Friedrich Nietzsche said there are more idols in the world than there are realities. But just what is an idol, and can the gospel become an idol?
I ask this because in Philippians 1, it’s clear that the spread of the gospel was a primary motivator to Paul. He was willing to go to jail for it, to be persecuted for it, and to die for it. It was everything for him. So, was it his idol? Can it be our idol?
What is an idol? An idol is anything we leave God for in order to seek significance, security, safety and satisfaction.
Our culture offers idols to us like a buffet offers food. We have many choices – and many of them are good. Service to God is a good thing – but it can become an idol. Money is a good tool, but a horrible master when it becomes an idol. Sex is a powerful force in marriage, but you don’t have to look far to see those that have been systematically destroyed by its power when idolized. The tricky part about idolatry is that it makes a good thing into an ultimate thing.
As a kid we’d occasionally eat at a Chinese restaurant and they’d have a bronze looking statue of a Buddha guy with a huge belly in the waiting area (I remember as a kid thinking I’d better not eat too much or I might look like him!). Growing up, that image was all I had to refer to when I would think of idols. They seemed far away, and removed from my experience.
The human heart has always desired control. In the OT idols were tools of control – they’d offer the right sacrifices to the idol to cause the god behind the idol to do what they wanted. Throughout the OT idols seem to be just different versions of the Buddha statue;
The Philistines sought to control their health by making little golden mice idols to receive healing (1 Sam. 6).
Nebuchadnezzar wanted to control people’s worship by setting up his huge golden statue (Dan. 3).
So – if the gospel is Paul’s ultimate thing – was it an idol to him? Was he seeking to control his significance, security, safety and satisfaction through the gospel? Did he leave God in his pursuit of the gospel? No. The gospel, or the bible, can become an idol when we leave Jesus and seek significance, security, safety and satisfaction through knowledge about the bible. That’s what was behind Jesus’ comment to the Pharisees in John 5:39-40. He said to them,
“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
So, here we have the Pharisees who had made the OT scriptures into an idol. They knew the bible, they studied the bible, they even worshiped the bible. But they never saw that the OT scriptures served one point - and that was to lead them and others to God’s son – the Messiah – who was Jesus.
As they diligently studied God’s word, instead of it becoming a light to their path, their idol of significance and control blinded them to the truth of the very pages they studied so diligently.
It’s like they had a treasure map and got so caught up with the map, that they never figured out the purpose of the map was to lead them to the treasure.
Paul found the treasure. Have you?
Why do you study the treasure map of God’s word?