Exodus 20:3-7 (NIV)
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
The first three commandments show how we are to live in reference to and in light of the only true and living God.
The first commandment tells us that we are to have no other gods but God. He is to be the exclusive object of our worship, the ultimate object of our love and desire. The second commandment is similar and tells us that we are not to worship God according to our own conception of God, what the Bible calls idolatry. We must worship God according to who he is and not according to what we want him to be. In other words, do not worship false gods, and do not worship God falsely.
The third commandment is actually similar to the first two. We are not to misuse or mistreat the name of God. We know God’s name describes his character, the essence of his being, which is why he told Moses that his name is “I am.” In other words, God is saying, “My name is that I’m self-existent and eternal.” To not misuse the name of God doesn’t merely mean that there are certain words we can or cannot say. It means that when we speak of God, whether through words or lifestyle, we are to fully honor and respect who he is.
Let’s consider the first two commandments a bit more. Say, for instance, you believe in your heart that attaining some goal in your life—prestige, a certain kind of job, a relationship with the person of your dreams—will provide you with ultimate comfort and will answer your heart’s desire for significance. In a daily functional way, you look to that goal to provide you with deeper comfort than God. That’s breaking the first commandment. You’ve turned your goal into God. Prestige, a certain job, or a person has become the object of your worship.
The flip side is that if you worship God because you believe that he should provide you with comfort by providing the prestige, the job, or the relationship that you desire and are looking for, you are also violating the commandments. You’ve imposed your conception of who God is on God. You’ve created a custom designer god, an idol. These first two commandments are that we worship God alone, that we worship God as a true God, and that we not worship a designer god or an idol.
So why do these commandments insist on us worshiping God alone and worshiping God as he is and not as we want him to be? Why is the third commandment so insistent on honoring and respecting his name and his character? It is because God created us with a desire that only he can fulfill—a desire for him. If we are always trying to change who God is or replace him with something else, we’ll never be at peace. We’ll never experience true comfort, true significance, or true joy. We’ll never be whole. But if God is at the center of our lives, not another god or a revised version of God, but the true and living God, we’ll truly be at peace.
This is precisely why Augustine wrote, “You’ve made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”