You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:3
In the hospital, on my first real world experience in medical school, I followed my doctor around like a puppy. I had no idea where to go or what I was doing. At least I knew that I knew nothing. In my condition, I relied on my doctor for everything. I even followed him into a single seat bathroom once. Awkward.
This singular pursuit seems to be what God was trying to teach the Israelites in the wilderness. They were lost, wandering and homeless. In their helpless state, God taught them to follow Him above all. The first of the Ten Commandments, similar to Christ’s greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37), was to put God above everything in life.
Like the Israelites, we often claim that we follow God above all, while our actions betray our other gods. For the addict, it’s the drug. For others, money or sexuality is god. For most of us though, our idolatry is much more insidious.
I most often break the first commandment simply by pursuing myself above all, following my own will as god. When I hang on to a destructive relationship, indulge in my anger, give in to my lust, or embrace my pride, I am following myself above God. In doing so, I become enslaved to my own will, preferences and emotions. In a perverse religion of self, I worship the very thing that enslaves me.
We must realize that we are not required to be slaves to our impulses. Our emotions and appetites do not need to control us, and we do not need to follow them as god. When we feel hungry, we do not have to consume junk. When we desire a drug or a drink, we do not have to indulge. When we feel angry, we do not have to lash out. If we say we follow God, it absolutely must affect our behavior. If we claim faith in God, then we must continually deny our destructive appetites and impulses to follow Him.