Video Recording – Message
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Back in March, I preached on the sin of idolatry, specifically addressing idolatry of money, and also the false sense of comfort and security it gives. Today, I would like to continue on the topic of idolatry. It wasn’t my original intention to break up the sermon, but I felt the need to, because idolatry shows up in several different ways, and much more often than you and I may realize.
Just to review, idolatry is: elevating something else—money, possessions, work and career, school and studies, people, anything—as a priority above God.
1 Corinthians 10 gives a stern warning to “flee from idolatry” as well as an explanation as to why we should. It warns us in v.12, “If you think that you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
The Israelites were God’s chosen people, called and blessed by God, so that they, in turn, would call other nations to repentance and be a source of blessing to others. The Israelites thought they were standing firm, simply resting on the prestige of being God’s chosen people. But they disqualified themselves from their calling and blessing time and time again because of their idolatry.
As Christians, we have been given that same spiritual calling and blessing, to call others to repentance and to be a blessing to others. And like the Israelites, we have to be careful of idolatry in our own lives, especially because these days idolatry doesn’t come in such obvious shapes and sizes as in the past. We may no longer struggle with glorifying superstitious items and worshiping other gods, but we know for a fact that today’s Christians struggle big time with priorities in life.
Just because we say we love Jesus and go to church, they’re not always accurate indicators of our priorities if they’re just lip service or mindless routine. Be careful if your Christian label gives you a false sense of security. “If you think that you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” We fall into idolatry and its serious consequences when we elevate something, anything else as a priority above God.
Today, as I continue on the topic of idolatry, I would like to focus specifically on another area that many Christians struggle with. I think there are two big areas: money and people. Last time, the challenge went out concerning idolatry of money. Today, I want to challenge you about idolatry of people. And in the idolatry of people, I want to look closely at two areas.
1) Idolatry of church leaders
I see, too often, the elevation of pastors, musicians, and other leaders to demigod status. No Christian would ever admit that they worship these people or place them above God, but by their thoughts and actions, they actually do. Here are some questions to consider:
*Have you ever been drawn to go hear a famous preacher, for who he/she is and not for the message or the service?
*Have you ever been drawn to go hear a famous musician, for who he/she is and not for the worship experience?
*Do you prefer the works of famous Christian writers to the Bible?
*Do you think that God likes pastors and church leaders more than you?
*Do you have a private altar with Pastor Andrew’s picture in your home?
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, there’s a good chance that there’s idolatry being committed. There may not be an actual placement above God, but these indicators are telling of an unhealthy elevation of people. Pastors, leaders, and famous Christians, no matter how talented, gifted, or spiritually mature they may be, are still normal people like you and me. Regarding them as more than that, usually by our actions and attitudes toward them, is idolatry.
3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? 5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow…21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! -1 Corinthians 3:3-7,21
The problem of idolatry has been going on in the Church since the very beginning! Members of the Corinthian church were bickering about which leader they liked better, because they pushed God out of the picture. That’s idolatry. And because of idolatry, the church dealt with issues of jealousy and quarreling, actions that Paul described as sinful, worldly, carnal, and immature.
This is what happens when idolatry occurs. When God gets pushed out from his rightful place as top priority, our priorities become mixed up and confused, giving way for sin to enter in. We must be very careful of the sin of idolatry in the church, because it gives way for other sins.
2) Idolatry of family
I also see, too often, the sanctity of family being placed above God. Again, no Christian would ever admit that their family is more important than God, but by their thoughts and actions, they actually do. Here are some questions to consider:
*Do you respect your parents’ words more than you do Biblical instruction?
*Is it easier for you to make sacrifices for your spouse than for your spiritual growth?
*Do you spoil your child or not discipline him/her for fear of hurting his/her feelings?
*Does your baby’s nap schedule determine what time you arrive at church?
*Will you not name your son Jesus because you’re afraid he will get teased?
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, there’s a good chance that there’s idolatry being committed. I often hear Christians say that with family, setting Godly priorities is complicated. And I agree, to the extent that decisions must be made responsibly and with given circumstances and situations in mind. But that’s also why I phrased the questions above concerning habits and routines.
In other words, if you are habitually and routinely making decisions that reflect your family being more important than God and church, that’s wrong. That’s idolatry.
Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” –Luke 14:26
Obviously, Jesus is not speaking of the act of disliking here. The use of hyperbolic (extreme) language indicates that no person, even family, or especially family for that matter, can take precedence over Jesus. Those who are not willing to follow Jesus in such a radical way cannot be his disciples.
I think Jesus said this, because we all need this kind of challenge. It’s easy to put God and church above in-laws and annoying next-door neighbors. But how about when it comes to the family we love and adore? This is a chance at tangible application, and not just theoretical wishful thinking. In English, we say, “This is where the rubber meets the road.” “Where the bat meets the ball.” “Where the mustard meets the cheese.”
We can say that we love Jesus all we want. We can sing that Jesus is our number one until we’re blue in the face. But actions speak louder than words. And if we’re not making tangible decisions on a habitual and regular basis to put God and church above our family, we’re never going to experience the next level of maturity. Action leads to change. Spiritual obedience leads to spiritual growth.
I believe that some of you are feeling a bit unsettled in your heart as a result of this message today. I believe that maybe one of the questions hit a little bit closer to home than you would have liked. You may be feeling uncomfortable, vulnerable, and maybe even agitated or upset.
Our first reaction in the flesh is to deny it or to make an excuse for it, because if we don’t, we end up looking and feeling bad. My advice to you: humble yourself and repent (which means to change your course), because that’s the best way to stop looking and feeling bad, to turn to the One who takes our sin away.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. –James 4:10
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. –Acts 3:19
Concerning how to combat idolatry, American evangelist Billy Graham says to put Christ first and things will work out. “Make sure of your commitment to Jesus Christ and seek to follow him every day,” Graham writes. “Don’t be swayed by the false values and goals of this world, but put Christ and his will first in everything you do.”