Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
A good way to start this sermon is to gently expose some modern-day idols. We don't make calves out of gold or carve statues out of stone or wood, but we worship all sorts of things. Some can't live without the morning cup (or several cups) of caffeine. Others bow down to the latest style. Still others starve themselves for the perfect body. Others live their lives through their favorite celebrate or film star.
Sometimes, we make people into idols as well. When people impact our lives in a significant way, it is tempting to put them on a pedestal. If we aren't careful, we can turn them into idols and begin to give them the glory that only God deserves. This is the main issue in today's passage.
It can be said that People Magazine is all about promoting idols. They include political, media and historical idols. Just thumb through a People Magazine for a week or two and you can easily point to a few idols. One week it is Lady Gaga and the next week it may be Elon Musk. We have all kinds of idols being promoted. Please note that the church has its idols as well. Some are famous preachers and others are church leaders. Idolatry is everywhere.
For a year and a half, Paul served and nurtured the young Christians in Corinth. He taught them. He ministered to them. He admonished and encouraged them. Yet now, after he left, they still were acting more like babies than mature Christians. They were caught up in divisions in the church, and most of Paul's first letter is devoted to setting them straight about these dissentions.
In this passage Paul is admonishing the Corinthian church for dividing themselves into cliques and setting up human beings as idols. Rather than seeing themselves as Christians and gathered as a body under one head, the church members were comparing themselves to one another. Some were boasting because they had been led to the Lord by Paul, who founded the church in the first place. Others had been converted (through the Holy Spirit) by the teaching and preaching of Apollos, and were boasting about that. What's more, they were disagreeing about which was better. In a sense, it would be akin to feeling like our salvation was better or more valid if Billy Graham himself had prayed with us. They were getting caught up in the human teachers rather than the true Teacher.
This showed Paul that they were not yet ready to progress in their Christian walk. They had been justified by faith, but their sanctification was not coming along very well. They did not understand that it was about Christ and him crucified, and the selflessness of denying oneself and taking up one's cross. They were still caught up in themselves, trying to determine whose conversion was better. And as long as they were fighting amongst themselves rather than helping their neighbor in need and humbly seeing others as better than themselves, they were still only on the "milk" level of discipleship.
Paul reminded them that he and Apollos were the means to the end, not the end in and of themselves. They had tasks given to them by God, but God is the one who produced the fruit. The Corinthians were trying to give glory to their ministers, and Paul was pointing back to Jesus. It was not about the servants, but the one we all serve.
Also, it's important to note that the two men were not in competition with each other, as the Corinthian church members were as they elevated them to were given the mission of telling the church members about Jesus and beginning to bring them to maturity in their faith. Their reward was not that they would have a human following and fan club, but from God Himself. The church members were the field, Paul and Apollos planted and watered, but all glory goes to God.
Just like in the stories from the Old Testament, there are many pleasures of life or material goods that divert our attention away from serving God. Achieving these earthly Refers to everything of this earth, as opposed to heavenly things. Example: Earthly treasures/heavenly treasures. The earthly things pass away (are temporal), but the heavenly things are eternal. (Matthew 6:19-21... goals can consume us. Many would quickly do whatever immoral deed it takes to satisfy their desires.
Even smaller, more “harmless” things can twist our attention away from God. It can be very easy to get completely wrapped up in earthly matters. I can talk for hours about these things but ask me about God’s Word and I’m completely empty. Dry as a desert.
But shouldn’t that, as a Christian, actually be my only true concern? To fill myself with the word of God so that I have a clear guideline by which to live my life? The Bible gives us incredibly clear direction about how we are to take this.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth.” Colossians 3:1-2.
“But lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do no break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:20-21
How do I spend my time?
We always take time for things that we are interested in. My hope is eternal life with the Father and the Son! My whole being should be focused on such a glorious future. If my eyes are really open to see that a life that is pleasing to God is what really matters, then all the temporary distractions will fade away. They will no longer have any value. I should be able to say with Jesus, “My kingdom is not of this earth.” John 18:36.
Take a look back at your past week and ask yourself, “Where were my thoughts? What was I busy with?” If you have an honest and pure desire to serve God, then you need to take up a battle so that your thoughts are not on a wandering, back-and-forth trail, but that your mind is set firmly on things above! God will bless such a heart that is wholly for Him, just as He blessed the Israelites when they were faithful to Him.
