“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” 1 John 5:21
In the Old Testament, idolatry consisted of worshipping other gods, usually statues made of wood, stone, or gold. Israel struggled throughout its history with worshipping the false gods of the nations around them, right up until the time of the Babylonian Captivity, at which time they finally seemed to learn the lesson (perhaps they even overcorrected and became too legalistic).
In the New Testament, Paul mentions idolatry in Romans and 1 Corinthians, but he seems to expand the concept to other forms in Colossians 3:5, where he declares that greed, or covetousness, is idolatry.
In churches today, you’ll often hear a definition of idolatry as anything that people value or love more than God. The Bible is clear that we are to keep God preeminent in our lives. After all, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. —Matt 22:37
America has many such idols that prevent us from loving God with all our heart. Let’s focus our discussion on two of the most popular ones—money and sports. These two often go together, but let’s begin with money.
There’s nothing wrong with money in and of itself; it’s the love of money that is a sin. We need money to pay the bills, to eat, and even to help others. Money is a necessary evil in a fallen world.
Our currency displays our national motto, “In God We Trust.” It is a wonderful motto. Sadly, though, in practice our nation often seems to trust in the dollar instead of the Deity.
Idolatry often masks itself in practical ways as corporations and individuals excuse unethical behavior in order to increase the bottom line. At other times it’s more obvious such as when a professional athlete or coach who is already making millions of dollars will leave his team for a better deal.
Paul warns us about chasing after riches in 1 Timothy 6:9:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.
The idol of money, like all idols, will not satisfy. No amount is enough. Those who seek happiness or security in wealth will never be fulfilled.
Sports is another American idol. Again, there’s nothing wrong with sports in and of themselves. I’ve enjoyed playing and watching sports myself. But our society has taken athletics to the extreme. We’re all familiar with the exorbitant salaries of professional athletes. We also are aware of people who won’t miss a game of their favorite team, but they can’t seem to find anytime for serving God or attending church.
Little league baseball teams play tournaments almost every weekend in the spring, summer, and fall, making it almost impossible for the players and parents to attend church on Sunday mornings. Fans will go all out for their favorite sports team, but they often show little enthusiasm for the things of the Lord. Families get together for holidays and spend nearly the whole time watching and talking about football.
To make matters worse, there are seemingly few sermons about repentance of idolatry in American churches. We need preachers who will tell it like it is. Instead, preachers calculate what is safe to say and filter their sermons through a politically correct lens. If we’re going to correct the sin of idolatry, we must first confront it from the pulpit.
The bottom line is that we need to repent of leaving our first love and get back to putting Christ first in our lives. Anything less will leave us feeling unsatisfied and miserable. Only God can fill our hearts with joy and offer us the forgiveness and healing that our nation so desperately needs.