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Intro to Idolatry

February 9, 2017

The nation of Israel was notorious adept at returning to idolatry. For nearly 900 years, from a few decades after the death of Joshua to the time they were taken captive by Babylon, the Jews waffled between God and idols. The nation would sort of repent for a while but a few decades later would be back worshiping idols.

The New Testament reveals a growing church encroaching deep into the idol worshiping nations of the Roman Empire. The church and idol worship frequently met head on. The success of the gospel in the first century had a profound impact on ancient paganism. As Christianity spread across Europe idol worship was pushed into the background. Despite the effect of Christianity upon the world idolatry is not a problem relegated to ancient history or third world primitives. Modern people are as abundant in idolatry as any ancient pantheist.

Idolatry comes in many forms. The tribesman bowing before a wooden statue to pray for fertile crops is only the most obvious form of idolatry. Idolatry is not limited to a religious act of worship. Idolatry takes place, indeed, idolatry begins in the heart. (Ezekiel 14:1-5)

Idolatry desires and loves anything more than God. The New Testament shows the relationship of idolatry to desire by equating covetousness with idolatry. (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5) The Old Testament shows the relationship of love to idolatry. In the book of Deuteronomy loving God is set in opposition to idolatry. (Deuteronomy 30:16-17) Loving God is the solution to idolatry and the antithesis of idolatry. Thus, idolatry is found when a desire or a love is elevated over the desire and love for God.

Because an idol is something desired or loved more than God the presence of an idol can be discerned by the value a person places on a desire. If the possession of something is more important than close fellowship with God then that thing is an idol. A person who sins to achieve his desire shows the desire to be more important than God. He who sins because the accomplishment of his desires was not achieved shows the desire to be more important than God. The desire is an idol.

Idols are not only the desire but also the thing relied on to achieve the desire. He who desires power makes an idol of work because he sees it as the means to achieve that desire. This is nothing new. Idols have long been worshiped in hopes of achieving a desired end. Very few worship an idol for the sake of the god itself. The ancient Canaanites did not love Baal for Baal’s sake. They worshiped Baal in hopes he would increase their crops and give them many children. Their idol was the means to achieve their desire. Today’s idolatry is no different. The gods of modernity are the means a person relies upon to gain that which he desires most.

Idolatry is seen at rock concerts. Thousands of people scream out their adoration in hopes of sharing the experience, receiving affirmation or finding joy for a little while. Idolatry is seen at the youth hockey game when a group of angry dads scream profanities at the referee because his bad call hindered their desire for vicarious success. Idolatry is seen in the living room when an entire wall of the house is devoted to entertainment and filled with thousands of dollars worth of the latest gear in hopes it will bring the desired happiness and peace. Idolatry is seen in the kitchen when a distressed mother flees to the freezer for the comfort that can only be found in a box of ice cream. Idolatry looks to created things as the means to bring that which the person desires most.

Enjoyment of a good thing is not necessarily idolatry. God has given man good things for his enjoyment. Idolatry makes the good gifts of God the end in themselves. Idolatry trust the good things to satisfy the desires of the human heart.

Unlike ancient idol worshipers, Christians should worship God because He is worthy of worship. God is not a means to an end. He is the end itself. He is truly lovely. In Him is found all that man desires. Idolatry replaces joy in God with a paralytic substitute that is unable to accomplish what it promises. The solution to idolatry is to be enchanted by the glory of God.

“And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (1 John 5:18-21)

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