Read also: You only live once!
What is the root of idolatry?
“Therefore, put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5.
Here we can clearly see what is behind idolatry: covetousness. When the things of earth become great to you and divert your mind and heart from the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit.
All too often, the biggest idol in our lives is the one that looks us right in the mirror each and every morning. We are by nature egocentric, self-involved people. Our thoughts naturally go in one pattern: me, me, me. This spirit, which is promoted by every form of media available today, is the same spirit that filled the devil when he challenged God. (Isaiah 14:12-15) This spirit is horribly destructive and can only be countered by humility – by placing our lives in God’s hands and yielding completely to His will.
The dangers of serving two masters
Someone who tries to play the balancing act of serving both God and earthly idols is doomed to fail. We receive a very clear warning about this in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
James 1:8 says that a double-minded man is “unstable in all his ways.” Even if we begin with a pure desire to serve God alone, this determination can drift away if we allow ourselves to be distracted by earthly “idols” instead of seeking the things above. This determination is something worth fighting to hold onto! We will find that, just as in the days of the Israelites, God richly blesses a faithful singleness of purpose, and there is still a curse over idolatry. Let us fix our vision firmly on the eternal and we will experience God’s goodness and power in our lives.
In this day as in the early church, it is tempting to compare and contrast ministers and Bible study leaders and authors and speakers to determine not only who is better, but whose methods we "follow." When we get to the point that we will only go to conferences if such and such is the speaker or will only join a Bible study group if it uses a specific author's materials, we are falling into the same trap as the Corinthians. It is one thing to appreciate someone's work, but it is another to put them on a pedestal and only follow their methods.
What other gods could we have besides the Lord? Plenty. For Israel there were the Canaanite Baals, those jolly nature gods whose worship was a rampage of gluttony, drunkenness, and ritual prostitution. For us there are still the great gods Sex, Shekels, and Stomach (an unholy trinity constituting one god: self), and the other enslaving trio, Pleasure, Possessions, and Position, whose worship is described as "The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). Football, the Firm, and Family are also gods for some. Indeed, the list of other gods is endless, for anything that anyone allows to run his life becomes his god and the claimants for this prerogative are legion. In the matter of life's basic loyalty, temptation is a many-headed monster. (James Packer, Your Father Loves You, [Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1986])
The word idolatry may be considered too strong for what the Corinthians were doing, but any time we put someone ahead of Christ or give someone else glory that belongs to the Lord, it is idolatry. Today we often relegate the concept of idolatry to Old Testament golden calves and false gods carved out of stone or wood. But idols can be set up in the heart as well.
If we despise our brother, our worship is unreal, and forfeits every divine promise. When we come before God with hearts full of contempt, and unreconciled with our neighbors, we are, both individually and collectively, worshiping an idol. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
It is always delightful to see the fruit that comes from planting the seeds and watering them. I have been in ministry long enough now that the children I helped teach and mentor and nurture are teenagers and graduating from high school. To see their maturity in faith, and to know that I was one of probably forty or fifty people who "watered" their lives, is joyful. Sometimes it might feel that we are not making an impact or that the few drops we sprinkle onto someone's life did not matter. But as God matures us, He calls us to begin to reach out to others and help them mature.
The sin of idolatry that plagues the modern world is a "me first" attitude that gives God the leftovers in though and life. (W. Werning) (https://activechristianity.org/idolatry-present-day-value)
One preaching possibility is to challenge members of the congregation to look at the idols in their lives and surrender them to God. We are called to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, but can't do that if we are worshipping other things. It is about removing things that get between God and us.
Another possibility is to talk about evangelism and discipleship, and the proper place of human beings in that process. Sometimes we get lax and think that God will make everything work out the way He wants it and forget that He does call us to sow the seed and water the plants. On the other hand, sometimes we think too much of ourselves and assume that any time we pray with someone to receive Christ that it all because of our own efforts.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Here are a few of those things that we deal with in today’s world that compete for our attention and that could become idols in our busy, always “on” and connected lives if we give these things undue attention…
1. People. Many people in our lives can take the front seat, consuming our thoughts, actions and energy. This could be a spouse, a potential spouse, a boss, or a child. This could be an entertainer or a public figure. In some cases this could even be a pastor or a church leader, especially in today’s Western church environment where sadly, unreachable “celebrity pastors” are becoming more and more common.
