According to my understanding, idolatry exists when:
- You hold something to your heart so very dear, that you put it above the true and living God in terms of importance, value, devotion or preoccupation; and/or
- You put your trust and confidence in it; and/or
- You are prepared to make any sacrifice (including turning your back on God) for the care or preservation of it.
In essence therefore, this thing (whether it be an item, object, possession, person, activity, dream, vision or otherwise) becomes your foundation, your reason for being, so much so that your value and purpose for life (according to your skewed thinking) is tied with that thing.
This is why some women fall apart and even lose their minds when a man (be it a husband, boyfriend or love interest) walks out of their lives. They idolized that man or the relationship. It is the reason why some men kill women when those women decide to leave them and to then kill themselves. Such men either idolized the woman to the point of mad obsession or themselves, which they elevated to the status of a god over that woman. They therefore saw no reason to continue living when the object of their obsession had broken free or felt that retribution should be made by the woman for being audacious enough as to seek to be free of their influence.
Idolatry is the reason why some people work so hard and obsess so much over their jobs and feel so proud about the amount of money in their bank account. Their position, power and money are what they place confidence in and they are willing to give it most, if not all of their attention.
Idolatry is also the reason why people commit crimes and why some love to revel. Such people have elevated themselves as their god and therefore live to serve self. They operate on the philosophy that whatever self wants, self must get, irrespective of the price or what laws have to be broken or who has to be inconvenienced or suffer or the extent to which their actions are indecent, improper, vile and vulgar.
On the whole, whether it be a dream, vision or goal (for example, to be married, to have a beautiful wedding or to have a child), whether it be a man, a relationship, family, technology, a job, career, money, self, a dream of getting ahead or enjoying a better life or any other item, thing, person or activity, if a person:
- Is preoccupied with it; and/or
- Places it first; and/or
- Treats it as the most important and the most valuable in life; and/or
- Has it exclusively on the throne of his or her heart and thoughts; and/or
- Obsessively focuses on it; and/or
- Loves it above all else; and/or
- Elevates it as the epitome of his or her pride and joy and above God; and/or
- Is unable to let go of it,
then this is an idol.
Idolatry is an ugly thing and the Bible makes it clear that God, the true and living God, the only one deserving of our worship (because he created us) HATES all forms of idolatry. For, it dethrones Him from his rightful place in the heart of man, while the thing idolized takes up the position.
Idolatry is dangerous, as whenever we forsake God in pursuit of something else, we end up along a destructive path. When we turn or backs on God and backslide, it is because we have idolized something or someone, placing that thing or person above God.
Many women who have professed to know Christ as Lord and Saviour for example, fall into the trap of aligning themselves in love relationships and even marriage with men who do not serve the Lord Jesus Christ and are therefore ungodly men of the world. They do so and therefore disobey God’s clear command not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers because they have made an idol out of the man or the idea of having a boyfriend or being in a relationship or getting married. This has become more important than Christ himself. They therefore turn away from Jesus (which is a big mistake), in pursuit of this idol.
When you do not separate yourself from the ungodly but fraternise with them, then slowly and sometimes subtly but surely, they teach you their evil ways (evil communication corrupts good manners) and before you know it, you find yourself in sin’s bondage.
You can never say that you are too strong spiritually to withstand. Although Solomon was wise, he did not withstand but eventually turned away from God due to the idols of ungodly women. Though Samson was a mighty man of God and born for a spiritual purpose, he did not withstand but lost his eyes and then his life because of idolizing ungodly women.
When you do come to your senses and want to let go, sin tries to keep you stuck in that situation. This is one of the dangers of idolatry.
Idols in your heart also prevent God from answering your petitions. Why should he hear your prayer, if you have another god, a false god, in your heart?
Going after other gods which cannot save us or help us, (even as Egypt could not help Israel when they returned to it in disobedience to God’s command) is insulting to God, as it is as if we say that he is not enough and he cannot provide for us enough or according to our needs so we need to help ourselves and do our own thing because he has failed us and there is better out there than in his presence.
Of course there isn’t. There is only sorrow and woe and incredible heartache but the devil causes people to go away from God in pursuit of happiness, through deception.
