Keep Yourselves From Idols
An idol is an image—visible and invisible—created by the devil to make us turn away from God and worship him. A false doctrine inducing us not to follow the truth is a kind of idol; and in a broad sense, everything that we love more than God is an idol. This time, let us find out what an idol is in detail.
1. Visible images
“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. You shall not bow down to them or worship them . . .” Ex 20:4–5
The universe created by God is infinite; it cannot be even measured with human knowledge. As science has advanced, we can now observe the universe farther away, but the only thing that we have found is that it is too vast.
It is impossible for humans to measure the size of the universe. Here, let us just guess it within the scientific knowledge that we have.
We use a unit “light-year” to measure distance in the universe. Light travels at a velocity of about 300,000 ㎞ [186,000 miles] each second; in one second, it goes around the Earth seven and a half times. A light-year is the distance that light can travel in one year.
There are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. The galaxy in which we live is called the “Milky Way,” and the solar system—the collection of planets in orbit around the Sun—is a part of it.
Our solar system is about 28,000 light-years away from the center of the Milky Way, and it takes 200 million years for the planets in our solar system to orbit the Milky Way galaxy at a speed of about 200 ㎞/s [125 miles/s]. There are about 200 billion stars in our galaxy, but as they are too far away from us, they appear as pinpoints and seem to twinkle to our eyes. If the Sun were 10,000 light-years away from the Earth, it would be like one among many stars in the night sky—a dim one.
The center of our galaxy is emitting energy 100 trillion times more powerful than the Sun. As it is too far away from us, however, it only looks like a faint cluster of stars. It would take 100,000 light-years to travel from one end of our galaxy to another; there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe.
God created this immense universe, and we are people who worship God the Creator. How can we compare God to something and make a certain image for Him? Can the Sun created by God symbolize God? Or can God be likened to the Moon, His creation? The Sun or the Moon is nothing to God. Even an immense galaxy is no more than God’s creation. Almighty God the Creator can never be symbolized by anything, and the only duty of God’s people is to follow His commandments.
Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? . . . Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales . . . Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing. To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to? As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. Isa 40:13–19
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. Ps 135:15–18
2. Invisible idols
Among invisible idols, there are doctrines that are different from God’s commandments. God gave us His commandments. If people do not keep the commandments of God but keep other doctrines, it will be idolatry. For example, God established the Sabbath, but if people keep Sunday, calling it Sabbath, it is idolatry violating the Sabbath. God also established the Passover, but if people do not celebrate the Passover but December 25—the birthday of the sun-god, it is idolatry violating the Passover. God established the Feast of Tabernacles, too, but if people reject the Feast of Tabernacles and keep the man-made Thanksgiving Day, it is idolatry violating the Feast of Tabernacles. Breaking God’s commandments and celebrating man-made rules is idolatry against the commandments of God.
In the world, people are encouraged to have healthy hobbies. It is good to have hobbies only if they do not stand in our way to the kingdom of heaven. If they stop our way, however, they are idols more appealing to us than God.
Suppose a person who loves hiking goes hiking on the Sabbath, the day of worship to God. To him, hiking is an idol. If a member who is weak in faith does not attend worship to watch a soccer game on the Sabbath, soccer is an idol to him. Everything that one loves more than God—more attractive to him than God—is definitely an idol.
But appropriate leisure activities of those who worship God on the days of worship and do the gospel work are not idols to them.
3) Material things
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Ti 6:10
To people who think it is more important to earn money than to keep God’s commands, money is an idol causing them to stray away from God. Of course, we need money to live on the earth, but if a person is overfond of money and loves money more than God, money is surely an idol to that person.
Murder, robbery, theft and every kind of heinous crimes result from love of money. When people love money, they put it before people; they mistakenly believe that people exist for money, not money for people, and this is a kind of idolatry.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. Col 3:5–6
Various types of idols lure us away from being faithful to God, and one of them is greed. Seeking better things is a part of human instinct. Nevertheless, we have to be on our guard against following that instinct excessively; if we love to do it more than loving God, it is idolatry. Stealing other people’s things is a result of following greed, and having an obsession with high social position and respect is a kind of idolatry. Do they have anything to do with salvation? Can they lead us to the kingdom of heaven? Whatever we love more than God is an idol.
