Flee From Idolatry! (1 Corinthians Sermon 34)
September 22, 2019
1 Corinthians 10:14-22
War Against the Flesh, Idolatry, Temptation
The Human Heart is a Perpetual Idol Factory
So turn in your Bibles 1 Corinthians 10, we continue our study in this marvelous book, looking this morning at verses 14 through 22. In the year 2011, I was on a mission trip to Nepal, a fulfillment of a lot of dreams I had from early in my Christian life, I always had a heart for Nepal. Prayed for an unreached people group in Nepal for 10 years. And then the door opened, there was an opportunity for me to go on a mission trip. And we were there in the capital city of Kathmandu and we were at a restaurant, kind of open air restaurant waiting for lunch, and I heard the repetitive tap-tap-tap of hammer on metal. I thought we were near an auto body shop because I also saw the bluish glow of an acetylene torch.
And as I mentioned those sites and sounds, the missionary that we are with says it's not an auto body shop, that's an idol factory. It's a Buddhist kingdom there, that mountainous kingdom, and there are statues of Buddha everywhere. They are manufactured continually. There's a big trade in idols there in Kathmandu. And it was hard to believe and it was actually kind of hard to keep eating my meal as we continued to hear the sounds of these idols being fashioned. But as I look back on that experience, I think about another thing that I read once and it was written by John Calvin in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, 16th century reformer in Geneva, said this very famously, "The human heart is a perpetual idol factory." The human heart is a perpetual idol factory. Now, we don't eat our meals near idol factories, hearing the tap-tap-tap of hammer on metal or other sounds of that kind of physical construction of our idols. Our very hearts are fashioning, continually fashioning the idols that are bringing us spiritual torment. We're making them ourselves.
As we come this morning to 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, we're coming to as clear a command as you're gonna find in the New Testament on this matter. Flee idolatry, flee idolatry. I fear that many of us Americans think, "Well that's obsolete, we don't have to worry about that. At least in this culture, we don't make metal or stone or wood idols and bow down to them." That whole process seems as alien to us as Kathmandu itself, perhaps. So we think, perhaps that we're exempt from this command, but we're not. The idols of our hearts are tormenting us far more than we think they are.
My desire, my prayer, as you just heard a moment ago and been praying, is that God would open the eyes of our hearts to see the idols that are troubling us. This has always been an issue with the human race. Therefore, the first two of the 10 Commandments have to do with this issue. Exodus 20:2-5, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God." God knew very well that He made us to worship Him. He made us for worship, we were crafted in our minds and hearts to worship. And if we do not worship the true God in the true way, in the biblical way, we will most certainly be guilty of false worship. We will worship an idol. We're not going to worship nothing. We will worship a God substitute if we do not worship the true God.
Now, like I said, our idols are not generally made of wood, iron, bronze, marble, stone, gold or silver, shaped into some symbolic statue before which we bow. I saw that in Japan and their Shinto religion and I saw people going to shrines and clapping to get the deity's attention before they would pray. I've seen that in India, their idols, their statues, gods and goddesses by the thousands in Mumbai and Pune. And I've seen them with my own eyes in some of the most grotesque shapes you can imagine with all kinds of history behind it. I've seen all that. But we have idols and they torment us, they tempt us. Whatever dominates your mind, whatever engrosses the very core of your being, if it's not the triune God, if it's not the Father, Son, and the Spirit, it is a created thing. It is an idol. What you live for. What you cannot live without. That's what we're dealing with. In this sermon we're going to come face-to-face with the essential reason, frankly, why all of us engage in habitual sin. Behind all habitual sin is some idol somewhere.
Now, if you look in the Old Testament, again and again when the godly kings and rulers and prophets would expose idolatry, they went on some wrecking expedition like Josiah, he was a wrecking ball. And God has been in the business of just toppling idols, just destroying them. Think about Dagon, remember when the Ark of the Covenant went into the Philistine land and was put in the temple to show the triumph of Dagon over the God of the Israelites, and how that statue fell down, and they thought it had just been toppled and it just needed some better hardware. Just nail it down a little bit better. And then the next day, it was basically broken to pieces. But why was the ark even there? It's because the Israelites worshipped the ark, thinking that if the ark was there, they wouldn't lose the battle. And so, even some Orthodox expressions of faith can become an idol if we worship what we think is the true God in a false way. Idolatry.
