If I asked you if you had any idols in your life, most likely you’d say no but if we go a little deeper into the definition of an idol, then most of us would have to admit a struggle in succumbing to one idol after another. John Calvin once said something about our minds being a factory of idols, producing one after another. What is an idol? Not necessarily a little statue of wood, metal, or clay but anything more important to you than God or anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God. You can also say, an idol is anything you seek to give you what only God can give. We worship idols when we allow them to control us because of what we believe they will give us. A true test of idolatry is our response to its loss.
Amid his lament over the siege of Jerusalem, Jeremiah teaches the people how to grieve but also to be open and honest with God. In that honesty, God demonstrates through Jeremiah’s lamentation in chapter four that the people were guilty of trusting in a number of idols including wealth, popular people, comfort, spiritual leaders, quick fixes, allegiances to other nations, their own abilities, and their leader.
Hosea 4:17 (ESV) — 17 Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone.
Although the scripture above is not directed to the people of Jerusalem in the context, the principle is applicable for them as well as for us. When we substitute something for God in our trust, our worship, or in finding our joy, then we are pushing God to the back burner indicating we really don’t need Him. That is when He often steps back as if to say, “OK, let’s see how that works out for you.” Or worse, He chastises us for breaking the first commandment.
Exodus 20:1–3 (ESV) — 1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
This is not a small thing. In Lamentations, Jeremiah is describing in great detail the amount of suffering the people of Jerusalem were experiencing and from time to time he brings out how this suffering at the hand of God was really due to their sins.
So, what can we do about it? The first thing is to recognize our proneness to take on “other gods” and be aware how subtlety the trap consumes us. Just consider something you’d really like to have in life. Maybe you are saving up for the day when you’ll purchase this item. That’s not wrong in itself but that desire for the object can consume you at which time, you’ve fallen into covetousness, which the Bible says is idolatry because the satisfaction you find in God has been substituted by the satisfaction you get in that object.
Colossians 3:5–6 (ESV) — 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
So first, recognize the fact that you are not above falling into the trap. Secondly recognize the help that God has already provided.
Psalm 19:12–13 (ESV) — 12 Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. 13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV) — 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
God has provided the escape in His word that as we read will be used by the Holy Spirit to show us our hidden faults, which are not hidden to God but hidden to us, often because we overlook them. The word also provides a way of escape in keeping us occupied on our priority. Another way the word of God helps us flee from the trap of idols is to rebuke us. Passages like Lamentations 4 that describe the idols of the people for which they grieved when they were taken away can be a reprimand to us in very direct ways for our similar idols.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV) — 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Another thing the word of God does is to show us examples of people who have overcome the trap of falling prey to an idol. A good example is in 2 Chronicles 20 when King Jehoshaphat was surrounded by three enemies. Instead of getting his leaders together to map out a scheme, he called for a day of prayer and fasting among the people. As the people gathered the king prayed to God, including the following words:
2 Chronicles 20:12 (ESV) — 12 “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
Note the words, especially, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” One of the traps of idolatry in Lamentations 4 was to substitute trusting in God by trusting in wealth, popular people, ingenuity, leaders, and even outside countries. But, by coming humbly before God as Jehoshaphat and seeking God’s help honors Him and keeps us on the right track.
1 Corinthians 10:12 (ESV) — 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
Therein lies the problem. We think we can just make it on our own, but that is the sign of true weakness. Whereas, knowing we cannot make it on our own so we are in desperate need of God’s help is a sign of great strength.
2 Corinthians 12:9–10 (ESV) — 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Quit trying to figure things out and substitute something in place of dependency upon God, in place of undivided worship and honor to God, or in place of finding joy and delight in God alone.
It takes discipline with the reliance upon the help of the Holy Spirit, but that kind of discipline makes the difference in keeping the idols out of our lives and keeping us in tune to the power of God.