How God Loves Us in the First Commandment

Share this:
Share on Facebook

Episode Synopsis

How can a law be loving? A fresh look at the first commandment explains God exclusive love for His children.

Audio Transcript

Heidi: Welcome everyone. We’re so glad to have you with us today. As we mentioned last week, Jani and I would love to help you guys get to know us a little bit better as we are getting to know you too. And so we wanted to start our podcast episodes with just one fun fact. And so I’m with my wonderful co-host today, Jani Ortlund, and one fun thing about her is that she actually grew up in Minnesota where this time of year it was covered with snow and she loved to play in the snow and go ice skating. Did you call it snow skiing?

Jani: Skiing, yes.

Heidi: I think that’s so fun to imagine you in Minnesota, Jani, pulling on your, what are those called?

Jani: Snow pants…

Heidi: …leggings and mittens that have to be waterproof this time of year.

Jani: Yes. Oh my goodness. My dear mom getting all four of us kids into our boots and hats and mittens and we lived in a home that had radiators, so when we came home we’d put our wet clothes over the radiators and they would just steam and get warm and dry. I loved it. There is not much snow here in Nashville this time of year is there Heidi?

Heidi: Not at all. I do buy my kids snow pants for the one time of year that we get about a millimeter of snow and we go out in our snow pants and we enjoy that and every Christmas we pray, “Oh Lord bless us with snow.”

Jani: I love it. Well, one of the things my co-host Heidi Howerton does that I think is remarkable is she reads all the time. This morning when I came in, she was telling me about a book that she read in four days, 500 pages in four days, and this is a mother of three little kids! How do you do it?

Heidi: You guys are going to think that I don’t do anything else, but this is rare. I very rarely read a 500 page book in four days, but I read a story by Francine rivers called “The Masterpiece” and it was just so good. And so I often stay up late with Mike and he’ll read, and then he’ll go to bed. Last night I told Mike I stayed up until 10 and I finished the whole book. I always love to have a good book in hand.

Jani: I love a reader. I’m glad you’re my friend. You can recommend good books to me. Well, we are doing a series called “His Loving Law, Our Lasting Legacy.” We’re talking about the 10 Commandments, how to live them out and give them to the children in our lives. And today we’re starting the very first commandment. Our goal is to see many families gathered around their table, sharing a little dessert and also sharing the word of God and for the children in your life to learn what the 10 Commandments are, why God gave them to us, how to live them out, and how he loves us through them. Today we’re starting the first commandment and what we want to spend our first several minutes on is this idea of his law being loving. How does God love us through this law? Now we’ve said already that the law is like a mirror. It reflects back to us our imperfections, our failures, our sin, and we’ve also said a mirror is only helpful to show us who we are. It can’t clean us. We don’t use the mirror to get clean. It just shows us who we are, but in order for it to be helpful, we have to look into it with eyes wide open. Sometimes when I get up first thing in the morning, I don’t want to look in the mirror. I remember how awful I look and so we want to be careful not to do that with God’s law. We want to look into the mirror of his law with eyes wide open because there’s real evil in this world, but there’s a deeper truth that the 10 Commandments will tell us. The Bible says there is real evil in our own souls and it’s the law of God that reveals it.

Heidi: I think of Jeremiah 17:9 Jani, and it says, “T,he heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Jani: Yeah, that’s so true. Desperately sick. We can’t even understand our own hearts. That tells us that we need someone who can help us understand our hearts, one who can cleanse all that we see in the reflection of our-self in the mirror of the law and in that cleansing to win our hearts so that we learn to love and obey his law. Now, we’ve been talking about the first several chapters of Exodus last week. We asked you to read Exodus 1-19 because we want you to see that grace always proceeds law. The first 19 chapters of Exodus are full of God’s gracious care for the children of Israel. It says, “I am the Lord your God who…” there in chapter 20 of Exodus. The entire story up to this point has been grace. It is God who cared, God who rescued these slaves and made them a people for himself. It is God who took the initiative over and over and over again. This is what his grace does for us, dear sister, it rescues us from what we can’t do on our own. God’s grace is a massive rescue operation and grace should never be a passive force in the life of a believer. The nature of God’s grace should energize us and inspire us. Let me illustrate it this way. Maybe you remember those days as a child when you so wanted to buy your father a Father’s Day gift, but had no money of your own. In my life, it looked like this: I would go to my dad and ask him for some cash. He would hesitate and say, “Well, what do you need money for Jani?” And then when I told him I wanted to get him a Father’s Day present, he would smile, reach into his wallet and give me some cash. Sometimes he would even drive me to the store to spend it, and on Father’s Day around the dinner table in all sincerity, he would make much of my present. You see, my gift was from dad and for dad and to dad. It was grace from start to finish. That’s how our Father loves us. Heidi, will you read the first commandment for us there from Exodus 20:3?

