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Great Themes of the Bible
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21 NKJV)
The Apostle John gives some important advice here. John’s first letter was written around 90 A.D. He’s back from his Patmos exile and historians say he was quite feeble and only able to speak a few words at a time, but there really are no more important words these.
This is not, however, the first time this truth has been relayed to God’s people. It’s actually found in the Ten Commandments, the second to be exact. After telling them to have no other gods before Him, the Lord said,
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” (Exodus 20:3-4a NKJV)
Later in the Law God said that the children of Israel were not to turn to idols, nor make for themselves molded images, Leviticus 19:4.
This is a constant theme throughout the Bible.
As he lay on his deathbed, Joshua told Israel to put away the gods their fathers served in Egypt and in the wilderness.
The Lord knows the people’s propensity to worship and serve gods they can see and feel, and that apparently bring success. And while God continues to warn, people continue to worship idols.
The record of this is found in the Book of Judges. It says that the people continually did evil in the sight of the Lord by serving false gods. They were doing what was right in their own eyes. Therefore, God was angry with them and continued to turn them over to neighboring nations until they learned their lesson calling out to God to save them.
But what’s an idol?
An idol is a false god of other nations and religions. Idolatry is humanity’s attempt to give material shapes to religious ideals, symbols, and personages. And if you think that such forms of idolatry doesn’t exist today take a trip to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and you’ll see a statue of Buddha sitting at the front entrance.
It’s hard to imagine that John was actually speaking to the church and Christians to keep away from idolatry, seeing how adamant the early church was to avoid these. They even went to their deaths for not bowing to Caesar’s statue, or the persecution they suffered for not worshipping the gods of the regions where they lived.
But we see this happening as the church morphed into a religion and Roman Catholicism.
But there’s another kind or type of idol that’s described by John Wesley.
“Whatever takes our hearts from him, or shares it with him, is an idol; or, in other words, whatever we seek happiness that is independent of God.”
What’s taking our heart away from God today?
1. Money, Possessions, and Power
It’s not that we can’t have these; rather it’s about striving for them, because when we’re striving for monetary things, we’re not setting our hearts on God, which makes these things into idols.
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13 NLT)
When we’re striving after all these other things then we’ll end up no longer following God or worse, hating Him. I’ve seen this in people who we’re on fire for God, but they got caught up with getting ahead in life. And while there’s nothing wrong with getting ahead, some went overboard and they’re no longer found in church.
But there’s the other side to this quest, when someone doesn’t get what they’re striving for, they either get mad at God, or worse, hate Him.
2. Philosophies of the World
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8 NKJV)
The word, “cheat,” means to enslave and hold captive. Philosophy is what we try to understand the universe as well as the answers and solutions to life’s problems. It also includes the systems society is structured upon, like capitalism or socialism.
What philosophy ends up doing is taking us captive and holding us as slaves, and we end up serving these philosophies rather than God through His Word. One person told me that his god was capitalism.
3. High Places
High places were sanctuaries built upon a hill. They originated from the Canaanites. It was at the High Places the children of Israel would conduct such things as fertility rites, Hosea 4:11-14, and the worship of false god, Jeremiah 3:6; 48:35; 19:5.
Now its’ easy to point to these places and say, “Idol worship,” but it really isn’t that easy, because the High places never started out that way. The High Places began as those places where they would worship the Lord.
After the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and Shiloh was destroyed, people needed to worship God, so they began doing it in High Places. We see the prophet Samuel going up to the High Place along with soon to be King Saul and making sacrifices to God.
Even after the temple was built, and before synagogues became the place where those living outside Jerusalem would worship the Lord and study His Word, the High Places served this purpose within the community.
Although their initial purpose seemed right, these High Places became center of idolatry, and the reason is because God never ordained Israel to worship Him in this way. What ended up happening is that God condemned these places of worship.
Whenever we start worshipping God in un-prescribed ways, even though they may start out godly, what happens is they soon become traps and idols.
Gideon is an excellent example. After his tremendous victory, Gideon became a judge over Israel. But his actions caused the nation to stumble into idolatry.
Gideon started out right. He tore down the altar of Baal and cut down a wooden image in his father’s house. He then built an altar to the Lord, and the Lord gave him the victory over the Midianites.