I. The Urgent Command: Flee from Idolatry! (vs. 14)
So we need to come face-to-face with this and take this seriously. And look right away at the urgent command, verse 14, "Therefore dear friends, flee from idolatry." Flee from idolatry. So now we need to understand the context, 1 Corinthians 8-10 is dealing with one main topic: Meat sacrificed to idols. The Apostle Paul had come to Corinth, a dark place, a pagan place, a wicked place, preached the gospel. He preached Christ and Him crucified. Some people were rescued out of the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light, the kingdom of the beloved Son, and they forsook their idolatry, they forsook their pagan worship practices, became the Church of Jesus Christ there in Corinth.
Now, in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addresses the talk of meat sacrificed to idols by addressing those that are stronger, more orthodox in their doctrine or further along in sanctification, who are flaunting their freedoms and just eating meat sacrificed to idols. And in so doing they were wounding the new consciences, the consciences of the relatively new converted people. And Paul is saying effectively in 1 Corinthians 8, don't do that. Love limits liberty. Yes, you have the freedom to eat but if your eating is causing a brother or sister to stumble, don't do it.
Then in Chapter 9, he gives himself as an example. He says effectively, like he was going to say, "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ." My example is I don't live for myself. Like take the issue of money. I could have gotten money for ministry, but I didn't do it, I didn't use that right, that privilege, so that I could preach the Gospel free of charge. And then just generally in my ministry, my ministry to the Greeks and to the Jews alike, I assess the situation and whatever is best for those people, Jew or Greek, I'm going to do, when it comes to amoral preferences. When it comes to food or clothing or mannerisms, I'm going to become a Jew to win the Jews. I'm going to become a Gentile to win the Gentiles. Again, not talking about immoral things but amoral preferences, I'm going to put my preferences behind me, I'm going to "become all things to all people so that by all possible means, I might save some." So I'll eat whatever they serve me, I will wear whatever clothes, I will take on mannerisms, I will become the missionary, I will do what I have to do to fit into their culture and win them.
But then at the end of Chapter 9, I think he turns a corner. So, if you just remove the chapter divisions and just see the whole thing as an unfolding, I think he turns a corner when he talks about himself and he talks about running a race, and he says only those people that go into strict discipline win the race. They're the only ones. And so concerning myself, "I beat my body and I make it my slave, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified from the prize, for I don't want you to be ignorant" about the history of the Jews, and he goes right on into how the Jewish nation as a whole were rescued out of bondage, they were rescued out of slavery and they followed the pillar of cloud and they followed and went into the Red Sea and they were baptized, Paul says, into the Red Sea and they followed and they drank from the spiritual rock, and the rock was Christ. And so they're experiencing all of the trappings of that early version of Christianity effectively, but most of them never made it in the promised land. Their bodies were scattered all over the desert.
So then if you go back to 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul says, "I'm worried about myself, I'm worried about my heart, I'm worried about idolatry." But Paul, you're an Orthodox Jew. Have you not read the history of idolatry in the Jewish nation? How the same combination of meat and sex and false gods and goddesses was extremely effective in destroying generation after generation of my forebearers? It wasn't just that first generation that fell into idolatry, and they did. And Paul talks about that very, very plainly. Look at verse 6 through 11, Chapter 10, "Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did."
So that first generation of those that were rescued under Moses, they set their hearts on evil things, "Do not be idolaters as some of them were. As it is written, the people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry. We should not commit sexual immorality as some of them did, and in one day, 23,000 of them died. We should not test the Lord as some of them did and they were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did, and they were killed by the destroying angel. Now, these things happened to them as examples, and they were written down as warnings for us on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come."
