Do enlightened, educated Americans really struggle with this? Why study idolatry?
“The old pagans were not fanciful when they depicted virtually everything as a god. They had sex gods, work gods, war gods, money gods, nation gods – for the simple fact that anything can be a god that rules and serves as a deity in the heart of a person or in the life of a people. For example, physical beauty is a pleasant thing, but if you ‘deify’ it, if you make it the most important thing in a person’s life or a culture’s life, then you have Aphrodite, not just beauty. You have people, and an entire culture, constantly agonizing over appearance, spending inordinate amounts of time and money on it, and foolishly evaluating character on the basis of it.
If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol... What are the gods of beauty, power, money, and achievement but these same things that have assumed mythic proportions in our individual lives and in our society? We may not physically kneel before the statue of Aphrodite, but many young women today are driven into depression and eating disorders by an obsessive concern over their body image. We may not actually burn incense to Artemis, but when money and career are raised to cosmic proportions, we perform a kind of child sacrifice, neglecting family and community to achieve a higher place in business and gain more wealth and prestige.
An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’... In ancient times, the deities were bloodthirsty and hard to appease. They still are.” -Tim Keller in Counterfeit Gods
Acts 17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.
What did Paul see? What he saw had to do with how he saw… “the city was full of idols” Idea is really that the city was “under” idols…smothered by them…swamped by them…immersed in them…under their dominion & domination
The Nature of Idolatry Isaiah 2:8 Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made. An idol is merely what we have made
The Nature of Idolatry Isaiah 44:12-13 12 The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. 13 The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. An idol is made in our image
The Nature of Idolatry Isaiah 41:7 The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smoothes with the hammer spurs on him who strikes the anvil. He says of the welding, "It is good." He nails down the idol so it will not topple. An idol is powerless and fragile
The Nature of Idolatry Isaiah 40:20 A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple. An idol eventually rots
The Nature of Idolatry Isaiah 41:22-24 22 "Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, 23 tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. 24 But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; he who chooses you is detestable. An idol cannot tell or control the future
The Nature of Idolatry Amos 2:6-8 6 This is what the LORD says: "For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. 7 They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. 8 They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines. An idol is an invention to try to gain power
Idolatry’s Impact on Us Isaiah 44:9 9 All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. An idol makes us spiritually blind
Idolatry’s Impact on Us Isaiah 44:18-20 18 They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. 19 No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, "Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?" 20 He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, "Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?" An idol deludes us and catches us in a tangled web of lies
Idolatry’s Impact on Us Jeremiah 2:23-25 23 "How can you say, 'I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals'? See how you behaved in the valley; consider what you have done. You are a swift she- camel running here and there, 24 a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving-- in her heat who can restrain her? Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves; at mating time they will find her. 25 Do not run until your feet are bare and your throat is dry. But you said, 'It's no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them.' An idol makes us like an addict and a prostitute
Idolatry’s Impact on Us Ezekiel 14:1-6 1 Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. 2 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 3 "Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? 4 Therefore speak to them and tell them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When any Israelite sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and then goes to a prophet, I the LORD will answer him myself in keeping with his great idolatry. 5 I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.' 6 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices! An idol grips our hearts
We will all worship something! Exodus 23:32-33 32 Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. 33 Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you. Tim Keller “There is no third option. We will either worship the uncreated God, or we will worship some created thing (an idol). There is no possibility of our worshipping nothing. We will “worship and serve” (Rom.1:25) something. Whatever we worship we serve, for it “snares” us. Therefore every human personality, every human community, and every human thought-form will be based on some ultimate concern or some ultimate allegiance to something.”
What did Paul feel? Acts 17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. “Provoked” Jealous for God’s name and honor Angry at the destruction caused by idols Sad over the impact it was having on real people’s real lives
A vision for us… John Stott “We do not speak like Paul because we do not feel like Paul because we do not see like Paul. That was the order: he saw, he felt, he spoke. It all began with his eyes. When Paul walked around Athens, he did not just ‘notice’ the idols... He looked and looked and thought and thought until the fires were kindled within.”
Conclusions & Applications We must constantly grow in looking at our lives and world through God’s eyes. Our disappointments are great opportunities to be disenchanted and see/feel more truly. We must work to become acquainted with the idols of our city and our own hearts. Our hearts must be gripped by the God who is there, or they will be gripped by something else.