November 21, 2017

Give Unto the Lord: Modern Idolatry

By J.S. Smith

Introduction

Psalm 29, from the hand of David, is an expression of reverence toward the powerful voice of God, who spoke light and life into existence. David’s mind takes him across the world that he knew, into heaven and right up to the throne of God as he sings of God’s awesome and beneficent power. In so doing, he points out the absolute importance of worshiping only the God of heaven and denying the subtle temptation of idols.

The Text of Psalm 29

David begins Psalm 29 by speaking to the mighty ones in verses 1-2, which would likely indicate angels (“sons of God”) in the original Hebrew language. His message is that these creatures should take diligence in attributing strength and glory to Jehovah and that they should worship him “in the beauty of holiness.” Angels are messengers, ministering servants in God’s scheme of the salvation of men (Heb. 1:14) and it is made obvious that they owe God their complete loyalty. Dividing their service with another master would be an act of rebellion and betrayal, as some even did (2 Pet. 2:4).

Holiness — undivided and un- blemished loyalty to God — is a beautiful thing for angels and men. Idolatry in any form will divide one’s loyalty and blemish one’s record; hence, John warns us to keep ourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). Our God is a jealous God who is adamant about demanding every ounce of man’s worship for himself and he has that right as creator, sustainer, and savior.

In verses 3-10, David attributes a number of superhuman abilities to the voice of God, implying the reason for respecting God’s word on every subject. When men begin to question the authority of God’s voice or deign to curtail, drain or amend his revealed will, the awe for God’s voice has diminished as an idol has taken a new throne. The New

Testament magnifies God’s voice in a special way (Heb. 1:1-4). God has spoken to us by Jesus, who also sent the Comforter to guide the apostles into revealing all truth to mankind, which we have inscribed for us on the pages of the New Testament. Figuratively, man must remove his shoes when approaching the Bible; that is, hold it in such reverence that it never be diminished in perception, “for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Exod. 3:5). Every word here was given through the precious breath of God (2 Tim. 3:16).

In this word, God has completely equipped his servants to do every good work (2 Tim. 3:17). In it, he has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). The system of faith and philosophy of life of God’s creation is thoroughly described and delineated on these pages, lacking nothing (Jude 3). The word is an incorruptible seed that will never be destroyed or marred to the point that is loses its power to save (1 Pet. 1:22-25; Rom. 1:16). When we decide to take our stand in God’s word, we take a stand on holy ground: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). Of one particular part of the New Testament, God warned severely against man’s presumptuous, self-willed hand (Rev. 22:18-19). While not as poetic as David’s psalm, these passages form the same demand for reverence and heavenward devotion.

In Psalm 29:10-11, David reminds us of Noah’s day, when God’s sovereignty in creation was called into question by the wickedness of his brightest creatures, men and women; we all know how he answered from his throne in the heavens, just beyond the weeping clouds of a mighty, cleansing destruction.

Understand, David says, that God sits upon his throne forever and blesses his people. One is reminded of the words of Habakkuk: “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the world keep silence before Him” (2:20). When all authority was given to Christ (Matt. 28:18) as monarch over his kingdom, the church (Matt. 16:16; 1 Tim. 6:15), man was reminded anew that it was not within him to direct his own steps (Jer. 10:23) or make his own faith (Jas. 4:12). Man’s dismissive attitude toward this divine rule was epitomized in ancient Israel at the end of the Judges period, when God’s people rejected him by begging for a human king (1 Sam. 8:4-9). It was a yearning to be like the world that infected this formerly sanctified population. It was a conscious decision to be ruled by the passions of man rather than the compassion of God that caused their eventual downfall. It was a resignation to pushing God off his throne in the end, for Israel idolized her neighbors’ systems, which excelled God’s by a worldly estimation. Computers and rockets have not changed the psyche of man: a desire to be like the world will ultimately spur a coup-d’etat to remove God from his throne and crown an idol as apparent co-monarch or even absolute master.

“I Am a Jealous God”

To be jealous over something you possess is to refuse to share it with anyone else. Normally, that is bad; sharing is a godly attribute. However, some things can be exclusively claimed and sharing is actually the sin instead. For example, my wife’s romantic affections belong to me exclusively and sharing them with another person would be sinful (1 Cor. 7:1-4). I am not only permitted to be jealous over those affections, it would be unhealthy were I not. That does not mean that I forbid her to talk to other people or deny her friendships, but when it comes to “eros,” I am under no obligation to share; I must possess a godly jealousy (2 Cor. 11:2).

