In the most basic sense, the first commandment forbids the worship of any other deity, but in a deeper sense it is forbids attributing God’s attributes to anything apart from God. This means that we should not relate to anyone or anything else in such away as to question God’s power, his knowledge or his love for us. To put it more simply, we should never say: “God can’t…” or “I/They know better than God” or “This plan is better than God’s plan for me” (See Gen. 3 for how the serpent raises these ideas in Eve’s mind). One other way to explain what false worship is: it’s placing our faith or hope in something other than God, or loving something more than God.
Flourishing: God gives this command because false worship enslaves us and makes us less than human, whereas true worship sets us free. Mankind is enslaved to ignorance, superstition, base appetites and demonic forces when we worship things other than God. Created to be a priesthood that brings God’s glory into the world, we instead become like animals. Idolatry turns priests into beasts.
Fencing: Christians mustn’t have anything to do with the worship of other religions or supernatural powers such as the occult, spiritualism, astrology etc. Secondly, we must not deny our faith even when threatened, since to do so is to ascribe authority to the persecutor over God. Thirdly we must desire to obey God and trust that he can enable us through the Spirit’s power. This means we should desire to know his will as revealed in Scripture, and when we know it we should do the things he commands and not do the things he forbids.
Freeing: The command reveals Christ’s power and desire to free us from all enslaving idols, and to shut down our “idol factory” hearts. As we grow as Christians, Jesus sets us free from everything that enslaves us as the Spirit writes God’s law on our hearts. Part of the great joy and deep satisfaction of the Christian life lies in identifying and destroying idols in our lives with God’s help. Ultimately, we will love God completely and be totally free to love him and others as God commands, knowing the fullness of life that is in Christ.
Fulfilling: Having no other Gods doesn’t mean avoiding “worldly” hobbies, and only listening to Christian music, watching Christian TV, reading Christian books and having Christian friends – actually that just enslaves us all over again (Col 2:20-23). With Christ on the throne of our hearts we see that “in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16, Titus 1:16, 1 Timothy 4:4-5) That means the all the things that can enslave us in idolatry become an opportunity to glorify and enjoy God (even our battle against evil!) Every part of life falls into place and we find a deep satisfaction that makes us truly human. (Matt 6:33) That’s what it means to worship God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength; this is the fulfilment of the law.