Summary: In this introduction to the series, we discuss what idolatry is and how it is still a problem in our modern times.
A. Can you guess what is the number one problem in the Bible?
1. It is the problem that more than 1,000 verses speak of?
a. It is the problem that more than 50 of the laws in the first five books of the Bible are directed against.
b. In Judaism it was one of only four sins to which the death penalty was attached.
c. If you didn’t know the answer to that question, you might have figured it out by the title of today’s sermon and the new sermon series it begins.
2. The number one problem that the Bible addresses is the problem of idols and idol worship.
a. In our modern culture and the modern church, we tend to skip over it as an antiquated or irrelevant issue.
b. But nothing could be further from the truth – it is in no way antiquated or irrelevant.
c. We might think that the problem in our time is that people don’t worship any god, but in reality, the truth is they are worshiping too many gods.
d. Christian writer Os Guinness wrote: “Idolatry is huge in the Bible, dominant in our personal lives, and irrelevant in our mistaken estimations.”
3. Idols and idol worship are a part of the war that is being waged for our lives and our hearts.
a. There is a pantheon of counterfeit god’s that are vying for our allegiance.
b. Every day we are bombarded with messages of power and success, entertainment and wealth, pleasure and romance, and through these things the enemy seeks to convince us that our lives are somehow incomplete, and can be made complete by chasing after these grand illusions that promise fulfillment, only to come up empty and disillusioned, and spiritually dead.
B. Kyle Idleman, in his book gods at war, opens chapter one with this illustration: Imagine a man who has been coughing constantly.
1. This cough keeps him up half of the night and interrupts any conversation he has.
2. The cough is so unrelenting that he goes to the doctor.
3. The doctor runs tests and the results reveal that the man has cancer.
4. Knowing how tough the news will be to handle, the doctor decides not to tell the man he has cancer, but rather writes a prescription for strong cough medicine, and tells the man he should be feeling better soon.
5. The man is delighted with this prognosis, and sure enough the medicine helps and he feels better and sleeps better.
6. Meanwhile, the cancer is eating away at his body.
7. The point that Idleman makes is that when we treat the symptoms rather than the cause, we don’t help anyone.
8. The same is true when all we are concerned about are symptoms that surface in our lives, like: stress, cheating, lusting, spending, worrying, medicating, and quitting.
9. If we only focus on those symptoms, rather than the underlying causes, then we miss the real problem, and the real problem – the true illness is idolatry.
C. If we start scratching at whatever struggle we are dealing with, we will eventually find that behind the struggle is an idol, a false god that we are worshiping.
1. And until that god is dethroned, and the Lord God takes His rightful place, we will not experience victory and we will not move forward spiritually.
2. And so idolatry is not an issue, but is the issue.
D. For us modern, 21st century types, the word “idolatry” conjures up pictures of primitive people bowing down before statues.
1. In the ancient Greco-Roman world of New Testament times, each city worshipped its favorite deities and built shrines around their images for worship.
2. When the apostle Paul went to Athens, he saw that it was literally filled with images of these deities.
a. The Parthenon of Athena overshadowed everything, but other deities were represented in every public space.
b. There was Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty; Ares, the god of war, Artemis, the goddess of fertility and wealth; and Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship, just to name a few.
3. But in reality and practice, our contemporary culture is not fundamentally different from the ancient ones.
a. Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols.
b. Each culture has its own “priesthoods,” its totems and rituals.
c. Each culture has its own “shrines” – theirs had different sizes and designs, ours might look like office towers, spas and gyms, studios or stadiums.
E. The apostle Paul wrote that greed was not just bad behavior, but that greed is idolatry (Col. 3:5).
1. We can make money into a god, and then our relationship with it approximates worship and homage.
2. When money becomes our spiritual obsession, like all addictions it hides it true proportions from its victims.