In India most Hindus worship idols. In the West we look at that kind of worship with incredulity. Why would I bow down and offer gifts to a statue?
Well, I wouldn't, but that doesn't mean I don't have idols in my life. The Bible, even in the New Testament, offers plenty of warnings about idols. So God must be pretty concerned that worshiping idols might derail our walk with Him.
One of those mentions of Idols in the New Testament has always fascinated me. It is the closing verse to that marvelous first letter from the Apostle John. At the end of five chapters of addressing profound subjects like encouragement and hope in who God is, the depth of His love, the work of Christ, and the blessed assurances we have in Him, John ends with this succinct command: "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." Since John closed his letter with this urgent warning, it seems to be another clue that steering clear of idols must be pretty important.
So what is an idol anyway? While the dictionary lists one definition of the word "idol" as "an image worshiped as a deity," it also says an idol is "a person or thing regarded with blind admiration and adoration." The second definition indicates that worshiping an idol involves something much deeper than the act of bowing down to a statue. It implies that idolatry has to do with what we value, what we admire, what captures our hearts.
In fact the Scriptures often equate idolatry with deeper heart issues. One example is in Paul's letter to the Colossians where he says, "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to... greed, which amounts to idolatry." (Col. 3:5) It makes sense that greed amounts to idolatry because a greedy, covetous spirit implies a love of things of the world that takes priority over the love of God and His Kingdom. So we see from Paul's warning to the Colossians that idolatry has to do with the priorities that motivate our hearts.
The Old Testament, too, addresses the issue of idolatry as a heart attitude. In 1 Samuel 15 when Saul disobeyed the direct command of the Lord to destroy the Amalekites completely, Samuel rebukes Saul for his disobedience. Samuel says that insubordination and arrogance are like the sin of idolatry.
So from the example of Saul, I can see that when I disregard the word of the Lord, I commit idolatry. When I arrogantly assume that my way of doing things is preferable to God's, I am participating in idolatry. From Paul's letter to the Colossians, I see that when other things, other people, other desires drive my thoughts and my behavior more than my love of God does, I am an idolater.
I've been thinking about exactly what idolatry can look like in everyday life. When do I need to be concerned that something or someone has become an idol in my heart? Here are some of my thoughts on what an idol is:
- Whatever I admire, revere, esteem or love above all else
- The person, thing or activity I arrange my life around
- Whatever I look to when I need comfort
- Whatever makes me feel insecure when it is missing
If you are like me, when you look at that list, your mind begins to swirl with the possibilities that fit into one or more of those categories: Career, a comfortable bank account balance, house and how it looks, family, body image, spouse, politics and political news, hobby, food, shopping, children, political correctness, church activity, and the list goes on and on. Maybe some items on my list might startle you, but think about it. Anything that becomes more important than the Lord Jesus Himself is an idol in our hearts. If it sits front and center in our thinking and our priorities, it has taken the spot reserved for the only One worthy of our worship.
Let's think about another aspect of the idols we worship. Psalm 115 compares the idols of the nations with Yahweh. The psalm says that the idols of the nations have mouths but cannot speak, eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, etc. It then says those who trust in these idols will become like them. So from this psalm we can draw the conclusion that people become like whatever it is that they worship.
Think about that for a second. We become like what we worship. Another way to say it is that when people think of us, they think of what we worship. Sound ridiculous? Just consider for a moment that person you know who is totally immersed in their job or career. When you think of him or her, aren't you immediately thinking about what they do for a living? What about the person who is all about working out at the gym and staying in shape so they look a certain way? Or the person who constantly talks politics? Or that dear friend who is so wrapped up in the goings on in their own family that they can't seem to focus on or talk about anything else?
It's not that any of these things are bad in and of themselves. The things we prioritize in our lives are usually good things (usually not always...) The problem comes when our thinking, our speaking and our doing are so centered on something that our relationship with Jesus becomes peripheral to how we think, what we say and what we do.
But think of the flip side of idolatry... If I get my heart right and make Jesus the center of everything in my life, the possibilities are really exciting! For example, If Psalm 115 is correct and we really do become like the object of our worship, as I make Jesus the center of all I think, say and do, I will gradually become like Him! And if it is true that when people think of me, they think of what I worship, when I worship Jesus with my whole life, my whole being, then when people think of me, they will think of Him!
That's what I want! All of us who love the Lord want that! We want to become like Jesus Himself and we want to be a faithful witness who points those around us to Him.
So let's not lose our focus. Let's ask Him to enable us to keep our eyes fixed on Him (Hebrews 12:2) and to keep us abiding in the Vine (John 15:5). Let us be careful to guard ourselves from any idol that would dominate our desires, our thoughts, our words and our actions. Let's keep Jesus on the throne of our hearts so that our lives revolve around Him alone for our good and for His glory! Amen!