“You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me” (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7)
The first commandment reminds us that everything in the Torah flows from the love we have for God, which is a response to the love he has for us. This love was demonstrated by God’s deliverance of Israel “out of the house of slavery” in Egypt (Deut. 5:6). Nothing else in life should concern us more than our desire to love and be loved by God. If we do have some other concern stronger to us than our love for God, it is not so much that we are breaking God’s rules, but that we are not really in relationship with God. The other concern—be it money, power, security, recognition, sex, or anything else—has become our god. This false god will have its own commandments at odds with God’s, and we will inevitably violate the Torah as we comply with this god’s requirements. Observing the Ten Commandments is conceivable only for those who start by worshipping no other god than the Lord.
In the realm of work, this means that we are not to let work or its requirements and fruits displace God as our most important concern in life. “Never allow anyone or anything to threaten God’s central place in your life,” as David Gill puts it.
Because many people work primarily to make money, an inordinate desire for money is probably the most common work-related danger to the first commandment. Jesus warned of exactly this danger: “No one can serve two masters….You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:24). But almost anything related to work can become twisted in our desires to the point that it interferes with our love for God. How many careers come to a tragic end because the means to accomplish things for the love of God—such as political power, financial sustainability, commitment to the job, status among peers, or superior performance—become ends in themselves? When, for example, recognition on the job becomes more important than character on the job, is this not a sign that reputation is displacing the love of God as the ultimate concern?
David W. Gill, Doing Right: Practicing Ethical Principles (Downer's Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2004), 83. Gill’s book contains an extended exegesis and application of the Ten Commandments in the modern world.