things and provoking Yahweh’s anger.  He makes it clear that it’s not just a hypothesis or theory that the exile happened because of idolatry – it’s a fact.  It’s been revealed by the Holy Spirit. 

Then pay special attention to what the author of Kings writes under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in verse 15, the last half of that verse:  “They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”  Loved ones, do you see what God is saying in his Word?  You become what you worship.  That can and should be a frightening thought for recovering idolaters like me and you.  You become what you worship.  If you follow worthless idols, you will become worthless or vain, empty, unsubstantial.  Your life will be wasted.  That is the consequence of failing to serve the one true God only.  Instead of becoming more and more like your Creator, you will become more and more like the thing you have twisted into your little god. 

The same thought is found elsewhere in the Bible.  For instance, it’s in Psalm 115 (which we sang before the sermon).  Verse 8 says it, “Those who make idols will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”  You become what you worship.  You want to serve pornography -- images of sad, broken people enslaved to pornographers?  You will become like it in more ways than that.  It will turn you into something cruder than an animal.  You want to serve self-image – an appearance that is fleeting, a body that will someday decay in the grave.  You will become like it.  For starters, it will pull you into the abyss of narcissism.  You want to serve the bottle – a drunken stupor that destroys the people and relationships around you.  You will become like it.  It will make you into a destroyer.  And here, at this moment, you can fill in the blank with your own idol if I haven’t already mentioned it.  All our idols will assimilate us into their image.  You give idols your love – what do they give you in return?  Instead of loving you back, they destroy you.  They destroy you by making you like them.  Those are the horrible consequences of failing to serve God only. 

I find it horrifying, immensely disturbing.  When I came across these words in 1 Kings some weeks ago, it was a light bulb moment.  I’d read it before.  I’d sung Psalm 115 before many times.  But suddenly it became clear.  Idolatry conforms us to an image that is not the one we were designed in.  If you want to be concrete, idolatry conforms us to an image that is more like a zombie than that of Jesus Christ the only Saviour and Lord.  Idolatry turns us into the living dead.      

This, brothers and sisters, is another added motivation to hate this sin and flee it.  Don’t listen to the lies your idols tell you – that you will be happy, that you will find comfort and acceptance, that everything will be fine if you just bow down and give in.  Instead, turn to Christ, seeking forgiveness through him, and begging for the help of the Holy Spirit to fight.  This is another added motivation to be diligent about serving our only God in heaven.  To be conscientious from day to day about how prone we are to idols, how we need to be on our guard at all times.  Instead of seeking our comfort and help from creaturely things or people, we need to have our eyes directed upwards to the true God.  As we do that, there are blessings associated with it.  Let me mention two. 

First of all, it is a delight to serve the true God only.  A regenerated person is never satisfied with divided loyalties.  But when you serve the true God alone with increasing consistency, that brings real delight in your life.  It gives real meaning, purpose, and direction to your existence on this earth.  Why?  Because you are living out God’s original plan and design for humanity.  You serving the one true God is what you were created for.  What you were created for is designed for God’s glory and for your enjoyment.  You will find pleasure in living according to God’s commandments, including the first.  If you need proof of that, read through Psalm 119 and see the psalmist’s delight with the law of God.

Second, it is beneficial for yourself and for others when you serve the true God only.  God’s commandments always have our best interests at heart.  His law is a good law, intended to bless us and keep us in the way of life.  When you serve the one true God only, you find peace and contentment within.  Your conscience will be at ease.  By his grace, you’ll be growing in his image and that in turn means that you are growing in learning God’s ways to relate to other people around you.  Why?  Because if you are serving God only, his Word will be your guide.  When he speaks in the Bible, also when he speaks about how to relate to the people around you, you listen and you follow.  You submit to him with humility and patience.  And that will invariably be a blessing for you and for others.

Brothers and sisters, all of us are idolaters to some degree or another.  We’re each at varying stages of getting weaned off our idols.  But the most terrifying thing would be for someone here to be an idolater and not even know it or even care.  John Calvin once wrote about such people.  He compared them to someone who cleans toilets for a living.  Such a person has been in the filth for so long that he doesn’t understand why other people pinch their noses when they’re around him.  He thinks that the filth is normal and he’s among the roses and he might even laugh at the ones who are offended by his smell.  That’s was Calvin’s way of saying that it can be hard to convict people of idolatry when they’re caught up in it.  It’s called self-deception and we can all be subjected to it, we all have blind spots.

For that reason, we can be thankful for the regular preaching of the law of God.  The law is given to wake us up, to give us a reality check.  It’s there to show us that we are a long ways off from what God demands.  We then repent of our sins and turn to Christ time and again.  We ask our Father to forgive us, not only for the sins that we’re fully aware of, but also our hidden faults and our blind spots.  He will forgive us.  The gospel promises us that.  In loving adoration of our forgiving God, we then earnestly desire to keep all his commandments.  We desire to be fully committed to him, and we try to do exactly that.  Not to earn his favour, but because his favour has been earned for us by Christ.  Redeemed by grace, your God now says to you, “Serve me only.”  Say it with me in your heart, “I will serve you alone, O God.  Please help me with your Spirit to do that.”  AMEN.      


Our Father in heaven,

You are the one only true God.  We have no God but you.  We confess to you that we have often served idols.  We have betrayed your love for us time and again.  We are like that unfaithful wife who strays from her husband again and again.  How thankful we are for your grace and forgiveness in Christ!  Again, we seek that from you.  We ask you to have mercy on us for all our whoring after false gods – we ask that in Christ Jesus.  Please wash us in his blood and credit all his righteousness to our accounts.  We pray, too, for the work of your Spirit in your lives.  Help us to serve you only.  Please help us to do that more consistently.  Please work in our lives so that we grow in our devotion to you and that we see the lies that idols hold out.  Father, please let us be conformed to your image, and not to the image of the idols that tempt us and threaten to destroy us.  O God, have mercy and save us and our children from idols. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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