Defining Idolatry

We probably all know the second commandment:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” (Exodus 20:4)

But what does that mean for me? How can I apply that to my immediate life? The Bible clearly warns against the Buddha type carven image we all know as an idol, but is there a deeper meaning here? The verse above states that we are not to create an idol in the form of ANYTHING. So if anything can be turned into an idol, how do we avoid turning something into one? Let’s take a moment to put a definition to the word “Idol”. I believe we can consider anything that we place above God, whether it’s a person or an object, as an idol.  The first commandment talks about worshipping false gods:

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

What exactly is God talking about here, though? The Oxford Dictionary defines a god as “an image, animal, or other object worshiped as divine or symbolizing a god”. So essentially, God is telling us not to worship any images, animals, or objects before him. Let’s think of another god then, as an idol. Something we’re placing before God. So any image, animal, or object that we’re worshipping instead of God is an idol, a false god. Now you’re probably thinking… Well, that’s great, but what does it mean to worship? Worship is defined in the dictionary as: “Great admiration or devotion shown towards a person or principle or object”. So if I were to turn something into an idol, I would need to devote more time to, and admire it more than God. What do we have in this day and age that we spend more time with and find more interesting than God? What things would we rather do than our devotions?

Idolatry doesn’t end with literal objects, though. Even if you aren’t placing any person or thing above God (which I’m pretty sure, with some examination of your life, this won’t be the case), idolatry is also a matter of the heart – pride, self-centeredness, greed, gluttony and a love for possessions.

Ultimately, Idolatry is a rebellion against God. When we place other gods/idols over him, we’re saying to Him “I like the benefits I’m receiving from my relationship with you, but I don’t find you important enough to give you the highest priority in my life.”

But why is idolatry such a big deal that we’re spending an entire month on the subject? Well, what does Scripture have to say?

“You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” (Exodus 20:5) (NLT)

Idolatry’s a big deal because God says it is. I chose to use the NLT translation for this verse because I love how they phrase the “why” we must not bow down or worship other gods. Because he is a jealous God that will not tolerate our affection for other gods. I don’t know about you, but not being tolerated by the creator of the universe doesn’t seem very fun to me. Now, generally God doesn’t open up the ground and swallow people whole anymore, and for that I am thankful. But what will your answer be to God one day when he asks you “Why did you find this more important than me?”

So now that we know why idolatry is such a big deal, what should our response be? What does God desire of us?

“Whether therefore you eat, or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

We are called to do EVERYTHING for God’s glory. Is playing a computer game glorifying God? Is listening to music glorifying to God? Is watching a movie glorifying to God? How many things can you actually think of in your everyday life that bring glory to Him? What does the Bible say we MUST do?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20) 

God doesn’t want us to invest in earthly, material objects; but in heavenly, holy ones. One of my favourite parts of the Bible is where Solomon writes this after he has followed worldly pursuits for a time:

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says [Solomon]. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.'”  (Ecclesiastes 1:1)

Solomon, with all his wisdom, had come to the realisation that all the riches and pleasures in the world mean nothing. He then goes into detail following this verse about HOW everything is meaningless. Solomon continues like this for the whole book, until the end where he says this:

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

What I’m trying to say is, we don’t need idols. We have God, and we are called to serve Him.

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