Last week we started our series on the Ten Commandments, and I established that the true purpose of the ten commandments are not to make us holy and righteous, but instead reveal our sin nature and inclination for rebellion against God. Thus, when we have a proper view of the law, or the 10 Commandments, they should bring us to our knees and point us to our great need for a savior found in Jesus Christ. At the core they show us that we cannot reach perfection and we cannot keep the commands perfectly.
I also talked about commandment one and at the very heart is about love. Because when we love God with all of our being, we cannot and will not worship anything or anyone over the God who has called us to Himself.
Today I want to pick up where we left of and talk about the second commandment and how it is relevant and applies to our lives today.
Go to Exodus 20:4. - 6
Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ iniquity on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, 6but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commands (Exodus 20:4 – 6)
What do you think when I say the word idol? Is idolatry even a thing for modern humanity? I mean aren’t we more civilized than ancient humanity who seemed to need carved graven images, statues or effigies to bow down before, worship and offer sacrifices in order to function in a sane life? There is some validity to that question, however I think this view of idolatry is a bit distorted. I will talk about this in a few moments.
What Are Idols?
In Exodus 20:4 – 5 God introduces us to the sin of idolatry. This second commandment prohibits people from making any images or statues (whether on earth, below the earth or in the heavens) and bowing down in worship to them.
Since the first commandment warns of worshiping the wrong God (there are no gods besides me), then the second commandment warns against worshiping God in the wrong way. This commandment includes imagining the true God as like yourself or something lower. This means we have the tendency to make God into something of our own limited understanding, likeness, or ability to control. This is what the Israelites did at the base of Mt. Sinai while Moses was receiving the law. When the Israelites were worshiping the golden calf (as you can read about in Exodus 32) they weren’t worshiping foreign gods like Baal, Ra, or Osiris. They were worshiping their perception or creation of God. They had created an image in the form of a golden calf and worshiped it as God. They used their imagination to create and conceive a physical representation of what they believed was God. Thus, even if their motives were right (which I highly doubt), they were creating an image of god, who could not be created. This was their sin. They created a god of their own understanding and imagination. I have heard people talk about acknowledging or worshiping the God of their own understanding and I flinch a bit because they are talking about worshiping an idol. What we perceive or imagine God to be in our own minds is dangerous and goes against the second command. J.I. Packer writes, “No statement starting, ‘this is how I like to think of God’ should ever be trusted. An imagined God will always be quite imaginary and unreal.”
Do We Worship Idols Today?
Some watching or listening may be thinking, we know that we shouldn’t make statues in God’s image, so why is this commandment even relevant or applicable to us today? The answer is everything in our lives and in this world has the potential to become an idol!
Modern humanity may not worship statues or carved images, but I would argue that many do not have other (both seen and unseen) gods that they worship today. Think back to the days before social distancing while watching or participating in worship as a favorite performer or sports figure does what he or she does best to entertain the masses and you may change your tune. Now, I am definitely not saying that participating or attending sporting events or concerts makes you an idol worshiper, but there is a tendency to do so. When this pandemic has subsided go and observe Raymond James Stadium on a Sunday morning, the Tropicana field during MLB season, or visit the Amelie arena for a concert or hockey game. I promise you will see plenty of idol worship.
According to author and Pastor Timothy Keller, “A counterfeit god (idol) is anything so central and essential in your life that, should you lose it, your life would be hardly worth living. An idol has so much controlling position in your heart that you spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.” Professor Tom Shippey states, "(Idols are when we) take the hearts fondest desires and magnify them to idolatrous proportions.” Anytime we need something to represent or to see God we are undermining his freedom. No image can capture God’s glory. We do this with buildings, pulpits, relics lying around the church or any image that we need in order to bring us into the presence of God.
This even happens in churches today. I think back over the years I have been in ministry and I remember once being criticized for moving a pulpit from the area where I preached. and the reality was, that pulpit had become an idol. Another time I asked a pastor friend if I could borrow some candelabra’s from his church for a wedding. He agreed to let me. As I went to the church to pick them up, I was stopped by the church secretary and told, very sternly, those candelabra’s cannot be removed from their place since they were the only items that had survived a church fire in prior years. In fact, they are not even supposed to be touched without gloved hands. Those candelabra’s had clearly become idols. Idolatry can have many faces in our churches… It can also include a “style” of praise and worship. One person says, “I can only worship God with hymns and organs”. Others say, “No, the only way I can truly worship God is only through modern praise songs and bands.” When the reality is, God should be worshiped regardless of musical styles. Some have elevated intellectualism as their gods. For some, Pastors need to be seminary trained, MDiv degree holders, and fluent Greek scholars and a lay person could never properly lead a congregation in worship of God. Now, there is nothing wrong with seminary training, but one’s training is not what qualifies one for ministry. For some churches a smart, seminary trained, and well-read pastor is a requirement for one in order to properly institute the sacraments and effectively lead worship. I am sure that many of you can share similar stories of items or methods of worship that have become idols in church.
Is all idolatry bad?
The short answer is yes. We know that God does not tolerate idolatry. Throughout scripture we read about how God will not take second seat to anyone or anything, in fact Exodus 20:5 says, “I am a jealous God”. The problem we have is that there are many potential idols in our lives and sometimes these can be things that are good, healthy, and advantageous when viewed and used properly… but when we place them above God and worshiped (kiss hand in affection) they can subtly become idols, no matter how good or advantageous they may be.
Can Believers Have idols?
As mentioned earlier Tim Keller wrote, “Anything can be an idol, and everything has been an idol.” How is this so for Christians?
Idols of the Heart – Read Ezekiel 14:1 - 6
“Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. 2 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 3 ‘Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and have put their sinful stumbling blocks in front of themselves. Should I actually let them inquire of me? Therefore, speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Lord God says: When anyone from the house of Israel sets up idols in his heart and puts his sinful stumbling block in front of himself, and then comes to the prophet, I, the Lord, will answer him appropriately. I will answer him according to his many idols, 5 so that I may take hold of the house of Israel by their hearts. They are all estranged from me because of their idols.’ Therefore, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Lord God says: Repent and turn away from your idols; turn your faces away from all your detestable things.”
What Can Idolatry Look Like for Us?
When we depend on or look to anything more favorably than God as our source of joy, security and salvation then it/they have become idols in our lives. Here are a few thing that have the tendency to become idols in our lives if we are not careful.
Has something in your life taking precedence over God? If so, then this “something” has become an idol/god. We are created beings and we were created to worship God. Unfortunately, our natural sinful inclination in not to worship God, but to worship things created by God. Romans 1:18 – 23 says, “For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth,19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse. 21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.
Our sinful tendency is to worship anything other than God. We so easily exchange our worship for God with the temporal and fleeting. We replace God with subtle physical idolatry (people or things) or idols of our hearts (Unseen and possibly good).
My prayer is that you take some time this week and pray about identifying the idols in your life and seek to replace them with the true, life-giving, fulfilling, and joyful worship to the only one who is worthy of praise. When we faithfully allow God to search our hearts, He is going to deal with us individually and when He does, we need to be prepared to make the necessary changes in our lives so we can be right with God.
 Packer, J.I... Keeping the Ten Commandments . Crossway. Kindle Edition.)
 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (Dutton, 2009), p. xvii
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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