today Special edition will be different. Rather than focusing on something in the news that calls us to fight fear with faith, we’ll focus on a single scripture verse that calls us to do the same.
Over the weekend, I came across this statement, “You will not make yourselves idols or set up an image or a pillar, and you will not set up a hewn stone in your country to bow down to she, for I am the Lord your God. ”(Leviticus 26: 1).
As I read the verse, I felt the clear direction of the Holy Spirit to think about it.
These thoughts became this article when I was convinced that this ancient commandment applied to all dimensions of our lives and our world.
The uselessness of idolatry
Leviticus 26: 1 was obviously relevant at a time when the Promised Land of Israel would be filled with Canaanites worshiping Baal, Ashtoreth, Molek, and a host of other idolatrous deities.
But how does this concern us?
One of the fundamental principles of Christian theology is that the Bible is the word of God, not just that it has been. His words are as relevant today as when they were first inspired. It is “alive and active” with authority in the present to speak divine truth in our lives and our culture (Hebrews 4:12).
And yet Jews and Christians are seldom confronted today with the temptation to “erect a hewn stone in your country”.
During my many trips to the Holy Land, I have found that the Jewish people are much more tempted by secularism and materialism than by apparent religious idolatry. It is the same in America and in Europe.
I have preached for forty-four years, but have yet to preach my first sermon against physical idols. This is because they are so irrelevant to our lives and souls.
The relevance of idolatry
But another fundamental principle of Christian theology is that where the Bible does not speak as a precept, it speaks as a principle.
For example, Christians are not required to follow the kosher dietary laws of Leviticus 11. (This is clearly stated in Acts 15: 28-29.) But these laws are nonetheless relevant to us as a principle: God cares about our physical health and wants us to eat and live for his glory and our good.
It’s the same here. The Leviticus precept against physical idols is extremely relevant as a principle: anything we trust and serve more than we trust and serve the Lord functions as an idol in our lives and souls. In other words, idols can be both physical and spiritual.
Some examples are obvious. When we know something is wrong but do it anyway, we have made that sin our idol. Conversely, “whoever knows what to do and does not do it, for him it is sin” and therefore idolatry (James 4:17).
Other forms of spiritual idolatry are less obvious.
If I am writing this article to please you more than to glorify God, I have made you my idol. If I write to impress you more than to glorify the Lord, I have made myself my idol. If I choose to do what is popular at the expense of obedience to the scriptures and the Spirit, I have made popularity my idol. If I do what leads to financial success at the expense of Bible obedience, I have made finances my idol.
Theologian Paul Tillich was right: We each have an “ultimate concern,” something or someone that we consider our highest priority in life. If our ultimate concern is not the Lord, it is our idol.
The attraction of idolatry
Our problem is not atheism, the claim that God does not exist and is therefore irrelevant to all dimensions of our lives and our world. Our problem is pluralism, the assertion that there are many gods and that each is to be trusted and served when appropriate.
It was the religion of ancient Greece and Rome with their gods of war, sea, wisdom, etc. We inherited it in a much more subtle way with our gods of Sunday religion and Monday secularism.
We want the benefits of biblical faith knowing that our Savior saved us from hell and that He is available to us when we need His help. We are willing to give him a percentage of our time and money as a thank you.
But we also want the benefits of modern secularism, looking for what the world offers during the week.
It is not idolatrous as long as we are working in the world for the greater glory of God in obedience to his will. He calls Christians to be doctors and teachers, political leaders and students. (In fact, I am convinced that he calls more of us to public service than he answers his call.) He does not want us to keep our salt in the salt shaker, our light under a basket (Matthew 5 : 13-16).
But when we have to choose between what the world is asking for and what our Lord is asking for, this is when Leviticus 26: 1 becomes urgent for us.
Trust the chariots more than in Christ
David learned to make this declaration his pledge: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20: 7).
Would you ask the Lord to show you if you are tempted by an idol today?
If you are, will you trust chariots and horses or their Maker?
This article originally appeared at the Denison Forum