It is what he did with Eve. She had it nice in the garden of Eden and in God’s presence but the devil deceived her into thinking that there was better, that God was keeping her from it and that she was missing out. She therefore foolishly turned from God in pursuit of this and in so doing, forsook the fountain of living waters, hewing out cisterns, broken cisterns that could never hold any water.
SELF – A MAJOR IDOL
The idol of self is often underestimated although it is the main idol that most of us need to get rid of as human beings.
As one Pastor from Kerwin Baptist Church put it in his Sermon on Mark 8 and the importance of denying self in order to follow Jesus: “It is self that demands a kingdom and a crown… It wants to lead…Our self-will is so strong, it wants to guide everything we do in our life.”
Many times, Christians backslide and turn away from God because they have elevated themselves and their own comfort above his will and timing for their lives.
The main form of idolatry today is a worship of self, which increases as time progresses. The fact that people today are more selfish and self-centred than people of the past is no coincidence. As time progresses, people are loving themselves more and more, even to unhealthy levels and this love of self has caused them to forsake the true and living God, the only one worthy of worship. This is why in these times, instead of people encouraging other people to believe in God and to have faith in Jesus Christ, it has become increasingly common to hear the foolish statement: Believe in yourself.
This ugly idol manifests itself in different ways in different people. There is for example, the idol of self-love, self-acclaim, self-grandeur, self-prominence, self-pre-eminence, self-righteousness, self-attention, self-benefit, self-promotion, self-praise, self-glory, self-pleasure (which says whatever the flesh wants, the flesh gets and there is no such thing as self-abstinence and self-suffering and self-sacrifice), self-focus and self-consciousness (which is preoccupied with how self relates with and appears to other people).
On the need for Christians to put away the idol of self, Luke 9:23-24 states:
- “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
In referring to the tendency to use situations to exalt self and to gain glory and recognition for self and to serve self, Philippians 2:3-8 also tells us:
- “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
This scripture is mind-blowing.
Imagine, Jesus was in the form of God in heaven and therefore, at the epitome or height of glory. Yet, he made himself of no reputation although he was equal with God, when he decided to come down to earth. There was no: “I cannot bring myself so low as to leave heaven’s glory and take on the lowly form of a human being.” He did not murmur and complain, despite his glorious standing but humbly allowed himself to come down to earth, in the form of a human being, through the passage of a woman (which was just like how other human beings were born into the world) and as a baby.
Even more amazing, when Jesus came down to earth, although he knew his identity, he did not demand that people everywhere serve him hand and foot because of who he was (the Son of God and part of the Godhead) but instead, he went about and served them, his own creation, healing them, feeding them, teaching them, attending to their needs and even washing their feet.
In Matthew 20:26-28, having consistently demonstrated a life of selfless service to others, he told his disciples:
- “…whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Throughout his life on earth, Jesus did not look for recognition for himself. As if it was not low enough to have come down to earth, to have taken on the form of a man, to have busied himself, not seeking his own glory but selflessly serving human beings (the very people he created) and pointing the glory to God, Jesus went further, stooped further, by humbling himself so that he would be obedient even to death, something that human beings were terrified of but which he was Lord over.
Death was not a pleasant thing and since Adam and Eve sinned, had been a source of pain for humanity. Given that Jesus was the Son of God, he was greater and more powerful than death and therefore, unless he allowed it, it could not affect him. Yet, to fulfill his mandate on earth which involved him dying, Jesus humbled himself so as to be subject to this foe. That is, he put himself beneath its power and allowed himself to be put to death in the flesh.
Isaiah 53:12 states prophetically of him, that “…he hath poured out his soul unto death.” Psalm 22:14-15, which is also regarded as a prophetic description of what Jesus Christ endured when dying, reads:
- “I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.”
It is important to note that Jesus did not just humble himself to the lowest of lows which was death but he also humbly accepted the type of death to which he was to be subjected, even the death of the cross.
Apart from the fact that a person was apparently considered to be cursed when made to die hanging from a tree and in dying on a cross, Jesus was therefore made a curse for us (Galatians 3:13), this type of death was humiliating and very painful. It did not allow him to die with dignity but in shame. He suffered in the treatment meted out to him before the crucifixion and during the crucifixion.
Yet, there was no – “Do you know who I am? How dare you disrespect me! I am too great to stoop so low! I can’t have my own creation cutting style on me and spitting on me! This requires me to be like a nobody with absolutely no significance in the eyes of man and this requires me not to assert my rights to which I am entitled. I cannot do this. I must fight back. I must let them know I am boss and show off my great power. I must teach these mortals a lesson so they know not to mess with me again.”
