What is idolatry? The dictionary simply defines it as, ‘The religious worship of idols.’ And what is worship? It is ‘reverent honour and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.’ There’s an element of adoration in the act of worship.
All of us without exception worship something or somebody, whether we realise it or not. We may worship our wife, our football club, a film star, our car, money, even our own body! All of these things may be defined as ‘idols’. We set them apart and give them priority in our lives. We religiously safeguard them, protect them and cherish them.
Take mobile phones, for example; how many people do we know who are apparently obsessed with them? They can’t put them down for a moment. They have become enslaved by them. They will pay large amounts of cash to obtain the latest version. They regard them as essential for keeping in contact with friends, searching the Internet, posting to social media, conducting business or perhaps making money.
I think you will agree then, that we all worship something, but God made us specifically to worship Him (Matthew 4:10; 22:37, 38). He wants us to adore Him, to honour Him and to give Him the glory He deserves (1 Corinthians 10:31). Because He made us to worship Him, our greatest joy and happiness is to be found in Him (John 15:9-11), not in idols.
The worship of anything other than God is idol worship. He says in Exodus 20:2, 3, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before Me.” This is the first commandment of the decalogue (Exodus 20:1-17).
Here’s the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” (Exodus 20:4, 5a)
This second commandment goes beyond a literal interpretation, and it should be applied figuratively, i.e., we should only worship and serve God.
Objects in themselves are not idols, but we can, and do make them into idols if we worship them. Wholesome activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, cooking, travelling and reading are intrinsically good; nevertheless they can become idols if we prioritise them above God.
God demands our all, and He warrants our all (Luke 10:27), because He sent His Son to live obediently to Him and to die on a cross as our substitute, so that we may live with Him forever (John 3:16). Who would want to worship any idol when there’s a God like that? But there are many who do not revere Him, so the apostle John exhorts us to be vigilant. He lovingly says, ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen’ (1John 5:21).
Here are a few relevant passages from the New Testament on the subject of idolatry:
1 Corinthians 10:6. 7 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play .”
1 Corinthians 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
Colossians 3:5 Therefore put to death your members which are of the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
1 Peter 4:3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles – when we walked in lewdness, lusts. drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.
The Old Testament has many references to idols. Here are a few:
Leviticus 19:4 Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves moulded gods: I am the LORD your God.
Leviticus 26:1 You shall not make idols for yourselves: neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God.
Deuteronomy 4:23, 24 Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Deuteronomy 32:21 They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God. They have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols. ……….