September 27, 2020: No Substitutes - Bernie Shoemaker

Exodus 20:4-6; Romans 1:21-25

Anything that takes the place of God in our lives is an idol.

A. Connect to My Experience

How do you get to know someone?

Besides social media, what are other ways you can really get to know another person?

What are those hidden aspects of our lives that reveal our values and our loyalties?

(Calendar, checkbook, relationships, entertainment habits, and so on.)

In today’s session, we are looking at God’s desire for absolute loyalty and at humanity’s propensity to create and center itself on that which fails to give life.

As seen last week, the Ten Commandments were provided within a particular context and history involving God and Israel. Because of their history and the covenant that God established with Israel, God spoke these commandments to the people, not as something that was “forced” on them but as something that arose out of that history. Because of God’s nature and God’s redemption of the people of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt, it was fitting that the people offered their allegiance only to God (Exod. 20:2-3).

The other commandments assume this context and this relationship between God and the people. In many ways, these commandments should be interpreted together as a collection, rather than as separate imperatives or guidelines. Nonetheless, these first commandments that focused on God and the worship of God call for both the allegiance and the imagination needed to reshape Israel’s vision for relating to others.

B. The Second Commandment (Read Exodus 20:4-6)

The second commandment is related to the first one, as both were spoken and written in the first person. Whereas the first commandment begins, “I am the Lord your God” (v. 2), referring to Israel’s covenant and redemption, here we find God’s self-identification repeated as “I, the Lord your God” (v. 5).

These commandments are meant to shape the people’s life together as they fulfill their part of the covenant. These commandments also come at a particular point in time: the people have been redeemed from slavery in Egypt, they are in the midst of a wilderness journey, and one day they will inhabit a new land. 

Why does it matter that God gives this command to a people with whom God has established a covenant? (The commandments told the people how they were to live in fulfilling their covenant with God.)

From our vantage point, we know that the people will inhabit a land of foreign people and foreign gods. Knowing that, sheds light on God’s command to abstain from forming images or idols. Remember that God is a jealous God and wants to be worshiped alone.

If everything God created was “very good” (Genesis 1:31), why would God command them not to make images of what God created? (Common responses are that this protected God’s transcendence, as God is above and beyond everything in creation as Creator. Nothing we create can, or does, represent God.)

C. Worship of God in an Idolatrous World (Read Romans 1:21-25)

The lesson writer writes: “The beginning of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians is optimistic. The apostle Paul declares his confidence in the gospel that God made available to all who have faith (v. 16), and he asserts that everyone, even those who were not Jewish and not beneficiaries of the covenant, can understand God and God’s purposes at some level. Although this knowledge may not be saving faith, God has still been revealed through “what has been made” (v. 20). Paul makes it clear that “what may be known about God is plain” to all people “because God has made it plain to them” (v. 19). This is why, similar to Exodus 20 and the mention of punishment for those who rejected or hated God (v. 5), Paul writes about the “wrath of God” that is “revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom. 1:18). Paul insists that who God is, including God’s “eternal power and divine nature,” has not only been seen but understood, with the result that all people are “without excuse” (v. 20).”

This passage describes humanity’s movement toward darkened hearts. Paul says the reason for this is that they “neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (1:21).

o What does it mean to glorify God, and how would glorifying God have kept people’s hearts from darkening?

o Why is thanksgiving such an important part of this?  For what reason(s) were they to give God thanks?

Twice Paul writes that humans “exchanged” one thing for a lesser thing. Humans exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles (v. 23).

o In what ways do people exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles” today (v. 23)? (Worshiping anything—-people, places, things—other than God is foolishness.)

Verse 24 says, “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.”

o How would you interpret this passage? (When we reject God and choose our own desires, God doesn’t stand in our way.)

They also exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator (v. 25). In other words, the people separated themselves from their connection to God for connection to a created thing.

o In what ways have you seen examples of this today?

o In what ways can we stay connected to God?

D. Connect to My Life and the World

One of the things about forming images of anything, including God, is that it locks that thing, or person, or idea in place. It takes something dynamic and makes it static. It becomes something we can get our hands around and control.

o How might we find ourselves exchanging our relationship with God with a domesticated god we can control? Why do we do that?

o Are there certain images of God that we might be tempted to make into idols? If so, what?

We were reminded in this session that even though God made everything in all of creation, and it was all very good, God’s desire is that we would not make an idol out of a created thing. Silently consider:

o Have there been things in your life that have become an idol for you? 

o Are there things in our church life that have become all-consuming and surpassed the worship of God?

o What are those good things in our lives that can easily become idols?  How do we know if they’ve become idols?

o In what ways do you need God’s help to keep Him at the center of your life?

Richard P. Thompson writes to sum up this lesson: “Because the fashioning of images and idols often involve attempts to domesticate God or to manipulate God in ways that suit us, the contemporary dangers associated with this commandment may be greater than with the first commandment. The problems that sometimes come with the ways that we speak of God and God’s ways can “exchange” God’s greatness, holiness, and mystery for a God more accessible, manageable, and down to earth. We may lose sight of the wonder and majesty of God in the process.”

Is there anything currently in your life that might be considered an idol?

Abba Father, would you help those who are reading this lesson to consider what is at the center of their lives. I pray that your Holy Spirit would be at work in their hearts and lives, bringing them to a place of undivided loyalty. Amen.

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