Catechism: The First Commandment

Rev. William M. Cwirla

"You shall have no other gods."

What does this mean? "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things."(Small Catechism, First Commandment)

Fear, love and trust go straight to the heart of things. Your heart. Your naturally unbelieving, hardened, turned inward on itself, full of sin, idolatrous heart. Trust your heart? There's nothing trustworthy in that thing. Follow your heart? Straight to hell. Give your heart to Jesus? What on earth would He want with that sinful thing?

The first commandment is not simply the first of a list of dos and don'ts. It's the center and heart of all the commandments. Where the first is kept, the others follow naturally and easily. Where the first is broken, all the others are broken as well. The first commandment is the diagnosis of the disease called sin that causes us to commit sins. We sin because we're sinners. We're sinners because sin has completely infected our hearts so that we do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Put it to the test. What do you fear the most, above all things? Death, poverty, being hurt, being ridiculed, being unpopular? Fear tends to govern our behavior. We often act, or don't act, out of fear. When we're afraid we want to fight or flee for safety, and we'll latch onto almost anything and anyone who promises safety.

"Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul," Jesus said. "Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). Fear God, and there is nothing left to fear. The fear of the Lord is the end of all fear as well as the beginning of wisdom.

Whom or what do you love the most? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? Your parents? Your best friend? Your dog? What loss would cause you to "just die?" The things we love can easily become idols, things that consume us. Sin distorts our loves and twists it back to ourselves. Real love is all about others; sin-distorted "love" is all about me.

God is a jealous God; He wants you all to Himself. That doesn't mean you can't have loves, but God wants to be at the center of all your loves. He wants to set your heart right, to turn it right-side out again. In the love of God is the freedom to love and be loved.

What do you trust the most? Your skills? Your intelligence? Your charm and wit? Your good looks? Your government or some authority figure? Whatever or whomever you trust above all things is your god. People are only relatively trustworthy, some more than others. Everyone from parents to pastors to presidents will eventually let you down. God alone is worthy of our absolute trust.

Faith is trust in God—a trust that God is faithful and true—that He will forgive our sins and raise us from death because He promised He would. All of His promises are fulfilled in Jesus. Trust Him and you can't go wrong.

Our hearts are like the sticky side of Velcro. Unbuckled from the fear, love, and trust in God above all things, they will cling to anything. You don't have to bow down and worship an image or sacrifice to a statue to be an idolater. It's all about your fear, your love, and your trust.

Repent. Recognize that your fear, love, and trust are centered in the wrong place. Fear the Lord. Love Him. Trust Him. The commandments begin in the heart, where God alone works. And rejoice in the gift of your baptism in which the perfect fear, love, and trust that Jesus has are now yours in Him!

Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, California, and is a president emeritus of Higher Things. He can be reached at wcwirla@gmail.com.