Guard Yourselves from Idols

Guard Yourselves from Idols!

Richard Hollerman

There seems to be a basic tendency of man to reject the true and living God and to fashion idols or false gods of their own imagination. Constantly through history, God called people back to a pure worship of Him, the unseen God and Creator, and away from their own imagined deities. The prophets pointed out that the false gods were worshiped by means of the grossest of immorality, whereas our Creator God demands purity and holiness!

Throughout the pre-Christian era, God repeatedly warned His people of the dangers of idolatry.  This is worshiping a false god or an image of a false god.  In the Ten Commandments given on Sinai, Yahweh God declared in the very first of the commands, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). This was repeated some forty years later after the wilderness wanderings (Deuteronomy 5:7).

God, through Isaiah, declared the He is the only true God and all contenders are merely images of false “gods” that have no substance (Isaiah 41:4; 42:5, 8; 43:7, 10; 44:6, 9-20; 45:5-7).  Paul went so far as to say that when the pagans offer sacrifices to their false “gods,” actually they are involved in Satanic activity: “They sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20).

Because it is basic to God’s revelation from the very beginning, we can understand how John the apostle could issue this succinct command: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).  This echoes Paul’s command: “By beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).  He also stated that idolatry expresses a “foolish heart” that is “darkened,” and this will bring spiritual death (Romans 1:18-23, 32). So serious is this that Scripture says those who commit idolatry of any kind cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21) but will have their part in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8; cf. 22:15).

Whether we speak of guarding ourselves from idols or fleeing from them, God abhors idolatry and the making of images!  Perhaps some of our readers are thinking of Hinduism with their rampant idolatry and over 300 million “gods.”  Maybe some are thinking of Buddhism with the colossal images of Buddha that are found throughout south-eastern Asia.  And still others may be thinking of Catholicism with their images of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, angels, and Catholic “saints.”  They do bow down to these images and worship them, although they claim that the intrinsic nature of the images remains stone, wood, or precious metal.  All of this is condemned by God and we must “flee” from them and “guard ourselves” from them.

But there is another form of idolatry that is even more rampant than Hindu, Buddhist, and Catholic imagery.  I refer to the matter of conceiving of God in a way different from the way He is depicted in His revealed and inspired Word.  For instance, some think of God only in terms of love since Scripture says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).  But they tend to overlook the fact that God is also holy (Revelation 4:8), righteous (John 17:25), and filled with wrath on those in sin (Romans 1:18).  If we conceive of God differently from the true and living God of reality and of Scripture, we become idolaters!

Another form of idolatry has to do with making someone or something a “god” in our life. We may not consciously bow down before an altar erected for such gods, but in our hearts we become idolaters when we elevate anything or anyone to a position higher than what God would want.  Jesus said, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only” (Matthew 4:10). If we worship and serve something else, we are practicing a common form of idolatry.

One way that many practice idolatry is through the sin of covetousness or greed.  Paul says that a “covetous man” is “an idolater” (Ephesians 5:5).  He says that “greed” is a sin that “amounts to idolatry (Colossians 3:5).  When we eagerly want or desire or covet things, we commit idolatry!  But how many people condemn the Hindus and Buddhists for their literal idolatry when they, themselves, are guilty of this more subtle form that God hates!

A related way that we become idolaters is to focus on riches.  Christ said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth [mammon]” (Matthew 6:24; cf. Luke 16:13).  It is no wonder that Paul could write, “Those who want o get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge them into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10a; cf. Mark 10:21-27).  Are we dominated by a love of money?  Do we eagerly seek more and more money, not to satisfy basic needs of food and clothes, but because we want the world’s riches?

In another place, the apostle referred to certain enemies of the cross of Christ, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).  “Appetite” here can be translated belly.  People’s appetites take the priority in their lives.  What about you?

When He walked on earth, Jesus said to the large crowds who followed Him, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26; cf. Matthew 10:34-37).  Isn’t it true that even these legitimate relationships can provide an opportunity for idolatry?  A father or mother may attempt to put a son or daughter before God or may prevent their child from following Jesus or some of His teachings.  A husband or wife could demand ultimate allegiance of their spouse and be unwilling to acknowledge that Jesus must always come first.  One’s children can become the “idols” of a father or mother when they indulge that child at the expense of holy living.  Or a child may become so much of a dominating aspect to the life of a parent that there isn’t time left to read the Bible, reach out with the gospel, or help a brother or sister in need.  One’s brothers or sisters could also be given a devotion that only God should have.  Interestingly, our Lord also indicated that our own life can become the chief consideration of our time and devotion. We can become idolaters of self!

Paul described the pagans in Romans 1.  He said that they “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (v. 25).  They literally worshiped images of “corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (v. 23).  But in another sense, it is possible to worship and serve the “creature” by focusing on ourselves and our own body.  We are quite narcissistic in our outlook sometimes. We want others to notice us, to give to us, to adore us, to elevate us, to praise us, to applaud us.  Also, we may so pamper our bodies with expensive food, with expensive exercise equipment, with lavish vacations, with all kinds of facial creams, hair dressing, and makeup, that, in effect, we are worshiping ourselves or our physical bodies.

Our Lord said, “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on” (Matthew 6:25a).  However, these are the very matters that are the focus of attention for most people. They constantly think about what they will eat, what they will drink, and what they will wear.  While some in Jesus’ audience may have been so poor they couldn’t afford much food or drink or many clothes, today it would seem that people think about these things in a different way. They fill their mind with food—what restaurant to visit next, what recipe to try next, or what fast food to eat next. Some constantly think of the beer, wine, or liquor that is available to drink.  Others are addicted to women’s magazines and fashion magazines, filling their mind with new clothes and the latest attire. Regardless of the cost, they are determined to wear only the best “name brand” clothes for, they reason, “nothing is too good for their tastes.” All of this constitutes idolatry!

What has become your idol?  Are you addicted to entertainment—maybe the computer, computer games, television, or music? Are you addicted to sports—baseball, football, soccer, basketball, or golf?  Are you addicted to food or clothing?  Are you addicted to cars and trucks?  Are you addicted to household furnishings?  Maybe your addition or “gods” are the vacations you take to exotic and interesting places.  Name your idol and realize that at the heart of this is idolatry. You are worshiping and serving a false “god” that will drag you down to Hell!

Remember the warnings of God in Scripture:  “Guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).  “Flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).  Let’s be like the Christians in Thessalonica who “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9).  Will you choose your idols—your false gods—or will you choose the true and living God who is worthy of your ultimate and eternal worship (Joshua 24:15)?  What will it be for you?




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