Exodus 20:1-3 (NRSV)
Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
Idolatry has always been a temptation for God’s people. Both the Old and New Testaments repeatedly warn against replacing worship of God with worship of people, things, or ideas. Jesus refers to this temptation when he challenges his disciples to choose between God and money, warning them that “no one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24).
How can I know if I am worshiping an idol? If I am putting my first hope and my best trust in someone or something other than God—in power, wealth, social status, reputation, possessions, personal talent, achievements, church, ideologies, relationships—then I am an idolater. Instead of looking to God for what I need, my first instinct will be to look to my idol for these benefits:
- make me happy.
- give me peace.
- secure my future.
- save me.
- give my life meaning.
- frame my goals and desires.
- give me identity and purpose.
- help me connect with the world around me.
- heal me.
- guide my decisions.
Our relationships can give us clues to the idols in our lives. James notes in his letter that quarrels and conflicts arise because of idols that make us greedy and jealous. Relationships turn troublesome when we allow our idols to overrule God’s law of love and dictate how we treat one another. Thus, we may lie, cheat, or otherwise hurt our neighbors because our idol-masters demand it. Or we may hurt ourselves by sacrificing our integrity, putting up with abusive treatment, or compromising our walk with God because of a person or relationship we idolize and fear losing.
As in all cases of sin, our best help in defeating idolatry is to seek a stronger and more real relationship with God. Furthermore, God would not necessarily have us give up the good things or people we have turned into idols. Rather, he would teach us by his Spirit how to consider and use these good gifts so that they bless rather than harm us.
FATHER, I am sorry for all the ways I have set you aside to make room for my idols. Expose the idolatry in every corner of my life, from blatant servitudes to subtle compromises. Build my faith and trust in you until I don’t feel the need for these idols anymore. Show me the error of pinning my hopes on possessions or relationships that must ultimately fail me.
James 4:1-5; 1 John 5:21
Consider the list of needs mentioned above and name the Idols you might expect to fill them.