So we read all those Old Testament stories about what idolatry did to the Jewish nation, all of the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Elijah and Elisha that just railed against idolatry. And we who live in the 21st century American context, we think we're exempt, we don't have to worry about idolatry. Paul was worried about it, but, Paul, look at you, you're a holy man, you're a preacher of the Gospel. I know, but I have to walk by that temple grounds, I have to smell that meat, I have to see those temple prostitutes, I have to walk by that and don't think that I don't know that the seeds of my own destruction are in my own heart. And Paul writes about it, doesn't he? Romans 7, "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin."
So Paul's saying there's a battle going on inside me. The Spirit wars against the flesh, the flesh against the Spirit. Galatians 5, that's going on inside me, Paul's saying. And so I beat my body and I make it my slave, so I won't be disqualified. And you Corinthians, you need to do the same. You may be one of the stronger ones, you may be one of the more mature ones but you're still under temptation. Look what he said, verse 12-13: "If you think you are standing firm, you better take heed lest you fall. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man." This is going on all over the world, lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, pride of life, same menu, Satan is enticing you with these sins.
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man, but God is faithful, He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but when you are tempted, he will also provide a way of escape so you can stand up under it." So that's the context.
The Command: Run!
So now let's look at the command, verse 14, "Therefore my dear friends, flee from my idolatry." Therefore, in light of all that I've been saying... Paul's epistles are very logical. He builds in arguments, he says in light of all of this, flee, flee from idolatry. And he says, "My dear friends," he uses a sweet tone with them, he loves them, they are his dear children. They have many guides and many teachers but they only had one spiritual father and in the gospel, he became their father by planting that church. He says he loves them and he calls them there his dear friends. They're beloved to him. Now, here's the simple verb, flee. Run for your lives. Run.
It fits what he just said about temptation. God will... He's faithful. He won't allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but with the temptation will make what? A way of escape. What are you supposed to do with it? Take it. Run, get out the door, survive it, spiritually survive the temptation. Satan is going to spread a net for your feet. He's going to concoct a situation. It's a booby trap, it's on the path, get around it, get away from it, get out of it, go past it, so that you don't fall into what he has done, the trap he has set, flee.
Now, Jesus said in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation," so don't be a fool and intentionally tempt yourself. You've fallen in certain areas and sinned before, don't set that up and do it again. So God, deliver us from the evil one. That's a better translation. We're used to deliver us from evil but it's literally deliver us from the evil one. Satan is intelligent, he is crafting temptation, so Lord, lead us not into temptation. Now, some temptations will seize you. They'll come upon you like an armed bandit back in the days of highway robbery. They seize you, they come upon you, and Jesus said, temptations are inevitable, they're going to come. Now woe to the one through whom they come, but they're going to come. In that situation, you need to fight, you need to stand firm by running. It's a weird image, isn't it? Stand by running. So in other words, you're still filled with the Spirit, you're still holy, you got past the moment, you got past the temptation, still walking with Jesus. Flee. That's what he's calling you to do.
What is Idolatry?
Now, the idolatry he's talking about here is that organized system of pagan religion, been worked out for centuries, and so they had a shrine, a temple, and they had offerings that were being offered, animals sacrificed to the gods and goddesses, and they would cook the meat and the priests would eat some of it, just like the Levitical priests, they had extra meat that would be sold in the meat market, we'll get to that, God willing, next week. So they have all this meat going on, it's just a carnival, that's literally what a carnival is, it's where flesh is being cooked. And the Corinthian Christians had to walk by this place, they knew it well, there was no way to get around it, they just had to walk by it to get to their homes or get to where they worked or different things they had to do in the city. And there it was, and they could smell it, and then they could see the temple of the shrine prostitutes, male and female. Maybe they knew some of those people by name, they knew them by name, and so he said, Look, that whole thing, the practice of bowing down...
Like remember Daniel 3, when there was some kind of music, some weird kind of cacophonous music. Then everyone had to fall down and bow down to the golden statute. Daniel Chapter 3. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they wouldn't bow down. So there's this organized system of pagan religion. Flee that. Don't take part in that, but idolatry is much bigger than that. So what is idolatry? One writer gives this definition, worshipping anything other than the true God in the true way. I think it's a good definition.
