(BNC) by Hugh Fulford — What?! You mean that Christians are idol worshipers?! Well, yes, as a matter of fact, even in our supposedly highly enlightened and “Christian” world, idolatry of a certain kind is still, unfortunately, a real problem.
In the final verse of his first letter, John, the apostle of love, warned his readers (all of whom were Christians): “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (I John 5:21). This warning would hardly be necessary were idolatry not a real possibility, even for the children of God. Paul reminded the churches of Galatia that idolatry, regardless of what form it might take, was a work of the flesh and would result in people being unable to inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:20-21).
While Christians may not be tempted to bow down to idols of gold or silver or wood or stone, they nevertheless can be guilty of a more sophisticated form of idolatry. Consider the following.
To the Christians in Colossae Paul wrote: “Therefore, put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 1:2; 3:5). Note that last item – covetousness. Covetousness is the desire to have more and more. It is related to greed. Paul plainly calls it idolatry (cf. Ephesians 5:5). In warning Timothy of the perilous times that would come Paul identified one of the characteristics of those times as when men would be “lovers of money” (II Timothy 3:1-2). Earlier he had stated: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness (have become idolaters, hf), and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (I Timothy 6:9-10). Christians have served time in the penitentiary because money became their god. Jesus emphatically declared, “You cannot serve God and mammon (riches)” (Matthew 6:24), but, oh, how many modern-day Christians try to prove the Savior wrong!
Jesus spoke of how “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.” He went on to say, “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 16:25-26). While there is a needful place in the home, in the work place, in civil government, and in the church for leadership, oversight, and rulers of the right kind, there is never a place for power-hungry men or women who seek to control and dominate the lives of others! In a text mentioned above, Paul identified the perilous times of the last days as being times in which “men will be lovers of themselves … boasters … proud … headstrong …” (II Timothy 3:2-4)—all traits of those with an unholy desire for power. The apostle John exposed such a person in the early church. “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us…he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church” (III John 9-11). Power continues to be an idol of many Christians today, including elders, preachers, and members—all who want to “call the shots” and “rule the roost.”
Returning again to Paul’s description of perilous times, the apostle says that there will be times in which people will be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:4). This indicates that one’s own pleasure would become more important than God, and therefore an idol. On the weekends in America, the high school, college, and professional football stadiums are filled, while church attendance suffers. Sundays (the Lord’s Day) are filled with concerts, outings, shopping excursions, eating out, and travel, while the worship of God is neglected. Are we not shamelessly a nation of idolaters? For many, recreation, pleasure, and entertainment have become their god. Where is the discernment today of a Moses who chose rather “to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:24-25)?
Someone said that regardless of what time it is in the rest of the world, it is always “sex o’clock” in America! That, increasingly, seems to be the case. Sex appeal is used in TV commercials and print ads to sell everything from toothpaste to automobiles. Sex is a God-given trait. He made us sexual beings—male and female. There is a difference between the two and I love that difference! But God’s plan is for sexual relationships (male and female) to be fulfilled and enjoyed in the marriage relationship (Genesis 2:18-25; Hebrews 13:4). Fornication, adultery, lasciviousness, lewdness, licentiousness, lust, pornography, homosexuality, bestiality and those things that promote and result in such are forthrightly condemned in the word of God (Matthew 5:27-28; I Corinthians 6:9-11; II Corinthians 7:1; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3-7 [do not overlook the last two verses in this passage]; II Peter 2:14). When Christian men and women go out in public, including the services of the church, let them be sure that they are dressed in such a way as to not provoke any of these sexual sins.
The cell phone has made us a society of “selfies”! We are increasingly being consumed with self-centeredness, self-promotion, self-absorption, and self-adulation. There is nothing wrong with being physically attractive and with a reasonable degree of effort to maintain one’s physical health and attractiveness. But when such tends toward narcissism then self has become one’s god. Once again, Paul warned that “men will be lovers of themselves” (II Timothy 3:2). He urged Christian women to “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works” (I Timothy 2:9-10). Peter counseled Christian women: “Do not let your beauty be that outward adorning of arranging the hair, of wearing gold, or of putting on fine apparel; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (I Peter 3:3-4). These passages do not mean that it is wrong for a woman to dress attractively and becomingly, but they mean that the emphasis should be on the inner person, not the outward person. And men can be as vain as women in these matters. I cannot but wonder what marvelous changes would take place in some folks disposition, temperament, words, and actions if they spent half as much time on making the inner person attractive as they do on making the outer person attractive. All Christians must guard against unconsciously making an idol of self.
In a beautiful hymn James Nicholson wrote: “Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole; I want Thee forever to live in my soul; Break down every idol, cast out every foe: Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow” (emphasis mine).
May we as the people of God make that our daily prayer and determination.
Randal and his wife Vicki have lived and worked in Brazil since Nov. 1984. They have three married children and six grandchildren. He sometimes writes “7 Points.” http://randal.us