WE ARE IDOLATERS
- Read Romans 1:23–25; Exodus 20:3; Matthew 4:10; Acts 7:41–43.
- It does not have to be a metal or stone image—mental image.
- May be an object of deep affection—misplaced loyalty.
- Many of the world's peoples are idolaters:
- Hindu priest worshiped a golden Cobra.
- Buddhists worship before images.
- Petronius said that gods were more plentiful in Athens than men.
- Zoroastrians worship fire.
- Parsis refuse to kill an insect—may be an ancestor.
- Idolatry practiced in modern denominationalism.
- Christening. Dedication of children.
- Extreme unction, celebration of the mass, transubstantiation, and people exclaim, “What a beautiful service.” All without divine authority.
- We are His creatures and daily enjoy His blessings; we have turned from Him to worship idols (Hosea 4:17).
- We worship at the shrine of life (II Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2).
- We venerate animal life itself.
- We fear and dread death because of the cessation of our existence in this world.
- There is something more dear than this animal life. The inward man (II Corinthians 4:16).
- We worship at the sacred and hallowed altar of marriage.
- God is the author of marriage; home is a haven, so do not misunderstand me.
- The purely social aspects and compensations we love and worship. The glamour, pomp, show, and finery often take precedence.
- Give more time and money and emphasis to the wedding itself than to the Lord.
- We worship the belly (Philippians 3:19; I Corinthians 6:12–13; Romans 16:18).
- Time and considerations given to planning and preparation of food in this country.
- Eating and drinking (Luke 17:27). This was the thing important to them.
- Clothing, cosmetics, houses, cars, things. He forbids one thing to give emphasis to another (Matthew 6:31).
- We worship in the temple of sex (James 5:5; Ephesians 2:3).
- Attitude and behavior toward the purposes and functions of biological relationship.
- It is made the chief aim in life.
- Business, industry, commercial enterprise, misuse and capitalize upon it for financial gain and advantage.
- We lose sight of its purpose and of life itself.
- We worship the idol death.
- The Egyptians. It seemed to be their chief concern. The Pyramids.
- The Sumerians. Lived along the Euphrates.
- Taj Mahal. Built by Shah Jahan for favorite wife.
- More emphasis on death than preparation for it (Luke 9:60).
- Conclusion: Let us worship God in His temple (John 4:23–24).
WE ARE IDOLATERS
“And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four–footed beasts and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodes among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:23-25).
“You shall have no other gods before Me“ (Exodus 20:3).
“Then said Jesus to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve” ’ ” (Matthew 4:10).
“And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned and gave them up to worship the hosts of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘Did you offer me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, images which you made to worship, and I will carry you away beyond Babylon’ ” (Acts 7:41-43).
Idolatry is “the worship of a physical object, especially a made image, as a god,” according to Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. Webster further defines it as the worship of the true God with faulty ideas about Him. A third definition that applies particularly to us in America is: “Excessive attachment or veneration for anything. Respect or love which borders on adoration."
The uses of the term in the Bible closely parallels these definitions. In the New Testament, there is a compound word for idolatry: eidolon—form, shape, figure, statue (Acts 7:41; 15:20), and latreuo—to be a servant, to render religious service, homage, worship, servitude (Romans 9:4; 12:1, Hebrews 9:1–6, Harper). In his definition of the word, Mr. Thayer says, “The worship of false gods; of avarice, as a worship of mam–
mon (Colossians 3:5). The vices springing from it (I Peter 4:3).” So, an idol does not have to be a metal or stone image. It may be a mental image. It may be an object of deep affection; a misplaced loyalty. It can be covetousness, a speedy desire to have and hold earthly possessions for ourselves. This is idolatry.
From the study of great world religions, one would conclude that there are far more people who are idolaters than those who worship the true and living God. The majority of the inhabitants of this earth worship before some idol, or before some perverted and fallacious concept of God made in their own image and after their own likeness.
