Warring Against Idolatry

33 So they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. 34 To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear the LORD, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that the LORD commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 The LORD made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36 but you shall fear the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37 And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, 38 and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, 39 but you shall fear the LORD your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 40 However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.
41 So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day. (2 Kings 17:33-41)

Last week from this chapter in 2 Kings, we looked at what idolatry is. The definition I used came from John Piper, and I’ll read it again. He states that an idol is “a thing…or a person loved more than God, wanted more than God, desired more than God, treasured more than God, enjoyed more than God.”

Idols can be anything. Anything we put above God. It could be a spouse or child, a loved one. We could make power into an idol, or other people’s respect, or wealth, or comfort, or work, or health, or entertainment. Anything can be an idol. We make ourselves into idols. We worship ourselves. We act like the world revolves around us. We think life is about us, rather than God.

This is idolatry.

Another thing we saw last week, from this chapter in 2 Kings, is the severe cost that is paid when a Christian holds on to idols in their life, and worships idols rather than worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ. There is always damage done when idols are worshiped.

We all know that idolatry is a bad thing. But in our practice, in our actions, what are we doing to fight against it? Do we make war against idolatry? Or do we pretend it’s harmless, and allow it to take over our hearts?

I listened to a sermon once by Matt Chandler where he was explaining the danger of sin, and our tendency to take that danger lightly. He said that once he was watching TV, and there was a man on the TV who had a pet lion. And at one point during the show the lion attacked the man’s girlfriend. It almost killed her. And everyone on the show was completely shocked that the lion would do that. They just couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t believe that this sweet pet lion would attack someone. Chandler said that as he was watching all this take place, he’s thinking, “It’s a lion! Of course it attacked a person! That’s what lions do. They’re predators. It’s in their nature.”

The idols in our lives are often like that lion. We think we have them trained. We think we’ve tamed them. We make little pets out of them, and snuggle up to them, rather than guarding ourselves against them, rather than making war against them.

One of the ways we do this is by thinking that God and idols can co-exist in our lives. We think there’s enough room in our hearts for both. And as we see in our passage, the people in 2 Kings 17 thought the very same thing.

they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. (2 Kings 17:33)

We think we can love and serve God in an adequate way, while at the same time loving and serving our idols. But that doesn’t work. Because the only “adequate” way to love God is to love Him with every fiber of our being. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

And in Matthew 6:24, He said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Jesus’ word is the final word on the matter. When He said “No one can serve two masters,” He was including you and me. He wasn’t exaggerating by saying “no one.” He meant no one can serve two masters. No exceptions.

That doesn’t stop us from trying, does it? We try to serve two masters, we try to love two masters, but we can’t. As Jesus said, we can’t love both. Yet still, we defy the infinite knowledge of Christ, and try to do things our own way. We try to serve two masters, and we try to love them both. But it never works. It never does.

Imagine with me what our efforts to serve two masters might look like. Imagine what it’s like trying to serve multiple masters. Let’s say you’re standing right here, and you’re bound by several sets of chains, some on your arms, your wrists, your legs, your neck. Imagine that each of us has these chains on us, and standing all around us are some sort of monsters, that represent our idols. And they’re the ones that have us in chains. One idol over here, it’s holding the chain attached to your wrist, another over here, holding the chain attached to your neck, and so on. Imagine every idol in your life is standing around you, and each one has you bound in a set of chains.

For many of us this morning, this thing we’re imagining is a physical picture of a spiritual reality. This is a real picture of idolatry, because idolatry is slavery. It’s slavery to the worst bunch of masters.

So you have this picture. You’re standing here, surrounded by these monsters that represent idols, and their chains are binding you. Now imagine that Christ is standing right in front of you, and He says, “Follow me.” And you want to follow Him. You’re a Christian, you want to follow Him. But then, you have all of your idols standing around you. Whatever those things are for you. All of your idols are surrounding you, and they have a hold on you. Since they’re your masters, they can chain you up, put you on a leash, and pull you wherever they want you to go. And Christ is in front of you, saying, “Follow me.” You may try to take a step forward, but then what happens? Your slave masters tug at you. One pulls you to the right, another to the left, another pulls you back. It doesn’t really matter which direction. What matters is that you aren’t moving forward. You aren’t following Christ. You can’t. Because you can’t serve both idols and Christ. It’s impossible.

There is good news though. Even if you find yourself in this position today, with idols binding you. Struggling to follow Christ, but failing. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way! Because where do idols get their power? Where do they get those chains that bind? From us! We’re the ones who give idols power over us. We’re the ones who take things or people that are good gifts from God, and we exalt them to a place they don’t belong. We make idols out of them, and thus, masters out of them.

And as I said last week, we’re really good at this. Our hearts are proficient at making idols, even when we know that to serve God is better. Even when we’ve experienced the joy of loving God and being loved by Him, we still tend to turn away from Him.

It’s like we sang just this morning, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it! Prone to leave the God I love.” Then what’s the next line? “Here’s my heart, O, take and seal it! Seal it for thy courts above.”

Why do we sing that? What does it mean? Hasn’t God already sealed us for salvation? Yes, He has.

