Unpopular Thoughts on Idolatry

“My little children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21

Idolatry has always been the great sin of God’s people. This is true because idolatry has always been the greatest sin of the world. When God’s people embrace the world, they embrace idolatry. We see this throughout the Old Testament. Time and again the children of Israel substituted the worship of idols for the worship of God. The world was no different in the New Testament. Idolatry was still the pattern of the world and thus the temptation for the church. Today is no different. Idolatry is as rampant among professing Christians as it ever was in Old Testament or Apostolic times.

But almost no professing Christian thinks himself an idolator. Why not? One reason is that we don’t define idolatry the way God intended it to be defined. I would like, therefore, to propose what may be a more helpful definition of idolatry to the church. This definition is unlikely to be well received. In fact, you may want to stop reading right now. In fact, this definition is likely to be very offensive to some. I find it challenging to my own soul. It troubles me. But I humbly ask you to compare this definition with the Word of God and see if it fits. Here is a definition of idolatry that I think helps identify it better: Idolatry is whatever keeps you from the worship of God.

Idolatry was always a worship sin. Read your Bibles and see if this is not so. And idolatry was always that which kept men from God’s worship. It was a substitute for worshipping God. And so today, whatever it is that prevents you or I from worshipping God, is an idol too, whether we want to think it so or not. Idols are barriers to worship. Idolatry is whatever stands between you and worship. Idolatry is whatever you have allowed into your life that keeps you from worship.

Christian – what keeps you from worship on Sunday? A job? You say that you must work. Your boss requires it. Your calling demands it. Really? You would not eat or have a place to live without that particular job? You must work every Lord’s Day? But the truth is that you have chosen that job, and it keeps you from worship regularly. I say this cautiously, and I hope compassionately, but that job is your idol. Money is your idol. It is covetousness, which is idolatry (Col 3:5). Financial security and all the pleasures it brings is your idol. Or is it house work, yard work, or any other such work? Are there not 6 days on which to do this? Must you so arrange your life so that these take the place of worship every week? They, then, are our idols. Work, jobs, careers, callings, labor…are all good things. But they are idols when they stand between you and worship.

Christian – what keeps you from worship on Sunday? You are tired? But why? Could it not be that you have exhausted yourself with entertainments or foolish obligations or even good things done without due consideration for Sunday duties? Are you not too tired for going out to eat, going to plays and movies, watching sports and TV…but you are too tired for God’s worship? Have you no time for that? Your comforts and ease and entertainments are our idols if that is the case. Rest is a good thing. But good things that keep us from the worship of God are idols. Beware these idols of ease! “…my beloved, flee from idolatry (1 Cor 10:14).”

Christian – what keeps you from worship on Sunday? Family obligations? Fathers or mothers? Gatherings with friends? Sports? Distance? My friend, the list of things that keep us from worship goes on and on. And every Christian believes that they are legitimate things. But the fact is that this is idolatry. They are the things that keep us from the worship of God. They stand between us and worship. And we put them there, or leave them there, and make no effort to remove them. Why? We love them. We enjoy them. We prefer them. We…and I say this sadly…have become idolaters. Micah had his “household idols (Judges 17:5)” and so do we.

Christian – what keeps you from worship on Sunday? Have you decided that no church meets the standards you have set, and therefore you will worship alone in your home? This, my dear friend, is the worst idol of all. You have made yourself an idol, your standards, your ideals, your wishes, your preferences, your desires. It is you that you worship, and not the Lord. You are the idol that has come between you and worship. We foolishly believe that we are our own creator, and we worship ourselves accordingly. But it is God “who has made us, and not we ourselves (Ps 100:3).”

Dear reader, this was no pleasant post. And if what I am suggesting is not in accord with the Word of God, then let it have no place in your heart and mind. But I fear the church today is no less addicted to idols than she has been in any age, maybe more so. And until we repent of our idolatry, we should not expect the Lord’s blessing. But the Lord has promised a way out of our idolatry. He can remove it from our hearts. “I will cleanse you from all your idols (Ez 36:25).” Therefore, repent with me, and turn from our idols.

“My little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

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