Idols, defined as, an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship, is something we tend to associate with Hinduism or other ancient religions. Although today, the word idolatry is also defined as, extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone, even including popular sports people, musicians or actors. But, in reality the number of people, objects, philosophies and other things that are idolized are countless.
In the Bible, whenever the term is used it is when there is a substitute for the worship of God and therefore creating a rift between the idolator and God. The first commandment addressed this issue and was very clear:
You shall have no other gods beforeme. (Exodus 20:3)
Do not make any idols. (Exodus 34:17)
In the first section of Psalm 78 (Verses 1-39) the issues related to the people’s forgetfulness and ingratitude for all that God had done for them, leading to sin and disobedience and eventually judgement. The latter section, verses 40-72 concerns the issue of idolatry amongst the people of Israel once they had arrived in the Promised land. Sadly, instead of completely destroying the idols of the Canaanites, they eventually embraced them. The psalmist writes:
56 But they put God to the test
and rebelled against the Most High;
they did not keep his statutes.
57 Like their ancestors they were disloyal and faithless,
as unreliable as a faulty bow.
58 They angered him with their high places;
they aroused his jealousy with their idols.
Wilcock says, “Israel’s sins are no longer those of the desert, but those of Canaan (v. 58); she has graduated from merely mistrusting God to replacing him with more biddable [or compliant] alternatives,” (# 5)
Sadly, this temptation remains in our day!
The Apostle John understood that this was not just a problem of the Israelites but a constant problem for all human beings, even Christians if we are not careful. So, his very last words of exhortation in his 1st letter ended with the words:
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)
So, little children, guard yourselves from worshiping anything but him. (1 John 5:21 TPT)
William Cowper (1731–1800), wrote concerning this problem and its consequences in one of his Hymns. It begins:
O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!
Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus, and His Word?
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.
Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn
And drove Thee from my breast.
Then he gets more specific about his sin:
And so, concludes:
So shall my walk be close with God,
Calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb.
The Apostle Paul was also conscious of our problem with idolatry and says in his letter to the Colossian church:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5)
And then, to the church in Ephesus:
For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Eph. 5:5)
In our age, the temptations towards all sorts of idolatry seem to be more than ever. Below are “20 piercing questions from Tim Keller. These are great questions to ask … ourselves to diagnose heart idols…
“Life only has meaning/I only have worth if…
- I have power and influence over others.” (Power Idolatry)
- I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry)
- I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.” (Comfort idolatry)
- I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____.” (Control idolatry)
- people are dependent on me and need me.” (Helping Idolatry)
- someone is there to protect me and keep me safe.” (Dependence idolatry)
- I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone.” (Independence idolatry)
- I am highly productive and getting a lot done.” (Work idolatry)
- I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work.” (Achievement idolatry)
- I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions.” (Materialism idolatry)
- I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities.” (Religion idolatry)
- This one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me.” (Individual person idolatry)
- I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality.” (Irreligion idolatry)
- My race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior.” (Racial/cultural idolatry)
- A particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in.” (Inner ring idolatry)
- My children and/or my parents are happy and happy with me.” (Family idolatry)
- Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me.” (Relationship Idolatry)
- I am hurting, in a problem; only then do I feel worthy of love or able to deal with guilt.” (Suffering idolatry)
- my political or social cause is making progress and ascending in influence or power.” (Ideology idolatry)
- I have a particular kind of look or body image.” (Image idolatry)
Like Cowper, if you discover that any of these apply to you, may God enable you to wholeheartedly turn from this and pray:
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be [confess it]
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee. Amen.