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Idols and Christianity

by Wayne Hobbs

Transcribed from Words of Life Radio Program

 

If we Christians are ever asked if we worship idols in our lives, I suspect all of us would be answering with a strong no and certainly this is the way it should be. However, there are possibly times when we attempt to satisfy our fleshly desires by replacing our faith with something that we can touch or even imagine. One of the simplest and most evident might be some form of lucky charm or practice that we cling to in order to be victorious in some endeavor that we try.

Do you carry a rabbit’s foot or did you ever carry a rabbit’s foot or a lucky coin just so things will go your way? Did anything in your life happen and you claimed it to be a good fortune because of luck? Or did something bad happen and you said you had bad luck. It is as though we sometimes worship the god of luck. It is also easy for us to honor some artist’s rendition of a painting or a statue that is credited to be a likeness of Jesus or of some other Bible character even though no one knows what they looked like. Paying honor or homage to these in a worshipful way is actually a form of idolatry and sinful in the eyes of God. Idolatry is simply any fleshly desire to have something that we can see or touch or to give an object some form of worship.

When my father was a boy—and that is a long time ago since he was born in 1913—he worked on a vegetable peddler wagon using a horse and wagon like you have seen in pictures possibly. The man that he worked for knowingly cheated a customer and my father brought it to his attention that God would not like what he did. At that point the man took a dollar out of his wallet and said, “This is the god that I worship.”Dad understood that this was a form of idolatry and it wasn’t long till he realized this was the wrong place to work so he quit.

God knows that idols are generally a problem for mankind and they must have been from the very beginning. So he made it very clear in the history of Israel that worship of them is not to take place.

Think about the first two commandments. The first and second of the 10 Commandments:

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.

And the second one: You shall not make for yourself any idol in any form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them, for I am the Lord your God and am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of their fathers to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me and showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Now let’s think about this. The First Commandment was: No other gods before me. What God is saying there is no other gods. Secondly he says do not make for yourself any kind of idol.

I heard an entertainer some time back say that she gave up on worshipping God when she heard that God is a jealous God because she didn’t like that jealousy. Sadly, or conveniently, she missed the point that only God is worthy of worship and that he alone is the almighty God and the creator and the sustainer of heaven and earth. He is not jealous in those shallow ways like man is found jealous. God does not share his place with any other god.

In Leviticus chapter 26 verse one he also makes it very clear that we are not to worship other gods as it says: Do not make idols or set up any image or sacred stone for yourself. And do not place a carved stone in your land and bow down before it. I am the Lord your God.

The New Testament summarizes this really simply in 1 John the very last part of the book says this.

Dear children, keep yourself from idols. John narrowed it down quickly, didn’t he?

The book of Isaiah shares some interesting and clear teachings on the absurdity and the sinfulness of idols. The first verses I want to look at are in chapter 40. Now I am not going to read all of these, but the first 17 verses of Isaiah 40 address the incomparable power of Jehovah, the Lord God. This passage asks who God consulted to enlighten him when he did anything, when he made anything. And, of course, God didn’t consult anybody. The first verses clearly show that the power of God exceeds everything and everyone anywhere and how foolish it is to depend on any other form of a God.

 

Now we get to verse 18 through 20. Listen to these please. This is Isaiah 40:18-20. To whom then will I compare God? What image will you compare him to? As an idol, a craftsman casts it and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains on it. A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple. Now what is he saying? Isaiah is talking here. He says, “Who can be compared to God?”

Many false gods in those days were actually set up as national gods or regional gods or even some personal gods and if any nation defeated another nation in war it was said that their false god was stronger than the other false god. Individual people had their own idols that were done up as fancy as they could afford. Some were plain wood while others were layered with gold or formed with gold. In any case the idols were without any life and no stronger than the materials that they were made of, wood or metal. They were no more than just ornaments and were no more attractive than the skills of the craftsmen who could make them.

Isaiah is showing us that God is incomparable and worship of any image of any kind if sinful. There is a rather long passage in Isaiah 41:21-29 and I would like to read that and look at what Isaiah teaches us:

Present your case says the Lord. Set forth your arguments, says Jacob’s king. Bring your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things that come and tell us what the future holds so that we may know that you are gods. (This is false gods, of course.) Do something whether good or bad so that we will be dismayed or filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless. He who chooses you is detestable. I have stirred up one from the north and he comes and one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were potter treading the clay. Who told you from the beginning so we could know beforehand so that we could say he is right? No one told this. No one foretold it. No one heard any of the words from you. I was first to tell Zion. Look here they are. I gave Jerusalem a messenger of good tidings. I look, but there was no one. No one among them to give good counsel, no one to give answer when I asked them. See, they are all false. Their deeds amount to nothing. Their images are but wind and confusion.

