Saturday, November 12, 2011

Worse than Persecution #4: Idolatry

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. - 1 John 5:21

I don't remember getting the hope chest in the picture above. From my earliest memories, this chest has held treasures primarily of my choosing. My mom gave it to me when I was too young to remember. In true southern fashion, she intended me to fill it with things I would need some day when I had a home of my own. What I put in the hope chest wasn't necessarily important to my mom, but every item was very special to me.

It's a sobering reality: The Apostle John wrote his first epistle to believers, specifically to give them assurance that they could know with certainty that they had eternal life -- but he still warned them about idolatry.

Christians can be drawn into idolatry. We might not build a golden calf as the Israelites did, but we certainly can have false "gods". Biblically, an idol is anything which a person places ahead of God - in importance, in priorities, in ultimate trust or hope. That's why Jesus said: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). "Treasure" here doesn't just refer to money - it refers to a place where good and precious things are stored. Our spiritual "hope chest", if you will.

That's not to say that trust and hope are bad - we're not supposed to be cynical or hardened - but we have to keep in mind that ultimately our trust and hope are in God alone. Everything circumstance or possession is merely His instrument. We must always look beyond His instruments to see the One on the throne over our circumstances. That spouse, that job, that retirement plan, that politician who's saying all the right things - none of them are our ultimate hope. When we are free from idolatry we know that if we lost them tomorrow, we would be ok.

That's why idolatry is worse than persecution. Idolatry says "my future depends on ___________". Idolatry places something in the hope chest besides God Himself. And where our treasure is, our hearts follow.

Ultimately my life looked very different than my mom probably envisioned when she gave me the hope chest. The treasures I placed in it were unique to me. Those things which tempt each of us to idolatry will also be unique. John's warning to "guard yourselves" literally means "protect from outside assaults.". We have to be intentional about protecting ourselves, especially in areas we know are temptations to idolatry.

Fortunately John gives the best antidote to idolatry in verse 20:
And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20 NASB)
The revelation God has given us of Jesus is a revelation of truth. It's a revelation of certainty in who Jesus is and of our position in Him. This is the true hope, the true treasure. Let us pray that we will be so enthralled with the True that anything less will hold no appeal for us. Pray for those being persecuted to cast their total hope on God alone and hold fast their confession of faith. And pray that whether we ever face outright persecution or not, we will have all our treasure stored up in Him alone - that He will be our ultimate hope.

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