Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday’s Ministry Musing: Preaching on Idolatry

I am convinced that my preaching on idolatry in the past has been missing something.  Let’s consider Psalm 115:1-8:

115:1 Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, 05-13Xbox_360
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

2 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.

4 Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
8 Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

In preaching on idolatry in the past I have mentioned such “idols” that we bow down to in our day: television, computers, iPhone’s, XBox’s, etc.  It seems like a major chasm exist between our obsession with television and God’s warning against bowing to an idol.  (Granted television can be, and is, a major vice).  What I mean is that the harlotry I engage in is far deeper than just sitting before a television screen or making too much out of a human relationship.  My idolatry—and I think the idolatry of those I minister to—goes far deeper. 

I really like the way Christopher Wright explains idolatry in his excellent work, The Mission of God.  There he considers four broad categories in which we often manufacture our gods from: things that entice us, things we fear, things that we trust, things we need.  (p.166-169)  By using such broad categories Wright helps us to see the vast array of things that entice us to idolatry.  And these categories also help me to understand where the fundamental problem for idolatry lies; my own prideful God-rebelling heart. 

The specific idol is not the issue—the wayward heart is.  It does not matter if it is a piece of wood, stone, plastic, or even a fictional image we have yet to make visible.  Therefore, we must not address the idols but rather the prideful God-rebelling heart that is bowing to them.  A heart that engages in idolatry is a heart that is not satisfied in God.  The only reason to engage in idolatry is that your God is not big enough to entice you, He is not big enough to protect you, He is not faithful enough to come through for you, and He is not sufficient enough to provide for all of your needs. 

Again I turn to Christopher Wright, “In worshipping [idols], we give them allegiance, we attribute power and authority, we submit ourselves to something that we have created…Whether addressing the piece of wood he has carved for himself as if it were actually a god or calling out to the invisible state gods…the worshiper is engaged in an exercise in futility.  The one is as much a produce of collective human imagination as the other is the work of individual human hands.  There is no salvation in either” (Wright, 153). 

So, the next time I preach a text dealing with idolatry I will address the wayward heart and let the Holy Spirit convict on the specific idols. 

There is so much more I want to say about this…


  1. Augustine said he felt it was his number one priority as a preacher was to wean his people from idolatry.

  2. Tom,

    I am only minimally exposed to the writings of Augustine. Do you have any idea how he preached to "wean his people from idolatry"?

    If I remember correctly Augustine was against icons. Yet, I do know that controversy (Iconoclast) was later than Augustine. So, when he is speaking against idolatry do you know what he is referring to? Physical idols or more heart idolatry. (Probably both).



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