1 John 5:21 "Little children, guard yourselves from idols."
What is idolatry? Why is it so bad? What is the number one way to combat it? These three questions can aid us in walking our way through the final little section of John's first epistle: 1 John 5:16-21. In 1 John 5:21 we see in six words a simple command: Little children, guard yourselves from idols. In today's post we will aim to answer that first question: what is idolatry?
The practice of idolatry, what most people think of when understanding idolatry
I am sure when you think of idols, you may envision someone carving out a block of wood or stone and bowing down to it. Isaiah 44:12-18 describes the insane nature of such a practice: The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (ESV)
Throughout the Old Testament God warned the people not to make any images or idols of created things. Exodus 20:4 states - “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." We could look at other passages that deal with the practice of idolatry, however the warped sinful human heart will say: "that may had been idolatry in biblical times, or idolatry practiced by primitive cultures, but this is 21st century, and I don't see such practices being done today." The practice of idolatry is where we can begin the discussion, however the practice derives from the heart, which is the true source of idolatry.
What is idolatry?
What is idolatry? Jared Wilson, writing in the June 2012 issue of Table Talk magazine, writes this penetrating insight: "All sin is idolatry because every sin is an exercise in trust of something or someone other than the one true God to satisfy, fulfill, or bless. It is not difficult to see how violations of commandments two through ten are automatic violations of commandment one. This truth reveals that the hottest “worship war” going is the one taking place daily in the sanctuary of our own hearts. But we must wage this war because none of us is a bystander to idol worship."
Ouch! We can be those who may not bow down before blocks of wood or stone, however we can still be guilty of committing idolatry. The Apostle John still had the physical idolatries going on around him when he wrote 1 John, however he was striking at something far deeper. Below are three texts that can aid us in getting to the definition of idolatry, and why it was John issued such a prohibition against it to end his letter:
1. Exalting yourself
1 Samuel 15:23 says - For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” King Saul had once again disobeyed God by subsituting his way of doing things with what God had spoken to Him through Samuel. Samuel's judgment on Saul served to expose the idolatrous nature of his heart - arrogance, pride and self-sufficiency. The scary thing about Saul's episode is that in form, he was offering sacrifices to the God of Israel at a publically organized event! To the unsuspecting and unknowing observer, Saul's actions would had been deemed by many people to be commendable. However Saul had disregarded Samuel's instructions and God's Word in favor of his own perferences and opinion - which is why he was reprimanded by the prophet. Idolatry's issue is not only to do with the form of what we do, but moreso with the heart. Dr. Adrian Rogers once noted that if the Devil can get you to do good things in the flesh: whether it be preaching, serving God or doing good things, then his diabolical sheme has been served. For once I am doing good things in the flesh, the only thing left to do are the bad the things. Doing anything in the flesh means I am choosing to exalt my own self-interest above God. In short, Saul chose to exalt himself above God.