"Neither Be Ye Idolaters" (2)

Morris W. R. Bailey
Moose Jaw, Sask., Canada

In a previous article, under the above heading, it was pointed out that in both the Old and New Testament, idolatry was strictly prohibited and condemned.

It was further pointed out that since man is a worshiping creature by nature, idolatry is not merely a failure to worship God of heaven, but it is a misdirected worship because of misplaced affections. It "exchanges the truth of God for a lie, and worships and serves the creature rather than the creator" (Rom. 1:25).

The whole scope of New Testament teaching is directed toward instilling in man a proper sense of values. To the Colossians, Paul wrote, "Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth" (Col. 3:2). Jesus said, "But seek ye first his kingdom and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" ( Matt. 6:33 ) . How much these lessons need to be applied today! And yet, how often they are disregarded, and we have our mind set on the things of this earth rather on the things that are above. All too often, we seek first the things of this earth, and give but precious little time to seeking the things of the kingdom of heaven. Verily, Paul's warning to the Corinthians, "Neither be ye idolaters", is just as applicable today as when Paul wrote it.

Idols That Are Worshipped Today

The parable of the sower, related by Jesus, and recorded in the eighth chapter of Luke, tells a sad story of idolatry. In this parable Jesus pictures the sower as he scattered the seed, some of which fell by the wayside and was picked up by the birds and consequently did not even get chance to germinate. Jesus likens this unto those who are wholly unaffected by the preaching of the gospel because they allow the devil to steal the word out of their heart before it can produce faith. Some of the seed fell unto rocky, shallow ground, and it sprang up immediately; but it withered away for lack of moisture. Jesus likens this unto those who receive the word with joy, but fall away in time of temptation. Then there was the seed that fell into thorny ground and grew, but the thorns grew with it and choked it. Jesus likens this unto those who hear the word and receive it; but as' they go on their way they are choked with cares of this world, riches, and pleasure of this life, and bring forth no fruit.

Here is the great danger that faces every Christian. Something is going to be, to us, the most important thing in life. And regardless of what we may profess by word of mouth, that something toward which we bend every effort, and for which we are willing to make any sacrifice, is the object that we worship. If the object of our worship is God, well and good. But if the object of our affections, our labors and our sacrifices is something that displaces God, and relegates to the background those things that relate to His kingdom, it is an idol just as surely as were the images worshiped by Israel in the long ago.

It will be noticed that one of the idols mentioned by Jesus in his interpretation of the parable of the sower was the cares of this world (Luke 8 :14) . Not that cares in themselves are sinful; every responsible person has therrp God has ordained that man must work for a living (Gen. 3 :19) . He must also provide for his family. Paul said, "But if any provideth not for his own, and specially they of his own household, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim. 5:8). Important however as these obligations are, Christianity demands that they be placed second to our obligation to God. Our duty toward God exceeds in importance the things of this life, just as the value of the soul transcends the value of the body. Many a Christian's failure can be traced to a false sense of values in allowing family obligations to become so important to them that it interfered with their service to God. In such cases what did they really worship?

Then Jesus spoke of riches. Are riches in themselves sinful? Not necessarily. Sometimes we hear people solemnly declare that the Bible says that money is the root of all evil. That is not what the Bible says. It does say that "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (I Tim. 6:10). A certain amount of money is necessary to carrying on the ordinary businesses of life. Wealth in the hands of a truly consecrated Christian can be used to the glory of God and salvation of souls. It is the inordinate love of money that is wrong. It is when wealth becomes the goal in life for which a man will make any sacrifice that money becomes an idol.

Several years ago I knew a man who said that he was going to make so many thousand dollars a year for so many years and then he would retire. That became his goal in life. Every plan he made focused on that end. But it soon proved true, as Jesus said, that he could not serve two masters. He couldn't serve God and mammon. The last we heard of this man he no longer professed to be a a Christian. Money had become his idol.