For me, probably the most significant biblical definition comes in Romans 1:25. You could turn and look there if you want, it's a key verse, Romans 1:25, or you can just listen, Romans 1:25 says, "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things more than the Creator, who is forever praised. Amen." So there it is. To worship and serve a created thing, a creature, more than the Creator who is forever praised, that's idolatry. Any created thing that seizes our souls.
Another clue comes in Colossians 3, where Paul calls greed idolatry. Says the same thing in Ephesians. A greedy person is an idolater. Now, the simplest way to think about greed is money. If you're just living for money, you're an idolater. So the Wall Street investor or the CEO of a startup company and all they think about all day long is their business and how to make money and market share and all that. That's idolatry. That's idolatry. It's seizing their mind and their heart. But so is someone that's addicted to Internet pornography, that person's an idolater. Or to hobbies, or other forms of pleasure, movies, Netflix, that kind of thing. What about smartphones? Someone asked me, "Do you think there's any chance that a smartphone could be an idol?" I was at an airport recently, and I looked around, took a kind of a simple poll of human beings sitting within eyesight of me. 90% of them were on smartphones. 90%. I'm like, "Wow. What has Steve Jobs wrought?" Now here we are, and we almost can't get through a day... And I've seen it, the infiltration into my own mind, to my own habits.
I was at a conference and I was sitting there, and I was listening and it was marginally interesting. And then it wasn't so interesting. And so I'm reaching for my phone, and I'm checking my emails and I'm doing some stuff. Well, here's the thing with the smartphone, it's two things. They both begin with T. It's tool and toy. And the thing are just woven together. And I go from tool to toy and back to tool again. And I think, "Oh, I'm working. I'm being productive." I am sometimes. But the fact is it is an idol. And I proved it because of my behavior. I started to be like an addict. I'm like, "I'm not going to. All right. I'm not going to touch it." And then my hand, it just start to move. And I'd, "Stop it. Don't look. You don't need it. No one cares where you are and no one is texting you or emailing you. Forget it. And besides which, you're here to listen. So learn and listen and do that." It was amazing what I had to do. I was ready to go across the room and hand it to a friend for like the next half hour just so I could focus.
Well, all humor aside, the fact of the matter is indications of an idol. When you can't live without something. We humans were made to worship and serve. Now, the key thing then is created thing, I get it. Anything that is not the Triune God in this universe, in the spiritual realm or the physical realm, is a creature. That's the two great categories of being or essence there is in the world. There's God and everything else. Everything else is creature. Anything in that category that you put above God... Now here's where you have to understand what does it mean to worship and serve? We'll get to that. But it has to do with what consumes your mind and your emotions, your affections, the direction of your life, your stewardship decisions. We'll get to all that. And Paul's command is to flee.
II. Reason #1: Christian Worship is Intimate Sharing with Christ (vs. 15-18)
Then he gives some reasons. Reason number one, Christian worship is intimate sharing with Christ. Let's look at verse 15-17. "I speak as 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." So he's talking here about Christian worship. Now he begins by reasoning with us. Paul is a very reasonable teacher of the Gospel. He reasons things out. There's a lot of logic in Paul's epistles.
Now, all true religion begins with the mind. It begins with how you think. Paul's got to win the battle of the mind, the transformation of the mind by the Spirit, through the Word of God. That's how our religion changes. As you think differently, you'll live differently. So he says, "I speak as to sensible people." I'm speaking to reasonable people. Idolatry makes us fools. There's an essential foolishness to idolatry. As Romans 1:22-23 says, "Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images." There's an essential foolishness, I believe Satan is mocking the human race by getting us to bow down before these kinds of statues, made to look like mortal man and animals and birds and reptiles. Look what he can make us do. Don't think that the Indian people and the people of Kathmandu and the people of Japan are idiots. But when they are worshipping idols, Satan has made them fools. He's made them foolish. And so also with us, with our idolatry. There's an essential foolishness to us.
