Rev. Lily Lim | On 27, Sep 2016
Exodus 20:3-6 (Amp)
V3- “You shall have no other gods before Me.
V4- “You shall not make for yourself any idol, or any likeness (form, manifestation) of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth [as an object to worship].
V5- You shall not worship them nor serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous (impassioned) God [demanding what is rightfully and uniquely mine], visiting (avenging) the iniquity (sin, guilt) of the fathers on the children [that is, calling the children to account for the sins of their fathers], to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,
V6- but showing graciousness and steadfast lovingkindness to thousands [of generations] of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “There are more idols in the world than there are realities.”
The very first of the Ten Commandments given by God is, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself any idol……”
This morning, I would like to share a message entitled ‘IDOLS’.
Relating to this topic, I would like to share on 5 things about idols:
i) What is an idol?
ii) What are the types of idols?
iii) How do we relate to our idols?
iv) How do we identify our idols?
v) How do we replace our idols?
(I) WHAT IS AN IDOL?
It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.
An idol is anything so central and essential to your life, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.
An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.
It can be family and children, or career and making money or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing.
E.g. After the global economic crisis began in mid-2008, there followed a tragic string of suicides of formerly wealthy and well-connected individuals. The acting chief financial officer of Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, hanged himself in his basement. The chief executive of Sheldon Good, a leading U.S. real estate auction firm, shot himself in the head behind the wheel of his red Jaguar. A French money manager who invested the wealth of many of Europe’s royal and leading families, and who had lost $1.4 billion of his clients’ money in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, slit his wrists and died in his Madison Avenue office. A Danish senior executive with HSBC Bank hanged himself in the wardrobe of his 500 Sterling pound-a-night suite in Knightsbridge, London. When a Bear Stearns executive learned that he would not be hired by JP Morgan Chase, which had bought his collapsed firm, he took a drug overdose and leapt from the twenty-ninth floor of his office building. A friend said, “This Bear Stearns thing….broke his spirit.” It was grimly reminiscent of the suicides in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash.
These people believed that prosperity could quench their yearning for happiness but such a hope was illusory because the “incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy the human hearts.” This strange melancholy among these suicidals, manifests itself in many ways, but always leads to the same DESPAIR of not finding what is sought.
There is a difference between SORROW and DESPAIR. Sorrow is pain for which there are sources of consolation. Sorrow comes from losing one good thing among others, so that, if you experience a career reversal, you can find comfort in your family to get you through it. DESPAIR, however, is inconsolable because it comes from losing an ULTIMATE thing. When you lose the ultimate source of your meaning or hope, there are no alternative sources to turn to. It breaks your spirit. What is the cause of this “strange melancholy” that permeates our society and which turns to outright despair when prosperity diminishes? It comes from taking some INCOMPLETE JOY OF THIS WORLD AND BUILDING YOUR ENTIRE LIFE ON IT – that is the definition of idolatry.
Application: Are you experiencing a “strange melancholy” after losing something in your life today? Are you in sorrow or despair? Are you in despair and inconsolable today because the thing that you have lost is your ultimate source of your meaning and hope and consequently, you have no one or nothing to turn to and therefore your spirit is broken today? Are you taking some incomplete joy of this world like a job or a marriage and building your entire life on it? If so, you have an idol!!!
An idol can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue or even success in the Christian ministry. When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it “co-dependency” but it is really idolatry. AN IDOL IS WHATEVER YOU LOOK AT IT AND SAY IN YOUR HEART OF HEARTS, “IF I HAVE THAT, THEN I’LL FEEL MY LIFE HAS MEANING, THEN I’LL KNOW I HAVE VALUE, THEN I’LL FEEL SIGNIFICANT AND SECURE.”
There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is WORSHIP.
Idols are your wrong worship!!!!!!
Application: What are you worshipping today? Who are you worshipping today? What gives you your value and security?
(II) WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF IDOLS?
The biblical concept of idolatry is an extremely sophiscated idea, integrating intellectual, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual categories. There are:-
• PERSONAL IDOLS
E.g. Romantic love and family; money, power and achievement; or access to particular social circles; or the emotional dependence of others on you; or health, fitness and physical beauty.
Many look to these things for the hope, meaning, and fulfillment that only God can provide.
• CULTURAL IDOLS
E.g. Military power, technological progress and economic prosperity.
The idols of the eastern societies include family, hard work, duty and moral virtue.
The idols of the western cultures are individual freedom, self-discovery, personal affluence and fulfillment.
All these good things can and do take on disproportionate size and power within a society. They promise us safety, peace and happiness if only we base our lives on them.