Will a man sacrifice to the god of wealth? Indeed he will. How often we have read of some one who died in seemingly abject poverty, and it was later found that they had literally thousands of dollars hidden away in mattresses and dishes. They were willing to sacrifice a comfortable living to satisfy a creed for wealth. That is not half the story. How often have men been willing to sacrifice love, honor, integrity, decency, and even the lives of their fellow men that the god of wealth may pour into their coffers the filthy lucre that they really worship.

At this point perhaps I hear some one say, "I have no desire to be fabulously rich, but I would like to have enough money that I could buy anything 1' want." A word of warning is needed here. It is not the amount of money that one possesses that spells the difference between right and wrong,-between worshipping God or worshipping an idol. It is our attitude toward what we have, or what we would like to have. A dollar bill held up before the eyes will shut out as much sunlight as will a thousand dollar bill. A thousand dollars that becomes to us the most important thing in life, and for which a man will sacrifice his soul is just as much of an idol as a million dollars.

Then Jesus spoke of the pleasures of this life. Here again, it must be pointed out that pleasure in itself is not wrong. Did not Paul say, "For bodily exercise is profitable for a little" (1 Tim. 4: 8) ? It is when pleasure becomes more important than worshipping God that it becomes idolatrous and sinful.

Many times it has been observed that when summer holiday season comes, attendance falls off at church services. Sometimes the absentees are to be found out on a fishing trip or on a Sunday picnic at the beach. Some one may be heard to say, How sad that they will miss worship to go on a fishing trip or a picnic. But they didn't miss worship. O, it is true, they missed worshipping God, but the fisherman worshipped his fishing trip and the picnicker worshipped his picnic. The fishing trip and the picnic in their proper place can be wholesome recreation. But when they interfere with or displace our worshipping God they become idols.

There are other things which, when out of their proper place in our affections, may become an occasion of idolatry. It is possible to idolize certain people,-sometimes preachers. Now, God has ordained that there must be preachers. Paul said, "How shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10:14). For those who have made sacrifices to preach the gospel, sometimes receiving meagre support, and often away from their families for long periods of time, I believe that we should have the greatest respect. But at the same time it must be remembered that they are still just human beings. I recall one time hearing a man speaking of a certain "favorite" preacher, and he said, "So far as I am concerned, the sun rose and set on him." If this does not impress us as a dangerous attitude, perhaps another case will. Several years ago I knew a man who attended church set-vice only when a certain preacher was there to preach. Did he worship God or that "favorite" preacher?

Sometimes poeple get a distorted and therefore false conception of the place of a meeting house in the program of the church. There is no question that a place of meeting is a necessity. God has commanded Christians to assemble for worship. "Forsaking not our own assembling together as the custom of some is . . ." (Heb. 10:25). But if the church is going to assemble, there must be a place of assembly. God has not specified any one kind of a place, so the church is at liberty, to choose what is best under the circumstances. Rented halls are seldom ever satisfactory, so most churches have their own meeting house. The meeting house is authorized by general authority and is perfectly right within itself.

A few years ago a woman from a city where they had a fashionable meeting house, visited a small town. On Lord's day she attended the services of the church there. The congregation had but few members. The building was small and very plain. The woman was heard to protest, "I cannot worship in a place like this." Probably she told more truth than was realized. But there was some truth she did not tell. Did she worship God, or did she worship a fashionable meeting house?

Then there is the idol of SELF. Remembering that worship expresses itself in sacrifice, each one of us would do well to ponder the question, How much do I sacrifice for God, as compared to what I sacrifice for myself? We sometimes mortgage our homes to borrow the money to buy a new car. We borrow from the finance company to buy furniture and other household effects knowing full well that we are going to have to scrape and save to pay that money back. We are not criticizing the borrowing of money. But in the midst of it all it would be well for us to honestly consider the question, How much have I actually sacrificed for God? Would I be willing to mortgage my home to borrow money that the Lord's work may be carried on? Does our practice cry out that we love ourselves more than God?

No, we don't worship images as the children of Israel did hundreds of years ago, and as the heathen still do. But idolatry is still a distinct possibility and an ever-present danger among God's people today. Paul's warning to Christians of the first century is still a message for the church of the twentieth century, "Neither be ye idolators."

Truth Magazine, V:8, pp. 3-5
May 1961