Joseph Gaer, in his book, How The Great Religions Began, gives these figures as estimates of the numerical strength of the leading world religions:
I once watched a Hindu priest worship before the golden replica of a cobra in his prayer pit in Mombasa, Kenya. I watched Japanese worshipers making their vegetable sacrifices before their nature gods in a Shinto shrine in Hawaii; and in the heart of Central Africa, I watched pagans in their ritual dress dance through the night around a fire in tribute to a departed tribal chief.
The Parsis refuse to kill an insect or brush the flies from their faces lest they should injure or kill one and, perchance, it be the reincarnation of an ancestor. In India people count the white cow sacred and also the krait, a small snake allied to the cobra, which kills more people that any other snake in the world.
The four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, “... cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lancets until the blood gushed out on them” (I Kings 18:28). Israel passed their children through the fires of Moloch (Leviticus 20:2–4). Petronius, the Roman satirist, once said: "It is easier to find a god in Athens than a man.”
America Is Not Exempt From Idolatry
We look upon all these people as heathens and idolaters and their customs and practices as superstitions, and we are not wrong in our conclusions. They worship and venerate what is false. But should we not give some thought to the fact that idolatry is practiced among us, the highest order of civilization? Have we not turned from God to worship idols when we love the physical, material, tangible things of this world more than anything else?
WE WORSHIP AT THE SHRINE OF LIFE
“He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). An excessive attachment to life itself is idolatry. Satan once said, in conversation with the Lord about His servant Job, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life” (Job 2:4). This was not true of Job. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). And it is not true of genuine Christians. No true child of God would exchange the whole world, if it were possible for him to gain it, for his soul (Matthew 16:26).
Far too few have the proper concept of life. One who would save his animal life simply for the pleasures of living shall lose life everlasting. So many are interested in the rewards and gratifications of life here in this world. Paul said that Demas loved the “present age” or the “now world” (II Timothy 4:10). Emphasis is given just to living, not the aims and purposes of life, nor to the things we should strive to accomplish in service to God and fellow man.
Men fear and dread death, not so much for the consequences of sin, or the uncertainty of the beyond, but because it means a cessation of existence in this world. It is this kind of love of life that Jesus warned was wrong (John 12:25).
Jesus taught that our lives have a higher purpose, that there is something better and more valuable than the enjoyment of our existence here. “... But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). “So Jesus answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not
receive a hundredfold now in this time ... and in the age to come, eternal life’ ” (Mark 10:29–30).
The renewing of the inward man is more important than the continuing of the outward man. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16–18).
The intentions and declarations of the enemies of Christianity to inflict injury upon Paul did not, in any way, move him. “But none of these things move me; not do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). He later said: “... For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). Serving God was far more significant to him than just living. Life with its present rewards is empty and meaningless apart from the hopes and purposes of the Christian.
The god of this world has blinded the minds of people to the true design of life. The “prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2) induces them to walk according to the course of this world, fulfilling the lust of the flesh. He tells them to take their ease, eat, drink, and be merry. He promises them many years to come. “This is the life,” he says. Men believe it and worship at its shrine.
Paul said there is something far better—to depart and be with Christ. In this connection, he said: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). For the Christian, to die is profitable and an advantageous step.
It is good for us to live life and enjoy living in this world if we do not forget the purpose of it, but let us not be idolaters and worship in its sanctuary. The world has a tremendous pull upon our hearts. The magnetic attraction of materialism and the immediate satisfaction of our fleshly desires cause us to miss the true aim of life.
WE WORSHIP AT THE SACRED AND HALLOWED
ALTAR OF MARRIAGE
Do not misunderstand me: God is the author of marriage. It is both good and honorable. There is no earthly relationship so close and tender and vital, if it be fashioned after God's pattern for marriage and the home. Husband and wife, living together in deep love, mutual understanding, consideration for one another, sharing everything in life together, rearing children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, have a haven of rest and peace and a foretaste of the home of the soul.
But not many have this Christian view of marriage. The purely social aspects and compensations of it are loved and adored and worshiped. Emphasis is placed on the physical and sensory satisfactions derived, which are delusory and disappointing, apart from the spiritual connotation of this God–ordained, God–designed relationship. The glamour, pomp, show, and finery often takes precedence over everything else. More time and money, more thought and planning, and more consideration and effort are given to the wedding itself than will be spent over a period of years in making the home, after marriage, a family truly dedicated to the cause of Christ.
