Posts Tagged With: greed

 
 

Recognizing Idolatry

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5, emphasis added; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated).

In a recent post, I mentioned idolatry four times. Ezekiel 36:25–27 mentioned that God would cleanse us of our idolatries.

It may say “In God We Trust,” but money is an idol for many Americans. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

After posting that article, I realized some people may not realize that this verse speaks directly to them. Many Christians think, “I don’t have a statue of Buddha or some other image of a pagan religion. I’m not an idolater.” Others think they are off the hook because they do not have crucifixes, rosary beads, or pictures of the Virgin Mary.

The New Testament teaches that idolatry is more than just praying to a statue or image. Colossians 3:5 says covetousness and/or greed (some English translations use the latter term) is idolatry. We desire things more than we desire God. Many of us have forgotten what Jesus said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

The Apostle Paul adds to this by saying:

“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5).

While the Second Commandment tells us that we must not make or worship a graven image, the New Testament reveals that there is a deeper spiritual aspect to this commandment. To fully obey it, we must avoid building spiritual idols in our hearts that keep us from drawing closer to God. In its catechism, the Book of Common Prayer says we fulfill this commandment when we “put nothing in the place of God.”

So, how can we know if we are guilty of idolatry? Here are a few questions you may ask yourself:

Do I buy things that I cannot afford? If you own things you do not need (besides food, clothing, and shelter) and are going into debt to buy them, you probably have an idol. Incidentally, going into debt includes the use of credit cards. Too many people do not know the difference between “needs” and “wants” and fall into a snare as a result. First Timothy gives us God’s perspective on this:

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness…” (1 Timothy 6:6-11).

You need food. You need clothes (not necessarily expensive, trendy, or flashy clothes). You need a roof over your head (not necessarily a mansion). You do not need a brand-new luxury sports car, the latest $500 cell phone, cable television package with all the premium channels, etc. Recognizing the difference between needs and wants is necessary for overcoming idolatry.

Do I have things that I do not really need, but I do not give to the Lord and His work? If you spend your money on yourself and ignore the needs of God’s people and the needy, you have an idol. Sincere Christians may disagree whether we are obligated to tithe. Personally, I believe we should give 10% to the Lord, His Church, and the advancement of His kingdom. Others believe that we should be generous without specifying a percentage of our income:

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

I could add countless verses where God’s Word says that His children should be generous. You cannot justify greed by saying, “I won’t give because I’m not cheerful about it.” Remember, it says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Scripture never says that “God loves a greedy grouch.”

Do I disobey God’s Word or compromise my faith to get what I want? If you are willing to lie, cheat, or steal to get what you want, you are probably an idolater.

Do I pray for what I want more than I pray to be fruitful for God?

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:3–4).

It is not always about money. In a society blessed with wealth and ease, we can become idolaters about things besides money. I have known people who say they are Christian, but never attend church between September and January: football comes first to them. Others worship their political party, musicians (it is no accident that a popular TV show is called “American Idol”), actors, other entertainers, hobbies, etc. Anything that keeps you from worshiping God and doing His will can be an idol. Here is a little project you can try to see if you might be an idolater in a nonfinancial area of your life:

  1. Ask a few friends who are not in your church or Christian circles what they think are the three things you value most. You can ask family members if they are not Christians. If your faith does not come up regularly (i.e., people are not mentioning “God,” “Jesus,” “Christianity,” “church,” “your faith,” etc.), take note of the things people do mention. There might be an idol there. You may need to remove it completely from your life.
  2. Ask the same people who they think are the three people you admire most. If Jesus is not mentioned, but someone else usually is, you might have an idol.
  3. Consider what you have learned. Are there idols that you have to remove from your life? Take the proper steps to remove them. Seek godly counsel from a pastor or other mature follower of Christ if necessary.

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Self-Sufficiency or Gratitude

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them…” (Deuteronomy 11:13–16, ESV).