The Holy Spirit has come to rescue us from foolishness. Christ has become for us wisdom from God. He is our wisdom. He makes us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. So Paul urges them to think in verse 15, to reason it out. "I'm speaking to sensible people. Judge this for yourself." Then he goes to the essence of worship. And you may not know this. You may have underestimated this. Worship is a spiritual union with a deity. There's a fellowship we share with an invisible spiritual being. An intimate sharing with the deity. There is a mystical union. That's true of either true worship of the Triune God by the Holy Spirit, or it's true of pagan worship. There is a mystical union that's going on in worship. That's what Paul is saying here. When we worship Christ, we are intimately spiritually connected with Him. When pagans worship idols, they're intimately spiritually connected with the idol. Don't underestimate that intimate spiritual connection that's going on.
The Spiritual Intimacy of the Lord’s Supper
Look at the example he gives, the spiritual intimacy of the Lord's Supper, verse 16-17. "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." So Paul reaches for a central or main element of Christian worship, the Lord's Supper. Now he's going to talk in much more detail about it in Chapter 11. We'll get to that. You're very familiar with those verses. We'll get to that. But now, he just briefly reaches for the Lord's Supper. And he's talking about that. And he says, "Behind the actual elements of bread and wine, there's a spiritual reality." And I'm going to talk about this in Chapter 11, but this is the essence of my view of the Lord's Supper. The bread is just bread, and the juice is just juice. But there is a spiritual reality through the Holy Spirit behind it that I yearn to tap into every time we participate in the Lord's Supper. It's not a bare memorial. It's not some empty ritual. For me, I expect to eat and drink spiritually in Christ, through the Spirit. I think you should too.
But he's saying that is, I think, a proper view of the Lord's Supper. The spiritual union we have. Look at the word that he uses. A participation. The Greek word is Koinonia. It is a sharing, a sharing in the blood of Christ. It's a Koinonia, a sharing together in the body of Christ. It's the same thing that he said, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life…"
And so he says plainly, "If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection." There's a spiritual mystical union between us and Jesus. That's what he's saying. So that's the first example.
III. Reason #2: Pagan Worship is Intimate Sharing with Demons (vs. 19-20)
Then he gives the second example of Jewish sacrifice. Look at verse 18. "Consider the people of Israel. Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?" Now, the animal sacrificial system Paul knew was obsolete by then, but he's looking back at Jewish history. When the animal sacrifices were offered in a right way through the Spirit, there was a participation of the people together with the altar. Let me give a good example of this. And that's the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Remember that? And do you remember how that was essentially a sacrifice? Two altars, two animals sacrificed, and then they were crying out for Baal. And the one that answered with fire from heaven, "No, let Him be. He's the true God." And we know that Baal never answered. But then Elijah pours water on the thing, so like it's drenched in water. And then he prays a simple prayer, and then fire falls from heaven and consumes the sacrifice. Everything is just consumed.
What happened to the people at that moment? They all fell down and said, "The Lord, He is God." The Lord, He is God. It was really like a spiritual fire fell from heaven to their hearts and God was turning the idolatrous people of Israel back to worship Him and love Him. So that is a participation in the actual sacrifice. There was a physical fire on the altar, there was a spiritual fire that came in their hearts. That's what Paul means in verse 18. Then he goes to a second and deeper thing. And this is something perhaps you didn't know. But behind every false religious system, there is a demonic reality, a demonic presence.
Look what he says in verses 19 and 20. "Do I mean then that the sacrifice offered to an idol is anything or an idol is anything? No. But the sacrifice of pagans are offered to demons, not to God. And I do not want you to be participants with demons." So there is actually a real spiritual presence in all false worship. There is a demonic reality behind it. Now, Paul has to address the earlier basic teaching that we got in Chapter 8, Verse 4. "We know that an idol is nothing and that meat offered is just meat." Yeah well that's not the complete truth. An idol, a physical idol is just physical stuff. There's nothing there. But behind it is a demon. So, Zeus, Aphrodite, Venus, Hermes, Apollo, they don't exist. But there are demons that impersonate gods and goddesses, so to deceive people and lead them into false worship. It's demonic.