We should be more concerned about the meaning of marriage; about the kind of companion a son or a daughter is getting for a life partner, the common background of religion and education they mutually share, and the goals and aspirations they hold than the social and physical ends accomplished by bringing this young couple together.
In Noah's day, the people were primarily concerned with eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage. They worshiped the physical and social aspects of life and were, therefore, destroyed by the deluge. Jesus used this example to remind us that we must lift our vision and our hearts to the source of the true and permanent values for mankind.
The Lord was not minimizing the value of marriage and the home, nor was He diminishing the necessity of food and drink for the sustentation of the body, but he was giving us a very fundamental lesson in life's priorities.
We Worship the Belly
“For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18–19).
“For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:18).
The average American lives in such comfort, even luxury, as King Solomon never knew. There is no place on earth, I am sure, where people give more time, thought, and money to the planning and preparation of food than in this country. It consumes a large section of our lives. There is nothing wrong with living in comfort, so long as these comforts do not impair our service to Christ. What is wrong is that so many of us think that we cannot do without them and that is why we are unwilling to preach the gospel in the needy areas of the world.
If the mission field which challenges us provides all the contentment and enjoyment in physical well–being in which we have been accustomed at home, we may give some consideration to spending two or three years of our lives there preaching and working for the Lord. But, if it means hardships, deprivations, loneliness, and primitive living conditions, we often choose to stay at home where we may “inspire others” to give brethren a vision of the fields that are white and the function of the church in sowing the seed to an ultimate bounteous harvest!
Jesus once said, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing” (Matthew 6:25)?
The Lord here uses that manner of speaking so common with Him and the apostles of forbidding one thing absolutely in order to give emphasis to something more important. Although it is not wrong to eat and drink, or to give some thought to those daily requirements, he prohibits them categorically so
that he may give priority to the spiritual values of life. He uses the examples of the people of Noah's and Lot's day. In the days of Noah, they ate and drank until the flood came and destroyed them all. I think it may be said of these people that they were giving preeminence to the things which satisfy the physical body, and that they were worshiping the belly. “For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly” (Romans 16:18).
It is upon these things—food, clothing, houses, cosmetics, cars, and other such commodities— that many Christians put the accent. Success is often measured by the accumulation of material property. One has achieved the desired goal in life and has reached the full dimension of success, according to the estimate of many, if his worldly estate is sufficiently large to have made some mark of distinction in opulent society. Somehow we have come to equate affluence with both happiness and success. "Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them” (I Corinthians 6:13).
WE WORSHIP IN THE TEMPLE OF SEX
“You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts ...” (James 5:5).
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites” (I Corinthians 6:9).
Describing one of the most wicked and crucial periods in the history of mankind, Paul said that men “burned in their lust for one another, men with men” and that “for this reason God gave them up to vile passions” and “uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves” (Romans 1:24–27).
When I say that we worship in the temple of sex, I have reference to the depraved attitude and the immoral conduct of countless thousands of people in this so–called Christian nation with reference to a function and a relationship that God intended to be sacred, pure, and beautiful. Sex in our country has been made the chief aim in life, synonymous with marriage.
In fact, apart from it, marriage is nothing and life is nothing. This is the height, the apex and the crown. Business, industry, and commercial enterprise misuses and capitalizes upon it for financial gain and advantage. Sex sells everything from matches to mansions and from cards to Cadillacs.
Sight is lost of the purpose of it. For a man and a woman pledged to each other in love through life, it preserves the purity of character. Paul said, “Because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (I Corinthians 7:2). It gives honorable birth to children. A part of the design of marriage is the having of children, and then bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
This Christian companionship contributes to man's service to God, his accomplishments in the kingdom of Christ, and his ultimate salvation. God saw that it was not good that man should dwell alone. He needs a help suitable for him to share in all he encounters in this world.
The spiritual implications, as well as the social, of the marriage relationship overflow to the glory of God. When sex is made the end—the all in all, the totality of life—there will be problems insolvable, unhappiness, frustration, chaos, and despair.