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Every Christian has been sealed with the Holy Spirit. We’ve been sealed for salvation. But that sealing doesn’t keep our hearts from wandering. It doesn’t always stop us from giving ourselves to idols. Don’t you wish that it did? As Christians, we hate that our hearts are so quick to turn away from the Lord. We should hate that. And because we hate it, we cry out, “God, take my heart, please! I don’t want to turn away from you anymore. I’m so sick with myself, I’m so sick of turning my back on you, so please just take my heart and seal it. Don’t let me stray from you again.” This is our struggle. This is where we live.

There is a war taking place within us. A war for our hearts, for our affections. Every day God’s position on the throne of our hearts is being challenged. There are other things or people that we desire, that we treasure more than we should. And those things seek to steal our love away from God. Our hearts are trying to be won.

It’s important for us to be aware of that. It’s important to know that there’s a battle going on for our hearts every day. This war is real, and it’s raging constantly.

But if we forget that this war is taking place, or we’re just ignorant of that truth, then we won’t fight. If we don’t fight, then we’ll form idols and give them power over us. And if we form idols, and give them power over us, we’ll fail to follow Christ as we’ve been called. Because we can’t serve two masters. We can’t. We will love one, and despise the other.

There is help for us in 2 Kings 17 regarding how we can fight against idols. How we can fight to keep our hearts for God. And that help comes in the form of commandments. Three times in the passage that Noah read, three times God gives the same commandment. He says, “You shall not fear other gods.” He says this in verse 35, verse 37, and verse 38. And two of those times He immediately follows that up with a second commandment. He says, “You shall not fear other gods…but you shall fear the Lord your God.”

Now, when you and I use the word “fear,” we’re almost always talking about something we’re afraid of, something we’re scared of. But the biblical word for “fear” contains a much wider dimension than our English word. There really isn’t an English word that fully encompasses what it means.

John MacArthur once tried to define what it means to fear the Lord, and he said, “To fear God is to live in the reality of His holiness, His sovereignty, and His judgment of sin. It is to love God, respect Him, reverence Him, adore Him, hold Him in awe, and worship Him.”

All of that is wrapped up in this one word, “fear.” When we read this command that we’re to fear the Lord, it includes all of that. But since we’ll have trouble remembering all of that, I will say that there’s actually a biblical precedent for using the word “worship” in place of the word “fear.” There’s a passage in Deuteronomy that’s very similar to these verses in 2 Kings. It’s a passage where God gives a commandment for the Israelites to fear Him, and to not go after other gods.

13 It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you (Deuteronomy 6:13-14)

The really interesting thing about this passage is that Jesus quotes it in the New Testament. But when He quotes it, instead of using the word “fear,” He uses the word “worship.” He says in Luke 4:8, “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6, but instead of using the word “fear,” He replaces it with the word “worship.”

By the way: Jesus is the only person that’s allowed to do this. He’s the only one who can replace biblical words with other words. He can do this because He was present when that verse in Deuteronomy was written, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He understands exactly what was meant by it. So He can take that Old Testament verse, and translate it in a way that would be better understood by New Testament people. And apparently the word “worship,” rather than “fear,” was a more fitting word for the time Jesus lived in. And because of that, I think the same is true for us today as well.

So the commandment for us in 2 Kings is, “Don’t worship other gods, but instead worship the Lord; give Him your reverence.” We are worshiping all the time. Who, or what do we worship?

The way that we make war against idols, is by refusing to worship them. By refusing to give them our reverence. By reminding ourselves that idols aren’t worth serving. They’re not worthy of our worship. They may try to convince us that they are, but idols can’t deliver on their promises. They’re liars. They say, “You’ll be happy if you do this! You’ll be happy if you have this! You’ll be happy if you go after this.”

Do those words sound familiar? We hear them in advertising, we hear them from the media. But we also hear them from ourselves. We tell ourselves these things. In our own inner dialogue, rather than preaching truth to ourselves, we so often tell ourselves lies. And we believe lies. And because we believe these lies, we get caught in an endless cycle. “This will satisfy me, this will, if only I had this…” On and on it goes. We endlessly toil to fulfill the desires of our heart. We endlessly toil to gain the things that we think will fulfill us. That we think will bring us joy. And every time we come up empty. Our happiness never lasts. Psalm 16:4 says, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.” God doesn’t want this for His people. He doesn’t want our sorrows to multiply, He wants our joy to multiply! And the only way for that to happen is for us to give ourselves to Him.

It’s not enough to simply stop worshiping idols. We have to start worshiping God. If we give up one idol, without giving ourselves to Him, we’ll just find another idol to replace it. The passage says, “You shall not worship other gods…but you shall worship the Lord your God.” You can’t separate the two parts. Both are needed. You can’t obey one without obeying the other.

In our flesh, we can be tempted to balk at commands like this. To balk at commands that order us to worship God. It can rub us the wrong way when we’re ordered to worship. To our sinful minds it may seem like God is being vain, or conceited. Like He needs our praise. Maybe we know someone who’s like that. Someone who craves praise, and recognition. But God isn’t like that. He doesn’t have self-esteem issues. He’s not desperate for some sort of affirmation from us that He’s a great God. He knows He’s a great God. He knows that He’s perfect in every way. We’re the ones who often have a faulty view of God. We’re the ones who often see Him as being less than He really is. And that’s a big problem. Because He is who He is.

