// March 27th, 2011 // Sermons
You ask the average person today, about idols and they would say, “Idols? You must be kidding…
Or, you can download it and listen to it at your convenience…Baal-Worship Today!
That’s what they have in Africa, but not me. I’m not an idol-worshiper? You think I’m a pagan?”
So, what is an idol anyway? The dictionary offers this definition: “an image used as an object of worship.” That sounds like people who have squatting Buddhas surrounded by burning candles. And, most of would be innocent of that kind of practice. We’re far beyond that … aren’t we? After all, we don’t use images when we worship. At least, most of us in the evangelical church would claim that!
But there is a 2nd part to the definition – it reads “something or someone that is adored.” That raises a few questions. If adoration is the issue, then perhaps idolatry is closer than we think. Digging a little deeper, I discovered that “adore” has 3 different meanings:
1. To worship with divine honors.
2. To love deeply.
3. To like very much.
We all recognize that liking something is not the same as worship. But, at what point does “loving deeply” cross the line into worship that is idolatry?
� Is it possible to love another person too much?
� Is it possible to love your house or your car too much?
� Is it possible to love success too much?
� Is it possible to love the praise of others too much?
� Is it possible to love sexual fulfillment too much?
That list could go on and on – but, if the answer is yes to those kinds of questions, then it is possible for idolatry to sneak into our lives, even in places we usually don’t see as having anything to do with religion. And, that means that all of us might be guilty of idolatry at some level. Further, chances are, you don’t even recognize this.
So, are you an idol worshipper? I’m sure most Christians would answer with an unequivocal “No” to that question. After all, most of us would see an idol as something like the golden calf the children of Israel made while Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32). We’ve never done anything like that, and if that’s what idol-worship is, no thank you, we want no part of it.
The 2nd Commandment says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol 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” (Ex. 20:4-5). That’s fairly clear. No idols, period! End of discussion. Don’t make them, don’t bow down to them, and definitely, don’t worship them! If you see an idol, head the other way. When God said, “no graven images” (KJV), He meant it.
When you read through the OT, you’ll find that God repeated this commandment over and over again. His harshest punishments always came when Israel disobeyed this command. Sometimes he ordered whole cities to be wiped out because of idolatry. This was a persistent problem for them. The Bible mentions the names of certain false gods—many of them connected with the corrupt worship of the Canaanites. Baal is the false god mentioned most often, but there were others—Ashtoreth and Astarte and Molech. Those pagan deities were often connected with fertility, sexuality, and the harvesting of crops. The Israelites generally tried to combine these false gods with the worship of the true God – which is called syncretism. It results in a polluted form of religion that God utterly rejects. He gave the people many chances to repent of their idolatry, but when they didn’t, His judgment was swift and terrible—leading eventually to the destruction of the northern ten tribes (Israel) by the Assyrians in 722 BC and the deportation of the southern two tribes (Judah) to Babylon in 586 BC.
Most of us are familiar with the OT story, and we probably know that the NT also contains several strong warnings about idolatry. Our problem, however, is quite simple. Deep in our hearts, we don’t think this applies to us in any significant way. We don’t worship Baal, we don’t bow down before a golden calf, and we don’t practice voodoo or drink blood or do anything weird like that. So how, could we be idol-worshippers?
The place to begin is by making the following statement: Anything can become an idol when we love it too much! Col. 3:5 warns us to watch against, “greed, which is idolatry.” Every person worships something. What you worship becomes your god. If your “god” is not the God of the Bible, then you have idols in your life, whether you believe it or not. Idol worship happens whenever we substitute anything in the place of God as the most important reality of our lives. You can worship nature, money, power, sex, history, a political system, or another person or a group of people and also, things.
Most people become idol-worshippers by accident when they allow something that is good in itself to assumes a place of ultimate importance in their lives. We need to ponder that thought for a moment. Anything good can become an idol. That’s a tricky thought—and one that can be terrifying in itself. Just think about these things:
¨ Marriage is good—but marriage can become an idol.
¨ Work is good, but work can become an idol.
¨ The church is good, but the church can become an idol.
¨ Education is good, but it can become an idol.
¨ Children are a blessing from God, but even they can become idols to us.
Anything good can become an idol if we love it too much. That’s what Paul was driving at when he called greed a form of idolatry, in Colossians. Is greed not simply loving something too much? So, let’s consider some modern-day idols in 3 separate categories:
I. Power-Driven Idols
These are those created things that give us a sense of significance and personal worth. When we have them, we feel able to control others to one degree or another. In that sense a job can become an idol and so can a career or an education. Some may see their personal self-worth and significance in their skin color, their racial identity, their family background or maybe political affiliation. The same can be true of a title, a large office or a position that you hold. Note that none of these things are evil in themselves, but any of them can become idols when we love them too much.
