“You shall have no other gods before me.” Those are the first words of instruction on how God wants His people to live. Closely following that instruction is some explanation. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or 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 or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
At that time the gods of men were images made of stone, metal or wood whom they felt compelled to worship and serve. They were easy to spot, kind of like that Buddha you pass by going into the Asian restaurant. You can see them, touch them, make them and destroy them. Our God is distinct. He’s the creator of everything and is located everywhere. He has all power and might and has quite the jealous streak when His creation starts worshipping rocks and trees.
It took him a while, but the devil finally wised up and took the brand name off his idols. Luther was on the scent when he wrote his explanation to the 1st Commandment. “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.” “All things” expands the category of idol to just about anything. What kinds of things do we fear or respect above God? What kinds of things do we love or are committed to above God? What kinds of things to we trust or rely upon above God? Hate to say it, but our “carved image” days are largely over. It’s time to look in the mirror to find the gods of our age.
Oh, how we have been deceived! How many times have we justified our idol-worshipping behavior while appealing to our faith in Jesus! I say “we” because this is coming in the form of a confession. There seems to be a disconnect between knowing I’m a believer and actually having the heart of one. When there’s a big football game, I want nothing more than my TV, my couch and a bag of junk food. That’s not unusual! But if that big football game is on a Sunday I find myself distracted all the way through worship and somewhat relieved when it’s done. But… that’s ok, right… at least I believe in Jesus! What’s wrong with me?
It’s an idol, idiot!
Just look at the way devout worshippers treat their gods. They build sanctuaries and gather to worship. They devote time, energy and money to their god. The god becomes an integral part of the culture, something the people can’t seem to live without. Not to pick on football, but we just approved public funding for a $1 billion sanctuary for the Minnesota Vikings! The prospects of the team moving to California were met with fervent, city-wide opposition. It seems the mood of the entire state is either up or down with a Vikings win or loss. Is the team a god for everyone? No. But I would contend for many people it’s one of the more powerful gods of our time and place.
The gods of our age are all around us and they draw us away from the exclusive worship and service of the only true God. Sure, sports teams qualify, but so do politics, technology, the internet, the entertainment industry, and so many others that we would never otherwise identify as gods. Sure, they’re only gods if we treat them like gods. We’re just really good at treating them like gods while convincing ourselves they’re not.
So take this as the wake-up call it’s intended to be. Jesus instructs us to be in the world yet not of the world. Sorry to cut down your ego, but I’m convinced it’s harder to accomplish than we think it is. I also don’t feel like it’s an overstatement to say our nameless gods are an all-out demonic assault on Christianity. How do we handle this? How do we stay true to Jesus and His gospel while living in our culture? What do we keep and what do we give up? Obviously I don’t have it all figured out. I was actually hoping we could figure it out… together.