Idolatry Defined

Guest Author: Tiffany Mathew
Series: The Idol of Power

Have you ever wondered why we do the things that we do? Why do we change who we are to try and fit in? Why do we get stressed out when life doesn’t go as planned? Why do we get hurt when people don’t like us? Why do we so easily put our wants over the needs of others?

All these questions rang in my head as I listened to the Counterfeit Love series by Austin Stone (for the third time). Surprisingly, after five years, some things just haven’t changed:

I still struggle with idolatry.

Most of us think of a golden calf when we think of idols (Exodus 32). If any of you have been raised in the church, you know we often translate what idolatry looks like in the present day as things like spending too much time with a single person, on Netflix, or on social media. But when we take a closer look, we realize idolatry goes so much deeper. When we look at the Bible, we start to realize a fundamental truth. Idolatry is the root sin of all of our sins. But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at it together.

How does the Bible define idolatry? Instead of just accepting what we were taught in Sunday School, or what the world might say, let’s consider how God defines idolatry:

“You shall have no other gods before me. “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… | Exodus 20:3-5a

Out of the 10 commandments given to Moses, the first TWO are about making sure God does not share priority with anything else. Abstaining from idolatry is mentioned twice before adultery and even murder.

But do we give the same attention to the sin of idolatry in our community as we do sexual sin or drunkenness?

God commands us not to worship anything else other than Him. The first question we need to ask:

What is worship?

It is more than what Christians do on Sunday. The origin of the word “worship” in English comes from “worthiness” or “acknowledgement of worth.” What do we give worth to? I give worth to things all the time. I give worth to Starbucks when I choose to make a morning run before work instead of spending time in prayer. I give worth to Chick-Fil-A when I rave about their amazing food and service. I give worth to my appearance when I spend a little more time trying to get my eyeliner just right. We give worth to people and things every day.

Every day we are worshiping – the question is:
what are we worshiping?

If the answer to that question is anything other than Jesus Christ, then we are guilty of idolatry. Idolatry is giving worth to something or someone more than we give worth to God. Idolatry is when we place something that is created in a higher place than the only one who is uncreated:

G   o   d  .

So with this in mind, answer this question:

Do you struggle with idolatry?

Have you ever yearned for a husband, wife, or even children more than you have yearned for Christ? Have you ever worked more for a degree, a job, or a promotion more than you have worked on your relationship with Jesus? Have you ever changed who you are, what you watch, or how you talk in order to be accepted by people even though God already accepts us just as we are?

Maybe we have never melted down our jewelry to build a cow, but we have all taken something on this earth and pursued it to a greater degree than we have pursued our heavenly Father.

But why? Why do we do this? Why do we put other things before God? I think Solomon puts it best:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted eternity in men’s hearts and minds. | Ecclesiastes 3:11

We were created with eternity in our hearts. Our hearts were designed to long for something eternal. So all this pursuit of things like the perfect job, great family, social acceptance, true love – they represent us trying to fill a void that was purposefully created in our hearts. We need to realize that this longing for the eternal can only be satisfied by the only One who is Eternal.

Our hearts and desires were created
to be satisfied 
by God and God alone.

David started to realize this fact in his life:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. | Psalm 37:4

Ultimately, knowing God is the desire of our hearts. That is how we were created. So when we stop pursuing the temporary things of this world to pursue the eternal One, that is when we will truly be able to find delight in the Lord.

But how can we stop pursuing things that we are not aware of? The first step is to identify the idols in our life. When we realize what we are pursuing, we can work towards shifting our focus from idols to Christ. We can arm ourselves to guard against the temptations of this world and instead,

delight ourselves in the Lord.

2 thoughts on “Idolatry Defined

  1. Tiffany – I loved this! I never thought about the connection between God placing eternity in our hearts and idolatry, but what a beautiful reminder to not replace the Creator with creation! Thank you for this – it was awesome!

  2. Well written Tiff! Idolatry is a pretty subtle vice that sneaks up on us when we aren’t paying attention. It’s something that only each of us can identify within ourselves, and so often we choose to give ourselves a “bye”… Thanks for bringing it back into focus.

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