WORKS OF THE FLESH: IDOLATRY
From the book, THE WORKS OF THE FLESH: Understanding and Defeating the Works of the Devil.
Available in e-book and paperback formats on Amazon.
Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Most North Americans are not idolaters like millions of others around the world who worship gods of metal or stone. Most groups in Protestantism would never accept having idols in their churches and they would definitely never pray to them. Most Christians know God’s will in this regard and shun such sins. Bible Christians are not idolaters.
But is that really the case? Could it be that we also are idolaters but of more insidious form of idolatry that is difficult to see and more difficult to admit?
What is an idol, first of all?
The Funk and Wagnall Dictionary defines “Idolatry” as follows:
a. Excessive admiration or veneration.
b. Blind infatuation
To love or admire blindly or to excess.
a. The adoration, homage, veneration given to a deity.
b. Excessive and ardent devotion or admiration.
Idolatry is therefore not simply something we prostrate ourselves before; it is also something we are totally committed to, and obsessed with that comes between us and God.
Let’s look at an interesting Old Testament example of obsessive attachment to idols. The context is Jacob and Rachel leaving Laban secretly.
“Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s” (Genesis 31:19).
This a perfect example of a person who refused to leave behind her family’s idols. They had been a part of her life since childhood and she was so attached to them that she actually stole them and then deceived her own father as to where they were.
This is an excellent example of “excessive admiration or veneration,” of “blind and excessive love,” of “adoration, homage, veneration given to a deity” and of “excessive and ardent devotion or admiration” toward “tangible” idols.
How does God feel about idolatry? In the book of Exudus, God made it perfectly clear that idolatry was not acceptable.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them, for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me (Exodus 20:3-5 KJV).
In the book of Leviticus, He reiterates the same view.
“You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 26:1).
From the start God made it clear that he would not stand for anything “before” him. He had to be first and only first.
Nothing, therefore must stand between us and Him—nothing. Nothing may be loved by us to that extent, nothing.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF IDOLS
Unfortunately there are idols that are difficult to see and that many would never see as being idols. What are they? Let’s look at some of them.
One of the idols that historically has separated humans from God and that has been a source of spiritual shipwreck for some has been Money.
Money. Important, critical, the source of great benefits and also a potential source of great troubles — if it becomes an idol.
The Apostle Paul warns against the destructive power of money idolatry.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have
strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves
through with many sorrows” ( 1 Timothy 6:10).
“Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for Money” (1 Timothy 3:8).
“For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed,
not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for
money” (Titus 1:7).
The human obsession for money, according to the Bible, will be especially prevalent in the last days:
“For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy” (2 Timothy 3:2).
Some have been blessed with much wealth and use that blessing to give to others, and thus they become co-workers with God and God blesses them so that they will give more.
But making money can become addictive. Some people have a knack for making money, and they become very successful, and thus Satan finds their weak spot. In fact their success could be a satanic ploy to get them addicted, so that they become so consumed by financial success that they spend their time finding new ways to make money and spending time administering that money, at the expense of their spiritual life.
In one great religion, the rich have found a way to deal with this problem: they have a group within their religion that is employed by the rich to study and pray “on their behalf.”
We of course know that we cannot do that. We cannot use mediators. We cannot pay someone to work our salvation for us.
Some through the years have made money their idol, though the returns were few. These are idol seekers. They strive in every way to make lots of money, but in vain. In so doing they leave God behind and their salvation, and in the end they end up having neither.
Let’s read again I Timothy 6:10.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
How, therefore, can we know if money is an idol?
1. Do we spend so much time making and administering it that we have not time for God?
2. Are we obsessed with it? Is that what goes through our minds always? Are we so obsessed with it that in reality we are trying to create our own Kingdom on earth, now, by dreaming about big homes, property, wealth?
3. Do we resent having to pray and study the Bible, because it is time taken away from work and from making money.
2. Do we resent the Sabbath rest and do we want it to end fast so as to get back to making money.
3. Do we share as little as possible with others. Do we give as little as possible to the work of Jesus Christ and resenting having to give.
4. Do we abstain from giving tithes, or do we resent having to give tithes and resent having to give offerings?
These are signs to watch out for in this first form of idolatry. Another form of idolatry is entertainment.
We all need a diversion. We all need to stop at times and be refreshed. Most of us at times enjoy getting in front of the tube and simply surf. Sometimes that is our entertainment: surfing.
For some people entertainment becomes their life. Some of our elderly find themselves watching a lot of TV, especially during long winter months. After my father died, my mom used to tell me that TV is what kept her sane.
Entertainment is not a problem. The kind of entertainment and how it is used can be a problem
TV is not a problem — what we watch and what we “don’t do” as a result of TV watching can be a problem.
If we are addicted to violent movies, that is a problem.
