Yet if I'm honest with myself the gods that I have made, the worthless golden calves I have had fashioned to retain control in my life, to take the place of God and His sovereignty, themselves make a spiritual death sentence justifiable. The things we put before God will be our downfall.
What or who we worship tells us a lot about who we are as people. Our idols are always tied to our deepest fears. The man who chases his whole life after money, accumulating wealth and building bigger barns to hold all his grain, assuages his conscience by reveling in the pleasures it gains, "eating, drinking, and being merry" (Lk 12:19), thinking he has cheated death and poverty, yet it comes to him anyway; he is nothing but a fool in the end. The woman who places her children before the Lord, has made an idol of them, for God Himself did not spare even His very own Son to accomplish His work, and the Lord himself said that he who does not hate his own children and yes even his own life is not worthy to follow him (Lk 14:26).
The theme of idolatry, of God's people being idolatrous and co-mingling with idolatrous people, is a common thread that runs throughout the Old Testament. But we see it in the New Testament quite a bit as well. In listening to the Book of Acts in the car, this issue of idolatry came up and can be seen in Paul's encounter with the metal workers in Ephesus, whose business making idols is being threatened by the spread of Christian worship (19:23-34):
23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.
32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. 34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
I noticed a few things in listening to and reading this passage:
- There's going to be losers here. The metalworkers of Ephesus' pocketbooks were being hit; Paul's ministry was affecting their business. "You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business." Things get real when they get personal, and when it becomes a matter of money on top of that, even more so. Their livelihoods were at stake, since pagan worship was unequivocally incompatible with Christian worship, and if Christianity were to spread, they would be out of business.
- The crowd gets whipped up into a confused frenzy. "Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there." The get furious and begin shouting slogans: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"
- A man named Alexander is put before the crowd by his fellow Jews to make peace and distance themselves from the Christians who were causing so much trouble in the area. If it is the same Alexander, he is mentioned in 2 Tim 4:14 as an enemy of Paul, so you would think the opportunity would have been well used. But "when the crowd realized he was a Jew" they shout him down, they can't think straight so strong is their identity politics rooted in their particular populist group.
- Artemis was considered the goddess of fertility. This was a big deal, and Demetrius states that Artemis "is worshipped throughout the province of Asia and the world." Yet Paul, speaking on behalf of all Christians, says that "gods made by human hands are no gods at all." Idol making for fertility control is big business.
As I caught snippets on the news of the so-called "Women's March" in Washington last year, it was like a modern day Ephesus. Some observations:
- It was a thinly cloaked Planned Parenthood march. They realize that the Christian faith stands in opposition to their imperatives. Like the idol makers in Ephesus, abortion is big business, and the industry recognizes threats to their livelihood. Lobbying, drumming up public support, aligning themselves with the Democratic party...it's all for the purposes of preserving their business. "We receive a good income from this business." (19:25)
- The "Women's March" was a confused mismatch of groups all shouting different things, whether it was Ashley Judd's rambling "poem" recited from stage or the various ideological banners flying at the march itself. "Many did not even know why they were there." (19:32)
- They shouted down pro-life women, like Abby Johnson, and pushed her into the street. What are you even doing here? You are not welcome here. "When they realized he was a Jew..." (19:34)
- Abortion may be framed as a "right," but it is really about control. People will literally worship at altar of Planned Parenthood to retain the rights to fashion their own reproductive idols, and react violently when the thought of it being taken away makes an appearance. "There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” (19:27)
This is just one example of the time of great confusion, idolatry, and apostasy we are living through. But we don't even have to look outside of ourselves to see what idol worship has been placed ahead of God and His statutes, for we are guilty ourselves. Money, security, good name, our family, our children, our livelihood, our addiction to comfort, our phones, our full stomachs. Remember: anything you place ahead of God is an idol before God, and hinders our relationship with him and compromises our walk as disciples.
So be honest with yourself: what have you put before Him? Fast and pray, and ask God to reveal it, root it out of the darkness, confess it and leave it on the altar. For nothing, nothing, is more important than Him, and anything that claims to be is not of Him. The idols in our lives may look different from person to person, but they all deserve to be trampled under foot and left behind, so we can follow Him more closely on the way to Calvary.