Are You an Idolater?

The conflict between God and idolatry has gone on almost since the beginning of time. Idols are truly man’s invention, for “They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go” (Jeremiah 10:5). They were “dumb idols” (1 Corinthians 12:2; cp. Psalm 115:4-8; Habakkuk 2:18-19).

This shows in some degree that the true conflict is actually between the will of God and the will of man, rather than the living God and dead wood, gold, or silver. The hands of men made those idols, and it is man who actually controls the idols (Isaiah 44:9-17).

Idols can be figurines, large poles, etc. Some were small (Genesis 31:19, 34; Acts 19:24). Some were large (1 Samuel 5:1-4; Acts 19:27). The actual temple built to honor Diana was 425 feet tall and 220 feet wide, with columns standing 60 feet tall. It was reputed to be four times the size of the Roman Parthenon, and ranked as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Preachers in the New Testament age exhorted their listeners to leave idolatry and follow a God who had blessed them in multiple ways (Acts 14:15). Idolatry had been around a long time, but Christians still had to repent of this sin (1 Corinthians 8:4; 10:6-7, 14, 19-20; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; 1 John 5:21; Revelation 2:14, 20).

A fascinating, but more troubling, use of “idolatry” is of the unseen sins in the heart. For instance, Paul said that covetousness was idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

However, no matter what form idolatry took, all of it served the purpose of drawing one’s loyalty from God and placing it in the creation of men’s hands. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter whether it is a literal creation that is beheld, or merely the creation in one’s mind, or worship of earthly objects such as rivers, the sky, the sun, or animals. God’s consistent answer to idolatry is to put it away and stay far away (Exodus 20:3-5; Deuteronomy 13:1-4; 1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 John 5:21).

Given how Paul used “idolatry” in Colossians 3:5, we have to be alert to the possibility that we may be guilty of idolatry while not having an object fashioned into a person like Buddha, Mary, or the “saints.” And this raises some very important and searching questions:

  • Is your idol your mother or father or your son or daughter (Matthew 10:37)? Is your idol your husband or wife (Luke 14:26)? No allegiance can be placed above God (Matthew 22:37).
  • Is your idol your possessions or your own interests (Colossians 3:5)?
  • Is your idol television: shows, ball games, racing, etc. (Philippians 4:8)?
  • Is your idol your own thoughts and experiences which keep you from serving God (Proverbs 14:12)?
  • Is your idol your friends (1 Corinthians 15:33)? Sometimes parents will say, “I want my child to go to a congregation where there are lots of young people.” This is an understandable sentiment, but I want my children to be brought up in a congregation where the truth is preached (1 Timothy 3:15; 2 Timothy 4:2; John 8:31-32, 17:17). We have a lot of young people and they are a great bunch, but their presence should not be why we are here, any more than an older person who says, “I want to go to a place where there are people my age.”
  • Are drugs or alcohol your idol? Are you “mastered” by them (1 Corinthians 6:12, 19-20)? What does it do to your influence (Matthew 5:14-16)?

There are several other questions that you need to seriously consider. Are you worshiping an idol that will keep you from coming back on Sunday to worship God or on Wednesday night to study the Bible deeper? Are you worshiping an idol that will keep you from living appropriately and demonstrating a good example of glorifying God? Are you worshiping an idol that will keep you from being baptized today? Are you worshiping an idol that will keep you from repenting to God for your sins?

God has to come first in everything (Matthew  6:33). Even though man has invented idols to represent various gods, forces, or powers on earth, God has opposed them from the beginning. Because God is opposed to them, we had better be opposed to them too. Don’t be an idolater, and don’t forget the admonition in 1 John 5:21: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

The idols of politics, sex, recreation, and self are taking over and slowly destroying the world — even in 2020. And for what? No matter what form they take, they are all worthless and empty.

Scripture is like a nourishing feast. It is like meat and vegetables. It not only tastes good, but it is good for you. But unfortunately, you may not be hungry for it because you’ve ruined your appetite. Many of us are completely malnourished spiritually. We are not equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17), because we are too busy worshiping politics, being attracted to/by sex, entertaining ourselves, and satisfying our every desire. We would like to find scripture as exciting as we know it is, but we simply don’t have an appetite left for the God-prepared feast. The solution is simple, but it requires discipline and self-control. It may be time to do a fast, or at least put yourself on a strict diet where you get away from your phone and Netflix, and fall in love with the word of God again.

Kyle Campbell

Bible Lectureship

(March 17-20, 2024)

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