Meditations in 1 John : 67 : Idols?worship,
1 John 5:21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols
Of all the apparently strange ways to conclude a letter, this appears the most strange. It is short, abrupt and apparently right out of the blue – no warning of it at all! So why should John finish with such a command?
The answer is given by a quote from a Christian historian I recently came across when he wrote about the early church: “Though the Christianity of the first several centuries was merely one among many mystery religions — it differed from all other devotions in requiring of its adherents a loyalty not only devout but exclusive. The votaries of Dionysus, Cybele and Attis, Isis and Osiris, Sabazius, Mithras, or any of the other pagan savior deities were not obliged to derogate or deny the power or holiness of other gods, or to remain totally aloof from their rites or temples; they merely acquired a new, perhaps dominant, but in no sense solitary, god or goddess to adore. Only the Christian mystery demanded of the convert an absolute commitment to one God and a denial of all others.”
Within that quote he names a number of ‘gods’ or objects of worship that were commonly worshipped in the world of the early centuries of the Christian Church, through ‘religions’ that competed in the superstitious mind of the day. The writer of that quote was conveying the fact that all these religions and gods existed and happily existed alongside each other and were quite happy if you worshipped a whole variety of them. That was until you came to Christianity which stood out in the world’s ‘faiths’ as demanding allegiance to it and to the One True God alone.
This takes its roots right back into the early history of Israel when the Lord gave them the Ten Commandments (never rescinded or replaced) which included: “You shall have no other gods besides me.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). For a simple answer to the question, “Why were these commands included?” we need only look at the verses we’ve just previously considered which included, “that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God.” (1 Jn 5:20). In other words, only the One we find revealed in the Bible is God and there are no others. Idols are merely man-made false representations of ‘gods’ that don’t exist.
Often the writings of the prophets focused on this. Isaiah wrote: “Bring in 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 to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing.” (Isa 41:22-24). That is just one of a number of instances in the prophetic writings that derides idols and gods. They don’t exist except as a figment of your imagination, is the message of the prophets, so stop wasting your time making idols and worshipping things that don’t exist. Instead worship the One True God.
But still, in the world of John’s day they worshipped idols and superstition ran rife. The thing about an idol was that you could see it and it acted as a focus of your worship and was thus a great temptation. “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols,” was John’s last call to his scattered flock.
Does such a call have any relevance to us today? Well if we consider ‘an idol’ in more general terms, the answer has got to be yes. An idol is anything or anyone we esteem and lift up in our estimation and which has influence on us and which we allow to direct us (and that we ultimately ‘worship’.). Thus materialistic affluence and the pursuit thereof is clearly an idol of many. Ambition, the desire to achieve great things for oneself regardless of what it takes, is another. Superstars or ‘celebrities’ may be genuine idols for the more gullible. An idol thus becomes anything which detracts from God, and that competes with God for His lordship. It is anything that you put before the Lord and in that sense there may be many things in the modern world that compete. Thus John’s call is still valid today.
To slightly change the words of the last line of that quote I used earlier, Only the Christian faith demands of the convert an absolute commitment to one God and a denial of all others. That is just as true today as it was two thousand years ago. And the reason? It’s what John has been talking about throughout his letter: we have knowledge of One who is supreme and unique and He has revealed Himself to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, and through him we have a salvation which can be gained through no other means, so don’t look elsewhere. As the psalmist wrote for his day, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psa 20:7) THAT is wisdom and it is the wisdom that comes through John’s letter again and again. May we hold firmly to it! Amen? Amen!