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Ro 8:5–7
If a person loves someone more than he loves God, that person is an idol to him. To a person who likes celebrities and loves to go and see them, even forgetting the time to worship God, or is occupied with the thought of them during worship, it is certainly an idol to him. One’s children, parents, husband, or wife can be an idol if he or she loves them more than God.
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Mt 10:37–39
This does not mean that we should not love our parents and children, but that we ought not to love our parents and children more than God, which causes us to stray from God and fail to be saved.
As Jesus knows everything—our life in heaven, on earth, and in the afterlife, He has taught us to love God most so that we can be blessed.
If you love someone, you will want to please him and try to know what he is interested in. If he likes poems, you will go to a bookstore and buy a book of poems to read it. That is because you want to talk with him about poems to win his heart.
Likewise, if we love God, we will try to do what pleases God and to accomplish what God wants us to do.
6) Our own thoughts
Although we claim to serve God, we tend to do things according to our own thoughts, rather than following God’s will. When we cling to the thought, ‘God must work this way,’ it leads us to reject God when He works and loves humans in a way different from our own thoughts. The reason we cling to our own thoughts is that we regard ourselves as more righteous than God—this is idolatry that makes us stray away from God.
Saul, the first king of Israel, was commanded by God and sent his troops to destroy the Amalekites and everything that belonged to them. Saul thought that the words of people made more sense than the word of God; he destroyed the Amalekites and the livestock that were despised and weak, but spared the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good.
When Samuel pointed out his fault, he made an excuse, saying, “The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.” Then the prophet Samuel said, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (1 Sa 15:21–23).
God has taught us that disobeying God’s words is like the sin of divination, and insisting on our own thoughts rather than following God’s words like the evil of idolatry. We should know that being disobedient and stubborn is committing idolatry.
Only when we have faith to obey God’s words can we follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Being unable to follow the Lamb wherever He leads us means that we regard ourselves as more righteous than God. ‘I think God should do it this way. He isn’t supposed to do it that way, is He?’ If we have this kind of thought, we cannot follow God.
. . . they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Ro 10:2–3
We, as humans, are so ignorant that we cannot foresee what will happen even a moment later. We do not know if the devil, our wicked enemy, set a trap and snare for us on the way we go because it looks good. Suppose that God, who knows everything, commands us to take a detour. If we have already decided to follow our own way, thinking it is right, we cannot heed God’s words anymore. While thinking that our own thoughts are more righteous than God’s and insisting on our way, we come to fall into the devil’s trap.
It is severe idolatry to insist on our own righteousness without knowing God’s righteousness. The idol that we, who abide in the truth of God, should guard against most is considering our own thoughts and judgments as the most righteous. It is written, “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Co 8:2). Actually, what we understand is very little. Therefore, we must always be humble. We do not become humble just by pretending to be modest; we can think humbly and behave humbly when we realize how weak and ignorant we are. In other words, we need to know ourselves. We are able to see God rightly when we know our position, situation, and condition. Also, we must fear God. To fear God means to respect God with awe. If we do not fear God, we become impudent and arrogant. Then our minds are filled with idols, and we will stray from God and get closer to the devil. God works in us; if we think ourselves great, we come to make God small, and if we think ourselves small, we make God great again. Keeping this in mind, we should become “lambs smaller than the Lamb” so that we can follow wherever God leads us.
3. Views on idols
Idols are all things that we love more than God as well as ideas and thoughts that prevent us from entering the kingdom of heaven.
We should always be on guard against idolatrous things around us, which distance us from God. There are various kinds of idols both visible and invisible; they can be doctrines or things in our minds. Let us remove them all and be faithful to God. Idolatry is a wicked act in God’s eyes throughout the Old and New Testaments.
“. . . the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Rev 21:8
The people of Zion, who have become God’s children through the new covenant, should continuously guard against idols around us or in our hearts, being always self-controlled and serving God alone.
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. 1 Co 10:14–17
We have become one body in Christ through the Passover of the new covenant; we are now the temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. Therefore, Paul said in his letter to the Church in Corinth, “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Co 6:16).
The views on idols, which the apostles and the saints of the early Church held, serve as a guide to heaven and an example for us who are living in the last days. When we have idols in our hearts or worship them, the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in us; when the Holy Spirit leaves us, the evil spirit dominates our soul. We must keep ourselves from idols. When we remove all idols from us—the temple of God, the Holy Spirit will guide us so that we can become worthy enough to enter the kingdom of heaven.