Now, this is taught in the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 32, The Song of Moses. Amazing, prophetic. It was a prediction before the Jews ever entered the Promised Land. Let me tell you what's going to happen to you in the future. I'm going to teach you a song. Songs are easy to remember. So he says ahead of time what's going to happen. This is Deuteronomy 32:15-18. "Israel made God jealous with their foreign gods and angered Him with their detestable idols." This is Deuteronomy 32 verse 17. "They sacrifice to demons, which are not God. Gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear. You deserted the rock who fathered you, you forgot the God who gave you birth." And you worship demons.
Well, he said this ahead of time. This is exactly what they were going to go into the Promised Land and do. When they worshipped Baal, and Moloch, and Ashtoreth and all that. They weren't real, but the demons behind them were. I believe all false... This teaches effectively, all false religions in the world have a demonic origin. Think about Acts 19. Remember the Shrine or the Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians, remember that? Do you know the origin of that was something supernatural? It was an image of the goddess that fell from heaven. And you're like, "Well it's nothing. It was a meteorite." It's like the face of a goddess on a tortilla or something like that, and they see there it is, and it gets framed and put up. Or I don't know what it was, but there was something supernatural that fell. And they built a whole world-famous temple around it. I think this is an indication of the supernatural origin of false worship, false religion.
Islam, I believe, is the same way. In the year 610 AD, Muhammad went into a cave and had an overpowering encounter with the supernatural being who he later identified as the angel Gabriel. And this powerful being seized him physically and shook him and basically effectively beat him up. And in the end, after a number of encounters, commanded him to recite. That's where the word Koran came from, and that's where the Koran had its origin in that supernatural encounter with, he believes, an angel of light. But we know from 2 Corinthians that even Satan can masquerade as an angel of light.
Well what about Mormonism? Joseph Smith, the originator of that false religion, that false cult, had an encounter with an angel called Moroni. And he told him that there were these gold plates in a hill Cumorah in upstate New York and reciting from that gave us, gave the world the Book of Mormon. I think it's quite possible that there was a real supernatural encounter between a demon and Joseph Smith. And I think that this is true of all false cults and false world religion, religious system. All of them. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Shintoism. All of it. All of these false religious systems from this text, I would say, have demonic origin. There's a supernatural power behind them.
IV. Reason #3: Idolatry Provokes the Lord to Jealousy (vs. 21-22)
Reason number three, verse 21-22. Idolatry provokes the Lord to jealousy. Verse 21-22, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too. You cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than He?" God will not share His bride with another. He is jealous still. His name is jealousy still. There's an exclusive love He has for the hearts of His people and He will not share you with demons and He will not share you with idols. Deuteronomy 32:21 says, "They made me jealous by what is no God, they angered me with their worthless idols." And then he says very powerfully, "Are we stronger than He?" Like the black preacher said years ago, "Your arm is too short to box with God." You don't want to take God on. You don't want to make Him jealous. For jealousy burns like a fire in the heart of the lover. And He will be jealous over us. The Spirit that He put to live in us is jealous over us, Peter says or James says. And so He will not share us with idols.
V. Our 21st Century Applications
Alright, so what about our 21st century applications? Well, it's easy to excuse ourselves in it. We're Western scientific materialists. We believe in the god of the gaps. And so, where there are gaps in scientific knowledge, we ascribe it to a deity. But once we study meteorology, we know where lightning comes from and thunder. And so, we don't worship the Thunder god anymore. You see, that's the way we think. Therefore we have a very materialistic, non-spiritual view of the world. And we think we actually don't think much about angels and demons. We don't think much as much as we should about Satan and the spiritual dimensions to what we do. So we're easy to say like, we're not the Aztecs or the Incas of the Mayans or whatever. We don't bow down like that. It's like, Yeah, well, we have our idols. Tim Keller calls them functional saviors.
