“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” The Apostle John pens this closing admonition to his beloved congregation in Ephesus to end his letter. Ephesus had become an important center of the Christian faith from which the gospel had been dispersed throughout Asia Minor. The Apostle Paul, if you remember, had arrived there decades earlier during his third missionary journey. He had stayed almost three years establishing a church.
Ephesus was also one of the great centers of idolatry in the Roman world. The chief goddess of Ephesus was Diana—goddess of the hunt and the moon and birthing mothers. She had been worshiped at Ephesus since time immemorial. As ancient ‘gods’ go, Diana was already centuries old when Alexander the Great halted at her shrine on this way to conquer Persia in 334 B.C.
The Temple of Diana in Ephesus was one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, and had taken two-hundred years to complete. It was the length of one and one-half footballs fields, and one-half again as wide as a football field. It soared over sixty feet high—almost as high as a seven-story building. It would be an impressive structure in our day.
At the center of the Temple stood the goddess, her body wrapped in a veil of Persian silk. The blowing of trumpets announced when the veil would be removed and Diana made visible to the fortunate few. People came from the ends of the earth to worship her, filling the place with incense and the smoke of sacrifices and offerings. As the veil was removed, the worshipers fell prostrate and everyone both inside and outside of the Temple would begin to cry out, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” Her veneration involved orgies and vice and all manner of foulness sanctioned as acts of worship. Outside the Temple merchants did a brisk business in selling small silver replicas of the temple and images of the goddess.
This was the spiritual environment in which the Church at Ephesus existed. It was as heinous as the idolatry that the Israelites had encountered as they had moved into the Promised Land a millennium before.
The Apostle John is deeply concerned that nothing should deprive the people of God of the blessings offered by the pure worship of the Triune God. To that end God, in his Ten Commandments, gave us specific commandments governing His worship. The first is simple. God says, "Ye shall have no other Gods before me." The second commandment builds on the first. Not only are God’s people to abandon the worship of any other deities and worship God alone, neither are they to create a representation of any other deity nor are they to attempt to create a portraiture of Yahweh.
Let me tell you why God hates idols.
I. AN IDOL CAN NEVER ADEQUATELY PORTRAY THE LIVING GOD
- have you ever had a picture taken of yourself and when you saw it developed said, "That doesn't look like me!"
- lets face it, some folks are just no photogenic
- is it any different for God?
- I think every time man tries to paint the face of God, God looks down and says, "Hey, that doesn't look a bit like me."
- how in the world do you create an image that can depict the power and grandeur and holiness and glory of God?
- you can't do it!
- ILLUS. Anyone who has ever been to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, stood on its rim and looked upon its vastness knows that any picture of the Canyon simply cannot convey the immensity of what you are seeing.
- the Bible tells us in John 4:24 that God is Spirit
- how do you adequately represent an infinite, all-powerful Spirit in a piece of art?
A. GOD'S CHARACTER IS TARNISHED BY ANY EARTHLY IMAGE OF HIM
- what mental image do you get when you think of God?
- I see him muscular and stern with a long, flowing white beard
- that's how Michelangelo depicted God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
- how many of you have ever seen a picture of Jesus smiling?
- most portraits of Jesus show him sad or angry
- what must that do to little children who grow up constantly being reinforced by such pictures
- they grow up thinking the God is a killjoy!
- God forbade images of even himself because no statue of stone or wood or gold can adequately portray the living God
B. GOD IS AROUSED TO JEALOUS ANGER WHEN HIS PEOPLE HAVE DIVIDED HEARTS
- Exodus 20:5 "You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God . . ."
- the Israelites constantly aroused God's jealousy and provoked Him to anger by straying after other gods
- is God jealous because there actually are other gods?
- of course not
- He is jealous because He cannot stand our divided loyalty
- God does not like playing second fiddle in the hearts of His people
- “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11, NIV84)
- He's just interested in hearts that are totally His
II. AN IDOL ALWAYS INVITES ITS OWN WORSHIP
- no matter how sincere one's purpose might be in creating an image—even of God—God knows that man will eventually be tempted to worship the image rather then the one whom the image represents
- Exodus 20:5 "You shall not bow down to them or worship them;"
- don't be so sure
- ILLUS. In Kyoto, Japan, there is an unusual place of worship called "The Temple of the Thousand Buddhas." On display inside the shrine are more than a thousand likenesses of Buddha, each one just a little different from the others. They are there so that the Buddhist worshiper can come in, find the Buddha figurine that looks most like his or her self, and worship it.