2. Your Church. Again, the modern church model in the West is producing a spiritual-consumer mentality that is replacing the traditional church model. Programs, buildings, and real estate all have a place in our church, but when these are the things that prevent us from discipleship and church multiplication, we may have to back up and dissect the situation.
3. Your Ministry. Believe it or not, ministry and “religion” are among the easiest things in life to become idols. When you’re involved in ministry at any level, it can be very easy to fall into a place of how much “good” you’re doing. What’s more, if you’re like me, then desire for encouragement could become striving for encouragement. What that looks like in my life and ministry is that I have to keep a guard against seeking out approval and commendation for what God decides to do through me or my work. Guess what idol that could lead to? Number 4…
4. Humility. What? Being humble could be an idol of the heart? You bet it can! If seeking out recognition for accomplishments could lead to idolatry then wouldn’t it make sense that humility can also be abused? This could look like someone wearing their humility like a neon badge, and that’s not true humility.
5. Lifestyle and the Idol of Self. This has been an American Achilles heel. “Keeping up with the Joneses” may have first been used by Mark Twain (affiliate link)as far back as 1923, but in today’s economy this idea of social inferiority based on our possessions has translated into crippling amounts of debt and has even contributed to the housing market crash. These insurmountable debts have wrecked many good marriages, destroyed lives and has rendered entire households unproductive.
6. Rights and Freedom. As an American, I have enjoyed rights and certain freedom that a huge number of people in other parts of the world don’t even consider possible. Sadly, the establishment of rights and freedom have begun to erode around us into a constant, all inclusive demand for everything under the sun to fall into the categories of rights and liberty. With freedom comes responsibility, and without responsibility liberty becomes slavery. But when our demands for freedom outweigh our surrender to the cross, our arrogant expectations of rights keep our eyes from the freedom that only Christ can bring.
7. Your Challenges. If there is one thing that can always take a person’s eyes off of God that would be life’s challenges. Sometimes, the smaller the challenge the easier the distraction. It’s saddening how many people navigate their lives from one challenge to the next, never able to see anything else. It ultimately robs them of any real accomplishments that God would bring into their lives.
8. Social Media. The new human Achilles heel. The subtle idol of self in it’s full modern glory comes in the form of likes, shares and follower counts. This one has led to lower self-esteem, depression and even suicide. Rather than ditching the social networks, it’s now more important to be noticed in a stream of posts that more than 80% of our “followers” will never even see. (https://genewhitehead.com/recognizing-idolatry-in-8-modern-day-idols/)
All the various forms of modern idolatry have one thing at their core: self. We no longer bow down to idols and images. Instead we worship at the altar of the god of self. This brand of modern idolatry takes various forms.
First, we worship at the altar of materialism which feeds our need to build our egos through the acquisition of more “stuff.” Our homes are filled with all manner of possessions. We build bigger and bigger houses with more closets and storage space in order to house all the things we buy, much of which we haven’t even paid for yet. Most of our stuff has “planned obsolescence” built into it, making it useless in no time, and so we consign it to the garage or other storage space. Then we rush out to buy the newest item, garment or gadget and the whole process starts over. This insatiable desire for more, better, and newer stuff is nothing more than covetousness. The tenth commandment tells us not to fall victim to coveting: "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor" (Exodus 20:17). God doesn’t just want to rain on our buying sprees. He knows we will never be happy indulging our materialistic desires because it is Satan’s trap to keep our focus on ourselves and not on Him.
Second, we worship at the altar of our own pride and ego. This often takes the form of obsession with careers and jobs. Millions of men—and increasingly more women—spend 60-80 hours a week working. Even on the weekends and during vacations, our laptops are humming, and our minds are whirling with thoughts of how to make our businesses more successful, how to get that promotion, how to get the next raise, how to close the next deal. In the meantime, our children are starving for attention and love. We fool ourselves into thinking we are doing it for them, to give them a better life. But the truth is we are doing it for ourselves, to increase our self-esteem by appearing more successful in the eyes of the world. This is folly. All our labors and accomplishments will be of no use to us after we die, nor will the admiration of the world, because these things have no eternal value. As King Solomon put it, “For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 2:21-23).