Only as we serve the true Him, only as we worship Him, and love Him, and treasure Him above all else – only then will we find real satisfaction and joy. This is what we were created for. To be worshipers of God, those who enjoy the endless excellencies of God.

When He commands us to worship Him alone, and no other gods, He’s not being vain. And He’s also not holding out on us. He’s not keeping us from things that will bring us joy. He’s actually inviting us into the greatest of joys. His command is an invitation into the joy of intimacy with Him.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

So it’s Him, only Him.

Often, our relationship with God can be like the relationship of the prophet Hosea, and his wife Gomer. Do you remember the story of Hosea? God commanded Hosea to take a prostitute for himself as his wife. Her name was Gomer. Hosea was to love Gomer deeply, to treasure her as his bride. So Hosea followed the Lord’s command. He took Gomer out of prostitution, rescued her from that life of darkness, and he gave himself to Gomer. He loved her.

But do you remember how Gomer responded to that love? Scripture tells us that at some point she left Hosea, and gave herself to another man. She sold herself out once again. But Hosea didn’t give up on her. He went and purchased his wife back for himself. He redeemed her, and he continued loving her.

We may hear that story and think, “Why would Gomer ever leave Hosea? Why would she turn away from the person who truly loved her, and give herself again to someone who just wanted to use her?” But you and I are Gomer. Hosea represents God, and Gomer represents His people, you and me.

God rescued us out of slavery, when there was nothing attractive about us. Christ made us His bride, and cherished us, even though He’s perfect in every way, and we are so imperfect. He has promised to love us forever. His love never wavers, even when we turn away and serve idols. Why would we ever want to serve any other god? Why would we love anyone or anything more than we love Him? Isn’t He the kind of person that we want to give ourselves to?

In Isaiah 55, God gives us an exhortation. He speaks to all those who have been chasing idols. All those who long to have their deepest desires met, who want fulfillment, satisfaction, joy. As I read, listen to the compassion of God in these words. He says…

1 Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David. (Isaiah 55:1-3)

In our idolatry, we’re spending money for that which is not bread. We’re laboring for that which does not satisfy.

God doesn’t command us to worship Him because He needs our worship. He commands us to worship Him because we need Him! He is the answer to the deep longings of our hearts. He is the one our souls crave for. And even while we’re violating His law, turning against Him, and turning to idols, all the while He freely offers us the satisfaction we long for. He freely offers us the full joy that’s found in knowing Him.

We will be tempted to stray from Him, to leave our first love. Not because there’s anything wrong with Him, but because there’s so much wrong with us. We can’t trust ourselves. We’re self-destructive. We have deceitful desires. But Christ is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is the one our souls long for. And His is the way of eternal life, and eternal joy.

The way we fight against idols is by exalting Christ in our hearts and minds. Day by day, moment by moment esteeming Him above all others, above all else. When our reverence and adoration for Christ increases, our reverence for idols will decrease. Paul testifies to this in Philippians 3. He says in verse 8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” When we exalt Christ in our lives, then His surpassing worth leads us to count everything else as loss, as rubbish.

Is there anything in your life today, that’s stopping you from wholeheartedly giving yourself to Christ? Giving your life, giving your love, giving your decisions, giving your time, giving your all to Christ?

The last verse in our passage today in 2 Kings is verse 41…

So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day. (2 Kings 17:41)

What kind of legacy are you leaving? Parents, what legacy are you leaving for your children? Children, what legacy are you leaving for your siblings?

In a war, soldiers fight for a purpose. They fight for freedom. Not just for their own generation, but also for all those who will come after them.

We will leave a legacy. What will it be? Will we lead others in the way of freedom? Will we lead them in the freedom of following Christ? Or will we lead them in the way of slavery to idols?

The church, you and I, we are called to freedom.

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36)

Do you feel free today? Are you walking in the joy of freedom? Or are you weighted down by chains that won’t let you go where you want to go, that won’t let you follow Jesus? He’s right there in front of you, and you see Him, you want to follow, but as you start moving forward you’re yanked back by your other masters. Is that where you are right now?

Jesus died so that you could be free. Those chains can be cast off. Those other masters have no authority over God’s children.

Maybe you’re afraid to throw off the chains. You’ve grown so used to them, that you don’t even know anymore what life would be like without them. The unknown can be scary. Step out in faith.

Maybe you’ve had the chains so long, and you’ve tried before to throw them off, and you failed, so you’re not sure anymore that it’s even possible to change. You’ve lost hope. You may think, “Other people can change, sure, but not me.” Don’t believe that lie. Don’t believe the lies that your flesh tells you. Believe the words of Jesus. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

He endured the cross to win the victory for you, and the victory for me. To win our freedom. He endured the cross so that we could have the joy of life with Him. Give yourself to Him.

May we be a church that wars against idols. May you and I be people that cling to Christ. That fight for total allegiance to Christ. He is worthy of all our worship. And in Him is true freedom, true joy, true life.