What does this mean?
We should fear, love and trust in God above all things. (from The Small Catechism by Martin Luther)
We may think that this commandment is archaic. There are, after all, very few people we know who actually bow down to objects from nature or things made by human beings. Even the atheist with no belief in God would agree with the Christian that idol-worship of that sort is nothing but primitive superstition.
But those aren't the only kinds of gods we can have for ourselves. In another Catechism, one written for priests and theologians, Martin Luther says insightfully:
What is a god?...A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing other than to trust and believe him [it] with our whole heart...One's god is whatever is most important to us.
A woman I met years ago told me the story of what happened to her after her oldest daughter died of leukemia at age two. She and her husband had another daughter who was a year younger. Because of the loss of the older baby and her overwhelming fear that she would lose the second child too, she was overly-protective. She rarely let the child out of her sight and showered her with attention and gifts.
One day, about a year after the first child's death, the woman was visiting with friends. Suddenly, she realized that her daughter was gone, nowhere to be found in the house. They discovered her at the bottom of the friend's pool. She'd been there for a few moments and it was doubtful that she could survive.
You can imagine the mother's agony! But then something happened as she paced in an emergency room waiting area, offering up desperate prayers to heaven. "As I prayed," she told me, "I sensed God telling me, 'You shall have no other gods before Me.'"
The woman said she felt that God was telling her that she had made her child or being a good mother her deities. She spent each day anxiously pursuing one or the other of those gods, trying to placate the unattainable demands they placed on her life, putting her trust that a healthy child or being a good mother would fill the void that her grief and irrational guilt had created.
She realized that while her grief would never go completely away, only one God could fill the hole in her soul. It was the God over whom she had no control and Who could only help her if she stopped her frenzy and let Him love her.
The gods we put ahead of God may be our children, our country, our careers, our reputations, our hobbies, our pleasure, or any number of otherwise good things. But when we allow anyone or anything other than the God we meet in Jesus Christ--the God Whose revelation of Himself is chronicled in the Old and New Testaments Testaments--to be our deity, we're crowding the one true God out of our lives, blocking His blessings, hampering His infinite capacity to help us be the people we were made to be.
This commandment has little to do with chunks of wood or stone.
It has everything to do with His wanting a relationship with us.