THE REV. PENNY ELLWOOD, Blue Springs campus, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection: I don’t typically think of a “favorite” commandment when I consider the Ten Commandments. I tend to see them as a whole, as a code of morality or ethics to live by.
This code has formed the foundation of our Western civilization and still shapes it today. However, if I had to choose a favorite commandment, I would have to choose the first: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
Our love for God is the driving force behind our obedience to all the rest of the commandments. Establishing, developing and maintaining a personal relationship with God is the single most important commitment we can ever make. This was what Jesus directed when asked which commandment was the greatest.
He said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” (Matthew 22:37).
We tend to think of other gods as ancient idols, but there can be many things today that take the place of God in our lives. An idol can be an object, idea, habit, occupation, sport or person — anything that becomes our primary focus or that diminishes our trust and loyalty to God.
Anything we love more than God becomes a god to us. These idols can never fill the longing God put in our heart for an intimate love relationship with him.
The first commandment tells us to put God first. In doing so, our desire and commitment to follow all the other commandments becomes easier.
RABBI MARK H. LEVIN, founder Congregation Beth Torah: For Jews, there are 613 commandments in the Bible. My favorite is Leviticus 6:13: “A fire shall be kept burning on the altar continuously; do not put it out.”
Why? The priests in the ancient temple in Jerusalem kept a fire burning perpetually on God’s altar. They read this verse not as “A fire shall be kept burning on the altar continuously,” but instead, “A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar.”
What’s the difference? The fire’s name is “perpetual.” Continuity is the essence of its character. No matter what occurred, it symbolizes our desire for God’s presence. Even when there would be no priest to offer the sacrifice, perhaps because all of them were ritually impure, that fire had to be kept burning. Since the temple’s destruction in A.D. 70, the altar has been our hearts.
According to a Jewish tradition, there were three altars: one for the animal and plant sacrifices, a smaller one for the incense offering and the smallest one to light the other two in case they went out. It’s that small altar I attempt to keep burning in my heart, that altar upon which faith ultimately relies, because I use it to rekindle the altars that stop burning for one reason or another.
Life’s hardships extinguish the altar’s flames. I ask myself the question: What do I have to do to keep God’s altar burning, so that should other altars go out, I can use mine to rekindle God’s light?
To ask a question or comment on the Voices of Faith, send email to email@example.com.