The First Commandment: I am the Lord Your God

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we continue this series of articles in the field of Moral Theology. One of Moral Theology’s most important lessons is the Decalogue (literally Ten Words) or the Ten Commandments. I am sure you remember them from your catechism classes but let me review them so you may reflect on them for yourselves.

Very often when we hear about the Ten Commandments, we immediately imagine something negative, something that prohibits us from doing something: “Don’t do this or don’t do that.” Yet at the same time, we overlook why God gave the Decalogue to the people.

In Chapter 20 of the Book of Exodus, we read God was a protagonist and gave the commandments to the Jewish people because of His love for them. The Decalogue served as a sign of the Covenant, a sign of God’s love for the Jewish people. By keeping the Ten Commandments, the Jewish people accordingly declared their love for God and obeyed God’s word because of His love.

With the coming of Jesus Christ, scripture inherited a universal character. It also offered the world a new and everlasting Covenant, one established through the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ for the benefit of all nations. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).

And through scripture, Jesus reveals to all nations the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22, 37-40).

Recall God handed Moses two tablets with the Ten Commandments. On the first tablet were written commandments one through three (love for God), while written on the second tablet were the remaining seven (love for neighbor). Thus Jesus recapitulates the two commandments of love which define the law and confirm the words of the prophets.

Let me again underscore that the basis of the Ten Commandments is love: God’s love for the people and man’s love for God and for his neighbor. In this light, I offer a short description of the first commandment of the Decalogue.

The biblical text of the Ten Commandments is found in the Book of Exodus. The first commandment is: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not have other gods beside me. You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them” (Exodus 20, 2-5).

This is the first commandment of the Decalogue, the very basis and interpretation of the other nine commandments. And I want to explain it so that you understand it comfortably and completely. The first commandment consists of three parts which are not separate of each other but are like pieces of a stained glass window. Together, they craft one incredible portrait.

  • So, let’s analyze the first commandment and its three parts :
    Theological (Who is my God?): I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not have other gods beside me.
  • Pastoral (How do I believe in my God?): You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth.
  • Liturgical (How do I worship my God?): You shall not bow down before them or serve them.

From the very first words of the Decalogue, God reminds us about His love for His people and the help He offers them: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. We recognize that God is not some “phantasm,” not some “idea”, not some “force.” On the contrary, He is a “personal” God who — through His great
love — wants to build a strong relationship and make a covenant with us.

We must understand that God is Person One in the Holy Trinity with whom we can build a relationship of
love because “God is Love” (1 John 4,8). God is a Person who loves us with the supreme and eternal love within Himself. Jesus Christ told His disciples and tells us, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (John 15, 9-10).

A “phantasm,” an “idea” and a “force” cannot love you. An inanimate object cannot love you. But God so loved us that He suffered, was crucified, died and trampled death for all of us, for our salvation and for our everlasting life. Do you believe this? Do you understand it?

We live in a time of a highly pronounced religious crisis that greatly disturbs me. We live in a country and society originally shaped the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as well as Christian values. But today’s society has evolved into one plagued by selfishness, indifference and greed. Many people have strayed from the very Divinity who gave them life and ignore Him as a living, personal God. In Dr. Scott Hahn’s fascinating book, “Evangelizing Catholics,” we find some interesting yet frightening information.

A few years ago, Pew Research studied the beliefs and attitudes of Christians throughout the United States. Its findings disclosed just 48 percent of Catholics believe without a doubt that God is a personal God who they could know and with whom they could form a relationship. Considering the remaining core of U.S. Catholics, it means 52 percent of them think about God occasionally. To them, however, God is only a “phantasm” or a “universal spirit.”

In this period of religious crisis, the first commandment presents us a precise lesson to follow daily. People have not erased God from existence. But they tend to disregard His commandments, precepts and teachings. And they take for granted the graces He offers to help them through their lives and prepare them to spend eternity with Him. Yes, we are a people who quickly forget so the first commandment is there to remind us that God is a living, loving and caring God. We always must know and love Him in return and thank Him for all we have and do not have. For He knows what is best for us!

We live in a wonderful country that satisfies our needs with an abundance of blessings — freedom, food, clothes, medicines, jobs, education — all of them from Almighty God. But do we comprehend what He does for us? Or do we take His blessings for granted? Do we truly believe that God loves us?

Consider how many times God has blessed us. And how many times He has forgiven and saved us. Do we thank Him daily for these blessings? Do we believe God is a personal God waiting for us to love and serve Him all the time? Do we believe God is present in the Holy Eucharist, the living body and blood of Jesus Christ? I pray you will meditate on these questions until we further explore this subject in my next article.

Christos Voskrese! Voistinnu Voskrese!