Heidi: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Jani: We want to talk about this commandment a little bit before we begin teaching it to our children. Let’s let it sink deep into our own hearts and minds. You shall have no other gods before me. This first commandment calls for an undivided love from slaves for their Redeemer. Now, in the ancient world, polytheism was assumed. All the other nations in Israel’s day, how does smorgasbord of gods and goddesses they could mix and match and exchange loyalties with in order to ensure whatever they needed at the time. Did you know that the plagues targeted Egypt’s different gods? Their gods of water and sun and darkness and so on, and the plagues called for Israel to leave that smorgasbord of gods behind. God was saying to those he rescued, I have discredited those gods. I alone am God. I am your God and you shall have no other gods before me. What do we see about God in this first commandment? What do we learn about him? Well, we see that God loves us with an exclusive love. The love of God is intense, specific, passionate. He will not share his redeemed son or daughter with another. God’s jealousy over his loved one is not ugly. It’s not selfish. His relationship with his redeemed one is exclusive because intimacy thrives in exclusivity. The Bible often refers to our relationship with God using a marital metaphor. What wife wouldn’t want her husband to rise up and call her back to himself if another man started demanding her attention? God is saying, “I am giving myself to you in grace. I don’t want anything between us. I want to be the sole object of your devotion and allegiance and worship.” Do you hear God’s loving words to you, dear friend, his loving jealousy over your heart in this command? Let me illustrate it this way. I travel quite a bit and have walked through many an airport and as I’m walking through, I listen with half an ear to the messages that are repeated over the speaker system about “…in the interest of public safety…”, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. “There is no parking along the curb”, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But if I were to hear “All parked, cars will be towed at the owner’s expense. Paging, paging, paging, Mrs Jani Orlund.” Wait a minute. They just called my name! “Mrs Ortlund, please proceed to the nearest white courtesy phone for a very important message.” You see, I ignore those messages there until they speak my name. Well, it can be the same way with God. In this commandment, God is speaking my name, Heidi’s name, your name, dear listener. He is saying, “Heidi, I have called you and brought you to myself.” “Jani, I have called you and brought you to myself. I have redeemed you from your own personal Egypt and I’m jealous for your heart. I want you to love me above everything else. I want your undivided love. Don’t have any other gods before me.” Through this first command, God protects us. He’s nurturing his intense, exclusive love relationship with his beloved daughter. Now you may be thinking as you read this first command, “Well Jani, I don’t have any other gods for goodness sake. I’m a Christian. Is this even relevant to me today?” But remember to whom this commandment was written, to God’s redeemed. God was speaking to his own children. The very wording of it acknowledges that there are indeed gods whom we do and will continue to worship. God wouldn’t warn us against things that don’t exist. The truth is we do have other gods. We don’t actually eliminate God almighty in heaven, but we allow god substitutes to cohabit beside him. You see, anything that comes between God and me that compromises my walk with him is a god to me. What I’m saying as I let that God lit into my life is, “You’re really not enough for this situation, Lord. You’re not providing for me or protecting me or fulfilling me in the ways that I need. So I’m bringing this other God into my life to close the gap between your seeming unwillingness and my needs.” We need to ask ourselves, “How do we know if something is coming between ourselves and God? ” Well, here are questions that I have to ask myself, “Where do I first turn to in times of trouble? When I’m lonely or discouraged or overwhelmed, what’s my first source of comfort? What excites me and makes me happy? What do I spend my money on and invest my time in?” Oh, you could just look at my checkbook and my calendar over the last month and see if I have any god substitutes. I have to ask myself, who really is my God, what is at the very core of my life? You see, whatever whomever has a hold of my heart, a greater, stronger, seemingly more satisfying hold than Jesus Christ has become my god. The Bible gives us examples of these kinds of gods. We won’t take the time to read them this morning, but let me just list them for you. See if any of them have become god substitutes in your own life: power, money, things or covetousness, appetites, pleasure, and the ultimate god behind every other god of our hearts is self.

