The first of the Ten Commandments states, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Idolatry isn’t just wrong, it’s irrational. Jeremiah mocked those who chopped down a tree, shaped the wood with a chisel, adorned it with silver and gold, secured it with nails so it wouldn’t topple over, then bowed and prayed to an object their own hands had made (Jeremiah 10:3-5). The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit alone deserve our worship.
Idolatry damages the soul. Surely we would never engage in it. Yet, when John wrote a letter encouraging Christians to persevere in God’s truth and love, he found it necessary to include this warning: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). And when Paul told the Ephesian Christians, “such a person is an idolater” (Ephesians 5:5), he was not talking about worshipers who build altars to honor Baal. He was warning about three spiritual hazards that still war against our souls today: immorality, impurity, and greed.
An Unhealthy Lust for More
In 2019 it sounds incredibly counter-cultural (and some might say, unrealistic) to suggest that among us “there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity” (v. 3). Without “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking” (v. 4), a lot of locker room talk, TV shows, and social media posts would disappear. Admittedly, my own tongue slips now and then. I need God’s help to keep my thoughts and words pure. But in light of these clear verses of Scripture, I can’t shrug my shoulders and give up the fight for purity of heart and speech. It bothers me that profanity has become so commonplace. We should never get comfortable with taking the Lord’s name in vain. In our conversations online and in person, we should not denigrate women, drag men’s minds into the gutter, or express hatred for others.
When it comes to sexual immorality, haven’t we seen enough damage caused by pornography addiction, affairs, sexual abuse, and STDs? And no matter how much lawmakers and lobbyists try to normalize same-sex marriage, the practice doesn’t square with Jesus’ insistence that from the beginning God intended marriage to be for “male and female” (Matthew 19:4-6). With the Holy Spirit’s help, we need to encourage strong marriages, welcome healthy accountability, practice self-control, provide wise counsel for the emotionally wounded, humbly confess our sins and weaknesses, devote ourselves to prayer, push back against immorality and impurity, and support one another in the pursuit of holiness.
And what about greed? The Bible labels covetousness another form of idolatry (Exodus 20:17; Colossians 3:5), so why do we tolerate this sin in our hearts? Jesus said not to store up treasures on earth, but you wouldn’t know that from the way his followers keep accumulating more things we don’t really need to stuff into our houses and garages. It’s fine to enjoy God’s blessings. He “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). But an unhealthy lust for more keeps us from enjoying the greater blessings of being “rich in good deeds . . . generous and willing to share” (v. 18).
Bow down before a graven image? Never! But let’s also guard our hearts against idolatries that threaten to divert our love away from the one true God.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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