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July 1, 2108 The Sin of Idolatry

 

Scripture reading: Exodus 20:4-6; I Cor 10:1-11

 

[I. Introduction] The second commandment explicitly forbids the making of any likeness of anything that is either in heaven or on earth. That this is the second commandment reveals that it is quite important to God and it ought to be important to us. Both the first and second commandments have to do with the sin of idolatry.

 

Does this mean that a person cannot make any carved image at all so that all statues are sinful? Does it mean we should never look at a statue? It also says that we should make “no likeness of anything in heaven above or in the earth beneath”  So, that would exclude photographs, paintings, and movies. Should we refrain from not only making them but also viewing them?

 

This is not the intent of the command at all. We know this for two reasons. First, God Himself commanded that small statues of cherubim (those are angels) be placed upon the ark. Obviously, God is not going to give a command and then, nearly at the same time, give another command that directly contradicts it. Second, the context makes clear what is forbidden. It is not just making an image, but it is making it and bowing down to it. In other words, it is making an image for the purpose of worshipping.

 

Verse 5 says that we are not to bow down to them. Yet, this is exactly what practitioners of Roman Catholicism do. Although my parents were not practicing Catholics they nevertheless required that my step-brother and I attend the RC church. As a six or seven year old I remember bowing down to statues and praying.

The population of the Philippines is predominantly Catholic. When I was courting Josie in the Philippines over twenty-five years ago I saw people kneeling, praying and kissing statues of Mary, Joseph, and Santo Nino (Baby Jesus). One of my trips there coincided with the Festival of Santa Nino in the second largest city in the Philippines, Cebu. One of Josie’s uncles, a priest, was presiding with others over the festivities. There was a procession through the streets with thousands of people attending and they were carrying a statue of Santa Nino, baby Jesus. People were falling down before it and no other word can describe their actions except worship. I was trying to be polite by my attendance but my spirit was provoked within me. I started becoming nauseas. I had to get up and leave. I returned when it was over. That festival was a clear example of disobedience to the second commandment. However, all praying or kneeling towards a statue is a violation of the commandment.

 

Evangelicals seldom fall into such an explicit breaking of the second commandment. If we have Catholic friends or neighbors we ought to warn them of this sin. If we love people we will. If we love ourselves more, fearing that they may not like us if we speak the truth, then we will remain silent.

 

However, I am afraid we are just as guilty of violating the prohibition against idolatry in a more subtle way. Really, it is not so subtle. Because the apostle Paul has made it clear that what constitutes idolatry is far more than just creating statues and images.

 

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.[1]

 

I have relied upon this verse before to communicate to the young people, including my own children, the necessity of abstaining from passion. All Christians know that sexual activity before marriage is a sin. That is called fornication in the older translations – a word that I wish the newer translations would have kept.  But fewer know that even passion prior to marriage is a sin. It is right there, after “impurity.” The influence of peers, movies, television, romance novels and the like all tempt the young ones in the church to think that long kisses and long hugs are acceptable. However, those kinds of activities arouse passion and we are to put passion to death if it is outside the bounds of marriage.

 

Observe that the apostle says that we should put covetousness to death in our lives and says that it is idolatry. The New American Standard has:

 

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

 

He calls greed idolatry. How is greed, or covetousness, idolatry? It is easy to see if we understand the definition of idolatry. Idolatry is “desiring something above God.”[2] Whenever we place something – anything – above God in either our estimation or desire then we engage in idolatry. It does not have to be a physical image.

 

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.[3]

 

See that when those in Philippi set their mind on earthly things, such as food, then this became their god. Paul writes, “their god is their belly.” They placed food above the true God and so their own appetite became their god.

 

Therefore, we become guilty of idolatry when we favor anything above God. In America, there is an activity that has become idolatrous not just for the average American, but especially to Christians who know better but have been beguiled into this sin.

 

[II. Three kinds of sinful activities] There are some things that are sinful in themselves. That is, they are intrinsically against the will of God by their very nature. For example, murder (the taking of a life that is innocent with respect to capital crimes) is always wrong and is intrinsically evil. Adultery is sinful in itself.

 

 There are other things that are not wrong in themselves but can become sinful either outside of lawful use or when used in excess. Sexual activity is an example of an action that is a blessing within the prescribed boundaries of God’s law, i.e., marriage, but is sinful outside its lawful use. The use of wine, or any alcoholic beverage, can be a blessing when used in moderation (Psalm 104;14-15; I Tim 5:23; I Cor 6:12; Phil 4:5 (KJV); Eccl 3:12-13; 10:19). But sinful when used in excess (Proverbs 23:30; Eph 5:18).

 

Christians are often on guard against the first kind of sin – actions that are sinful in themselves. They are aware of the second kind of sin – actions and thoughts that are outside of God’s prescribed boundaries. But, sometimes, they may not take these sins as seriously as they ought. The third kind of sin, good things used in excess, is the most subtle because it is not always obvious when the excess occurs. Because a particular practice is not sinful in itself it is easy to think there are no limits. But there are limits and God’s word tells us to be wary of excesses.

 

Remember our definition of idolatry. Idolatry occurs whenever we desire something above God, whenever we favor something above God, whenever we devote ourselves to something rather than to our good, loving, and generous God.

 

In America and, I suspect, in most prosperous nations there is an activity that has taken priority over God and His Son, even for Christians. It is entertainment.

 

[III.] We must flee the idolatry of entertainment because it is sin. As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ we are committed to put sins to death within us. Recall our verse from Colossians:

 

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (3:5, ESV)

 

The follower of the Lord Jesus must live a disciplined and self-controlled life. Paul writes about himself as an example to us:

 

I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. [4]

 

Let me be clear on this matter of entertainment. I am not saying that entertainment is sinful in itself. I am not saying that one cannot enjoy entertainment. One can. It is when we devote more time to it than God and his blessed, enjoyable work that it becomes idolatrous.