Jani: I think of 2 Timothy 3:2-5, “For people will be lovers of self…rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

Jani: Our lives aren’t miracle anymore, are they? There is no power in them. We just have an appearance of being godly because we love ourselves more than we love God. We’ve put our self on the throne and God lovingly comes and says, “Oh, don’t have any other god before me.” You see, God is calling to us all in this first command. Can you hear him? He’s calling you away from false worship back to himself, the God who brought you out of the Egypt of your old life now claims you. He gave himself fully to you at the cross. He warns us that lukewarm Christians make him nauseated. He’s saying, “I value you. Don’t receive my grace in vain.” How do we live this out? How do we receive God’s grace truly and wholly? Well, we begin with God’s help and by his grace to un-deify the other gods in our life. We no longer base our happiness and fulfillment on Jesus, plus anything else, Jesus plus a husband, Jesus plus children, Jesus plus a good reputation, Jesus plus a house, Jesus plus good health, Jesus plus achievements, you name it. What if, just think about this, what if God were the only thing I had in heaven and on earth? Would he be enough? When we by his grace as he frees us from our own Egypt’s choose God as our only God, everything starts to change. We begin to see everything as from God and everything as for God and we can say with the Psalmist in Psalm 16:2 “…I have no good apart from you” so that every task becomes a divine appointment. Every dollar earned and spent is gratefully received from the hand of God and yielded to him for his investment. Every gift from him is an undeserved grace. We begin to experience authentic Christianity as miracle not management. Is your life a miracle? Are you living proof of what only God can do or have you made yourself what you are even as a Christian? God is saying positively to us in this first commandment, “You shall have me.” Oh, I love that. He loves us in this commandment by telling us to have him and him alone. It’s only as we value and enjoy Christ more and more that the other gods in our hearts begin to lose their grip on us and the flavor of our faith presses on from management to miracle. That’s our praayer for you as we study the 10 Commandments that we will see more and more of the miracle of God in each of our lives. Now, let me give you another assignment for this week. I hope you are able to do your assignment last week. Again, we want to remind you that on our website at, you can find a transcript of each podcast and there will be the Bible references. There will also be these assignments in case you forget. We’re trying to keep them simple so that just as you take them in through your ears, you can remember. For you this week I only have one. I want you to think through what you fear, what you serve and what you depend on more than God. Are there other people or desires or things that compete for your spiritual time and energy? I’m asking you to meditate on Psalm 62:1. We’ve talked about this verse before, about finding our rest from God alone. From him alone comes our salvation. So think through what you fear, what you depend on, what you serve, what people, desires or things compete for your spiritual time and energy? Come before God. Ask him to show you. Now with your children, gather them together around your table. I suggest having something sweet if it’s not dessert time, maybe some Skittles or M&M’s or a lollipop or something fun and encourage them to taste and see that the Lord is good. Open up your Bible and for those children who can read, have them read Exodus 20:3, the first command, and then write a Roman numeral one and write that command on the upper left corner of your big red heart. That’s the first thing. Memorize Exodus 20:3, the first commandment and write it on your heart together. Then this week, the second thing I want you to do is read about the life of Solomon together from a children’s Bible. You can start with his birth and how he became King and how he was known for his wisdom. Talk about how he started well, but then help your children see what happened. Read together 1 Kings 11:1-10 and talk about it this week. You might want to take a couple of nights to do this. Heidi and I are not giving you seven assignments so that you are meeting each day with your children around the word. We’re trying to give you some ideas to grow from and help you. So this might take three or four days this week. Read about life of Solomon and talk about it. And then finally, we want you to read and memorize together Psalm 119:18. It says, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. “Make it the prayer of your family as you study these commands together, let your kids hear you ask the Lord Jesus Christ to open their eyes and to open your eyes that you may behold wondrous things, new things, beautiful things, enticing things out of God’s loving law. May God bless you as you study this first commandment together.

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at

Join the Conversation


Also available on

About The Podcast

He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

You're invited

Never miss an episode by subscribing to our podcast updates by email. 

Ask Jani

Do you have a question for Jani? We want to hear it! It’s the next best thing to having tea together in person.

Featured Resource

Ministry is Hard.

And every ministry wife needs—
and deserves—encouragement.

Subscribe today

You're Invited!

The table is set.

Never miss an episode by subscribing to our podcast updates by email. 


Ask Jani

We’d love to hear your questions and we read (or listen to) every one! There’s a very high chance you may hear us talk about it (anonymously!) on a future episode. Thank you for taking the time to share your heart with us! Everyone needs renewal.

Due an extremely high volume of spam, we are requesting that you personally email us your questions using the button below. Thank you so much!

Short on time? Leave us a “website voicemail” by clicking the button below!