Third, we idolize mankind through naturalism and the power of science. We cling to the illusion that we are lords of our world and build our self-esteem to godlike proportions. We reject God’s Word and His description of how He created the heavens and the earth, and we accept the nonsense of atheistic evolution and naturalism. We embrace the goddess of environmentalism and fool ourselves into thinking we can preserve the earth indefinitely when God has declared that this current age will have an end: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10–13). As this passage states, our focus should not be on worshiping the environment but on living holy lives as we wait eagerly for the return of our Lord and Savior. He alone deserves worship.
Finally, and perhaps most destructively, we worship at the altar of self-aggrandizement or the fulfillment of the self to the exclusion of all others and their needs and desires. This manifests itself in self-indulgence through alcohol, drugs, and food. Those in affluent countries have unlimited access to alcohol, drugs (prescription drug use is at an all-time high, even among children), and food. Obesity rates in the U.S. have skyrocketed, and childhood diabetes brought on by overeating is epidemic. The self-control we so desperately need is spurned in our insatiable desire to eat, drink, and medicate more and more. We resist any effort to get us to curb our appetites, and we are determined to make ourselves the god of our lives. This has its origin in the Garden of Eden where Satan tempted Eve to eat of the tree with the words “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). This has been man’s desire ever since—to be god and, as we have seen, the worship of self is the basis of all modern idolatry.
All idolatry of self has at its core the three lusts found in 1 John 2:16: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” If we are to escape modern idolatry, we have to admit that it is rampant and reject it in all its forms. It is not of God, but of Satan, and in it we will never find fulfillment. This is the great lie and the same one Satan has been telling since he first lied to Adam and Eve. Sadly, we are still falling for it. Even more sadly, many churches are propagating it in the preaching of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel built on the idol of self-esteem. But we will never find happiness focusing on ourselves. Our hearts and minds must be centered on God and on others. This is why when asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). When we love the Lord and others with everything that is in us, there will be no room in our hearts for idolatry. (https://www.gotquestions.org/idolatry-modern.html)
If we are honest with ourselves, "idolatry" is a topic which many modern Christians see as antiquated and outdated. When we hear the word "idol" today, many of us automatically picture a golden statue of a bull or calf. We tend to skim over passages that include references to idolatry, because we see it as something that only Old Testament believers struggled with. But that is largely not the case. In Paul's writings to the New Testament churches, he addresses the issue of idolatry:
"Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!" (Romans 1:22-25, ESV)
The reason that many of us aren't acknowledging the idols in our lives is due primarily to the fact that we have an incorrect definition and image of what idolatry truly is. In her book, Nancy Pearcey said this: "Scripture treats the topic of idolatry far more subtly. An idol is anything we want more than God, anything we rely on more that God, anything we look to for greater fulfillment than God. Idolatry is thus the hidden sin driving all other sins."
A friend of mine often reminds me that the major sin areas in our lives evidence a deeper issue than just the symptoms (sins) which externally manifest themselves; they often point to something which we do not believe about God at our core. Unbelief in a promise of God can lead us to put our trust, hope, or even our value in something other than Him to fill that void. The sobering fact is that we actually believe the lie that whatever our sinful selves’ lust after is better than Christ. Pearcey explains this well: "For example, why do we lie? Because we fear the disapproval of people more than we want the approval of God. Or because we value our reputation more than we value our relationship with God. Or we are trying to manipulate someone into giving us something we think we need more than we need God. The more visible sin (lying) is driven by an invisible turn of our hearts toward something other than God as the ultimate source of security and happiness."
That said, you and I must be aware that our idols today can rear their heads in various forms. While we generally see them as disgraceful, evil passions, it is important to recognize that idols can also be "good" things that we've made "ultimate" things. A few examples which we often put our value and confidence in may include our children, spouse, physical attractiveness, money, job, or even our friendships. We may look to money or comforts to fill a space which they cannot fill. All of these things are not inherently evil, but they become a problem when we begin to believe that they satisfy us more than God. (https://www.christianpost.com/news/modern-day-idolatry-putting-anything-before-god.html)
Celebrity worship syndrome has been described as an obsessive-addictive disorder where an individual becomes overly involved and interested (i.e., completely obsessed) with the details of the personal life of a celebrity. Any person who is “in the public eye” can be the object of a person’s obsession (e.g., authors, politicians, journalists), but research and criminal prosecutions suggest they are more likely to be someone from the world of television, film and/or pop music.
