The definition of idolatry, according to Webster, is “the worship of idols or excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.” An idol is anything that replaces the one, true God. The most prevalent form of idolatry in Bible times was the worship of images that were thought to embody the various pagan deities.
Many times today, we worship at the altar of our own pride and ego. This often takes the form of obsession with careers and jobs. Millions of men and women spend 60-80 hours a week working. Even on the weekends and during vacations, our laptops and smartphones are humming and our minds are whirling with thoughts of how to make our businesses more successful, how to get that promotion, how to get the next raise, how to close the next deal. In the meantime, our children are starving for attention and love.
We fool ourselves into thinking we are doing it for our family, to give them a better life. But the truth is we are doing it for ourselves, to increase our self-esteem by appearing more successful in the eyes of the world. This is folly.
All our labors and accomplishments will be of no use to us after we die, nor will the admiration of the world, because these things have no eternal value. As King Solomon put it, “For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 2:21-23).
Here is the wise waning from the Apostle Paul. I must pay attention. God doesn’t tolerate worship of anything but Him.
Little children, guard yourselves from idols. | 1 John 5:21 (CSB)
Idolatry is real in our world today. We think not but we are deceiving ourselves. I see it in my life. I am guessing you can as well.
All the various forms of modern idolatry have one thing at their core: self. We no longer bow down to idols and images. Instead we worship at the altar of the god of self. This brand of modern idolatry takes various forms.
- Acts 17:16 (CSB) —While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed when he saw that the city was full of idols.
- Acts 14:11–13 (CSB) —When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the town, brought bulls and wreaths to the gates because he intended, with the crowds, to offer sacrifice.
- Acts 17:22–23 (CSB) —Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
- Acts 19:24 (CSB) —For a person named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, provided a great deal of business for the craftsmen.
- 1 Corinthians 8:5 (CSB) —For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth—as there are many “gods” and many “lords”—
- Galatians 4:8 (CSB) —But in the past, since you didn’t know God, you were enslaved to things that by nature are not gods.