And if we think we're exempt, look at the final verse of 1 John 5:21, "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols." It's like the last thing John wanted to say in that epistle. This is an issue for us New Testament people. So we should not say, "I thank you God that I have no idols." That's not the way to go here on this topic. Instead, we should say as we frequently do Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, Oh God, and know my heart. Show me if there's any offensive way in me." Behind the offensive way in us is an idol. Show me what the idol looks like in my life, in my heart. David Powlison put it this way. "The most basic question which God continually poses to each human heart: Has something or someone besides Jesus Christ taken the title to your heart's trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, and delight?" Trust, what you trust in. Preoccupation, what's in your mind. Loyalty, what you're loyal to, what you're fighting for. Service, what you get out energetically and serve. Fear and delight. What you fear losing, what you delight in having. Has something other than Jesus taken the title to those things? Anything more fundamental than God to our happiness, our sense of wellbeing, our definition of success.
Tim Keller has done an excellent, excellent work on this. And I would commend his writings on idolatry. He says this. "Why do we ever fail to love or keep promises or live unselfishly? Of course, the general answer is because we're weak and sinful. But the specific answer is, there's always something besides Jesus Christ that we feel that we must have to be happy, and that is more important to our hearts than God, and that is enslaving the heart through inordinate desires." For example, we would not lie unless we first made something else, namely human approval, reputation, power over others, financial advantage, more important and valuable to us than Jesus. There's always an idol at the core of it. It could be money or possessions, it could be power, it could be physical pleasure. It could be food or alcohol, it could be some habit pattern or some hobby or interest. Could be a person, a specific person. We can make an idol of any created thing.
So what Tim Keller does is he says, "How can I find them?" He looks at four things. First, look at your imagination. Look at your imagination. "Your religion", he says, "is what you do with your solitude." So what do you do when you're alone? What do you think about? What do you imagine? Where does your mind go? A single daydream doesn't prove an idol. But if you're just again and again fantasizing and thinking about something, and it's not Christ, it's not God, that's indication of an idol.
Secondly, look at your money. What do you spend your money on? I would expand it to time and energy. Those three, time, energy, money. What do you spend yourself on? If it's not Christ, if it's not the advancement of the kingdom, relief for the poor, the ministry of the church, which the Lord tells us to give to cheerfully and sacrificially, if it's something else and you're just again and again and again spending yourself and your resources on that, there's likelihood an idol. Where your money is, there your heart will be also.
Thirdly, "what about unanswered prayers and disappointment," says Tim Keller, "How do you react when you don't get you what you want in life?" If you have a reaction that is unbiblical to disappointments and unanswered prayer, there's likelihood an idol behind that. And then fourth, what about your uncontrollable emotions? What makes you enraged? Carnally angry. What makes you over-the-top happy that's not connected to Jesus? Uncontrollable emotions. Look at your anger. Is there some root idol here, where I have to have this, I have to have my way in this thing or I'm going to get angry. Those four things. Imagination, money, disappointments, and strong emotions indicate idols. What to do about it?
Well, here's who I want to speak to: All of you, but especially those of you who came in here outside of Christ, you're not Christians. But the answer is the same for all of us. Jesus Christ is an idol destroyer. He will destroy your idols by putting Himself and all of His glory and beauty and power in its place. He will make a whip and clean your heart out through the Holy Spirit. Maybe this sermon is kind of like that whip, that Jesus wants to get in your heart and clean you out. And He wants to put Himself and all of His glory and His beauty and His majesty in its place. Remember, idols are what we follow when Jesus isn't enough. So that Jesus would be enough, Jesus came to die on the cross for all of your idolatry, all the ways you've sinned with idols. He came to take all that wrath on Himself and die. So give Him all of your burdens. Idols are burdens, they're heavy. I mean, think about precious metals. They're heavy. Alright? The idols of Babylon had to be put in an ox cart and the ox could barely drag them. They're heavy. So give your idols to Jesus. Give your sins to Him and let Him and His death on the cross be the substitute and the Savior for you and nothing else. Close with me in prayer.