"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."
This message is as applicable to us today as it was to Israel then. God brought them out of physical slavery, he brought us out of slavery to sin. Because of that deliverance, he required them, and requires us as well, to worship him alone. You shall have no other gods before me. What does that mean for us? We aren’t really surrounded by idol worship or temples to other gods. It isn’t really acceptable in our culture to worship multiple gods or to observe multiple religions. So how does this apply to us, if there aren’t any other “gods?”
Well, I will tell you that not every god comes in the form of an idol. Not every temptation to worship something other than the One True Living God comes in the form of an alternate religion. Jesus warns about serving more than one master. Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.” Wow, Jesus is saying here that anything that serves as a master in our lives is an idol, and in particular, money.
If you want to know if there are idols or competing masters for your life, ask yourself a question. What is at the root of my decision-making? What drives my schedule, my wallet, my investment of energy? If the controlling force in your life is something other than God, you are dealing with an idol. If you use the majority of your time striving after wealth, then money is becoming your god. If you are spending your money, other than the necessities, on worldly pleasures then your flesh is becoming your god. If the glowing screen consumes your life, you are giving your time to an idol. If you exert all your energy in pursuit of worldly gain or physical perfection, then you are dealing with an idol. Now, I am not saying that working for a living is bad or wrong, that is fine, as long as you are glorifying God. Having money is not bad or wrong, as long as you spend it to glorify God. Using your energy is not wrong, as long as you are working toward glorifying God.
Maybe that is all too abstract. Here are some examples of people who claim to be committed Christians and their decisions on how to spend their time, money and energy.
John works at a company where overtime is always available. Nice right? John works overtime all the time. He never takes a break, he never makes it home for dinner. It has been a month since he was home when his children were awake. They have enough with him just working his regular hours, but John is obsessed with earning more and more money. It makes him feel secure in a way that having a good relationship with his wife and kids can never bring him. I’ll ask you, Idolatry? Or no? Let’s compare John with Sam. Sam works hard at his job. He makes enough to support his family. Even though he works in the same position as John, Sam rarely works overtime. He is content to work well and then go home to his family. The last time Sam worked overtime it was so that his oldest could go on a mission trip.
Ok, so maybe work is not your issue. Let’s try looking at the life of Jill. She works hard and makes a lot of money. When she is off on Friday evening the party begins. She spends the weekend eating at gourmet restaurants, drinking the finest wine, and entertaining the best company. Last weekend she racked up a $3,000 bill at a chic spa. When the time came to make a commitment to support a local ministry, though, she decided she might be able to spare $20 a month to do her part. What do you think, Idolatry? Compare her decisions to Sue, who even though she works earning just above minimum wage decided to let go of eating out so that she could make the same $20 commitment.
How about Bill, who spends every available moment at the gym so that he can have the perfect body. Or take Gina who can’t sacrifice her mani-pedis, tanning appointments and monthly touch-ups to her hair color. She is always reading the latest bestseller, always seeing the newest movie, always on top of the celebrity news. Come Sunday morning, Bill and Gina are too tired to get out of bed. These two haven’t spent time with other believers in months because they spent all their energy elsewhere. Your call, Idolatry? Compare them to Fran who volunteers with a church sponsored youth program, and spends her spare time making meals for shut-ins. And Jack who volunteers to lead a Bible study at work on his lunch break, and is a lead sponsor in his son’s scout troop. Fran and Jack may not be in Church every Sunday, but if they miss, it is usually because they are helping someone or ministering to the youth they work with.
Do you see the difference in these people’s lives? Do you see what is behind their decisions in using their time, their money and their energy? All of them claim to be Christians, only half are showing it in their decisions. And why should they make God a priority? Why should they let him direct the use of their resources? Is it to earn a place with him? No, the place we have in Christ is a gift. The service we give must flow out of gratitude and love for the God who rescued us from bondage to sin and the world.
God knew that Israel’s success in keeping his commandments rested in their success in remembering why they needed to. So he gave them these words, in Deuteronomy 6:4-16. This is called the Shema, the Hebrew word for "listen" or "hear." It is a prayer and a statement of the importance of remembering.
Deuteronomy 6:4-16 "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you--a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant--then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah."
Do you see? Remember, remember, remember, remember. Write it down, talk about it, talk about it some more, put it on your hands, your foreheads, your gates, your doors. Don’t forget. Love God, serve him only. The result of turning away is destruction. John the workaholic is about to loose his family. His children will grow up without a father. Jill the wild-spender is going to loose her nice job, and be stuck with $15,000 in credit card bills. Bill the work-out junkie is suffering from long-term steroid use, and Gina just found out she has skin cancer from tanning too much. Are these things the wrath of God? I don't know, but they are a result of living in a way that is unbalanced, self-centered, and unwise.
God is the creator of the universe, and he made you and me with unique gifts, talents, and passions that he wants to shape into lives that glorify him and bring us personal satisfaction. Idols are tempting because they are tangible, we can see them, we feel like we can control them, make them serve us. We think somehow that because we can see them and control them, that we are more secure. We feel comforted by being in charge, rather than serving a God who may ask us to do something uncomfortable. The reality is, that by serving idols, we end up in bondage once more. We find ourselves serving cravings and desires in ourselves that can never be satisfied.
Chasing after money, there will never be enough to make us feel secure, chasing after fine living only satisfies until we are hungry and thirsty again, chasing after physical perfection only lasts until our money runs out and the plastic surgeons turn us away. The only thing that will bring us lasting satisfaction is a life spent in service to the God who created us, who knows us, who delivered us from our own personal bondage. That is what lasts and brings wisdom and contentment to our lives.
I encourage you to lay down the idols that are creeping into your life. Set them aside, repent-turn away, and set your mind and heart once again on the God who is your deliverer. He can deliver you again from bondage to false idols, and with him there is unlimited forgiveness, and restoration. Turn away from the world and turn to God, and find peace and rest.