Among academic researchers, the term celebrity worship (CW) is a term that was first coined by Lynn McCutcheon and her research colleagues in the early 2000s. However, it is commonly believed that the first use of the term Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS) was in a Daily Mail article by the journalist James Chapman who was reporting on a study published by John Maltby and colleagues in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease entitled “A Clinical Interpretation of Attitudes and Behaviors Associated with Celebrity Worship.” CWS was actually an acronym for the Celebrity Worship Scale used in the study. Chapman also called the behavior exhibited by such people Mad Icon Disease (obviously a play on Mad Cow Disease that was high on the news agenda in the UK at the time).
Despite the (presumably) accidental misnomer, the condition may in fact be indicative of a syndrome (i.e., a cluster of abnormal or unusual symptoms indicating the presence of an unwanted condition). US research carried out on a small sample in the early 2000s by Lynn McCutcheon’s team using the Celebrity Attitudes Scale suggested a single "celebrity worship" dimension. However, subsequent research on much bigger samples by Maltby and his team identified three independent dimensions of celebrity worship. These were on a continuum and named (i) entertainment-social, (ii) intense-personal, and (iii) borderline pathological.
• The entertainment-social dimension relates to attitudes where individuals are attracted to a celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and to become a social focus of conversation with likeminded others.
• The intense-personal dimension relates to individuals that have intensive and compulsive feelings about a celebrity.
• The borderline-pathological dimension relates to individuals who display uncontrollable behaviors and fantasies relating to a celebrity.
Maltby and colleagues' research also shows that CW is not just the remit of adolescent females but affects over a quarter of the people they surveyed (across the three levels mentioned earlier). Their paper reported that CW had both positive and negative consequences. People who worshipped celebrities for entertainment and social reasons were more optimistic, outgoing, and happy. Those who worshipped celebrities for personal reasons or were more obsessive were more depressed, more anxious, more solitary, more impulsive, more anti-social and more troublesome. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-excess/201307/celebrity-worship-syndrome)
What a man loves, that is his god. (Martin Luther)
God is everywhere. However, He does not want you to reach out for Him everywhere but only in the Word. Reach out for it and you will grasp Him aright. Otherwise you are tempting God and setting up idolatry. That is why He has established a certain method for us. This teaches us how and where we are to look for Him and find Him, namely, in the Word. (Martin Luther)
Idolatry is worshiping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that ought to be worshiped. (Augustine)
The essence of idolatry is the desire to get. A man sets up an idol and worships it because he desires to get something out of god. To put it bluntly, he believes that by his sacrifices and his gifts and his worship, he can persuade, or even bribe, God into giving him what he desires. (William Barclay, The Letter to the Colossians, [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003] p. 182.)
Whatever a man seeks, honors, or exalts more than God, that is the god of his idolatry. (William Ullathorne, a 19th century Benedictine Monk)
One of the modern or if you will post-modern phenomenon is that we spend more and more time obsessing over the digital world we have created. We seem to have given over our lives to the things we have made with our hands. For many people the operating system you use in your phone or on your computer is a bit like being in a cult. You are either a google user, or a Microsoft user or even an Apple user. Some people call themselves Apple fan boys (or girls) to underline their adherence to a particular idol. Idolatry is no longer about just a golden calf but also about a golden iPhone or silver Droid.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: I will praise You, O Lord, with all my heart
People: I will tell of all Your wonders
Leader: I will be glad and rejoice in You
People: I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High
All: Let us worship God
Living God, we confess that we often exalt ourselves or others above You. We look to others for significance, acceptance, and security, and seek to please them and get their approval. Forgive us for turning our backs on You and worshipping idols. Come into our lives and shatter the falsehoods and lies we believe. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Holy God, we thank You for the many blessings You bestow on us each day. We thank You for Your provision. We bring these offerings before You today for the glory of Your Kingdom, and we offer ourselves to You as well. We are Your servants-help us share the love of Your Son in this world. Amen.
Lord God, we come before You today in prayer for our broken world. We pray for world leaders who faithfully follow Your plan for their lives and try to govern well. We pray for those who govern poorly and oppress citizens of their countries-break into their lives, Holy Spirit. We pray for those do not know Your Son Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior-bring people like Paul and Apollos into their lives.
We pray that You will show us how to be mentors and guides to those around us. Raise up those will faithfully plant and water by encouraging, teaching, and listening. Mature us in our own faith, that we may take the hands of those newer to Christianity. Let Your Holy Spirit be our ultimate guide, and guard us from elevating human beings to an inappropriate level.
We pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.