I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands. Exodus 20:2-6
The Ten Commandments. The giving of these by God to his people is about as well known as anything in the Bible. As I approached these this morning I was captivated by these first two. No other gods. No idols.
Immediately I remember some years back when I spent 20 days in India. Now that is a place filled with idols. Actual, literal idols. I still remember entering shrines and temples and watching the people bow to these statutes, give gifts to them, revere them. It was strange and disturbing to even be near places that others considered to be holy because of these statues they believed to be local gods.
It’s easy to think when I read the Ten Commandments that these first two commands are for those people, not me. It’s easy to think this until I start thinking of what really is an idol, of what we could consider to be a god.
Idols are anything we worship. Anything we give priority to more so than God. Recently someone in our church passed on these words from N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope regarding idolatry.
One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only back to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sexual objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch. (p. 182)
Idolatry, as Wright points out, becomes what we are. Whatever we worship and value above God gets reflected in how we treat those around us. Whether we use them or love them. Whether we value them for who they are or what they offer. It’s determined by what we worship. Worship God and people will experience a difference in how we value and live them. Worship something else, and it will taint our relationships.
What do we worship? Money? Sex? Security? Popularity? Food? Career? The television?
The list could go on and on. What do we give precedence to in our lives. What do we always have time for? These are questions we need to ask. These are issues that require constant vigilance.
The same person who passed on Wright’s words also passed on these from Mark Driscoll’s book Doctrine.
If we idolize our gender, we must demonize the other gender. If we idolize our nation, we must demonize other nations. If we idolize our political party, we must demonize other political parties. If we idolize our socioeconomic class, we must demonize other classes. If we idolize our family, we must demonize other families. If we idolize our theological system, we must demonize other theological systems. If we idolize our church, we must demonize other churches. This explains the great polarities and acrimonies that plague every society. If something other than God’s loving grace is the source of our identity and value, we must invariably defend our idol by treating everyone and everything who may call our idol into question as an enemy to be demonized so that we can feel superior to other people and safe with our idol. (350-351)
As we seek God today, as we look to worship him, we would do well to take some time and consider what we truly worship. Is it God or something else? It will affect our relationship not only with God, but with everything and everyone in our lives. It is a destructive force that drives wedges, robs, joy and derails us from the path and plan of Jesus.