If we are addicted to sexual movies, that is a problem.
If we entertain ourselves with porno movies, that’s a big problem.
If we neglect studying our Bible because we are busy watching TV, that is a problem. If we neglect praying because we cannot miss TV program after TV program, that’s a problem.
The books we read can be a problem too. Are we heavy into romance novels? Why? What is the real reason? I remember a lady who devoured romance novels. It was an obsession. That can become a problem, not only if it is becomes a need, but especially if we are attracted to pornographic kind of novels.
Some of us use the computers for altruistic reasons, others use them for selfish reasons.
Christian ministers have been warning people for years that computers and specifically the Internet can become a bottomless pit of addiction and self-destruction. Are we heeding the warning?
Travel is a form of idolatry for some. Travel is exciting, stimulating, some time refreshing. Travel, though can be very addictive—and travel agents and the travel industry know that very well.
How do we know that that travel has become a problem?
Do we get ourselves in large debts so as to see a new country?
Do we compromise with our tithes and offerings so as to travel?
Do we ignore saving for a rainy day, as long as we travel.
Do we ignore saving for our old age, when we will become a financial burden to our children if we don’t save when we are younger.
Some of us have to work hard to tackle all our financial obligations. Some of us have both a full-time and a part-time job so as to tackle our financial obligations. Some simply love to work. Some simply love to accomplish. We know that some people are workaholics (work addicts).
How do we know that work has become an idol? There are clear signs: We work very long hours, not because it’s demanded, but because we love to work. We hate going home. We hate leisure. We hate social time. We love to accomplish.
Our family gets set aside and both the wife and children are often neglected. This can be true of successful women who neglect the husband and the children as well.
How do we know if work has become a spiritual problem? Little or no time for prayer and Bible study. Resenting the Sabbath for forcing us to stop. Longing to get back to work.
Cars, motorcycles, collections of any which kind. They can be wonderful and relaxing, but only if they don’t become an obsession. Do we neglect our duties to God and family because of hobbies?
There are people who crave knowledge. They study and study, but for the wrong reasons. Knowing is fine. Studying to be a competent worker or professional is necessary. Being curious is one of God’s great gifts. Craving to better understand the functioning of God’s creation is wonderful, if it leads to a deeper appreciation of God’s greatness. Studying history is a terrific exercise, if the aim is to better understand how society became the way it is today, and to see what Satan’s ways have produced through the ages. And on and on and on.
God has given us a mind that wants to be filled, and it will be filled forever and ever, in the spiritual realm.
Knowledge for knowledge sake, though, can be a problem, if the motivation is wrong; if we study to feel superior to others, that is wrong. If we study to impress others, that is wrong as well.
The warning that “Knowledge puffs up…” (I Cor. 8:1) remains just as valid
today as it was when it was written nearly two thousand years ago.
Some people say: “I only have one obsession: Bible study. I study my Bible
hours and hours a day.” Others may say “I take one topic at a time and dig into it at great lengths.” Is that not impressive?
Could Bible study be an idol? The answer is absolutely, yes! Bible Study has historically been some Christian’s greatest idols. Why? They study their Bible so much that other responsibilities are neglected. Their family suffers, studies suffer, work may suffer. They spend too much time studying things that are of little or no consequence, when it comes to God’s will or spiritual growth. They spend little or no time studying the Bible for self-analysis. They study to feel superior. They study to find new truths, revealed to them only. They do little or no praying. Prayer is not for them. Bible study is sufficient. They do little or no fasting, little or no serving — but they do much Bible study.
What kind of knowledge should Christians thirst for, first and foremost:
“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Colossians 1:9).
“…and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
Can people be our idols? Which people in our lives can become an idol?
a. A boy-friend or a girl-friend.
Many young people who were dedicated and committed in the church, stop
attending when they meet the person of their dreams.
b. Family members
Some churches have many examples of people who have taken their calling seriously. Some churches are filled with spiritual widows and widowers who faithfully serve God without a mate ever joining them. Many of you came to the point where you chose between your mate and God and chose God. Unfortunately, some don’t. Their mate becomes their idol.
Can children be an idol? Yes! For some, mothers in particular, they invest their whole being into their children. Time, energy and money are invested in their children and God is left out of the picture.
It may start with the birth of a child. Children can be time consuming; in fact they can totally take over. It is very easy to justify setting God aside because of little time. Very easy to stop praying or studying because there is too much to do.
Suggestions: pray first thing in the morning. Study when baby is asleep. Listen to a Bible on tape. Read a verse and meditate on it, even while doing chores.
7. OUR EGO
One of the most ingrained and most difficult idols that has destroyed the spiritual lives of many is hidden deeply in an area that is very difficult to explore. It is an area that is deep, dark and very well defended by a powerful guard.