Instead, when Jesus was reviled, he reviled not again. He went as a lamb to the slaughter, possessing great power to deliver himself and destroy his enemies but choosing not to use it.
Jesus gave up everything of prestige, honour, pomp, glory (all of which he rightly deserved) when he came to earth, took on the form of a man and then went even lower by allowing man, who he created, to cruelly mock him, jeer at him, insult him, spit at him, laugh at him, stare at him as entertainment while he suffered, criticize him (without one word of retort from him to them) and crucify him. It cannot have been easy to just stay there and take it but he did, motivated by the joy that would be the by-product of his suffering, when complete.
Self was completely abandoned, the self that we, as mere mortals and even Christians, find so hard to deny.
Following Jesus’ example, the idol of self in our lives must be crucified.
Indeed, the idol of self can be so subtle, that it may even manifest itself as spirituality, when really, it is self-righteousness.
I listened to a Preacher recently who said that some people operate in a manner where they expect everyone to line up with them and what they want. Such people don’t recognize anybody else outside of themselves or see anybody other than themselves.
He said further that when your reference in life is yourself, this is really bad as we tend to be blinded by self. He said we need other people to tell us when we are going wrong, as self wouldn’t.
Sadly, the idol of self is manifest at times in some members in the Church. For example, whenever a person who has professed Christ as Lord and Saviour, seeks to suppress or not acknowledge the work of Christ in another believer, that person usually does that, not so as to exalt Christ but to exalt himself and assert his own glory. He wishes to showcase himself and his abilities alone (not Christ) and therefore views fellow believers as either undeserving of attention (especially those who he regards as nothing) or competitors for the limelight he has grown to love and feels exclusively entitled to.
Yes, the heart of man is really deceitful and desperately wicked as God has said. Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
The way that God has designed the body of Christ however, runs counter to selfishness and the idea of the exaltation of one or a few. No man or woman possesses all of the gifts and the talents that God desires to use for his Kingdom and whatever gifts he has graced his children with are not for them to proudly and contemptuously showcase themselves but to humbly exalt Jesus.
Also, God has designed a system of cooperation, where we are to edify, encourage and rebuke each other where necessary. There is therefore no one believer or group of believers who God downloads everything to. It is his intention that each and every believer would humbly feed others spiritually but also be humbly fed by others.
When a professer suppresses the contribution of another Christian therefore because he thinks too little of that person and can’t imagine God using that person for anything valuable simply because he has chosen to dismiss that person as unimportant, that professer will not be able to benefit from that person, if God has given that person something to contribute to the body of Christ.
As a side note, if you have backslidden and desire to return to God, do not be surprised if you find on your way, self-righteous people trying to keep you from God or even after you have repented and returned to Him, self-righteous people who think that you are wholly unprofitable and a write-off and try to suppress what God may be trying to achieve in you and through you, for your good and his glory.
VERSES ON IDOLATRY
The following are some verses to help us guard our hearts and fight against erecting idols in our lives (whether it be self, family, children, a job, money, a house, a car, a man, a dream, our good looks or anything else) and to lead us back to repentance to God, where we are guilty of the sin of idolatry.
- “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me…Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:2-6)
- “And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.” (Exodus 23:13)
- “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)
- “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21)
- “They did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the LORD commanded them: But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols.” (Psalm 106:34).
- “And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them? Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols; That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols. from me through their idols. Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself: And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 14:2-8)
- “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:11-13)
- “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
- “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:3-8)
- “And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” (Luke 22:41-43)
- “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
- “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
- “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loved son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37-38)
- “…thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:30)
- “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
- “Yet I am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no saviour beside me.” (Hosea 13:4)
- “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.” (Isaiah 43:10-11)
- “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)
- “Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:4)
- “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:25-27)
- “Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.” (Psalm 16:4)
- “Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 6:13-15)
- “And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish. As the nations which the LORD destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 8:19-20)
- “In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” (Luke 17:31-33)
- “Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the LORD’S wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you . . . Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day: And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.” (Deuteronomy 11:16-17, 26-28)
- “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee. If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him…” (Deutoronomy 13)
(Written on 13th April, 2020)