In this category we should add things like sorcery, witchcraft, palm reading, astrology, the psychic hotline and all forms of communication with the dead. Also, superstitions and practices that lean toward a dependence on something other than God. #2…
II. Pleasure-Filled Idols
So many things fall into this category. It could be something that seems very harmless—like playing golf or tennis or baseball or watching TV or buying a new car or buying the home of your dreams or spending money on frivolous things. Remember, anything good can become an idol if it becomes too important to us.
I enjoy sports – watching hockey, football, even golf, tennis and baseball. Jerry Bridges in his book The Pursuit of Holiness mentioned a young woman who decided she had to give up tennis because it had taken a role in her life that was not good – it had taken the place of God in her life. We need to watch out for this!
When I was 17, I bought a used car that I really liked – a 1969 Dodge Dart GT. It was everything a young guy dreams about. I did a lot of work to it – so that when it was done, I really liked my car! It was my “status-symbol” with all my peers. One day the Lord posed a question to me, in my devotions – “Is there anything in your life that is more important than me?”He seemed to be asking. My immediate response was, “Of course not! You are most important; I love You Lord!” And then, I could just hear God ask: “Really? What about your car?” “Oh, Lord, surely You don’t have a problem with my car do you? It’s just a car!” Finally, the Lord got through to me, and I sold it and bought a great big 4-door family car. But, through that act of obedience, the Lord opened up several doors of ministry to people that were watching me. And I – I felt incredible release!
Our televisions can become an idol, and so can our computers. One recent secular book argues that in the future our culture will turn to “computer system idols”—virtual reality gods that will advise us like the gods of ancient Greece and Egypt instructed their followers.
2 Tim. 3:4 reminds us that in the last days men will become “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Idols of pleasure are the ones that gratify our inner desires. They give us comfort and often make life easier. When it comes to the stand on personal morality some people say, “If it makes you feel good, go ahead and do it. Just don’t hurt anyone else in the process.”
Have you heard someone justify a certain sin with the words, “I just want to be happy?” Divorces happen in search of happiness. Addictions enter our lives in search for happiness. We do wrong and excuse ourselves by saying, “God understands.” May I just say, God wiped out whole cities in the OT for that kind of thinking.
Sexual fulfillment easily becomes an idol. There is a movement called “Gay Christianity” – where homosexuals attempt to justify their sin by trying to cover their immorality through a disguise of Christianity. Incredibly sad because it links the holy name of Jesus with that which God has clearly condemned.
And, what about the pleasure of food – how quickly it can become an idol. The Weigh Down Workshop has benefited many people. Their material states that while the Bible tells us that food is a gift from God (1 Tim. 4:3-4), like any gift it can be misused and become an end in itself. That’s why gluttony was counted as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It’s not simply overeating, it’s making eating the focal point of your life. You can be skinny and still be a glutton. When food controls you, you are a idolater whether you admit it or not.
So many of the addictions of life fall into this category. When God created the world, He pronounced it good, but ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve, Satan’s number one strategy has been to cause us to take that which is good and put it in the place of God. A simple statement for this is: Whatever controls you at a deep level is the god you worship! If you are not controlled by God, then you must be controlled by an idol of your own making! Then, #3…
III. Heart-Motivated Idols
Remember, you don’t have to bow down physically before an object in order to worship it. We can go to church and yet have our hearts filled with idolatry. What about the love of money? Jesus warned that you cannot serve God and money? He said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt. 6:24). When you start to serve money, you should realized that it has become your god. Jesus said you can’t have God and money both in the first place of your heart.
Our relationships can easily become idols when they become the controlling interests of lives. You can love a person too much or for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way or with the wrong motives. Are there any relationship of which you would say, “I can’t live without that person in my life”? If that is how you feel, then you have crossed a line that should not be crossed.
As part of the 2nd Commandment God included the warning – “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.” The word “jealous” is very strong, having the idea of a burning, passionate love. In other passages of the OT, it is used for the love of a husband for his wife. Some people don’t like the idea of a jealous God, but jealousy in the right context is a very healthy emotion.
I have every right to be jealous of Ruth’s affection and she has every right to be jealous for my undivided attention. Jealousy in marriage can be a very positive emotion because it means, “I am fully committed to her and I expect her to be fully committed to me.” In that sense we might say that if you are not jealous for your spouse’s affection, you’re probably not fully committed to him or her.
True love is jealous. If the love is right, then the jealousy is right. So what is it that God is jealous for? Our undivided attention, our exclusive focus on him. When you see it in that light, idolatry is a terrible sin because in reality it is a form of spiritual prostitution.
