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The Almighty God of the universe is above all things. He created it all from nothing because of the great abundance of His goodness. He gave existence to non-being for the final purpose of His glory. Everything is under His sovereign authority. The laws He has established control the inanimate creation. He is the highest and supreme being in the universe. Man is the crown of His creation. Man is the link uniting visible and invisible nature, matter and spirit, body and soul.
The Creator is the supreme ruler of the universe. He wants man to fellowship with Him, to commune with Him and to freely obey Him so that man may grow spiritually to the lofty state of holiness intended for him when he was created in a state of innocent potential and undeveloped simplicity. He wants man to freely accept Him as the supreme ruler over his thoughts, behavior and life. He does not accept the second or third position in man’s life because He is the Almighty God who is above all. He must not be subordinated to anything or anyone else in man’s life. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10: 37).
That is why God has prohibited idolatry. ““You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them nor serve them, for I am the LORD your God…” (Exodus 20: 3-5; Deuteronomy 5: 8-9; etc.). In ancient times, idolatry comprised worshiping visible idols made of wood, stone, silver, gold, etc. However, a more general definition of idolatry is an attachment of a person to something or to someone stronger than his attachment and commitment to God. These things are idols in the life of the person so strongly attached to them. An idol may be a career, fame, status, power, money, a food, a drink, a parent, a sibling, a spouse, etc. The idolater subordinates God in his life to these things which are his first love, commitment and allegiance. The Almighty God must be placed above these idols, not under them. He must be the first love and the first commitment in the life of the person. “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart” (Psalm 119: 2; Mark 12: 30; Matthew 22: 37; etc.).
The natural revelation of the created nature would lead man to seek God. If man is sincere in his search, he will find Him, as the word of God in the Holy Bible declares. “But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29). “…If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you” (2 Chronicles 15:2). “Seek the Lord and live…” (Amos 5: 6; Proverbs 8: 17; Hebrews 11: 6; etc.).
It is characteristic of man in his sinful state that he knows much more truth than he translates into a fitting response. The problem is that men do not seek the true living God (Isaiah 55: 6; Amos 5:4, 6). Instead, they either ignore Him completely, or subordinate Him to other interests in their lives—idols they worship and consider more important than the living God: “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
Many men and women of faith reflected this level of love and commitment to the living God in their lives. We will cite a few examples that demonstrate the extent of their love and commitment to God.
II. Biblical examples from the Old Testament
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1. Abraham offering his son
Testing the faith of Abraham, God asked him almost 2000 years before Christ, to offer his son as a sacrifice to please God on a mountain: “Then He said, ‘take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22: 2). Isaac was the son God promised Abraham from his wife Sarah in their old age. Abraham was more than one hundred years old and his wife Sarah was more than ninety years old when Isaac was born (Genesis 17: 17). Abraham did not expect children from Sarah after Isaac. However, his love and commitment to God exceeded his love to his only son from Sarah. Therefore, Abraham obeyed God’s command. “So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son” (Genesis 22: 6, 9-10). When God saw the strong commitment of Abraham, “the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son” (Genesis 22: 11-13).
2. David and Goliath
In the reign of King Saul over ancient Israel (~1050-1010 B.C.), “Israel and the Philistines had drawn up in battle array, army against army” (1 Samuel 17: 21). Goliath, a mighty giant warrior from the army of the Philistines, challenged the army of Israel for forty days to provide a man to fight with him. Whoever wins would win the battle for his army. No one dared to respond to his challenge for fear of his mighty power. David, the son of Jesse, “was only a youth, ruddy and good-looking” (1 Samuel 17: 42b). He was the youngest of his seven brothers. He used to keep sheep for his father, and was not a warrior trained in the art of war. David responded to the challenge of Goliath saying: “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you…” (1 Samuel 17: 45-46). David fought the giant warrior without a sword and a shield. “David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him…” (1 Samuel 17: 50). David’s love and commitment to God overcame his fear for his own life. He loved God more than his own life. Later on, God raised up David as the greatest king of ancient Israel (~1010-970 B.C.), and praised him saying: “…I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13: 22).
An Israelite family of a man, his wife Naomi and their two sons left their ancestral home in Bethlehem and moved to live in the land of Moab (east of the dead sea) because of famine. Their sons took Moabite wives. The three men died. Naomi wanted to return to her people in Bethlehem. She urged her daughters-in-law to stay and get married in the land of Moab because their prospects for marriage are slim in Bethlehem. One of them agreed, but the other, Ruth, refused to leave her, and insisted to go with her to Bethlehem, saying: “…Wherever you go, I will go. And wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1: 16). Ruth believed in the God of Israel. Staying in the land of Moab would have meant that she would be pressured to return to the idol worship of Moab. Ruth’s love and commitment to God were stronger than her attachment to her tribe, and her hope to remarry someday. God rewarded Ruth for her commitment to Him by giving her a husband and a family, and by placing her in the ancestral line of the Messiah (Matthew 1: 5). Her story illustrates the teaching of Christ: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6: 33).