• INTELLECTUAL IDOLS
This is often known as IDEOLOGIES.
E.g. The European intellectuals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries became convinced of the innate goodness of human nature, that all of our social problems were the result of poor education and socialization. World War II shattered this illusion. Beatrice Webb, whom many consider the architect of Britain’s modern welfare state, wrote, “Somewhere in my diary – 1890, I wrote “I have staked all on the essential goodness of human nature…” Now thirty-five years later I realize how permanent are the evil impulses and instincts in man….…No amount of knowledge or science will be of any avail unless we can curb the bad impulse.” In 1920, HG Wells wrote in a book that he believed the only hope was for intellectuals to seize control and run a compulsory educational program stressing peace, justice and equity. In 1945, he wrote again, “Homo sapiens are played out.” What happened? These intellectuals had taken a PARTIAL TRUTH and made it into an ALL-ENCOMPASSING TRUTH, by which everything could be explained and improved. To stake everything on human goodness was to put it in the place of God.
• IDOLS OF NON-NEGOTIABLE ABSOLUTES
These are found in every vocational field.
E.g. In the business world, self-expression is suppressed for the ultimate value, profit. In the art world, it is the other way around. Everything is sacrificed to self-expression and it is done in the name of redemption.
(III) HOW DO WE RELATE TO OUR IDOLS?
The Bible uses three basic metaphors to describe how we relate to the idols of our hearts.
The Bible sometimes speaks of idols using a MARITAL METAPHOR. God should be our true Spouse but when we desire and delight in other things more than God, we commit SPIRITUAL ADULTERY.
Romance or success can become “false lovers” that promise to make us feel loved and valued. Idols capture our IMAGINATIONS and we can locate them by looking at our DAYDREAMS.
Application: What do we enjoy IMAGINING? What are our fondest dreams? We look to our idols to love us, to provide us with value and a sense of beauty, significance and worth.
The Bible often speaks of idols using the RELIGIOUS METAPHORS. God should be our true Savior but we look to personal achievement or financial prosperity to give us the peace and security we need. Idols give us a sense of being in control and we can locate them by looking at our NIGHTMARES.
Application: What do we FEAR THE MOST? What, if we lost it, would make life not worth living? We make “sacrifices” to appease and please our gods, who we believe will protect us. We look to our idols to provide us with a sense of confidence and safety.
The Bible also speaks of idols using a POLITICAL METAPHOR. God should be our only Lord and Master but whatever we love and trust we also serve. Anything that becomes more important and non-negotiable to us than God becomes an enslaving idol. We can locate idols by looking at our most UNYIELDING EMOTIONS.
Application: What makes us uncontrollably angry, anxious and despondent? What racks us with a guilt we can’t shake?
Idols control us, since we feel we must have them or life is meaningless.
Whatever controls us is our lord. The person who seeks power is controlled by power. The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by the people he wants to please. We do not control ourselves. We are controlled by the lord of our lives.
What many people call “psychological problems” are simple issues of idolatry. PERFECTIONISM, WORKAHOLISM, CHRONIC INDECISVENESS, THE NEED TO CONTROL THE LIVES OF OTHERS – all of these stem from making good things into idols that then drive us into the ground as we try to appease them.
(IV) HOW DO WE IDENTIFY OUR IDOLS?
Why do the Ten Commandments begin with a commandment against idolatry? Why does this come first? Because the fundamental motivation behind lawbreaking is idolatry.
We never break the other commandments without breaking the first one. Why do we fail to love or keep promises or live unselfishly? The general answer is because we are weak and sinful but the SPECIFIC ANSWER in any actual circumstance is that THERE IS SOMETHING YOU FEEL YOU MUST HAVE TO BE HAPPY, SOMETHING THAT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO YOUR HEART THAN GOD HIMSELF.
E.g. We would not lie unless we first had made something – human approval, reputation, power over others, financial advantage – more important and valuable to our hearts than the grace and favor of God.
The secret to change is to identify and dismantle the idols of your heart.
Today, I am not asking whether or not you have rival gods. I assume that we all do. They are hidden in very one of us. The question is: What do we do about them? How can we become increasingly clear-sighted rather than remaining in their power? How can we be freed from our idols so that we can make sound decisions and wise choices that are best for us and those around us? How can we discern our idols?
• LOOK AT OUR IMAGINATIONS
Archbishop William Temple once said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.” In other words, the true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy daydreaming about? What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Do you develop potential scenarios about career advancement? Or material goods such as a dream home? Or a relationship with a particular person? One or two daydreams are no indication of idolatry. Ask rather, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?