The excessive stress placed upon sex in this country hardly distinguishes us from the heathen races which practice polygamy and those whose religions dictate that the conduct of their lives should be determined by what gives personal pleasure and promises material well–being. “But those who believe and do aright, we will make then enter gardens beneath which rivers flow, and they shall dwell therein forever and aye, for them therein and pure wives, and we will make them enter into a shady shade” (Koran, Sura 4:60; The Chapter of Women).
Soleman was a Baluch who worked on our farm in East Africa to help provide food for our African preacher students. He and his people were Muslims. His father had met and married his mother many years before and by her had seventeen children. When she had grown old, he put her away and married two young wives. The Koran permits and provides for such an
arrangement. Yosephmia was an Indian neighbor and a successful business man, and a Muslim of the Suni sect. He passed away while we were still living in Tanganyika. His hope was to dwell in the Moslem heaven of beautiful gardens, beneath which rivers of water flow, and have fourteen virgins for his wives through eternity.
“Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell” (I Corinthians 10:8). “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11).
WE WORSHIP THE IDOL DEATH
Many ancient people placed more stress upon death than any other event or experience associated with life on this earth. It was their chief concern and was of the highest importance. The early Egyptians learned and practiced embalming. By some lost marvel of science, the bodies of those whom they embalmed have escaped decay and have come down through the centuries and millenniums for human eyes to see.
In the British museum in London, one may see the mummified remains of people who lived and died before the days of Abraham. What relentless taskmasters drove these ancient wizards to miracles of chemistry never since equaled?
One of the Pyramids of Giza, Chelps, was built about 3800 B.C. in the IV Dynasty. It is constructed of 2,300,000 stones weighing from two and one–half to fifteen tons. The British House of Parliament and St. Paul's Cathedral could be put inside the area of the base and have room left over. Its base covers thirteen acres.
If cut into stone cubes of one foot each, it would reach two–thirds the way around the earth at the equator. It was 481 feet high; it is now 450 feet. It was covered with Tura limestone. There are subterranean chambers descending from the entrance 374 feet; and the king's chamber ascends 282 feet above the entrance. It is lined with granite blocks 34 feet long, 17 feet wide, and 29 feet high. There are nine slabs of granite in the ceiling weighing four hundred tons. One hundred thousand slaves were employed every three months over a period of
years (no one knows how long) to complete it. The burial chambers were filled with treasures of every sort. This is the emphasis the Egyptian kings and noblemen placed upon death.
In recent years it has been discovered by archaeologists that the ancient Sumerians along the Euphrates attached about as much importance to death as the Egyptians did. Those who were able were buried among their riches in very elaborate tombs.
For their use after death, they were buried with golden drinking cups and goblets, beautiful jugs and vases, bronze tableware, mother of pearl mosaics, harps and lyres, and silver and gold. They were even buried with entire teams of oxen with their wagons laden with household furnishings which they felt they would need once they had crossed over to the other side.
The Mogul Emperor, Shah–Jahan, built a marble mausoleum in 1631–1645 at Agra, India, in memory of his favorite wife, Taj Mahal. It is one of the most beautifully designed and richly decorated pieces of architecture in the Moslem world.
In America today, much more emphasis is placed upon death than preparation for it. More money is spent on funerals than preaching the gospel so that people might be able to meet this event. In many cases, vast expenditures of money are made, often when those who are left cannot afford it, that cannot benefit anyone or anything except people's vanity.
“Then he [Jesus] said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of god’ ” (Luke 9:59–60).
The Lord was not hard and cold and unfeeling toward this man in his grief. He was not showing disrespect and irreverence for the dead, but He was teaching the lesson for all time that the preaching of the gospel to those who are dead in sin far transcends in importance taking care of matters associated with physical death.
We must make everything subordinate to the kingdom of God, for our following Christ and our service to Him is of prime importance.
LET US WORSHIP GOD IN HIS TEMPLE
“But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).
“Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2).
“Oh, come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6).
“Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy” (Psalm 99:9).
“I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1).
“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).