After the battle the people wanted Gideon to rule over them, but he said, “The Lord shall rule over you.” All was good up to this point, but then he collects one gold earring from every man and made an idol, and it became a trap for him, his household, and the nation.
It started out as a way to worship God, but since God never prescribed that as a way to worship Him, it became idolatry.
What are those High Places today?
Many people worship literally in High Places today. They do it through nature. They say they go out into God’s creation and worship Him. They see church as unnecessary and just a building.
But God never said to worship Him through nature. Yes nature declares the glory of God, but we’re told to worship God with the rest of the saints.
Jesus never told the disciples to go off into the wilderness until they’re endued with power from on high, but He told them to go to Jerusalem and wait. And it was when they were together in one accord that the Holy Spirit descended.
Eventually this leads to worshiping nature itself, which is idolatry.
b. Religious Doctrine
These are teachings that have divided Christianity, and in a sense de-unifying it. It’s where people talk more about a particular doctrine than they do about the Lord. (Example: Calvinism verses Arminianism)
Listen to what the Apostle Paul thinks about all this
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 NIV)
Paul just got finished with a mostly an unsuccessful mission trip to Athens where he used the philosopher’s argumentations trying to prove Jesus Christ as God. But now he tells the Corinthians just how he had to change tactics, wishing to speak about Jesus Christ and the gospel message instead of all these doctrines and philosophies.
c. Rules and Rituals
It’s where Christians are so concerned about keeping the law that they forget the heart or spirit of the law. (Example: Matzo verses Bread, Sunday verses Saturday)
Listen to what Jesus said to counter these sorts of rules and rituals.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (Matthew 23:23 NKJV)
It’s not that Jesus was undoing the tithe, but what was happening is they were so concerned about keeping the rules they forgot what was the most important thing. We need to keep the spirit of the law, not the letter.
How do we combat this sort of idolatry?
A Psalm 27:4 Attitude
“One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4 NKJV)
Our goal as believers is to have this Psalm 27:4 attitude toward the Lord and His house, which includes His people. The Bible says those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish, Psalm 92:13.
But the one thing that seems to steal away this attitude is the habit of hurry and busyness. How many times does someone get a new job or promotion and you no longer find them at church. They find is difficult to attend or serve because of their schedule or it’s their only day to rest.
People that were once staples in church, who attended faithfully and helped out in areas of need, bringing family and friends to church are no longer around because it doesn’t fit their hurried lifestyles.
To break this hurried habit, God tells us to set aside one day a week to honor and rest in Him. It’s in these times the Lord does tremendous work.
The Sabbath Principle
If we fail to follow this first day principle then what will happen is that the circumstances and situations will occur in our lives that will take over our lives.
This is why coming to church is so important. It helps break the hurriness habit and helps us step into the peace and shelter of the Lord and of His house.
It’s giving to God our best. We’re told to bring in the first fruits of our labors, or the tithe. But it also includes our time and talents. When we give to God our first day, then we’re giving to Him our best.
It reminds us that we don’t own our lives, just as we don’t own our possessions. God is the owner of everything, including our time, and what we’re doing is giving back to God what He has so graciously given to us.
So we need to set aside one day a week to worship the Lord, to read and learn His Word, and to do this with the rest of God’s people. The writer of Hebrews says,
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NKJV)
I’m not advocating Sunday only, but rather the biblical principle of setting one day a week as a holy Sabbath, and if you can’t set aside an entire day, then the Sabbath principle is setting time aside every week where we not only rest in the Lord, but worship Him with other believers in the Body of Christ.
Therefore, church attendance must be esteemed worthy of our life, time, and commitments, and taught to the family.
Karen Mains said, “Do you rush, push, shout and become generally unpleasant on Sunday morning? Do you complain about church? Are you irregular in your attendance? Are you over-conscientious about matters that are not really important? Do you always criticize the pastor, the choir, the length of services and the usher crew? Then don’t be surprised if your children grow up to look at Sundays as the worst day of the week.”
To break the idolatry of busyness, we need to decide that both we and our families will create a first day lifestyle, the principle of the Sabbath and possess a Psalm 27:4 attitude.
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”(Joshua 24:15b NKJV)
Wednesday Evening Bible Study