• LOOK AT HOW WE SPEND OUR MONEY
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (Matthew 6:21). Your money flows most effortlessly toward your heart’s greatest love. In fact, the mark of an idol is that you spend too much money on it and you must try to exercise self-control constantly. Paul has written if God and his grace is the thing in the world you love most, you will give your money away to ministry, charity and the poor in astonishing amounts (2 Corinthians 8:7-9). Most of us, however tend to overspend on clothing, or on our children or on status symbols such as homes and cars. Our patterns of spending reveal our idols.
• LOOK AT HOW WE RESPOND TO UNANSWERED PRAYERS AND FRUSTRATED HOPE
This third way to discern idols work best for those who have professed a faith in God. You may regularly go to church. You may have a full, devout set of doctrinal beliefs. You may be trying very hard to believe and obey God. However, what is your real daily functional salvation? What are you really living for, what is your real – not your professed – god? A good way to discern this is how you respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes. If you ask for something that you don’t get, you may become sad and disappointed. Then you go on. Hey, life is not over. Those are not your functional masters. But when you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god. Like Jonah, you become angry enough to die.
E.g. There are two people I know who collapsed spiritually when their prayers were not answered. First there was this lady who was used mightily in our church in prophecy and was faithful as a cell leader. She studied and prayed very hard for her CPA board exams but she flung and since then she withdrew her service and involvement in the church. Another was a brother who was so gifted in the drum but he fell in love with girl in this church. The girl rejected him and since then he changed for the worse- dropped out of the ministry and church and self-destruct his life through glue-sniffing.
Our desire for answered prayer can become our idols. We function only when Christ answers our prayers and when He doesn’t, we become dysfunctional.
• LOOK AT OUR MOST UNCONTROLLABLE EMOTIONS
Just as a fisherman looking for fish knows to go where the water is rolling, look for the idols AT THE BOTTOM OF YOUR MOST PAINFUL EMOTIONS, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong. If you are angry, ask, “Is there something here too important to me, something I must have at all costs?” Do the same thing with fear or despair or guilt. Ask yourself, “Am I so scared, because something in my life is being threatened that I think is a necessity when it is not? Am I so down on myself because I have lost or failed at something that I think is a necessity when it is not?” If you are overworking, driving yourself into the ground with frantic activity, ask yourself, “Do I feel that I MUST have this thing to be fulfilled and significant?” When you ask questions like that, when you “pull your emotions up by the roots,” as it were, you will often find your idols clinging to them.
(V) HOW DO WE REPLACE OUR IDOLS?
Colossians 3:1-5 – Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God. It is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God. This cannot be remedied only by repenting that you have an idol or using willpower to try to live differently. Turning from idols is not less than these two things but it is also far more. How to replace our idols?
• REJOICING AND REPENTANCE
“Setting the mind and heart on things above where your life is hidden with Christ in God” means APPRECIATION, REJOICING AND RESTING IN WHAT JESUS HAS DONE FOR YOU.
It entails joyful worship, a sense of God’s reality in prayer. Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. That is what will replace your idols. If you uproot the idol and fail to “plant” the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.
Rejoicing and repentance must go together. Repentance without rejoicing will lead to despair. Rejoicing without repentance is shallow and will only provide passing inspiration instead of deep change. Indeed, it is when we rejoice over Jesus’ sacrificial love for us most fully that, paradoxically, we are most truly convicted of our sin. When we repent out of fear of consequences, we are not really sorry for the sin, but for ourselves. FEAR-BASED REPENTANCE (I’d better change or God will get me”) is really SELF-PITY. In fear-based repentance, we don’t learn to hate the sin for itself, and it doesn’t lose its attractive power. We learn only to refrain from it for our own sake. But when we rejoice over God’s sacrificial, suffering love for us –seeing what it cost him to save us from sin – we learn to hate the sin for what is. We see what the sin cost God. What most assures us of God’s unconditional love (Jesus’s costly death) is what that most convicts us of the evil of sin. Fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves. Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin.
Rejoicing in Christ is also crucial because idols are almost always GOOD THINGS. If we have made idols out of work and family, we do not want to stop loving our work and our family. Rather, we want to love Christ so much MORE that we are not enslaved by our attachments.
“Rejoicing” in the Bible is much deeper than simply being happy about something. Paul in Philippians 4:4 commands us to “rejoice in the Lord always” but this cannot mean “always feel happy,” since no one can command someone to always have a particular emotion. To rejoice is to TREASURE A THING, TO ASSESS ITS VALUE TO YOU, TO REFLECT ON ITS BEAUTY AND IMPORTANCE UNTIL YOUR HEART RESTS IN IT AND TASTES THE SWEETNESS OF IT. “Rejoicing” is a way of praising God until the heart is sweetened and rested and until it relaxes its grip on anything else it thinks that it needs.
