We. . . preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God. ACTS 14:15
For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
I THESSALONIANS 1:9
If a native Christian should come from his heathen land to lecture to the saints in America he could easily make our faces red if he chose to speak on idols. He would find more strange gods here than he left behind him. We call our land Christian America and we thank God for all the advantages which we owe to Christianity, but, actually, true Christians in America are a minority group in a pagan land. There is no nation on earth where the first two of the Ten Commandments, to say nothing of the other eight, are broken daily by more people.
I heard a missionary say with telling effect that we have no right to give money and send missionaries to foreign lands to preach a Gospel which will cause commotion, divide homes, bring ostracism, suffering and even death, if we are not willing to pay a corresponding
price over here. Over there it means giving up idols, and we have no right to hold on to ours.
God says, ''Thou shalt have no other gods before me.'' An idol is someone or something we love more than we love God. America is a land of idolaters, not only outside the professing church, but inside it. We read of those who ''feared the Lord, and served their own gods'' (II Kings 17:33). Their number today is legion.Yet the Word of God tells us to ''flee from idolatry'' (I Cor. 10:14); asks, ''What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?'' (II Cor. 6:16), and commands, ''Keep yourselves from idols'' (I John 5:21). If we are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and if an idol is something we love more than we love God or something we love too much, then we must get rid of our idols if we are to love God as we ought.
When Jacob prepared to go back to Bethel, he said to his household and all that were with him, ''Put away the strange gods that are among you'' (Gen. 35:2). It is the first thing to do if we are going back to Bethel! When Gideon heard the call of God he threw down the altar of Baal. When Ephesus was awakened by Paul many brought their books of ''curious arts'' together and burned them in public. When men turn to God they turn from vanities and idols.
What are some of the strange gods today? We read of ''the god of this world'' (II Cor. 4:4), ''the prince of this world'' (John 12:31), ''the prince of the power of the air, the spirit which now worketh in the children of disobedience'' (Eph. 2:2). This present world system, politically, economically, socially, educationally, religiously, is under the devil and the whole world lies in the Wicked One. He is the god of most people, and
plenty of church members pay him allegiance. Yet the Word of God tells us plainly not to love the world, or the things that are in the world, and that if we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us. This is not a Christian era, it is a pagan age and there are more heathen than ever. If Satan is the god of this age, then the love of this world system is idolatry.
Worldliness means far more than card playing, dancing, and theater going. It means being occupied with this world and its concerns to the exclusion or neglect of eternal issues. It means ''eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, buying and selling, planting and building,'' as in the days of Noah and Lot, until judgment overtakes us unprepared. ''As it was in the days of Noah and Lot, so shall it be,'' said our Lord, and so it is now.
Just try being an out-and-out Christian in the present world of business, politics, society, economics, education, or even religion, and you will soon find out who runs it! Travel, as I have to do, in the midst of Sodom and Gomorrah, and you will find that this present set-up is not catering to Christians! I can remember a day, for instance, when smokers used to ask, ''Does my smoking bother you?'' Now, if it bothers, you can get off the train or out of the room! How often am I awakened on Pullmans in the middle of the night inhaling second-hand tobacco fumes from the pulmonary exhaust of some poor slave who, although the sign in the car expressly forbids it, must have his nicotine before morning! And since three out of four adults smoke, nobody pays much attention any more to the rights of the few who still do not use their noses for chimneys. Wade through the stench of beer and
liquor and the blasphemy of both men and women in our public places, and you will soon realize that the millennium has not yet set in.
Try being a Christian in the world of education. No influence on earth has contributed more to the paganization of America than our Godless schools. There is still some Christian education to be had where Jesus Christ is still recognized on some college campuses, but the trend is away from God, not only in the secular schools but in many church schools founded to help perpetuate the Gospel but now become infidel factories and breeding grounds of atheism.
The god of this age and the ruler of this world set-up is Satan, and the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are still the supreme interests of men. We do not have a revival because our churches are filled with idolaters who cannot go up to Bethel, because they will not put away their strange gods. ''Ye adulterers and adultresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.'' When Christians love the world more than they love God, they are idolaters and adulterers, and we should be jealous for them with a godly jealousy, for they have been espoused to one husband and married to Christ.
Paul names another class of idolaters, numerous in these last days, ''lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God'' (II Tim. 3:4). Too many, even among our professing Christians, can play but cannot pray, know the names of the movie stars but cannot name the books of the Bible, can find Amos and Andy on the radio but
would have trouble locating Amos and Andrew in the Bible. They know the baseball scores but not what the score is in God's Word. They yell like Comanche Indians at football games and sit like wooden Indians in church. They can weep over the glycerin tears of Hollywood divorces and sit dry-eyed while missionaries plead for lost millions without God and without hope in this world.
The day is long gone when the movie was mere entertainment. Today it is a cult. The actors and actresses are actually called ''idols,'' the theater is the church, the screen is the altar, the onlookers are the worshipers. It is idolatry in a vile and potent form.