 

We must flee the idolatry of entertainment because it is a subtle sin.

 

[IV.] We must flee the idolatry of entertainment because it is a robber. It robs us of our time. Whenever we are watching entertainment we are denied the time to develop ourselves. We should try to develop ourselves spiritually (mainly through reading and studying the Bible, and prayer), intellectually, emotionally, and physically. In other words, we ought to be good stewards of what God has given us.

 

  • He has given us a human spirit. It needs to be strengthened.
  • He has given us a mind. It should be developed.
  • He has given us a heart. It needs to be warmed.
  • He has given us a body. We take care of it through diet and exercise.

 

Yet, is we are often being entertained by movies, television, or the internet then our time is robbed from our own development. Many who are not believers at all see this more clearly than God’s children. Before I became a Christian and I was serving my country in the Air Force, once my duty time was finished I would either be lifting weights, reading, or engage in conversation with fellow airmen – all developmental activities. I did not watch television and there was no internet back in those days.

 

We must flee the idolatry of entertainment because it not only robs us of our time, but it robs us of our work for the Lord. We are not called to make a profession of faith and just sit around waiting for heaven. Yet, this is how some Christians live. We are called to love the Lord, to serve the Lord, to work for the Lord. When a preacher says that we are called to love the Lord everyone heartily agrees. This is because every believer has warm feelings for the Lord in their heart. They perceive that these good feelings are love. Maybe they are. When a preacher says that we are called to serve the Lord everyone agrees because there are so many verses in the Bible that say so and the word “serve” is kind of general and can mean almost anything. But when a preacher says that we are called to work for the Lord, sometimes that doesn’t sit well with people. Possibly because, as evangelicals, we have heard our whole lives that works have nothing to do with salvation. With respect to initial salvation, the salvation from eternal perdition, this is true. We are saved through faith not works (Eph 2:8; Rom 4:5). Mixing works with the gospel perverts the gospel.

 

The message of working for the Lord also may not sit well with everyone because we are lazy. Not everyone is lazy, of course. I have known many people who were industrious and worked hard. All of us have been affected by the fall in different ways. (We are quick to judge others for their weaknesses if we do not have that particular failing. We are often blind to our own.) Laziness or slothfulness is a common sin as evidenced by frequent warnings of it throughout Scripture. So, maybe some are apprehensive about the need of working because it addresses their own flesh.

 

However, we are called to work for the Lord. Right after the passage in Ephesians that states that we are not saved by works we read:

 

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [5]

 

We are not made right with God by anything that we do, but God has called us to work for Him. There are many good things that we may do. But there is one work that is especially on the Lord’s heart and it should be on ours.

 

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.[6]

 

Why does the Lord command his disciples to pray that the Lord send out laborers? Does one need to pray for the sun to rise? No. Does one need to pray for rabbits to breed in the wild? No. Does one need to pray for plants to give off oxygen? No. They all do. We don’t pray for those things we know will happen by necessity. We pray for those things that often do not happen in the normal course of things. The Lord commands his disciples to pray for workers in the harvest because God’s own children have cold feet.

 

Who goes out to harvest? Professional evangelists? They do. But, just them? No! Let us be reminded each and every week of the Great Commission. His commission to us is not for paid church workers. It is for every person who has been delivered from their sins and follows Jesus.

 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [7]

 

We must never tire of this blessed directive. We need to read it often, pray over it, and live it!

 

Brothers and sisters, we must flee the idolatry of entertainment because it not only robs us of our time, but it robs us of fulfilling the Great Commission.

 

[V. Application and Conclusion] We have seen that idolatry is much more than bowing down to statues. It is the giving of our time and hearts to something other than the blessed and good God. Entertainment has become an idol in America. If we see this, what ought we to do?

 

If entertainment is engaged in excess, what constitutes excess? How much is too much? I do not think that question can be answered easily. It depends partly upon one’s own spiritual maturity and partly upon the love that one truly has for the Lord. Most followers of the Lord estimate that they love the Lord more than they really do. They measure their love by feelings. But love is measured by actions, not by feelings.

 

The famous American historian and philosopher, Will Durant, is quoted as saying, “We are what we repeatedly do.” That is true. More recently, Dr. Laura, the very wise radio personality, shortened it to: “We are what we do.” This is a faithful observation. And, she waxes eloquent upon it. It is not just Will Durant and Dr. Laura that affirm this truth. It is Jesus! In the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32) that is the message! We are what we do, not what we say or what we feel.

 

Therefore, it is not easy to answer the question, “What constitutes excess in entertainment?” It depends upon our maturity and upon our love. It even partly depends upon the ages of our children. Younger children need more entertainment than older children because their attention span is shorter. However, the Bible gives us a guide. What is the purpose of entertainment? There is more than one. For example, it is pleasurable. Hence, one purpose is to bring pleasure. The more noble purpose is to bring rest. Entertainment brings rest from work and rest from stress.

 

Rest is a good thing and ordained by God. It is not only a good thing, it is an essential thing. We need it! Our trouble, as I have already alluded, is that most take more than they need. How much do we need? God has spoken on this subject! We need one-seventh of our time for rest (Exodus 20:8-11; Deut.  5:12-14). Let this be our guide. About one seventh of our time should be rest. That may be one full day or two nights per week. That rest may include entertainment.

 

Let us turn off our tv’s, our dvd’s, our internet access, and be about the Lord’s work.

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 3:5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words, Logos Bible Software, Version 5.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Php 3:17–19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 9:27). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 2:10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 10:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 28:18–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.