Yesterday we started talking about our light pollution problem in the church. I ended our time together yesterday with this call to action: “Can you find 5 minutes to take away from one of the idols of this age that we all worship and give that time to Jesus?” I didn’t get into how we worship idols in our time, and you may have even been wondering what the heck that was about. That’s what we’re going to get into today. But first…
The Israelites. I’ve learned a lot about humanity by studying the Israelites the last couple of years. I used to give them a pretty hard time for turning back to idol worship while Moses was up on the mountain getting the commands from God. I mean, God’s voice is thundering on the mountain and they coerce Aaron into making an idol for them to worship. But when you read the story, your perspective really starts to change. They had been slaves for hundreds of years. Generation upon generation. They had been immersed in the Egyptian culture which had idols. They had only been following God for a few months. They went back to what they knew. They didn’t even realize what they were doing.
In our church Bible reading plan we just read where God said this to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.” (Lev 18:2-5)
We think of ourselves differently than the Egyptians and their “primitive” idol worship. We would never worship an idol, we would never make a golden calf and bow down to it. I know I think that way. But, what is an idol? And do I worship any? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I have any idols in my life. But, what if I do?
So, I started doing some digging. What did God mean by idol? We see the command in Exodus 20:4-6 – “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
There, by the way, is another good example of how good and loving God is. Yes, he punishes sins for 3 or 4 generations. But, he shows love to a thousand generations of those who love him. That’s incredible!
If you remember back to the King James, you may recall the phrase ‘graven image’ instead of idol. The word for “idol” here is “Pecel” which just means idol. But it comes from the root word, “pacal” which means to cut, hew, carve, etc. Graven then, from the King James, actually helps our understanding. As with the idea of engraving.
John ends this letter in an odd way. He says: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
And idol is something we make with our own hands in the image of something. Then, by worshipping it, we start to become like that idol. Because, we become like what we worship. So, our identity starts to get shaped by the thing we made with our hands instead of by the one who formed us with his. An idol is anything that leads us astray from proper worship of THE ONE TRUE GOD.
God uses a different word to describe making us. God formed us. Gen 3:7 – “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Prior to that, this was what God said about making us. Gen 1:26-27 – “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.’”
God made us in His image. The word make means to do, fashion, make or produce. God created us in His image. The word create means to shape, form or fashion. God’s work in creating human beings is the work of formation. He does not carve us out of something, he forms us.
I don’t know how significant that difference is. Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it’s something. What I do know is this, we become like what we worship. A couple of times in the Old Testament which Paul also quotes in Romans, we read this: “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” (Jer. 2:5; 2 Ki 17:15, Rm 1:23)
Whatever consumes our attention and our affection is what we worship. Another way of asking this that I heard from a pastor who heard it from a pastor, is what we worry about most. The things that have our hearts tend to be the things that give us the greatest worry and anxiety.
We shared on Sunday from 1 Peter 1:13-16 – “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
By worshipping the golden calf, the Israelites were rebelling against God. But, they were also conforming to the evil desires they had when they were living in ignorance. I do the same thing. In seasons of struggle it’s easy for me to fall back into old ways of thinking and insecurity of different kinds. Just like the Israelites worshipped the idol while they were waiting on God, my heart is also prone to wander in seasons of waiting.
But, as I have learned time and time again, my worship of other identities always ends in worry, anxiety, fear, frustration, anger and a whole host of other problems. Peter’s words to us are poignant. “With minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.”
It’s so easy drift into complacency. It’s so easy to let one distraction lead us to another, to another and another. And with the speed with which the current of our present society is racing, we can get caught up in the rip current of distractions and find ourselves lost in the sea of identities being thrust upon us at every turn in our modern time.
I have to be honest, I’m really wrestling with the idols that have my heart. I don’t want to want anything more than I want God. I don’t want to love anything more than I love the Lord. I don’t want to think about anything that isn’t pleasing to Him. I don’t want to use my potential for anything but building up his kingdom and I don’t want anyone else shaping my identity. But, I wonder just how deep the hooks of the idols of the culture are in my heart.
God, forgive me for worshipping idols that are trying to shape my identity into something made with human hands and human ingenuity. God lead us away from our idols and help us to see only your love for us. Help us to be the people who love you and through obedience to your commands be blessed to a thousand generations. Consecrate us to you and you’re alone. Set us apart for your work. Fill us with your love and your Spirit in such a way that there is nothing in us that is not of you. And flow out of our lives onto the lives around us. In Jesus, the only one we worship, the only one we bow down before, in the name of THE King of kings and THE Lord of lords, amen.