• RIGHT IDENTITY
Jesus says in Mark 8:36 – What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Jesus is actually saying to us – Don’t build your identity on gaining things in the world. Every culture points to certain gods and says, “If you gain those, if you acquire or achieve those, then you’ll have a self, you’ll know you’re valuable.” Every culture says identity is PERFORMANCE-BASED, ACHIEVEMENT-BASED. If we follow what our culture wants, we are following a cultural idol. No matter how many of these things we gain, it is never enough to make us sure of who we are. If we are building our identity on “somebody loves me” or if you are building your identity on “I’ve got a good career” and if anything goes wrong with that relationship or that job, you fall apart. You feel like you don’t have a self.
It is not a matter of saying, “I’ve been a failure. I’ve been immoral, so now I’m going to go to church and become a moral, decent person. Then I’ll know I’m a good person because I am spiritual.” Jesus says, “I don’t want you to simply shift from one performance-based identity to another. I want you to find a whole new way. I want you to lose the old self, the old identify and BASE YOURSELF AND YOUR IDENTITY ON ME AND THE GOSPEL.
Mark 8:35- For whoever wants to save his life will lost it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Here in Mark 8:35, Jesus is saying, “It is not enough just to know me as a teacher. You have to look at my life. I went to the cross- and on the Cross, I lost my identity so you can have one.” Once you see the Son of God loving you like that, you will begin to get a strength, an assurance, a sense of your own value and distinctiveness that is not based on what you are doing or whether somebody loves you, whether you have lost weight or how much money you have got. You are free – the old approach based on performance to identity is gone. The only thing that can reforge and change a life at its root is LOVE.
C.S Lewis in Mere Christianity says, “The more we get what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become….our real selves are all waiting for us in him…..It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His personality, that I finally begin to have a real personality all of my own…..[Nevertheless], you must not go to Christ for the sake of a new self. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about, you are not going to Him at all.”
If you go to Jesus to get a new personality, Lewis says, you still haven’t gone to Jesus. Your real self will not come out as long as you are looking for it. IT WILL ONLY EMERGE WHEN YOU ARE LOOKING FOR JESUS.
Seek Jesus and not your own agenda. If your agenda is the end, then Jesus is just the means- you are using him. But if Jesus is the King, you cannot make him a means to your end. You can’t come to a king negotiating. You lay your sword at a king’s feet and say, “Command me.” If you try to negotiate instead, if you say, “I’ll obey you IF….” You aren’t recognizing him as a king. But don’t forget this: Jesus is not just a king. HE IS A KING ON A CROSS. If he were only a king on a throne, you’d submit to him just because you have to. But He is a king who went to the cross for you. Therefore you can submit to Him out of love and trust. Build your identity on Jesus and the gospel and not on what your cultural gods entails you.
• RIGHT WORSHIP
E.g. Henry and Kevin had both lost their jobs because of an unfair action by their bosses and they came to see their pastor for counselling within a year of each other. Henry forgave his boss and moved on and was doing very well while Kevin could not move past it; he stayed bitter and cynical and it affected his future career path. Some people tried to help him by working on his emotions. The more sympathy people showed Kevin, the more he felt justified in his anger and the more his self-pity grew. Other people tried to work directly on his will (“get past it and move on”). That did not work either.
The gospel works in a different way. It does not work directly on the emotions or the will. The gospels ask, WHAT IS OPERATING IN THE PLACE OF JESUS CHRIST AS YOUR REAL, FUNCTIONAL SALVATION AND SAVIOR? What are you looking to in order to justify yourself? Whatever it is, is an idol and to make a change in your life, you must identify and reject it as such.
Kevin was looking to his career to prove himself and when something went wrong, he felt condemned. He was paralyzed because the very foundations of his identity were falling apart. He made no progress until he saw that he had made his career his SELF-SALVATION. It was not just that he had to forgive his boss; his real problem was that something besides Jesus Christ was functioning as his savior. THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING UNDERNEATH YOUR INORDINATE AND OUT-OF-CONTROL PROBLEMS, DESIRES, PATTERNS, ATTITUDES AND EMOTIONS. Until you find out what it is you cannot have life and peace.
Kevin came to see that though he technically believed he was loved with God’s costly grace, it wasn’t an absorbing truth that had captured his heart and imagination. What his boss said to him was more real and affecting to his heart than what the King of the Universe had said. You may know about the love of Christ with your head but not with your heart, as in Kevin’s case. How can that be remedied?