031 Stoke Rochford Ss Andrew & Mary, interior - tower arch restoration plaque

A plaque on a church thanks God for protection during World War II. By Acabashi [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

During the past year, a new phrase has gained popularity: “fake news.” The term has been around for a while, but it now permeates the Internet. If one does not want to believe something that has been reported, they will claim it is fake news. While President Donald Trump may be most responsible for the phrase’s popularity, no side of the political spectrum holds a monopoly on it. Indeed, some websites and media outlets are generally untrustworthy and deserve to be called “fake news,” but many will invoke that term to avoid investigating claims that go against their presuppositions, regardless of the source.

Like I said, fake news has been around for some time. In a very real sense, it is just the newest synonym in a family of words and phrases related to untruth, dishonesty, deception, etc. It is the newest twist on “lie.” People are prone to believe lies, especially in the spiritual realm. In my previous post, I addressed a few of the lies that we can overcome through confession of sin. No single short article can address all of the spiritual lies people believe, but we will look at some of the big ones in the next few weeks.

Perhaps the greatest lie of all is self-sufficiency, and God’s Word warns His people against it frequently in His Word. A false belief that “I accomplished something great and do not need God’s help” is the entry point onto the shortcut to idolatry. Deuteronomy 11:13–16 reminds the reader of a similar warning earlier in that book:

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you…” (Deuteronomy 6:10–14).

Similar warnings appear elsewhere in Scripture. In Revelation 3:14–22, Jesus reprimanded the Laodicean church for its lukewarm faith. Most Christians will read their own pet peeve into that passage: Did Jesus think their worship songs were boring? Were they praying too mechanically? Maybe they enjoyed the same hobbies and entertainment as their heathen neighbors did. Actually, none of those were the real problems. Laodicea was a very wealthy community, prospering from a nearby hot spring and other successful industries. We see Jesus hinting at these blessings throughout His rebuke, beginning with the hot springs: Once the water cooled off, it was lukewarm and unpleasant. The city was famous for an eye salve and textiles, both of which are called unprofitable in this warning. Their lukewarm faith was not so much a matter of worship or morals: They thought they could make it on their own and did not need Jesus in their daily lives. Thus, He ends up outside the church, asking to be invited in. Laodicea thus becomes a picture of many Christians: lukewarm, self-sufficient, leaving our Saviour out in the cold.

Despite God’s warnings, the lie of self-sufficiency is one that people love to believe. American culture exalts the “self-made man.” We celebrate the man who rose from humble means to become a great success in business, politics, or some other field. We create a myth about how he achieved greatness by the sweat of his brow and his own ingenuity and inspiration, with little or no help from others. Those who guided or assisted him can be readily forgotten. The Frank Sinatra song that declares “I did it my way” may very well be the anthem of the self-made man.

To such people, Jesus declares, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God had placed those healing waters close to Laodicea. He gave each of us the talents, insight, and resources that lead to our success. He surrounded us with the people who helped us succeed. With every victory we achieve, or every goal we accomplish in life, we should give thanks to God first and foremost. He made it possible.

The lie of self-sufficiency is a step towards idolatry. For the ancient Israelites, that could be idolatry in the most literal sense. They might decide, “I had a great harvest. Yahweh didn’t do this; I did it! Maybe I can shop around for other gods who will allow me to do things my way to prosper.” The all-powerful God of all things, who provided the soil and weather that made a produced a bountiful harvest, may be rejected in favor of idols whom the self-made man seeks to manipulate for greater gain.

Today, we may choose other idols. In its broadest sense, an idol can be anything that we choose to focus on instead of God. We can make our own ideas an idol. We can idolize money (Ephesians 5:5 equates idolatry with covetousness or greed), political parties and systems, self-help gurus, financial advisors, etc. Anything or anybody who takes our eyes off God and claims to offer peace, pleasure, and prosperity can be an idol.

The answer to the lie of self-sufficiency is gratitude. It is tempting to give ourselves a pat on the back whenever we accomplish something. However, before we exalt ourselves, let us take some time to think of three ways that God made your success possible. What obstacles to success were not present because He removed them even before you began? Why or what helped you succeed? How did you obtain the resources to succeed? How did you develop the skills to succeed? The answer to almost all of these questions will point back to God’s grace. He remains the source of all our blessings, and He deserves to be thanked and worshiped because of His goodness.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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