4. The martyrdom of seven brothers
In ~168 B.C., the Greek tyrant king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who ruled the Levant from 175 to 164 B.C., ordered Jews under his rule to eat defiling unclean food that the Torah prohibited (pork and food sacrificed to idols). Seven Jewish brothers and their elderly widowed mother refused to obey him despite his persuasions and threats. He ordered them tortured in very cruel ways, starting with the oldest brother, and killed them one by one by fire before their mother. She encouraged them to persevere all along. And finally they burnt her alive (4 Maccabees 8: 3-12: 19; 17: 1). The love and commitment of those seven brothers and their widowed mother to the Lord God were much stronger than their attachment to their earthly lives.
III. Biblical examples from the New Testament
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1. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross
Before his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed earnestly in agony that God the Father may relieve him from the cross, saying: “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22: 42; Matthew 26: 39-44; Mark 14: 36-39). Jesus freely chose to advance the will of God the Father to his human will, fully submitted to God’s will and accepted the agony and death of the cross to redeem fallen humanity. Jesus loved God the Father more than his own earthly life. His first and strongest love and commitment were to God the Father. His primary motivation to accept the cross was his love to God the Father, which overrode all other considerations, as he stated: “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do” (John 14: 31).
2. Calling the Apostles
The Gospel tells us that when Jesus called his disciples, they left everything and followed him. Their commitment to him was much stronger than their commitment to anything else in their lives, including career, business, etc. “And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him” (Matthew 4: 18-22, Luke 5: 10-11). “After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he left all, rose up, and followed Him” (Luke 5: 27-28). All the Apostles of Christ were martyred except the Apostle John who died naturally of old age. They loved Christ more than their own lives.
3. The Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus
God sent the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary to announce to her that she would conceive and bear Jesus (Luke 1: 26-38). Although premarital pregnancy could bring shame to her, she submitted to the will of God and accepted the plan of God for her, saying to the angel: “…Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word…” (Luke 1: 38). Virgin Mary’s commitment to God was stronger than her concern about her reputation. Premarital pregnancy could subject her to the punishment of death. But she loved God more than her life. Virgin Mary is the New Eve whose obedient submission to the will of God countered the first Eve’s disobedience in the primordial paradise. The first Eve brought death to humanity. The New Eve, the Blessed Virgin Mary, brought life to humanity.
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In the early Christian era (the first three centuries A.D.), Christians endured brutal Roman persecutions periodically. However, they were so strong in their Christian faith, love and commitment to Christ that they stood fast for Christ against multitudes of severe and bloody Roman persecutions, the most brutal of which was the Diocletian persecution of the fourth century (303-305). It failed to stop the tide of Christianity. Christian martyrs loved Christ more than their lives.
The Christian monastic movement dates back to the fourth century. Men and women relinquish all worldly cares and materialism, and dedicate their lives to worship, contemplation and service, not looking for any material or temporal rewards. They die to the world. They love Christ more than anything in this world.
God did not withhold His only Son from saving man. Christ did not withhold anything from redeeming man. He left His eternal heavenly glory, incarnated in a human form, went to the cross of agony and shame to redeem man, and give him a chance at a new beginning liberated from the bonds of the fallen human nature. He expects that man reciprocate by committing all his being fully to Him, not withholding anything from Him. The Lord God is not satisfied with only a part of man’s heart and attention. He wants them in their entirety. God does not accept the second place in man’s life. He must be the first and supreme commitment and devotion of his life. He must occupy the center of his mind and being. Everything in man’s life must be subordinated to God’s will (Exodus 20: 3-5;Deuteronomy 5: 7-9; Luke 14: 26; Matthew 10: 37). St. Augustine expressed the peace and rest man experiences in his full commitment to the Lord God when he reflected, saying: “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
God warns of judgment for those who are not fully committed to Him. "Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Because you have forgotten Me and cast Me behind your back, therefore you shall bear the penalty of your lewdness and your harlotry’" (Ezekiel 23: 35; Jeremiah 2: 27; 1 Kings 14: 9; Luke 14: 16-24; etc.). As He asked Abraham to offer his beloved son Isaac, God is asking every person to advance Him to the lordship over his life above his most cherished possessions and commitments. How will you respond to that request? Will the Lord God be the first love and the first commitment in your life?