Seeds of Promise Series by Shenica Graham
Maximizing Ministry Part X.II – The Second Commandment
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Idolatry is not the sometimes musings of the heart. If you watch television once a month and forget about it, spending more of your time outdoors, TV is probably not your idol. The idolater is obsessive about the idol and would scarce be able to forget about his obsession. Idol worship is a sad misuse of the gift of God. Consider that since God has made people in His image, we are a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7). The almost heavenly have no business bowing down to inanimate objects, which things that will not last (Jeremiah 10:11). A wise woman once said, I would not serve a God I could not feel. An idol cannot give you what God can give, but it can rob you of time – as is wasted in its service.
A statue cannot offer you any benefit for your service. But they that wait upon the Lord shall have renewed strength (Isaiah 40:31). Waiting on God is more than the act of pausing until He does something. To wait upon the Lord is like a Waiter, in a restaurant. Waiting on the Lord involves actively providing maintenance to the relationship between you and God – nurturing and caring for it, making sure nothing is lacking, and continuing to serve God in the meantime, not only when He is physically doing something for you – because the truth is, God is always doing something. The air you breathe is a gift of God. Every breath you take is under his command.
Isaiah 42:8 I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.
The Second Commandment
Scripture Basis: Exodus 20:4-6 “4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”
We know that worshipping any thing is idolatry; but it is not the only way to travel this descending road. An idol is anyone or anything that draws your worship away from God. An idol can be a person, a job, food, drugs, internet, television, money, even sex. This does not mean that any of these things are evil within themselves. God has ordained a place for all of these things. When they are used for proper purposes, within the right contexts, they are not evil.
Where people get into trouble with God, is when their value of a person crosses the line to near stalking; when a job becomes the only thing you have time to do and you can never put God on your schedule; when food is no longer consumed for the life of the body, but gorged upon; when the internet is no longer a harmless tool, but the only thing that matters in your life; when drugs are not used for medicinal purposes, but are the master to which you become slave; when television is not for occasional entertainment, but is the only input you allow and leave no room for anything else; when money is no longer a means of getting what you need, but is what you covet at the expense of relationships; when sex is no longer a union of marriage, but consumes your every thought and you have no self control. These are just a few examples of what idols could be other than statues. It is important to understand that idolatry is first a temptation, before you succumb to it. As such, you can resist it (James 4:7) before it overtakes you (I Corinthians 10:13).
Idolatry is a spiritual heart condition, because when you truly worship something, you put your heart into it. When something conflicts with what you worship, you base your decision on what you worship – it wins. Idolatry happens when the heart is engrossed in something that it should not be. The problem with idolatry is that it is all-consuming, just like an addiction. Think about it: you cannot possibly love God with all your heart, if you are giving all of your time, money, blood, sweat, and tears to an idol. Where does God fit in? Let’s look at some tips for avoiding idolatry.
Tips For Avoiding Idolatry
Discipline. Avoiding idolatry takes discipline. It is the first step to self-control. Since we are given the power of choice, we have the opportunity to impact our lives for good or evil. To do evil does not take a great effort. Since the human nature is sinful without God’s intervention (Romans 3:23, Psalm 51:5), all it takes for evil to triumph is that the good do nothing. Idolatry is a subtle evil. It does not come upon you all at once. It creeps up in successive words and deeds that deny the worship of God. For this reason, if you do not resist it when you are so exposed, you will become a part of it by default. On the other hand, to do good does take effort. To abstain from idolatry, you have not only to resist evil, but you must actively submit yourself to God.
Hold Your Tongue. There is something to be said for tact. Someone who always says the first thing that comes mind – no matter how insulting, might want to work on developing some social grace. Running off at the mouth is actually a good sign of a life that is out of control – a breeding ground for idolatry. The Word says that no human being can tame the tongue (James:8). So, you need help – divine help is the best intervention. If one cannot control the tongue, it is likely true that he or she cannot control their heart’s desires, and by extension, the worship of whatever the heart desires. But the discipline to control the tongue, when activated, is a mark of someone who is in tune to the conscience, which is designed to be the still small voice from God. When the tongue is corrupt, the conscience is seared more and more by every contrary word, until finally the mind is reprobate (Romans 1:28). If you can bridle the tongue, you are able (with effort) to bring the entire body under subjection (James 3:2).
Be Careful What You Tell Your Heart. You see, the heart was designed to worship – it is part of the mechanism of humanity that God instilled in His creation – yes, we were created to praise (worship) Him (Psalm 148:5). Thus, the heart will worship what is to it deemed worthy. Do not blame the heart. It is only doing its job. You have to take control of this willing member and give it the right stimuli. Avoid confusing your heart by gossip and the like (James 3:10). When you speak with your mouth, you send a message to your heart. If what you say is in conflict with you purpose to believe, you set your heart up to tricked by wrong input – because in the absence of a solid foundation, it will simply follow the most pervasive influence. Like when a bucket is full of water, you cannot add something new unless you remove some of the water. So do not drown your heart with idols, because you will make a difficult work of worshipping the one true God. If your heart is full of idols, empty out your cup so God can fill you up. Make your heart available to Him.
Separate & Protect. There is nothing wrong with being thankful. You should have a life of gratitude. Just be careful that you understand who is the author of every good thing (James 1:17). If you find there is something overtaking your time and resources to the extent that the distance between you and God is growing, take a break from that thing. Do not let anything separate you from the love of God (Romans 8:38). Take a step back and evaluate the situation un-emotionally. You may just need some time off. You might need to re-think your habits and routines completely. Separate yourself from obvious idols and protect yourself from things that may become so. Keep the world and everything in it in a proper perspective. Understand that no matter how shiny, large, expensive, talented, or otherwise impressive something or someone is, God is the chief among all and without Him, there would be no people or things to enjoy – so remember to give God the glory for all, and you will guard yourself from worship that is not centered on Him.
Practice Moderation. Many things in small increments, will not harm you. For example, one piece of chocolate in a week’s time, is not going to make you obese. Paying attention to what you eat, think, do, and say, will help you to understand where your weaknesses are. When you practice moderation, you retain control of your cravings – which are not limited to food. St. Ambrose wrote, “…our passions are to be controlled by our reason; next, we ought to observe a suitable moderation in our desires; and, lastly, everything ought to be done at the right time and in the proper order…” Excess gratifications usually come upon us because we have lost control in some other area of our lives. In other words, when we seek to solve the problem of idolatry, we need to understand that the source of the problem is usually not that thing we have made to be an idol in our lives. For example, high (out of control) stress may be the cause of over eating. Thus, the root of the problem is not food itself, but our reaction to the stress.
Know Your Limits. Ephesians 5:8 instructs us not be excessively drunk with wine, but to be filled by the Holy Spirit from God. It is important to know that “drunkenness” is not caused by wine only. We are people with many senses. When either of these is overwhelmed, it is a state of drunkenness to our being. When we “observe a suitable moderation” (as St. Ambrose wrote) in our daily lives, we will better notice when something is over our usual limit. At that time, we should take an inventory of our thoughts, emotions, environment, and behaviors to draw our attention to what is really going on within us and around us. Knowing your limits gives you the advantage of establishing a plan of action to implement when and if you are disposed to, or get too close to crossing the line. Before you become drunk with any stimulus, you can trigger your inner moderate guard and revert to discipline instead of losing control.