Thursday, June 5, 2008

Impotent Idols Part 3

In this post, I would like to consider two consequences of idolatry in the life of the believer. These are loss of authority in loving others and an undermined faith, two fairly significant aspects of walking with Father.

First, we should examine two sections of Scripture in which Paul addresses the issue of idolatry to Christians. These are I Cor. 10 and Col. 3:1-5.

I Corinthians 10 is a whole chapter themed by idolatry. It begins with a discussion of the failure of the Hebrews in the wilderness to fully discern the spiritual evidence of Christ in their experience and consequently to fall into idolatry listed first followed by other sins. This history is explained as an example for NT believers (vs. 11), then Paul says the following:

12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

This is followed by a discussion of when and when not to eat meat sacrificed to idols.

The conclusion I posit is that idolatry in the NT believer’s life is central to sin, and the issue is NOT small statuary! Consider that after Paul has stated that we are able to stand against every temptation we face, he exhorts us to flee idolatry. However, he then describes a way of dealing with meat sacrificed to idols which clearly assumes that statues have no power or meaning in the lives of believers. Idolatry is, by inference of the total chapter, not about worshiping actual statues.

In the second Scripture reference, Col. 3: 1-5, the last words are

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

Greed is idolatry. (Since the translators have chosen to use the singular form of amounts, idolatry here refers only to greed and not the whole list. I can only assume that is a correct rendition of the original.) The love of great gain is the root of all evil. Wanting more for ourselves is NT idolatry.

In the Lord of the Rings, as Frodo quests for Mordor, we are often given a view of a form for the great evil source against which he struggles. It is a tower, topped by a single eyeball. Did you notice this form is in the shape of a lower-case “i”? Tolkien’s symbolism for evil could not be more lucid. The singular, lowly sense of self raised up as power and full of greed.

When we allow our own life to be the end of why we are living life, though we may claim Christ, our experience will be selfishness itself and none of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. A Christian, who does not deal with their idolatry of self, will find they struggle with unloving attitudes toward others. Such a believer cannot find the source of love, as the idol has been placed before Him. Hence, when in fellowship with others, the spoken “I love you, I will pray for you, I care about you,” will lack authenticity. The words will ring hollow in one’s own heart and in the spiritual connection between the believers.

Further, in interacting with the lost, such a Christian will speak one way and feel differently in the heart. It is possible to speak words intended to evangelize or demonstrate empathy and feel no compassion. This is a state lacking authority, and has no effective, positive, life-giving spiritual bearing on the hearer!

Additionally, such a person who trusts basically in his or her own righteousness will interpret all of life’s obstacles and trials as a game of blessing and cursing between self and God. This is not a position of faith. In this scenario, the individual calls the mental assent to the Truth of Jesus to be faith. However the practice of trusting in Jesus is lost and replaced by trusting in one’s own works.

It boils down to this: Seeking to gain materially (and I do not intend the term to be limited to stuff but inclusive of all of our natural body experience) under the guise of experiencing God’s blessing, is seeking to gain one’s own life and life will be lost. It fails the faith God would lead the believer into, when God is a force that helps one achieve the desired car, the desired job, or in anyway is a construct of the imagination that simply supports the image we hold for the self. Rather in the actual experience of God in a relationship, we seek to lose our total sense of self image and self desire in order to worship Christ alone, to hold Him in the heart in communion as a state of abiding in the love of God; and He brings to pass abundant life, a spiritual state, as part of His own.


Craig V. said...

In John 2 when Mary tells Jesus that the wedding hosts have run out of wine Jesus responds, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come." To address his mother as "woman" though not as harsh in Jesus' culture as it sounds in ours, was highly unusual. It seems to me there's a gentle rebuke in Jesus' words. It's as if He's saying "What makes you think your agenda is my agenda?" This is a rebuke of any idolatry that arises in our prayer. If we assume that Jesus is obligated to give us a certain kind of life or to protect us or our children, we need to hear this rebuke. After hearing the rebuke Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. This is a picture of faith. After our idolatry is rebuked and we realize that God is God and that we can't control Him by our agenda we trust Him.

ded said...

Well said, craig v. I think I am writing this series because it has taken me years to realize how much idolatry was in my heart, and how that has robbed me of the abundant life in Jesus.

Having begun to realize the freedom of being in Him and needing nothing more, I am motivated to encourage others to be rid of idolatry.

josiah said...


Interesting you should use that story because it was the first that came into my mind also...except I had not yet identified why I was thinking of this story.

josiah said...

After the Israelites are set free from the idolatrous Egyptian culture, they are waiting at Mount Sinai and feeling Moses is taking to long on the mountian when they build an idol. Patience must have its perfect for us to be mature and complete lacking nothing. In those who had been set free, idolatry arose in impatience.

In the wilderness God provided manna yet they complained, we lack meat and God poured out quail upon them until they were so sick of meat they loathed it. Now their idolatry had moved into their attitude- this where one's car, prideful attitude, philosphy etc. is a reflection of their unbelief that God has supplied their needs- idolatry.

Belief, trusting God gives patience and courage. Patience for his revelation to renew our strength and courage to go forth into the promise. Had this generation of Isrealites done this they would have arrived in the promised land and not had to eat manna every day. They would have had the material and spiritual blessing abundantly / been mature and complete lacking nothing.

Craig V. said...

Great comment Josiah,

We could say the faithful endure the faithless complain. I do way too much complaining to not see a warning here. Thanks.

Thanks also, ded, for getting us thinking about idolatry. I agree with you that it's a timely topic.

Reed said...

Good stuff DED. Idols are anything that comes between us and God. This is illustrated in scripture as material entities, but is much more subtle as you so aptly show. We are exhorted in Corinthians to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. I have found that making God in my own image is something I have to constantly be wary of doing. The idols I struggle with are not physical or material nearly as much as the ones that get lodged between my ears.

ded said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ded said...


Thanks for the comments on the Israelites. Yes, patience to wait on God rather than satisfy ourselves with earth's passion.

A simple belief in His goodness is a source of the power to resist temptations. In the NT, we hear the cry, "Help my unbelief!"

Linking your comment to craig v.'s:
Our intellectual pride easily becomes a driving force behind our own agenda.