“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.
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.
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.