Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 2 : 10 : Facing idolatry
1 Thess 1:9 They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
It is very easy to pass verses or words by with little thought – especially when we don’t like the word! Idolatry is just such a word that we mostly don’t like because it seems to us (mistakenly) to come from a bygone age and to have little relevance to us. How wrong we can be.
The Ten Commandments start off, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them,” (Ex 20:3-5) and therein is the clue to the heart of idolatry. It is the bowing down to worship a thing or person. Now to fully appreciate that, we need to think what ‘worship’ is because this may be very much more common than we realise. Worship is the acknowledgment that something or someone is greater than we are, and the subsequent exaltation of that person or thing. Now hold on to that definition because it very important. Put aside the thought that singing spiritual songs on a Sunday morning is all that worship means; it is much bigger than that!
I have always been slightly bemused by one verse: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5) That all seems fairly straight forward until you come to the end of it when Paul refers to ‘greed’ as ‘idolatry. Now greed is simply wanting more and more of something, whether it be food or possessions or whatever. Now whether we like it or not, wanting more and more of something means we have exalted that ‘thing’ whatever it may be and we think so much of it that we must have more and more of it. We have, without realizing it, made an idol of that thing.
Oh yes, get rid of the picture of some little wooden or metal figure. Yes, that was what was referred to so often in the Old Testament and in some parts of the world they are clearly visible, these little monstrosities that are people’s ‘gods’. But the New Testament looks beyond the merely physical and looks at the reality of the spiritual. When the apostle John finished his first letter with, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn 5:21) he probably had in mind these little figures, but when you start thinking of the meaning of these things, we realise that it is a warning that is equally valid for today in the West, perhaps more so in our affluent society than for a long time in history.
So let’s recap what we have said:
1. Idolatry is the bowing down to worship a thing or person.
2. Worship is the acknowledgement that something or someone is greater than we are, and the subsequent exaltation of that person or thing.
Now of course when you stop and think about it, God is The One who is greater than we are and is worthy of our exaltation, but before we came to Christ, we put our trust in a whole raft of wrong things – wrong in that they were not, in truth, things worthy of our exaltation! We trusted in ourselves and you can made an idol out of self-image, or personal status and qualification, exalting ourselves above all else. We trusted in science, in medicine, in technology, in education, in learning, in possessions, in ambition, and so on. In themselves none of these things are wrong but when we raise them to the place where we esteem or exalt them and lift them up above us, we make idols of them and, by definition, we worship them.
If we put ourselves, or other people, or things before God we have made them an idol and we are in reality ‘worshipping’ them. Never seen that before? Struggling to cope with that? Well go back and look at the definitions of idols and worship and see how it fits. Whatever we put in God’s placed becomes an idol and we are in our minds at the least, worshipping it. If something is so important that I must have it or do it, it has become something I am worshipping. It may be a desire to have my way, it may be a point of view or an attitude. If it is something I MUST hold on to, it has been an object of worship that replaces God, and it is an idol. I must be right, my viewpoint is always right, what I do must always be right, all of these things become something that become more important than God and we are worshipping them.
When we came to Christ we should have given up all these things when we surrendered our lives to him, but one of Satan’s ploys is to say, “Did God say…..?” and he makes a particular thing seem so reasonable and before we know where we are, an attitude replaces God as first in our lives, or a behaviour or expectation or…….
If you wondered did you need the work of Christ upon the Cross, this subject drives us back to the foot of the Cross as we realise we have allowed idols to become established in our lives and we need forgiveness, cleaning and even deliverance. If you smoke or are addicted to anything, that thing has become your source of comfort that replaces God’s provision of comfort. We need forgiveness, we need cleansing, we need deliverance. Dare you ask Him, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psa 139:23,24)