Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Idolatry Makes Something Good Into Something Ultimate

[This entry follows a sermon called "From Fear to Security".  Click on the title to find the audio.]

As we looked at Isaiah 41:1-42:17, we found that the prophet predicts the coming of a new world power and the fear that will result (41:2-4).  This strikes fear into the hearts of men and women, which leads them into an idolatry that God confronts.  Fear is a common experience in life...an internal alarm system to warn us of impending danger (real or imagined), and fear drives us to look for security somewhere. 

In other words, we echo the beginning of the psalmist's words: "When I am afraid, I..."  We will do something...we will look somewhere.  He finishes with the commitment to put trust in the Lord (Ps. 56:3).  Yet, the human heart is prone to wander from such trust...we are prone to trust anything and everything but the Lord.  We are prone to trust in idols.

Let me recap some of the examples I gave Sunday.  When we are afraid of economic failure, we run to the idol of money.  We serve money, sacrificing generosity on the altar of our money god...believing that such a sacrifice will guarantee our salvation from economic failure.  When we are afraid of rebellious children, we run to the god of parental control.  Those who do think if they just have rules that are strict enough, consequences that are harsh enough, etc., then they can securely say their children won't rebel.

I though of another one today.  Where do we run when we fear ministry failure?  Where do we run when it seems the gospel is not taking the desired effects in our congregation?  Where do we go when things aren't looking too good?  Well, we often run to one of two gods...human approval or fashionable methodology.  We believe that if we pander to popular opinion or or popular methodology, then they will deliver real security in the face of ministry failure.

All this is essentially review from Sunday.  In talking about idols, we said that an idol is anything that we look to for something only God can give us.  I want to add another caveat here.  We also make idols for ourselves when we take something good and make it into something ultimate.  For example, money can be a good thing...we can do a lot of good things, even biblical things, with money.  But idolatry is when we make money an ultimate thing in our lives.  The same can be said of parental control, human approval, or fashionable methodology.  These can be good things, but they become idols when they become ultimate.

The question is...do we see this in the Scripture anywhere?  Is the idea of "making something good into something ultimate" anywhere in the Bible?  The answer is yes.  In fact, it's in Isaiah's prophecy.  Take a look at what Isaiah 44:14-17 says:
"He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest.  He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it.  Then it becomes fuel for a man.  He takes part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread.  Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes an idol and falls down before it.  Half of it he burns in the fire.  Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied.  Also he warms himself and says, 'Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!'  And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down and worships it.  He prays to it and says, 'Deliver me, for you are my god!'"
Did you see it?  Think about the wood from a tree...it's good for a lot of things.  The wood can be burned (i.e.- used) for the man's good...baking bread, keeping warm, roasting meat that satisfies hunger, making s'mores to to eat after dinner, etc.  (Okay...the s'mores weren't in there, but we were all thinking it.)

Yet, this good thing...wood...can also be made into something seen as ultimate...an idol.  The man falls down and worships it, prays to it, and seeks deliverance at its hands.  One half of the wood gets burned up and is used for good purposes...the other half is made ultimate and is used for evil purposes. 

What can be said of the one who takes something good (like money, children, human approval, methodology, etc.) and making them ultimate?  In that man, there is no "knowledge or discernment" (v. 19).  I remember hearing Tim Keller say that people who make an idol of their career only think they work hard, and people who idolize their children only think they're just being good parents.  Yet, Isaiah says we lack knowledge and discernment.

When fear enters our experience, we tend to look anywhere and everywhere except God for security.  We look to the idols.  We do so in our own foolishness, and we do so to our own peril.  There are many good things in life...things which God has provided for our benefit, for our joy, and for our service to Him.  Yet, let us beware of making good things into ultimate things, for then we become idolaters.