Imagine with me a young married couple. The wedding was a blur but a wonderful evening. They are back from the honeymoon and life together is now starting. She doesn’t have the courage yet to tell him she doesn’t like football and he is trying to find the words to say he’d rather poke his eyes out than watch another Hallmark movie. They still cuddle together on the couch and enjoy just spending time together. Imagine a quiet evening and this couple is together and the man wraps his arm around his bride and says, “I love you as much as I love other women. In fact, I love you more than I love some women”. How do you think his wife would feel? By the way, this is not a story about me. This is completely hypothetical.
The reason why this husband will probably get slapped is that marriage is meant to be exclusive. Forsaking all others. You are to love a person. One. Your spouse is not to be one of many or even one of a few. Just one.
Today we are going to talk about the first commandment. The first commandment is concerned with the object of our worship. What or who we worship. In other words what we love. The commandment is we are to have no other gods. To avoid and flee loving, fearing or honoring anything or anyone other than the one true holy God. God is not one of many gods. Or one of a few gods. There is one God and we are to love him exclusively. We are to love Him only.
It seems pretty simple. Pretty straightforward. The commandment tells us to not worship idols. We just make sure we don’t worship a golden calf or Baal and we are fine. First, let’s do a quick vocabulary lesson.
So what is idolatry? The Heidelberg Catechism defines idolatry as having or inventing something in which to put our trust instead of, or in addition to, the only true God who has revealed himself in his Word.
What is an idol? Paul David Tripp defines it as something in creation that claims the place in my heart that only God should have. Romans 1:25 says that we “exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the created things rather than the Creator.”
When the Israelites made a golden calf it was very obvious, that is an idol. We have however become very sophisticated with our idolatry.
Virtually anything can become an idol if we put our trust in it and allow it to control us. Control how I use my time. Control how I treat other people. Control my attitude. Control what I think about. Control how I trust God and obey His word.
The things in creation are not idols in and of themselves. Money, friends, sports, good grades, winning, video games, and on and on are not idols. They are just stuff. They become idols when I put my trust in them and they take the place of God in my life. When they control me, they become my idols. When playing video games becomes more important than obeying my parents. When I care more about what people think of me than what God declares me to be. When I am working hard to get good grades so I get a lot of money and people will see me as successful instead of doing it to the glory of God. When playing sports becomes more important than doing my best in school. This is when the stuff of creation becomes an idol. We all struggle differently because our flesh is tempted in different and unique ways but we all struggle with chasing after things in creation instead of the creator. God calls us to love the LORD our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might.
I find it easy in my own life to slide into the kind of idolatry that the Heidelberg Catechism defines as one that is “in addition to” God. I don’t outright reject God but I don’t follow Him completely. We want the blessings of God but without totally committing to the work and sacrifice of a disciple. It is easy to convince myself that I can go to chapel and memorize my Bible verses but sleep through church because I stayed up too late playing video games that God is OK with that. I can look at whatever I want on my device as long as I get good grades. I can talk back to my parents and complain to my teacher as long as I get on the honor roll. We want God plus. God plus our idols.
One of the saddest examples of this is King Solomon. Who was King Solomon? The wisest man in the world. He built a beautiful temple for God. I Kings 11 says, “when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David…Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David.”
It is important to note that Solomon did not burn down the temple. He did not stop worshipping God. In fact, he faithfully kept attending services and sacrificing to the Lord. However, the Bible says his heart was no longer loyal to the Lord his God and did not fully follow the Lord. The problem was in addition to the temple, he built other temples to other gods and worshipped them as well. It was God plus, as in Solomon’s case, God plus women.
Contrast that with the blessed person of Psalm 1. Does anyone remember Psalm 1?
“Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.”
There is a single-mindedness. It is trusting God alone. Meditating, thinking over and over, about God’s Word. This is why we memorize scripture. To hide it in our hearts so we can think about it over and over. Psalm 1 says the person that does this is like a beautiful, strong, flourishing tree that bears good fruit.
God does not want part-time Christians. He didn’t create you or me to have us trust God plus selfish pleasure, God plus our success, God plus our reputation, God plus worrying what people think about me, God plus trying to control everything.
It is not a question of do I struggle with idolatry? Because the truth is we all do. The question is which idols do I struggle with? We are constantly putting our trust in other things and making things more important than God. John Calvin, the famous protestant reformer said our hearts are idol factories. We mass-produce them. You take one away and our hearts will forge another one.
So why are we so quick to put our trust in idols? In the book of Jonah chapter 3 says
“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.”
When we turn from God’s love or doubt God’s goodness or question His ability to help us or we just don’t want to obey Him, we will immediately be turning to something or someone else, and we will be guilty of idolatry.
The cure for idolatry is fully trusting God. Letting go of putting what I want first in my life and seeking first the kingdom of God. Ask yourself,
What do I love the most?
What do I desire the most?
What do I think of the most?
The answer to those questions – if it is not God and His word, those are your gods.
God is a perfectly faithful husband with a deep and eternal love for His bride. He expects in return love and faithfulness of heart, soul, and mind. He loves us. And He can be fully trusted. Remember He was the one who brought His people out of the house of bondage and slavery. This is the last verse of the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing and may it be the prayer of our heart today and for the rest of our lives.
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter (chain used to bind a prisoner, like a shackle)
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above