One of the “elder statesmen” in my adult Sunday school class has touted the idea recently that human beings need guardrails. He has borrowed this idea from Pastor Andy Stanley [founder and senior pastor of North Point Ministries in Georgia and son of well-known television evangelist Charles Stanley].
Stanley has a sermon series called “Guardrails.”* He explains that drivers need a system designed to keep vehicles from straying off into dangerous or off-limit areas. They are designed to offer direction and protection. In this world today, do we need guardrails? Of course anyone driving down a stretch of highway will see these safety features and most of us admit that they are probably necessary. They keep us from danger by directing us down the road in the safe zone.
But what does the idea of guardrails mean beyond automobile safety? My elder statesman is implying that we need guardrails to help keep us living a righteous life.
This post begins a series on what some would consider God’s guardrails: the Ten Commandments. In his book Basic Christianity, John Stott discusses the Ten Commandments as standards by which we measure our behavior. His contention is that humans need standards [does that sound a bit like guardrails?].
The First Commandment is You shall have no other gods before me. Since this is the first commandment, some see the other nine commandments as being built on this first command. This commandment [being in the first five] is in the section that lists the duties that man owes to God. When one turns to Deuteronomy 5: 6-7 and reads some of the bigger context of this commandment, you see that God not only commands but God also gives His reasons for prohibiting idolatry: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” It does sound like He is telling the Israelite nation you owe me this because of what I did for you. I alone had the power to rescue you from your Egyptian captors. I chose you as My people, I protected you and delivered you so you need to worship Me alone.
Sounds clear doesn’t it? We think of the Hebrew people who strayed while Moses went on to Mount Sinai. They forgot about God and decided to worship a golden calf in His place. Read the Old Testament and see the number of times that Asherah poles** became the center of Hebrew worship. Israelite kings built them and tore them down over and over again. These people were also influenced by cultures that worshipped Baal*** Baal seemed important because he “controlled” the fertility of crops and fertility in child-bearing.
The main point is that these are all false gods and idols taking the place of the true God.
Now, let’s stop…
What does this have to do with today’s person who really has no strange god to worship or no idol constructed to represent that god?
Here is the connection. Anytime a Christian strays into thinking about someone or something so much that they are forgetting God, they are going away from the safe zone and heading into the danger zone. There was a time in my life when I went to church and if anyone asked me to identify my religion, I would say “I am a Christian.” However, I did not have a very close relationship with Jesus Christ. These were years when I thought too much about the love I had for a sport, golf. I watched every golf tournament on television I could, I became a student of the game [trying to improve my game and buy the best equipment], I played as many rounds of golf as I could afford. When I was not on a golf course, I was thinking about being on a golf course.
I went overboard; I worshipped golf. God was way down on the list of concerns that I had in my life. I lost my perspective, my sense of priorities.
Idol worship occurs in many forms today. Some people worship fame; they want to be well-known in the world. Everyone should know who they are; the white hot light of the daily news media should be on them every day. If that is not possible, others want to worship those who are in that light, so they come to worship celebrities. Other people worship money. They really work hard to be rich, putting in enormous effort to make as much money as they can [hint: the rich never seem to have enough money]. Others are wowed by material possessions, expensive cars, homes, clothing etc. For many, the more ostentatious the possession the louder the message “I AM SPECIAL; I AM RICH; I AM SUCCESSFUL!”
We could go on and on with idolatry examples in our world today but before I go too far, it is not wrong to be famous, rich or possess things. It becomes wrong when our “idols” become so important in our lives that we put fame, fortune and things before God.
We turn to the Old Testament for many examples of false gods and idols but we can also turn to the New Testament for admonitions about idol worship. Jesus says in Matthew 6: 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 19 tells the story of the rich young ruler who turned away from Christ because he could not part from his wealth.
At the base of a lot of idol worship is the idea of pride: even though Second Chronicles 26: 5 [in the OT] says “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” we see this echoed in 1 Peter 5:5 “Young men, in the same way, be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Anyone who worships other gods needs to heed the words from Acts 17: 24-25, 29: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. …Therefore, since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the Divine Being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skills.”
One of my favorite scriptures occurs in Matthew 22: 37 when Jesus is questioned about the greatest commandment and He replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The focus of life is on God—nothing else. Is this bar too high? It is. Only one man was able to do this and that was Jesus Christ. John Stott writes that this Scripture and the First Commandment is all about deciding to make God our guide, “putt[ing] Him first in our thought, word and deed; in business and leisure; in friendships and career; in the use of our money, time and talents; at work and at home.”
This is the meaning of the First Commandment: guardrail number one…
*accessed on YouTube “Guardrails”, October 20, 2021.
**An Asherah pole is a sacred tree or pole that stood near Canaanite religious locations to honor the Ugaritic mother goddess Asherah.
*** Baal appears about 90 times in the Hebrew Bible, most prominently in the First Book of Kings.