“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” 1 John 5:21
Before I share thoughts on today’s text, it is important to avoid confusion and have at least a working definition of the main term used. While far from perfect, this is my understanding.
Idol: an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship or a person or thing greatly admired, loved, or revered.
Idolatry: the worship of idols or extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone.
The KJV Bible uses the term “idol” 119 times and the above gives six instances. Idolatry crops up many times in the Bible, even when the word idol isn’t used. A recurring OT theme is that the children of Israel became subject to God’s displeasure and judgment when they followed idols and false gods, for example: “And they forsook the Lord and served Baal and Ashtaroth” Judges 2:13.
They were breaking the first two of the Ten Commandments, and this likely led to the breaking of the other eight. One of the many other OT stories involving idols is when Jacob left his uncle Laban, taking with him his wives and children and, unbeknown to him, his wife, Rachel, took the family idol, causing a great hiatus. While such form of idolatry seems out of place in today’s world, the modern equivalent exists, both in society in general and in the lives of individual believers. If that were not the case, the Apostle John would not have exhorted his readers as he did, with such passion.
Before I share my own thoughts, I wish to refer to yesterday’s sermon at my church, titled “Samuel leads Israel to victory” based on the passage given below. I do not wish to repeat what was said and recommend readers check this out for themselves. It struck me that the verses “And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only” 1Samuel 7:3,4 represented a temporary turning point in the fortunes of the children of Israel (they were to return to idolatry and reap judgment), and it led to a period of prosperity and peace.
Like all good preaching, it got me thinking on my own response. It seems to me that, nationally, our own current demise is a lot down to people’s hearts that have NOT been prepared unto the Lord, and no doubt that is something to consider when preaching (as we must) to the unconverted. But there is also a lesson for the converted and it is back to “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”.
What is your idol and what is mine? My wife suggested that in my case it might be my preoccupation with being a watchman on the wall ahead of being preoccupied with the Lord with all my heart, and for all of us it is a matter of identifying and then putting away all idols, whatever the modern manifestation happens to be, and only then will we see the breakthroughs we long for and desire.
Our text does come out of the blue and almost appears to be out of context. With reference to the preceding verses in this final chapter of 1 John, John’s intention was to encourage his readers, reminding them of their sacred duty to hang in there and live a life of love and obedience to their Lord. The one thing that can spoil this is if they do what God’s special people before them often did and with dire consequences – succumb to idolatry. Thus the kindly warning – in the light of these glorious truths, PLEASE don’t blow it with idols!
When I recently wrote my “Watching on the Wall and keeping close to God” article, mindful of the need to maintain a proper balance (spiritual and temporal), I included the following Hosea text that is just as applicable to our present situation as the preceding Isaiah one. God does not mess about; he will only do business with people who worship Him with a pure heart, and that is His desire.