Now what is Isaiah telling us in this passage? In verse 23 he challenges the idols to do something whether they be good or bad. I have talked to students before in teaching and I say, “Would you do something? You are just sitting here doing nothing. Please do something, just anything.” Well, this is what Isaiah is saying. Do something. And yet how many people in the world would look to cards or crystal balls or something else to predict the future, to tell them something? This is idol worship. It is wrong. God needs nothing to look to for the past or the future, for he is the one who controls all the past and the future as well. God doesn’t look to see what is going to happen. God controls it. Isaiah completes his thought in verse 29 when he calls idols false with deeds that amount to nothing and whose images are just wind and confusion.

In Isaiah 44 verses 12 through 20 he shares with us how foolish idols are. He speaks of how the same piece of wood could be used to carve an idol and to be worshipped and prayed to while the other end of the same piece of wood could be used to burn or to cook food from. Let’s look at Isaiah 44 verses, 16 and 17. Half the wood he burns in the fire. Over it he prepares his meal. He roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah, I am warm. I see the fire.” From the rest of it he makes a god, an idol. He bows down to it and he worships it and he prays to it and he says, “Save me. You are my god.”

Can you imagine taking a piece of wood that you have used part of it to burn and bowing down to it and saying, “Save me. You are my god.” This goes without explanation. It just makes no sense at all.

In Isaiah 46:1-7 he speaks of false gods. One is named Baal and the other one is Nebo and he said they are in a state of collapse. These idols must be carried around by beasts of burden. These images were carried from place to place and they were burdensome and they had to be stood up. They had to be transported. They had to be moved and carried and set up. The opposite is true with our God. In Psalm 68:19 we find a praise for the God who bears our burdens. God isn’t a burden. He bears our burdens while the idols are burdens themselves.

And look at what Jesus said in Matthew and you are familiar with this passage in 11:28-30. Come to me all ye who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you shall find rest to your souls. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Look at the difference of what Jesus said. What a contrast there is with this uselessness and burdensomeness of an idol and the powerfulness and the burden carrying of our Lord. Idols need to be set up by man while God simply wants us to set aside a place in our lives for him. While God wants us to have him in our lives, we tend to go outside that and set up some form of worship that isn’t for God.

Here are two interesting illustrations, one from the Bible and one historic. Remember when Samson was in the temple of Dagon. He had already been blinded and he was starting to grow his hair back and he positioned himself between two pillars. They had him there to make fun of him and make sport of him because he had been captured. They were trying to do all they could to harm him, but Samson was there between the two pillars and he pushed on those pillars and the temple collapsed.. This was the temple of Dagon, a false god.

Well, if we move over just two books in the Bible and go to 1 Samuel we find that the ark of the covenant had been stolen by the Philistines and it was put into a temple of that idol Dagon. It happened again. The first night resulted in this large idol, Dagon, falling on its face before the ark of the covenant. The second night it fell, losing both its thoughtless head and its useless hands. This was the only time I ever heard of an idol moving and God knocked this one down.

The other example comes from Japan in the 1500s where a shrine of Buddha was done in Kyoto. It took 50,000 men five years to build and as soon as it was completed there was an earthquake that brought the roof down on top of the statue and wrecked it. In his rage, the rulers shouted and he shot an arrow above it and he says, “I put you here at great expense and you can’t even take care of your own temple.”

That is the worthlessness of idols.

Let’s move to an interesting Psalm, chapter 115 verses one through 11: Not to us, oh Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. Oh house of Israel, trust in the Lord—he is your help and shield. Oh house of Aaron, trust in the Lord—he is your help and shield. You who fear him, trust in the Lord—he is your help and shield.

Now what are we saying here in this psalm? God does as he pleases. Idols do nothing. Mouths that cannot speak, eyes that cannot see, ears that cannot hear, noses that cannot smell, hands that cannot feel, feet that cannot walk and throats that cannot utter a sound. This is not true of God who does everything and does what he wants. He is sovereign. And by his own power he does what he wants as a powerful God and we love him and he loves us. But we try to limit him. In verse eight of that psalm it says, “Those who make them will be like them.”

