Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.Joshua 24:15
I have a plaque in my house with the above quote; I love it because it serves as a reminder to me and my family that we are a family that worships and serves the LORD, the triune God of the Bible. The context of this passage in the book of Joshua is that Joshua is confronting the leaders of Israel, God’s chosen people, because they had drifted from the true God and were worshiping and serving man-made gods from surrounding nations.
I believe that God has been showing me lately the parallel to what is going on today. The body of Christ, the church, is full of people who have drifted from the true God and are worshiping and serving other gods. You may think, “we don’t worship idols” because we don’t have little statues in our house. Unfortunately, some people do, because they’ve been tricked into believing that under the guise of ‘tolerance’ it doesn’t matter whether you believe in the God of the Bible or the God of Islam or Buddha or any other religion’s god.
However, most Christians are more likely to worship other, more subtle idols. Tony Evans, pastor and founder of The Urban Alternative, has said that an idol is any noun (person, place, thing, or idea) that you look to as your source. In fact, he has an entire series of messages explaining various idols we have created in America; you can find them here. Another pastor and teacher, founder of Thru The Bible ministry, J. Vernon McGee, has defined idols as anything you give your time to, or anything you give yourself to. We don’t worship the ancient Greek god Bacchus any more, but many have made alcohol a god. We don’t worship Aphrodite, but many have made sex a god. Then there are those who worship the “Almighty” dollar.
Why does this matter? Is it a big deal? The Bible tells us, yes, this is a big deal. He is a holy God and a jealous God (Joshua 24:19). When God gave the ten commandments, His first two were, “You shall have no other gods besides me” and “You shall not make for yourself an image 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” (Exodus 20:3-5) God has warned us that He punishes those who turn from Him to other gods; just read the rest of Exodus 20:5, or this from Joshua 24:20: “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you.” In the Old Testament times there are plenty of examples of God’s active judgement on His people for their idolatry.
These days, however, it seems God uses more passive judgement. This is what is described in Romans 1:21-32. For example: when people worship created things rather than the Creator, he gives them over to shameful lusts, the sinful desires of their hearts, and the degrading of their bodies (v23-27); when we don’t think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, God gives us over to our depraved mind, which leads to all kinds of wickedness (v28-31). It should not be surprising, then, that after years and decades of our culture turning away from God, and even of some of our churches acquiescing to the culture and effectively embracing false gods, that our society is proof of what happens when God gives people over to their sinful nature.
So what can we do? Acknowledge the idols we have been worshiping, and stop it. Anything in our lives that has a higher priority than God can be an idol. I have to be careful not to let sports be an idol in my life. That may sound silly, but I have to honestly assess how much time I spend checking scores, following my teams, reading articles, or watching highlights, games, etc, compared to how much time I spend reading the Bible, praying, engaged in worship, or otherwise spending time with God or serving His purposes. I think the biggest indicator of what or whom we worship is identifying our priorities. When God is our top priority, then we will worship Him not only on Sunday, but throughout our lives.