This takes what are called THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES such as private prayer, Bible devotion, corporate worship and meditation. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES ARE BASICALLY FORMS OF WORSHIP and it is WORSHIP THAT IS THE FINAL WAY TO REPLACE THE IDOLS OF YOUR HEART. You cannot get relief simply by figuring out your idols intellectually. You have to actually get the peace that Jesus gives and that only comes AS YOU WORSHIP.
Though we think we live in a secular world, idols, the glittering gods of our age, hold title to the functional trust of our hearts. With the global economy in shambles and with so many uncertainties in this life, many of those idols that we have worshipped for years will surely come crashing down around us. If we do not want to fall into despair, we must discern the idols of our hearts and our culture. But that will not be enough. The only way to free ourselves from the destructive influence of idols is to turn back to the True One. The Living God, who revealed himself both at Mount Sinai and on the Cross, is the only Lord, who, if you find Him, can truly fulfill you and, if you fail him, can truly forgive you. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
My Testimony: Looking at all the “bread of adversity and the water of affliction” that God has given me throughout my 35 years as a Christian, it is to let me know in my secret heart who my real god is. All these adversities and affliction are to purify my heart’s desire from idols and to establish Christ to be my One True Lover, One True Master, One True Trust in my life. The conclusive statement of Yahweh at the end of his dealing upon the children of Israel is always for them to turn to Him as the ONE TRUE GOD of their lives and to “defile their silver-covered graven images and their gold-plated molten images and to scatter them as unclean things and to say to them, “Begone” (Isaiah 30:19-22). For every smiting of God upon the sins of idolatry committed by the children of Israel, whether by exile or hot fierce scorching east desert wind, there is the expiation (removal) of the guilt of Israel after Israel “makes all the stones of the altars like chalkstones crushed to pieces, with no Asherim or incense altar remain standing” (Isaiah 27:7-9). My idol before I was saved was ROMANCE. I depended on my boyfriend to give me love during the time when my family was collapsing from bankruptcy. Then God smashed that romance and I had no choice but to turn to Christ as my One True Love. Then came my idol of EDUCATION where I thought that I would be the happiest girl in the whole world if Christ would answer my prayer to let me enter National University of Singapore (NUS) but God smashed that idol and I was rejected by NUS. God challenged me to give my life to mission even without the tertiary education- telling me that He alone is my competency and sufficiency. For 10 years after I came to field, I was always pining and pining to pursue my tertiary education at USA but doors after doors were closed despite the good financial turnaround of my Ang family. It took me about a decade and a half to finally surrender that idol of tertiary education at the altar. Today, even without a tertiary certificate, my identity is very solidly grounded in Christ. I don’t feel inferior today standing in the midst of all my ex classmates who are Universities graduates. It was 15 years in the making – with God teaching me to lose myself and to finally find my true self while seeking and pursuing Him in those early morning devo and prayers. While in the mission field, God tested me like he tested Abraham to lay my love life at the altar – to forego the prospect of getting along with a guy from Spore and just be a missionary by faith in the field. Two years after I came to the field in 1988, the very precious love that I surrendered at the altar, God gave me Ptr Toh Nee Lim as my husband- the man with the same calling as me. The next 26 years was the most challenging journey of my life as a missionary as new idols began to develop in my heart – there was the craving in me for approval and acceptance by my bosses; a desire to have the biggest church building in Iloilo City; the compulsion to hit 1000 people every Sunday in attendance. Mega Church ministry had become my idol, my functional salvation until God smashed all of them into pieces 4 years ago and from there, God led me to repent and to reorder my priorities and motivation again. God helped me to reorganize this church from a performance-based church to a process-based church and to no more be consumed by big attendance and to let go of my obsessive control over this church and members’ lives. I confess I had betted my life on the wrong king and I had aroused the jealousy of my One True King, and thus all these painful smiting, smashing and exiling that came from God upon our church. All our trials, adversities, afflictions, exiles and scorching winds are to dislodge idols from our hearts and to replace them with the true God – Jesus Christ.
Lately, there is a distinct and sweet presence of the Holy Spirit moving over our church in every service. I believe the Lord manifests Himself so distinctly so as to garner our true worship. When we truly worship and rejoice in Him, all the other false worship will fade away and we will become the person we worship – our identity is who Christ says we are in Him and not what our cultural gods define us. There will be trust, love and obedience to Christ even if all around us, crumble. We still can pick ourselves up, lift up our heads and move on. Let’s trust, love and obey the only one God – Jesus Christ!!!
Preached at etab 1st eng sv on 25 sep 2016