Little children, keep yourselves from idols. ~ 1 John 5:21
When the apostle John was writing this letter, idol worship was very prevalent. Elaborate temples were built to honor and worship false gods. Mammoth sized images were erected to advertize a city’s allegiance and devotion to their particular god or goddess. Entire cities, such as Ephesus, depended upon the worship of the fertility goddess, Dianah, for their economic livelihood. When, in the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul and his companion Barnabas healed a man in the city of Iconium, the citizens actually believed the two preachers were Mercurius and Jupiter come down to the earth in the likeness of men. Roman military, Roman Caesars, and Roman roads might have connected, identified and civilized the known world, but it was the Greek’s superstitions, love of philosophy, and worship of false gods by the dozens that still invaded the minds and hearts of its citizens.
But John was not writing to those known pagans or idol worshippers. He was not addressing those who did not know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. His letter was to Christians whose lives had been steeped in idolatry before they were saved. He wanted to encourage those Christians who had been delivered from spiritual darkness to keep for God that place in their heart and life that belonged to Him and Him alone. Nineteen centuries ago Zeus, Jupiter, Hercules, Dianah, and a host of other false, man-made gods were the objects of affection that Christians daily struggled to deny. It wasn’t as simple as avoiding the pagan temple or throwing away or destroying their personal idols. It was much more complicated than that because pagan worship and idolatry was infused into every facet of their lives. It was their very culture. In many areas of the city, miniature shrines would be erected where subjects were required to bow and pay homage as they passed by. In certain markets or other places of business, one was required to bow to an idol before they could even enter. Obviously, Christians who desired to maintain a clear conscious before the true and living God refused to do so and were swiftly denied access to these establishments, and were eventually severely persecuted.
Today, the temptation is to superficially read this verse with little or no regard to its relevance, and yet, this passage is just as relevant and applicable today as it was in the days of the patriarchs and apostles. In fact, it is probably more relevant to us in this post Christian American culture than it ever has been before. The only difference between us and the Christians of the 2nd century is the objects of our affections.
Our culture is not “pagan” in theory, but it sure is in practice. Americans are expected to bow to the idols of political correctness and social acceptance. Even churches have succumbed to this warped ideology and are conforming to the world rather than being transformed by the Word. The average church in America today is trying to be sugar to a decaying society that is in desperate need of salt. Bowing to the idol of popularity has placed Christianity in America on the precipice of losing its identity. American Christianity, and particularly conservative Christianity, has become irrelevant in our post Christian society. Keeping ourselves from idols would mean preaching an unpopular message and living an unpopular lifestyle, and many churches and Christians are simply not willing to pay that high of a price. But God did not call us to be popular, but rather to be holy!
The Holy Spirit never fails to convict my heart when I begin allowing idols, altars and high places into my heart and life. If not put in check early, these squatters will quickly crowd Christ from His throne. Too often, I allow my affections to be averted from the eternal by being distracted by the temporal,. It takes a conscious, daily effort for me to keep my sights fixed upon things above rather than those things on the earth.
The verse, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”, is a very real and personal admonition for my daily life. I wonder if it is for you as well.