There is a throne in every man’s heart and God jealously desires to sit there alone, refusing to share the seat with anyone or anything else, even the heart’s human possessor. This was codified for ancient Israel in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-7); idolatry shattered the peace and was unacceptable to the true monarch (Exod. 34:10-17). God perceived a danger in close relations with an unsanctified world in adopting their ways and their idols, of making a covenant with idols and attempting to compel God to share worship with Molech, Baal, and Ashterah. His preventative was to remove the idols from Israel’s paths (Deut. 4:23-24). Idolatry promised to bring a writ of divorcement from God; he is the sanctified bridegroom, refusing to share her affection with anyone else (Josh. 24:14-15, 19-20). The prophets spoke of God’s punishment of Israel as the vengeance of his jealousy. Ancient Israel’s history is provided to spiritual Israel, the church, as an example of the consequences of idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14-22).

Under the Law of Moses, God always referred to himself as being married to Israel, an adulterous bride who dallied with other husbands, other gods, even as her Groom pleaded for her return to the sanctified relationship (Jer. 3:6-14). The only cause for a divorcement from Israel was spiritual adultery and she was guilty. It remained only for God to plead for repentance until longsuffering was exhausted and divine vengeance translated into a bill of divorcement, which happened finally when the Chaldeans laid waste the temple of Jerusalem and slaughtered the priests. Under the Law of Christ, the Holy Spirit has cast the Lord in the role of bridegroom, wed to the church (Rom. 7:4; Rev. 21:2, 9; Eph. 5:25-32) and God maintains a jealousy for his sanctified people’s worship (Jas. 4:4). Once again, idolatry is the stumbling block that will lead to spiritual divorcement.

Our “Modern” Idols

Our idols are not exclusively made of wood and stone, but often composed of flesh and blood, circuits and transistors, or paper and ink. Idolatry is an expression of worldliness, a mindset that exposes a conformity to the course of the world (1 Pet. 4:4), rather than a transformation to godliness (Rom. 12:1-2). The Scriptures call this disease “carnality,” an addiction to the opiate of material fulfillment (Rom. 8:5-8, 13). These idols can take any number of forms and be known by any number of names:

Self (2 Tim. 3:1-2a)

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves . . .

The religion of Humanism, taught in our schools since the 1930s, has made a molten calf out of self, teaching people to seek answers within their hearts rather than in God and to elevate their own self-esteem by any means. It is for this reason that our society finds it difficult to punish criminals or label anything a sin. It is for this reason that sexual perversions like homosexuality are cast in a favorable light and given protection from scrutiny or objection. Self becomes an idol when it is put before God and one’s fellow man by self-indulgence, self-centeredness, selfish- ness, and self-serving (Rom. 2:8; Phil. 2:3-4). The Bible demands an honest estimation of oneself, based upon a sincere comparison of life to standard (2 Cor. 13:5). True, everlasting inner peace and joy are not achieved by lowering the standard (rewarding failure, sanctioning sin as a new form of righteousness), but by walking by faith (Rom. 2:10; 15:13). The movement to make self-esteem the idol of humanism devalues the only true and living God and promises only eternal enmity with God and an everlastingly low self-estimation in the confines of condemnation where even the worms enjoy a brighter existence. Self is an idol to us when we are more concerned with self-estimation than God’s estimation of us.

Money (2 Tim. 3:1-2b)

Men . . . will be lovers of money . . .

Money is perhaps the clearest and oldest manifestation of modern idolatry (Col. 3:5). The love of money is called the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10), for greediness pierces one’s faith until it is nothing but holes (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Jesus was well ahead of his time by labeling covetousness as a powerful idol (Matt. 6:19-24). The subtle power of covetousness for the Christian is that it makes him think he can successfully serve two masters simultaneously, even when one of them is supposed to be Jehovah God. But when the at- tempt is made to put God and material wealth on the same throne of one’s heart, a secret distrust in God and dissatisfaction with the hope of heaven is revealed to the Almighty who ought to be seated there alone. If allowed to continue, mammon will seem to gradually crowd God into a smaller and smaller corner of that throne. Money becomes an idol when we value its pursuit over the pursuit of godliness and Bible knowledge, when quantity time with God and family is reduced and our account in heaven suffers neglect that the account in the bank might increase. When your children grow up, no amount of money is going to buy back their youth that you might spend it with them more wisely.

No bank account will redeem the time for you once it is spent: the opportunity to pray and study, to teach and learn, will be exhausted forever (Eph. 5:15-17). When you reach the day of judgment and your bank itself is in element-melting flames, what will you have reserved for eternity (Mark 8:36-37)?

Pleasure (2 Tim. 3:1-4)

Men . . . will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

It must be noted that a love of pleasure does not have to be directed at sinful pleasures to be an idol; pleasure can be an idol even if the pleasure is otherwise harmless to the soul. A Christian fishing on Sunday morning has made a harmless Saturday pleasure into an idol because it is more important to him than worshiping God. A Christian who watches television on Wednesday night instead of attending Bible class has turned an inherently harmless pleasure into an idol because it is more important to him than God and his brethren.The love of pleasure then is idolatry whether the pleasure is inherently sinful or only sinful by its extenuating circumstances. Pleasure becomes an idol when duties to God are left derelict that fleshly enjoyment might be served instead (1 Tim. 4:8). When unlawful activities like sexual immorality, drug use, and lewdness are committed (Tit. 2:11-14), when otherwise harmless activities like boating and sleeping replace worship, home Bible study,  and personal evangelism, when a Christian is willing to sit for three hours at the football stadium, but grouses about a single hour in a padded pew, he loves pleasure more than God and, in fact, finds God most unpleasant (1 John 5:3).