- ILLUS. But they are not alone! [Play ‘Idol Worship’ video by the Skit Guys]
A. GOD IS AROUSED TO JEALOUS ANGER WHEN HIS PEOPLE HAVE DIVIDED WORSHIP
- one of the saddest chapters in the life of Israel was during the period of the monarchy when Israel was ruled by kings
- yes, they sacrificed to the living God
- but they also lapsed into worship of the gods of the pagans who lived in the lands around them
- “They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.” (2 Kings 17:33, NIV84)
- that is still the problem we face 2,000 years later
- but there is the distinct possibility to many of us will go our way and find other lesser gods to worship in the flesh and in error
III. AN IDOL IS NOT NECESSARILY MADE OUT OF STONE, WOOD OR METAL
- ILLUS. Martin Luther, the man who set the Protestant Reformation on its course, wrote, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in that is really your God."
- ILLUS. A more recent author, Beth Moore, says, “Anything we try to put in a place where God belongs is an idol.
- “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:24–25, NIV84)
- Jesus made it very clear that idiolatry can be an attitude as well as an overt act
- some have made their wealth their idol (you cannot serve both God and money)
- some have made their lifestyle their idol (don't worry about your life)
- some have made their appetites their idol (don’t' worry about eat or drink)
- some have made their physic their idol (don't worry about your body)
- some have made fashion trends their idol (don't worry about what you will wear
- does your heart cling to any of these things?
- what about some of the other things we so easily cling to?
- our jobs?
- our family?
- our position and influence within the community or workplace?
- our academic achievements, awards or honors?
- we often consider idolatry a sin most often seen in other cultures
- it’s the Buddhist bowing to a golden Buddha
- it’s a Hindu bathing in the Ganges river
- it’s the Haitian Voodoo Priest sacrificing a chicken
- it’s the African Shaman burning incense to the spirits
- but as you say in the video, America had its idols and false gods as well
- goals and dreams can consume us
- possessions and property can turn and destroy us
- people will disappoint us
- even in the church we can set up our idols
- the facility can become our idol
- our worship style can become our idol
- our favorite Bible translation can become our idol
- even the pastor or a staff member can become an idol
A. SETTING UP IDOLS IS DANGEROUS
- idols corrupt
- “You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman,” (Deuteronomy 4:15–16, NIV84)
- "corrupt" here means to decay
- setting up idols in our lives leads to spiritual decay
- “They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols.” (Psalm 78:58, NIV84)
- the result of that anger was that God abandoned the people of Israel
- “Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing?” (Isaiah 44:10, NIV84)
- what can idols do for you what God can't
- “You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags.” (Isaiah 57:5, NIV84)
- “The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.” (Zechariah 10:2, NIV84)
- “Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.” (Habakkuk 2:18–19, NIV84)
What is the reason for this sermon from the aged Apostle John to his congregation at Ephesus? He distills it down into one statement "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life," (I John 5:13). The Apostle is writing to a congregation where, because of recent events—the ‘going out’ of many from the congregation—those left behind are struggling with their own eternal security. There question to their pastor is, “If these people really were not ‘of us’ from the beginning, how can we be sure of our relationship with Christ?” It’s an honest and serious question.
In the first century church, as we have already seen in our study of 1 John, there were Counterfeit Christians. There were people running around who talked a good story, who said the right things, and who said things that sounded deeply spiritual. However, these were people who were walking in darkness rather than walking in the light. The Apostle writes to his congregation to assure them that there are certain identifying marks that reveal the authenticity of a person’s faith.
We’ve already looked at several of these authenticating marks. The involve both faith and practice.
- A genuine Christian must believe that Jesus is the Christ who has eternally existed with the Father.
- A genuine Christian must believe that the Christ came in the flesh.
- A genuine Christian must regularly confess sin and seek God’s cleansing.
- A genuine Christian must obey God’s commandments.
- A genuine Christian must walk in loving fellowship with other Christians.
- A genuine Christian will live righteously in an unrighteous world.
Finally, John closes with the last authenticating mark of the believer: A genuine Christian will constantly guard their heart against the corrupting influence of other things or other people who seek to replace the pure worship of God in our heart and soul and mind.
An anonymous poet wrote:
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be;
Help me t tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.