A few days ago, Pastor J.D. Greer wrote a piece where he gave five insights on idolatry from Acts 19. I found the piece very concise, simple, and profoundly helpful. I highly recommend you read the entire post. I promise you won’t regret it.
To whet your appetite and grease your gears for the task, I thought the first insight was especially helpful and heart-searching as he answers the question, “What is an idol?”
An idol is anything that promises a life of security and joy apart from God.
In Acts 19, Artemis is described as the “protector” and “prosperer” of Ephesus. With her, the Ephesians believed, they were guaranteed security and joy. This false hope is precisely what makes an idol an idol. Idols are not usually bad things, but good things that have become ultimate things—things you believe guarantee you joy and security.
What is that in your life? About what do you think, “As long as I have this, I’ll have happy”? What do you so desperately need that you can’t imagine a fulfilled life without it?
What makes these idols so dangerous is that they are nearly always good things. I have seen the good of desiring marriage become a false god. I’ve seen the good of wanting to provide become the idol of always needing to achieve one more financial benchmark. The problem isn’t the money or the marriage. The problem comes when we trust in those things to satisfy.
When you think about idolatry, don’t think of making sacrifices to little action figurines in a smoke filled temple, but think about the things you are tempted to live for; the things you can’t live without. Think of your family, spouse, children, girlfriend, or boyfriend. Think about being praised and honored among your family, friends, peers, and community. Think about getting into a good college or having a successful career. Those are the things that we are tempted to live for; the good things that we tend to make the ultimate things. Those are the things we must enjoy, but never worship.
Amidst the calls of these idols, here God clearly, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Amidst the call of these idols, may we too pray, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37).