People make idols in their own images. This is man making himself in the image of God. 1 Samuel 15:12 refers to the arrogance of the sin of idolatry. How arrogant it is for man to believe that he can create any form of God. The truth of God’s Word is just the opposite. Remember in the creation God said, “Let us make man in our image.” God works with us and we become what he wants us to become. We do not turn God into anything. He is sovereign. And we must accept this.

Remember what Paul said in Ephesians 5:1. Be imitators of God. So think about the two. Idolatry is man creating God in his own image. And what God expects of us is that we be imitators of him. For us to be in his image, to be doing the things that God expects us to do. Look at the difference.

How does all this fit our lives? We talked a long time about idolatry and maybe we kind of pushed that off to somebody else doing these things. But how does that fit us? I recently heard a speaker say that if we base our lives on what we think, we are simply working with the wrong tools. We need to base our lives on what God says and what God does. Anything that monopolizes our attention, and takes it away from God, is idolatry. Let’s name some. This gets kind of personal. It does to me, too. Jobs, television, sports, self interest, hobbies, entertainment, grass cutting, friendships of some kind. The list could go on and on and on. Anything that you could put in there that would affect us so that we put them before God is idolatry. I do all those things on that list and all of us do, but the key is they are not to be before God. These things are not in themselves wrong and most of us do all of them, but they become wrong when they monopolize our attention from doing what God wants, from doing the will of God. And I am as guilty as anybody else. I sometimes will get so busy at cutting the grass or working in the garden that I don’t take time to do the other things I should. And I need to remember this: it is important that we put God first.

Even the possessions that we own can become our idols if we put them in our hearts above God. Remember, where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. Remember in the Bible the man who had such a successful crop that he would replace his small barns with larger barns just to hold the harvest. He trusted in the stored food that he had to sustain him for many years. He was just going to kick back and do nothing and he celebrated rather than thinking about anybody else. He thought about himself and all that he owned and that sort of became his idol. His idol was his possessions and they failed him because his life was taken. God took his life away and he didn’t have any of it.

As my father used to say when somebody asked how much did a person leave: all of it. We leave it all. So God is our God and not that stuff that we own. You can find the story of this in Matthew 12 starting with verse 13 if you would like to read it. It is even more serious, though, when we blend our man made idols with the things of God. Traditions and customs are commonly a part of all societies and, of themselves, they are not sinful. It is good to have traditions and customs. But when we treat these traditions and customs with the same authority as the Word of God, they, in turn, become an idol. Even our quest for happiness can become an idol when it is sought out at any price. So when it is sought out in place of God instead of doing the things of God, happiness itself can become our idol. Our lives are not to be conducted solely on the premise of just doing what make us happy. Now there is nothing wrong with being happy. I am happy. But we are to be prayerful and spiritual as we seek God’s will for our families, for our relationships with others, for our work and other things that we do. This will give us true and lasting happiness with God.

If in our work we do the things that are against God’s will, there, again, we are putting our work above it. There are people who do thing that they know are sinful, that they know are wrong, but they say, “Well, that is what my boss said to do.” It is time to get out of that because that has become our idol. To do this in any form is to make an idol of ourselves. So I ask myself, am I the idol of my life? Do I think myself more important than God? I have to examine my own heart on this as I prepare this and as I study it. Sometimes we become so arrogant or I become so arrogant in thinking about those things.

Our conclusions are really simple. It really does matter whom we believe. It matters what we believe. It matters whom we obey. It matters what we do for God. Jesus explained this in Mark chapter 12 verses 30 and 31.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength. And the second is like this. Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.

We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength and that is all of those. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. This leaves no room for idols. Our God is alive and well and his grace is still free to all who will come to him through the blood of Jesus Christ as Jesus sits at the right hand of God. His promises are true and his promises are sure and you have the opportunity to come to him with a fresh start and be blessed by him. And this is the real and true God. He has promised to return as well to bring salvation and judgment. So it is our opportunity to receive him now and enjoy him now and praise him now and have God be the only God of our lives.

Wayne Hobbs lives in Sellersburg, IN. He is a retired educator and worships with the Sellersburg Church of Christ

 




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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8