We are told again that ''the love of money is the root of all evil'' (I Tim. 6:10). Add the rest of that verse and fill in the name of some Bible character who was ruined by money and see how it works out: ''The love of money is the root of all evil: which while Achan, or Gehazi, or Balaam coveted after, he erred from the faith, and pierced himself through with many sorrows.'' How it fits! And how many it fits today! No wonder Paul says next, ''But thou, O man of God, flee these things.'' The love of money gets into the pulpit, and while we would hardly expect a man to enter the ministry for money, he may worship Mammon before he gets out. The prophet sometimes turns racketeer and goes the way of Balaam. Others suppose that gain is godliness and make a lucrative business out of their Christian profession, advance their worldly interests by claiming to be Christians, and make piety a cloak for covetousness. ''They imagine that religion is a paying concern'' and that gain is godliness, which is contrary to what Paul teaches, that ''godliness with contentment
is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.''
The love of money gets into the church and we behold the modern counterpart of Abraham letting the King of Sodom make him rich. It is a sad spectacle when churches and denominations accept the gifts and endowments of the world inspite of plain Scripture that God's work must be supported by God's people God's way. Ezra would not accept help from outsiders, but the church has forgotten how to say ''No'' to the subtle offers of the Adversary. The love of money is idolatry, and the church of God, as well as the man of God, will do well to ''flee these things.'' The Word of God teaches, not the denial of money on one hand or its deification on the other, but its dedication, and if there were fewer Christians worshiping the golden calf there would be more rejoicing around the fatted calf as prodigal sons come to God.
In Philippians Paul speaks of those whose god is their physical appetites: ''For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.'' Now note the contrast: ''For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.'' In that day the Greeks of the Epicurean philosophy enjoyed the pleasures of the body and majored on it. Certainly, the description fits the modern age with its glorification
of the physical, ''whose glory is in their shame.'' Over against that we are reminded that Christians are a colony of heaven and that our conduct should befit our citizenship.
We have let liberty run to license. Even stout fundamentalists who claim they want to hear God's Word do not warm up to such passages that conflict with their enjoyments. We are not legislating conduct, and realize that what is considered good decorum in one part of the country is frowned on in another. There is a conscience on tobacco in one area, on movies in another, on mixed bathing in another. The tobacco user resents bearing down on ''filthiness'' and too close an application of verses about the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Movie-goers would have you touch lightly on ''unfruitful works of darkness.'' And mixed bathers who appear half clad pass quickly over that verse about ''modest apparel.'' Some of us still like to see autumn come, when the saints are at least clothed if not in their right minds!
Some appetites are natural and are to be governed with temperance; others are acquired, and many of them are to be denied with total abstinence. Any may become gods and master us. The eater must put a knife to his throat if given to appetite. Of course, from one extreme in Philippians some run to the other in Colossians. Faddists with a sprig of celery in one hand and a leaf of lettuce in the other need to remember that meats are to be received with thanksgiving, for every creature of God is good and nothing is to be refused if it be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. Yet Christians do dig their graves with their teeth, and McCheyne claimed
that the devil could defeat a preacher by making him a lover of good eating. Bunyan said the effect of many a sermon was ruined by a Sunday dinner. Were those old-timers too introspective and ascetic? Well, when a preacher really begins a closer walk with God, you will find him thumbing the pages of these old saints and not chumming with the happiness boys.
Certainly, the human body is the god of millions, and our hospitals, asylums and penitentiaries are filled with worshipers of the flesh. If you are a slave to any appetite you are an idolater. Put away your strange gods and go back to Bethel!
Our Lord said, ''He that loveth father or mother, son or daughter, more than me is not worthy of me.'' Of course, most of us do not love our loved ones enough, but even at that, we may love them more than we love God. When Abraham offered Isaac, whatever else it proved, it showed that Isaac was not Abraham's god.
There is one other idol. I would mention. Many a man who does not worship at any of the shrines I have mentioned goes into idolatry here. We are told that in the last days men will be ''lovers of their own selves'' ourselves, for we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, but many a man makes himself his god. A popular song used to run,
I love me, I love me,
I'm wild about myself.
Our Lord said that if we followed Him, we must deny self. The Macedonians first gave themselves. A man may renounce all other false deities and worship
at the shrine of self. It is the hardest idol to overthrow. A lot of religious activity today is simply old Adam operating under the auspices of the church. Ministerial ambition, denominational pride, and the energy of the flesh in general, try to do the work of the Spirit. The egotist parades himself and calls it his testimony. The gossip's tongue is as sharp as ever, only it is now not criticism but ''my honest opinion.'' Cover it up in the language of the Gospel, perfume it with rhetoric, throw in a few tears for effect, but when translated it still reads,
I love me, I love me,
I'm wild about myself.
What is your idol? Put away the strange gods, turn to God from idols. Turn from these vanities to serve the living and true God.
The dearest idol I have known,
What'er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne
And worship only Thee.
A missionary noticed in his congregation a native clutching tightly in his hand an image of his idol. As the speaker presented the Gospel, the hand gradually relaxed, until with a soft thud the idol struck the floor. Would that there might be a letting go of our idols in the church these days!
Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole;
I want Thee forever to live in my soul.
Break down every idol, cast out every foe,
Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
Chapter 18 || Table of Contents