Elisabeth Elliot said that the Christian life is a process of God breaking our idols one by one. In the beginning, we come into the world with empty hands. Slowly we acquire many good things—family, friends, a career, achievements, wealth, popularity, the respect of others, and a certain share of this world’s goods. Our tendency is to hold onto those things as if they give us a reason to exist, and as if they truly belonged to us. We think that because we have these things that we must have earned them and that they must therefore be ours to keep forever. But the very desire to cling to the things of the earth is the very essence of idolatry, because it puts us in the place of God—as if we own what we were given. She said that slowly God begins to pull our fingers away one by one. And, when he finally gets down to the thumb, we fight back but to no avail. In the end God takes back that which always belonged to Him and we are left with nothing but God.
Here are three questions you should ask about the things in your life that matter the most to you. These questions are a kind of “Idolatry Inventory”, helping us spot those places in life where we are holding on too hard.
¨ Do I want this too much?
¨ Has this become too important to me?
¨ How would I feel if this were suddenly taken away from me?
Let’s look at the last one for a moment:
� What about your career, your livelihood? How would you feel if it was suddenly taken away?
� What if you suddenly lost your health?
� What about your marriage? Or, your children?
� What about your home?
� What about your eyesight? Or your hearing? Or your ability to walk?
� What about your parents?
� What about your bank account?
These are not easy questions to answer. But they point out a crucial fact. God has never promised us any of those things, for keeps! Just because you have them now doesn’t mean you will have them tomorrow. The only thing God has promised us is Himself! Anything else is a bonus.
Pastor Donald Hoke noted that idolatry may not be full blown at the beginning, it kind of creeps into life. It happens when something besides God becomes all-important to us. Sometimes we hardly know it’s a problem until we have to make a choice. How would you complete these sentences:
- “Lord I’ll give you anything but . . .”
- “Lord I’ll do anything for you but . . .”
- “Lord I’ll change anything in my life for you except . . .”
Are there habits you will not surrender? Are there relationships you are not willing to end/change? Those kinds of things are actually idols in your life—even if you haven’t thought of it that way.
I want to conclude this message with two sobering conclusions:
1. If you love something too much it can become an idol.
That should be quite clear by now. Idolatry lies in the worshiper, not in the thing worshipped. A golden calf is not an idol by itself. A golden calf is just a golden calf. It becomes an idol only when we begin to worship it. It is a wrong attitude that turns something good into something bad.
- Don’t blame your car if you aren’t happy. It’s your fault that you trust in your car to give you contentment.
- Don’t blame your boy friend/spouse if you aren’t happy. It’s your fault if you look to others to make you happy. No husband or wife can make you happy all the time.
- Don’t blame your boss if you aren’t happy. He’s not responsible for your happiness.
- Don’t blame your children if you aren’t happy. God never meant for you to look to them as the source of your happiness.
- Don’t blame your house if you aren’t happy. No house can provide ultimate happiness.
- Don’t blame your bank account or possessions if you aren’t happy. God never intended for money or things to be the source of our happiness.
- And, don’t blame your church if you aren’t happy. No church can make you happy.
Happiness comes from a living relationship with Jesus Christ. He alone can satisfy the deepest needs of your life. Looking anywhere else for ultimate happiness is really just a sophisticated form of idolatry. And then, the 2nd conclusion:
2. The worst part of idolatry is that it takes from you all that you have and gives nothing in return.
Have you ever thought how strange life is? You are born, you grow up, get married, get a job, have children, raise your children, retire, and then you die. And your children, what do they do? The same thing. And their children? The same thing.
We don’t know how long we’ll live, but probably 60, 70 or 80 years. Truly we are here today and gone tomorrow. Take the whole span of human history. Where does your life show up on the screen? It’s just a microscopic little blip.
And so, we have two choices. We can spend our lives chasing idols we have made. But what happens when we die? They are no good to us anymore. Or, you can spend your life doing God’s will. And then, when you die, it’s not over. Life has just begun.
The folly of idolatry is that it’s only for this life and that’s it! Idolatry only makes sense if you are going to live forever on earth. But if you plan to die someday, it’s a waste. That’s why Ps. 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” You aren’t going to be here forever. Make sure you use your time wisely.
Our days are numbered. That’s why you have no time for idols.
Your idols won’t help you when you need them most. When a child dies, what good is money? What good is the god of pleasure when you say farewell to a loved one? When you lose a job, how will the false gods help you? When there’s a problem in your family, what will your idols do for you then? When you face a big decision how will your idols help? Will they rescue you when tragedy strikes? We know they won’t! We need the living God to come to our aid.
The only lasting cure for idolatry is a fervent love for God. The words of an old hymn, written in the form of a prayer, form an appropriate close for this message: “Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole. I want Thee forever to live in my soul. Break down every idol, cast out every foe. Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”
The hardest step is admitting what our idols are in the first place. We all have a little voice inside saying, “Don’t worry, you are not an idol-worshipper.” But, if we are honest before God and open to the Holy Spirit, we must admit that we have idols that must be torn down. May the Lord give us eyes to see ourselves as we are.