“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; For I, the Lord you God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

This commandment is relatively simple: No images. The people of God are to make no images of YHWH whatsoever, whether for use in worship, public display, or private devotion. (And obviously, based upon the first commandment, they are not to have any images of other gods, either.) Within their cultural context, this is a somewhat strange command. All the other peoples had prominent images, or idols, of their gods displayed in their temples and the public square. The ancients believed that the image, or idol, of their god contained its power and presence, and that it was a real, physical manifestation of the deity. For them, a god without an image would be no god at all.

However, there are two reasons why YHWH will not abide this practice.

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“You shall have no other gods before me.”

The first commandment demonstrates YHWH’s expectation of exclusivity in his relationship with Israel. “No other gods” means he shall be the only god they worship. Not merely the first among many, but the singular deity, their God. (The capitalization is the key. YHWH is not merely a god, he is the God.) He will not share space, whether in their hearts or in their land, with any other deities. It is a simple and sweeping command with no room for misinterpretation. The first rule that comes out of YHWH’s relationship with Israel is clear: “It’s me, and no one else. I will share your allegiance, devotion, and worship with no other gods.”

This commandment, and the breaking of it, is the central theme of Israel’s history from Exodus to Exile. They just couldn’t seem to quit the other gods of their neighbors, and they paid the ultimate price for their unfaithfulness. God’s expectation of exclusivity is still in effect today. He doesn’t share his glory with other gods, real or imagined, and he won’t tolerate divided hearts and shared allegiances amongst his people. Idolatry and faithlessness continue to be the central theme of the history of God’s people, now running rampant through the Church. Some things never change.

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The Ten Commandments

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

The Ten Commandments begin with a reminder of the relationship history between YHWH and Israel. At this point in the story, God had just brought them out of Egypt and they had not yet taken possession of the Promised Land, so the history is short. Yet, one thing is certain: He is their God. He belongs to Israel and Israel belongs to him.

This exclusivity is essential to their relationship. He is their only God, the only deity who brought them out of Egypt. He did not cooperate with, or rely upon, any other gods to perform these miracles, and therefore he has an exclusive claim upon the lives of the Israelites. But he is also, at the time the Ten Commandments were given, only the God of Israel. He is not yet the God of Egypt, Canaan, or any other land. The Exodus event is the moment that YHWH appeared on the scene, so he was not yet known among the nations. The Israelites are his only people, the only nation that has even heard of YHWH. This exclusivity creates a sense of intimacy between God and Israel, and this intimate relationship is the foundation upon which the Ten Commandments are built.

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What They Way Up Is Down Is About

I suppose there are many people who, in their writing, suppose themselves to be following in the footsteps of Eugene Peterson. They think that they are turning things around and looking at them from a fresh angle, and in this way are helping their readers to become their truest and best selves. They may be thinking deeply about God and Scripture, but that doesn’t mean that they are thinking well. After all, one doesn’t wind up on best-seller lists by trying to think well about the subject of one’s book. Too much for what passes as Christian literature these days is alarmingly devoid of the mind of Christ.

In her book The Way Up Is Down, Marlena Graves stands firmly in the line and legacy of Eugene Peterson. Her book reads like a deep reflection on this great line from Peterson’s The Jesus Way: “To follow Jesus means that we can’t separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way that he is doing it.” Graves, in other words, is pointing us in the direction of true discipleship. The way of Jesus — the way of resurrection and glory — is the way of self-emptying, of lowliness, of humility.

Emptiness comes before fullness. …In acknowledging and admitting our emptiness, being poor in spirit and contrite in heart, in taking the posture of a servant, we too can become open to realizing God’s strength and power in us and in the kingdom. When we are full of ourselves or other things, we obstruct God’s grace.
-Marlena Graves, The Way Up Is Down, p. 10

Steeped in the Church mothers and fathers of both East and West, Graves offers us a vision for the journey of discipleship that is connected to those who have gone before us. We are not trailblazers. We are not forging a new path like the pioneers of the past who headed out over the Appalachian mountains in search of new land. The Way Up is a journey with others, and as Graves so beautifully attests through the stories of her own life, those others are not always precious to the world. But they are precious to God. And invaluable to us, their travelling companions.

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To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
-Revelation 3:14-22

The last of the seven letters is to the church in Laodicea, and they got the harshest treatment of all. Jesus typically started off a letter with some praise for what the believers were doing, or some compassion for what they were going through. Not Laodicea. He just went straight after them, comparing them to lukewarm water. Their problem was that they were neither hot water nor cold water — they were somewhere in the middle. Cold water is refreshing and revives the spirit on a hot day. Hot water is comforting and healing, relaxing the muscles after a hard day’s work. Lukewarm water is basically useless. You don’t want to drink it, and you can’t bathe in it. I suppose you could give it to the dog, but that’s about all that it is good for. The point that Jesus was making is this: We need to be useful for something in God’s kingdom.

Being Lukewarm isn’t about Passion

For a very long time, I thought that Jesus was talking about being hot or cold in our love for him. I thought that Jesus would rather we love him A LOT or be completely indifferent to him, just don’t be somewhere in between. I was taught that being lukewarm means being wishy-washy. It means coasting through life without taking God seriously. We’re supposed to be passionate for God. We’re supposed to be on fire for him. And if we’re not, then we’re the kind of Christian that Jesus despises. Our only two acceptable choices are unbeliever or passionate believer.

But I don’t think that’s what this verse is saying. Being hot or cold isn’t about passion; it’s about purpose. I’m pretty sure that everything I was taught about this passage is wrong, and that has pretty significant implications for a lot of people who just couldn’t live up to the demand of being a passionately on-fire for Jesus 24/7. I mean, just think about the metaphor for a minute. When you want a cold drink and you drink something cold, you’re happy. When you want a hot drink and you drink something hot, you’re happy then, too. But when your drink has been sitting out for a while and it gets to room temperature, what kind of face do you make when you drink it? A contortion of disgust, right? When you want a cold Coke or a hot coffee, do you even finish the one that’s at room temperature? I’m guessing not.


Being hot or cold isn’t about passion. It’s about purpose.

Jesus isn’t secretly saying, “I wish you would be hot all the time.” He’s not putting pressure on us to live at an unsustainable level of passion all the time. What he’s saying actually cuts much deeper. He’s telling Laodicea, “I wish you were good for something.” I mean…dang.

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