Idolatry. It is one of those words that seems so antiquated in today’s world. It brings to mind a picture of generic “natives” of some sort bowing down in worship in their primitive huts perhaps to a coke bottle that dropped from the sky – or am I the only one that remembers that oh so terrible movie? Regardless, even among Christians, when one thinks of the big sins that are plaguing the church, idolatry is not one that comes up – it is just so Old Testament. Unlike contemporary issues like styles of worship or lifestyle choices, the sin of idolatry seems like a long ago far off temptation of primitive man, pictures from Sunday School Bibles of Canaanites bowing down before a little statue come to mind and are dismissed. We are way too smart to bow down to silly statues, modern man says as he stares at his iphone, we are way too civilized for that as he tells how much he looooooves LeBron James. But God made no mistake when He includes the sin of idolatry in the 10 Commandments along with such constants as theft, murder, coveting and specifically covers it in the first two, you shall have no gods other than God and you shall have no idols. The temptation towards idolatry has been plaguing man since the beginning and if anything the problems seems to be getting more intense and less dealt with in our day and age.
Idolatry is simply treating someone or something with extreme reverence and serving someone or something as if they were God. It is spending your time, talents and life in service to anything above God Himself. As a Christian, we are called on to love and serve many people and things in our service to God, so serving itself is not idolatry. Rather, when we take something that in itself may be good or neutral and through our passions and sin place it first in our lives above God, this is when we get in serious trouble.
Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters so our setting up a second master in our lives creates a conflict. Jesus in the same address goes on and says that if we have two masters we will love one and hate the other. If we try to serve an idol and try to serve Jesus at the same time, one of the two is going to end up being hated by us.
We may understand idolatry when it comes to certain issues or when it comes in some packages. Drug or alcohol addiction are clear examples of idolatry in today’s world. Addicts spend all of their waking hours concentrating on when and where their next fix will come from. Nothing can come in the way of that fix so they are willing to lie, steal and do any manner of sin in order to serve their god. Their god is their drug of choice. Alcoholics are the same way with booze. Those who struggle with sex and pornography won’t let little things like marriage, adultery and the pain caused by pornography get in the way of serving their god.
But what about when the idolatry is wrapped in a cloak of something noble or that the world esteems highly like good old American hard work? It is always good to work hard and provide for your family, right?
Well, let me share this story. It was three am on a weekday night when my wife came down to where I was working and asked how I was doing and how much longer I would be. She was concerned and said I needed sleep and she missed me. It was a reasonable question and concern based on the fact that it was very late alone, but also I had been working since I had gotten home from Court that evening. I had only taken a short break to eat breakfast and say goodnight to the kids. I was in the middle of a big trial, I am also lawyer unlikely, and during big trials everything else in life got shoved aside for a week or two while I worked around the clock in order to get the job done. My wife said later that it was like being a single mom for however long the trial lasted. I stared at her with very weary eyes, I had been up most of the night for the previous week and with a suddenly angry heart – “Don’t you realize this is my job and I have to do well to make partner” my mind flared into a rage at the gall of the question and intrusion. How dare my wife care about my health and well being and that of the our family when I had an idol to serve…..I mean, trial to win.
Looking back now I see the ridiculousness of it but at the time I was very serious. I needed to work myself to the bone in order to achieve the goal that I had set out in my life after finishing law school. I was going to make partner and lots of money and though I was not always obnoxious about the goal, I was going to do my best to achieve it regardless of what anyone else, wife, children, God, said about it. So long highly stressed hours were dedicated to serve my idols of work, ambition, money and position and I was not going to let anyone get in the way of that service. Since it was hidden behind my role as father and provider, even after I came to the Lord, I never had anyone tell me to work less or try to make less money. Unlike drug addiction, my idols were respectable. God obviously would say differently — absolutely anything above or in place of Him is just wrong.
There was a recent story on a christian radio station about the founder of a large Christian relief organization. I don’t recall the organization. The story was supposed to be positive and encouraging and it went on in detail about how dedicated the man was to the organization, the organization was super duper successful and that he was in demand around the world for speaking engagements. The speaker then casually mentioned that the man was so busy that he barely had time for his wife and daughter and that this lead to a strained relationship with both that never was repaired before his death. The daughter was so bitter that she despised the organization and was not walking with the Lord to that day. Not knowing the man, I can’t say for certain, but even though it has a Christian flavor to it this seemed like an open and shut case of idolatry. A man serving an organization and goal as God rather than God Himself.
Idolatry can come in many different forms. Are you absolutely certain that you are too smart to believe in God creating the universe? Do you believe that you are too intelligent to believe the simple words of the Bible? Guess what, your god is your view of yourself as a smarty pants. Do you live for Sunday when the Packers get out on the field? You may have an idol problem. Do you nurse wounds from your childhood using them like a weapon to fight off any attempts at growth and freedom in Christ? You may have made an idol of your victimhood.
So what about it? God says that you should have nothing in this entire world that comes before Him or else it is wrong. Is there anything in your life that is threatening to or overtaken the place only reserved for God?