In this series of bulletin articles, we’ve been examining the Westminster Larger Catechism, published in the 17th Century. Lately we’ve been looking at the first of the ten commandments: ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3). We saw the duties of the first commandment and have now been considering the sins forbidden by the commandment.
Last week we saw that it is sin to foolishly charge God with the pain he inflicts. This week we also see that it is sin to ascribe the praise of any good we have or do to fortune, idols, ourselves or any other creature.
The Bible teaches us that every good experience we enjoy is from God: ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows’ (James 1:17). Yet it’s all too easy to give praise to others for the good that is ultimately from God.
A good example of someone attributing blessing to idols is described in Daniel. King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for his nobles and drank wine with them. The Bible then describes his actions: ‘While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way’ (Daniel 5:2-6). As Belshazzar ascribed praise to false gods, he got the fright of his life – a life that didn’t see the light of the next day!
But how is this a breaking of the first commandment? When you praise a person or an object for something God has done, you are elevating that person or thing over and above God. Which means you have put another god before God, contrary to the first commandment.
And it doesn’t have to be an idol or someone else. We can praise ourselves all too easily. I once heard someone say grace before our meal with dangerous words. She said ‘Thank you God for the food we prepared that we bought with the money that we worked hard for. Amen.’ There was no thanks given for the body that did the work or the oxygen that sustained the body to do the work that led to the food.
Yet before we point the finger, although we might not say it aloud, we naturally tend to think that the good things that have come our way are because of our own strength. Therefore, our hearts condemn us again and again for misdirected praise too.
Yet the God-man, Jesus Christ, always gave glory to God for all good things. And if we trust in him we can have his perfect praise attributed to our account. So instead of being condemned by God we are commended. Have you trusted in him?