Public Acceptance and Acclaim (Matt. 6:1-7, 16-18; 23:1-12)

But all their works they do to be seen by men.

The Pharisees had enlarged the means of making self an idol, feeding their self-esteem with the idol of public acclaim and acceptance. They were more concerned with the reward and acceptance of men than God. Spiritual Israel is sick with this most worldly idol, for she yearns to make the church look like the denominations and the Christians like the sectarians or the infidels. In the idolatry of public acclaim, some churches of Christ are building fellowship halls while tearing down the scripturally mandated barriers of divine and local fellowship. Christians are adopting a sectarian vocabulary and lifestyle that includes dancing, im- modesty, and unity-in-doctrinal-diversity. Such Christians are no longer content to be a kingdom not of this world, yearning instead to be like the surrounding nations of men that have long since left book, chapter, and verse disciple- ship. Such are uncomfortable being called a peculiar people (1 Pet. 2:9-10) and want to fit in better in the world of ecumenical religion. We are tired of being the ones without music, who kick people out for getting divorced, dress like it is winter even in the summer, and think we are the only ones going to heaven. At least the Pharisees wanted to be different; we are dying to be the same as we bow before the idol of public acceptance.

Things (1 John 2:15-17)

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

These are the things of the world: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life, things that we so believe we cannot do without that we sell our souls to obtain them. All these things are but vapors and perish with use, unlike our souls that can survive moths, rust and worms to appear before God in the last day; still we are desperate to possess them for a moment. The prettiest boat may never sink, but God will burn it up one day for sure; the biggest house may never fall but God will make it nothing one day. Our relentless and idolatrous pursuit of things reveals a lack of faith that God will provide our needs (Matt. 6:25-34). While we must work as agents of God in providing our needs (2 Thess. 3:10-12), denying God gratitude through a faithful and trusting life turns our mansion into a sand castle and provokes waves of retribution. Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness: worship comes before work; devotion to prayer and meditation comes before leisure reading and scholarly study; selfless acts of charity precede self-indulgence. Things become an idol when they define our inner identity more than our relationship with God and when their pursuit crowds out godly endeavours in our employment of time and material resources. Remember, “the only path to self-fulfilment is self-denial.”

Men (Acts 12:20-23)

And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”

The people of Tyre and Sidon made Herod their human idol, calling his voice that of a god. The Christians in Corinth endangered their own souls by dividing into parties behind unwilling preachers like Peter, Paul, and Apollos (1 Cor. 3:1-4; 4:6). The modern sickness called “preacheritis” is a form of idolatry that places an esteemed preacher’s opinions and cogitations even above divinely revealed truth. (“If brother so-and-so believes and teaches it, it must be true.”) Christians have been known to change beliefs held all their lives on the advice of a preacher respected much too highly and without the conviction of their own study and a reasoned conclusion. We make our preachers idols when we allow them to do all our study for us and establish our own beliefs from their conclusions without ever searching the Scriptures to see if such conclusions are accurate (Acts 11:17) and without thoroughly testing the prophets by their doctrines (1 John 4). Some Christians are forming cults of personality beneath the banners of their preacher as they redefine Romans 14 and God’s divorce and remarriage law because of his charm, wit, and reputation. We are accepting false prophets in sheep’s clothing because we can no longer discern the costume from neglect of personal attention to God’s word. Or perhaps we are simply addicted to their message of peace — peace in the local church despite doctrinal disparity, peace with the sects despite a chasm of diverse beliefs, peace with God despite a love of the darkness (6:14-15). “An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own power; And my people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end” (Jer. 5:30-31)?

Prescription for a Cure

What can be done to put away the idols among us. Be- gin by putting yourself in Joshua’s audience, commanded to choose this day for yourselves whom you will serve (24:15): keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). If you recognize the presence of idols in your heart or approaching its throne and desire to avoid the pitfalls of a divided loyalty, the Bible combines the simple prohibition of idols with divine wisdom on overcoming their lure. Primarily, it involves a conscious and committed decision to hate the darkness and love the light:

Walk as illuminated by the light of God’s word (Eph. 5:8-12; Matt. 5:13-16). Renew your zealous mind with noble thoughts and objectives (Rom. 12:1-2; Phil. 4:8). Be led by the Spirit’s influence through his revealed will (Rom. 8:11-14).

Conclusion

Worldliness will eat you alive in whatever form its idolatry takes. Do not believe the preacher who prophesies a false peace built on the tolerance of sin and error. There is no peace with God where the darkness is not loathed.

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