Monday, November 17, 2014

The Idol Factory

Part 1 of Keep Yourselves from Idols

Text: Exodus 20:1-6

You can listen to this sermon here.



Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). 


Idols of the Heart

The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). Is idolatry a problem in our city? Yes, it is. This afternoon, our city will be filled with idolatry. Mic Mac Mall and Dartmouth Crossing will be crowded with shoppers worshipping the idol of materialism. People will be visiting salons and gyms worshipping the idol of physical beauty. Football fans will be seated in front of TVs worshipping the idol of sports. Idolatry is a problem in our city because it’s a problem that originates in our hearts.

The human heart is an idol factory. 

When John wrote, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” he was probably writing to Christians living near or in the city of Ephesus. [1] In Ephesus, there was both traditional idolatry and idolatry of the heart (cf. Ezek. 14:3, 4, 7). Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (see Acts 19:21-41). The worship of Artemis was traditional idolatry. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, states that a “covetous” person is “an idolater” (Eph. 5:5; cf. Col. 3:5). Covetousness is one form of idolatry of the heart.


How to Make an Idol 

What is idolatry? John Calvin writes that idolatry is “to worship the gifts in place of the giver himself.” [2] Tim Keller defines idolatry as “the making of good things into ultimate things.” [3]

In his book Counterfeit Gods, Keller writes than an idol is “anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” [4] Whenever there is a financial crisis, there are some people who commit suicide. Without their money, life isn’t worth living. Money is their god. 

Idolatry is turning a good thing into an ultimate thing. 

Something like sports is a good thing. But if we begin to care more about sports than God, we have committed idolatry.


Guarding Against Idolatry

In 1 John 5:21, the Greek word for “keep” (phylasso) means “to guard.” “John is urging his readers to watch out for anything that may become a substitute for God.” [5] How can we guard against idolatry in our lives? We must continually remind ourselves of two truths.

1. Only God deserves our highest love, not an idol. 

God told the Israelites, “You shall not bow down to [idols] or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Exod. 20:5). [6] In the OT, God is described as the husband as his people, and idolatry is said to be spiritual adultery. In Jeremiah 3:20, God said, “Like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me.”

God will not tolerate any rivals for our love. Nor should he. To the Israelites, he was the one “who brought [them] out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2). To us, he is the one “who redeemed [us]…with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19, NIV). He deserves our highest love. Jesus said that the most important commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). [7]

2. Only God can truly satisfy us, not an idol.

When people are devoted to an idol, they are looking elsewhere for satisfaction. People who are devoted to idols say, “If only I could [fill in the blank], then I’d be satisfied.” But idols always end up disappointing us. 

God declared, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). To the woman at the well, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:13-14).


We Are All Worshippers

Every baby is born with a desire for milk. What would happen if you gave a baby Coke to drink instead of milk? It wouldn't be good.

Whether people realize it or not, everyone is born with a desire for God. We are all worshipers. We either worship God or a substitute.

As a baby’s life would be harmed by drinking something other than milk, our lives are harmed when we worship an idol.


[1] D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament, 451.
[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.36.
[3] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 162.
[4] Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xviii.
[5] Gary M. Burge, Letters of John (NIVAC), 218.
[6] Jealousy is not always sinful. It’s fitting for a husband or wife to be jealous if his or her spouse commits adultery.
[7] The command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” is stating positively the negative command “You shall have no other Gods before me.”