This idol is described by a word with only three letters. It is spelled, “EGO.”
In Latin it simply means “I” or me. It is a small word that represents for most the most important person in existence: ourselves.
When we say that a person has a big Ego we mean that the person has an idol: himself.
Psychologists have actually concluded that too much ego is a sign of mental illness, which can go from mild to very serious. It is a disorder referred to as a “Character Disorder.” The specific term for people who have an inordinate amount of self-love is, “Narcissistic.”
Such people idolize themselves.
Remember the definition? Excessive admiration or veneration and blind infatuation for themselves. They love and admire themselves blindly or to excess. They adore, pay homage to themselves. They have excessive and ardent devotion or admiration for themselves.
The symptoms of its presence are many and they are unfortunately unseen by the person who has this form of idolatry.
The following are some of the symptoms of this kind of idolatry.
“I am better than others.”
“I know more than others.”
“I am more competent that others.”
“I am more intelligent than others.”
“I am more knowledgeable than others.”
“I know my Bible more than others.”
“I give (time and or money) more than others.”
“I am more gentle and kind than others.”
“I am more forgiving than others.”
“I am more righteous and obedient than others.”
“I am more loved by God than others.”
This, of course produces a puffed up attitude, which is not always easy to
see. Such a person may think himself/herself to be very humble. In fact he/she may even be considered to be very humble. The problem with such people is that they don’t only have excessive admiration for themselves; they don’t just love and admire themselves blindly or to excess; they don’t just adore, pay homage to themselves; they don’t just have excessive and ardent devotion or admiration for themselves. They crave for others to feel the same way about them, and they go to extremes to make it happen.
What do they do? Some are willing to sacrifice and play the part and be all that others admire, so as to get their admiration. They will volunteer, they will serve—to appear servants. They will act humble—to appear humble. They will give abundantly, hoping that the ministry will see the cheque — so as to advertise their commitment. They will give, and serve and visit, etc. to create a name for themselves in the congregation. They may be exceptionally warm and welcoming, while at church, to again gain that admiration they crave and feel they deserve.
Who is really the focus of their efforts? Themselves.
Other symptoms of self-idolatry are related to the sacredness of idols. Idols are untouchable. They must be treated with utmost care. Such people are also untouchable in the sense that they are very sensitive. They get hurt easily, because in their eyes, they are special – how can anyone touch their ego. How dare anyone touch their ego. They are fragile and must be treated with utmost care. People know this and are very circumspect around them, because they know of their sensitivities.
Such people are not easy to get along. They have high expectations of themselves, and they have very high expectations of you and me, especially if their idolatry is based on their sense of ability and competence.
They have no patience with fools and look down on most of humanity for being incompetent and dumb.
Such a person is usually tested when the idol –themselves–doesn’t get the recognition he or she feels he or she deserves. Then we got problems. In fact such people can become unhappy, critical, cynical, and bitter. Some may even get bitter with God, for not recognizing them, or for not inspiring the recognition. Some leave and want nothing to do with Christianity. Some go to another church and start all over again. Some are so filled with themselves that they start their own church, so as to finally have the recognition they deserve.
They are not happy people, because self-worshippers cannot be happy. They get a temporary high from praise and success, but it’s short-lived. They crave more and more and more and they always feel empty inside.
To conclude, I would like to take you again back to the Old Testament. In Ancient Israel we find a lot of idolatrous kings and a few Idol destroyers. I want to briefly remind you of an idol destroyer: Josiah, found in II Chronicles.
Then the king sent and gathered all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. 30 The king went up to the house of the Lord, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem—the priests and the Levites, and all the people, great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the Lord. 31 Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book. 32 And he made all who were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin take a stand. So the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. 33 Thus Josiah removed all the abominations from all the country that belonged to the children of Israel, and made all who were present in Israel diligently serve the Lord their God. All his days they did not depart from following the Lord God of their fathers (II Chronicles 34: 29-33).
In this section we have been reminded of the various forms of insidious idolatry that may be hindering our spiritual growth or that may be separating us from God. Some of us may have become aware of something we never saw before. Some may have been reminded of something we already knew but have done nothing about.
Some of us may have done our best to block out parts or most of the article to make sure our ego was well protected. The mind, that is deceitful above all things, does that very effectively.
We now have a choice: We follow Rachel’s example and hang on fiercely to our idols, or we can be like Josiah and get rid of them from our lives. We ministers are only tools in God’s hands. We are used to be God’s messengers to His people. His people afterwards become responsible for responding in a positive and determined manner.
The choice God has given us today is to hang on to or destroy our idols.
Let’s never forget the first great commandment:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
Let’s therefore love only God with all our heart, mind and strength and let’s not allow anything else, be it wealth, things, knowledge, people, or ourselves, to stand between us and our Father.