Are You an Idolator?

One of the more striking things for a Westerner about traveling to an Eastern country is seeing the many shrines dedicated to idolatrous worship. While it might be argued that iconography in certain denominational churches sometimes borders on idolatry, offering food or incense before a statue hasn’t been commonplace in western culture for hundreds of years. This might lead a westerner to the erroneous conclusion that while idolatry is present in other cultures, it isn’t in his or hers.

Paul said, “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5). While it could be argued in light of Colossians 3:5 that Paul once again is drawing a link between covetousness and idolatry, it could also be argued that idolator is a term that is applicable to each of these three kinds of sinners. What did Paul illustrate in highlighting these three behaviors or conditions, and in what way might they be tied to idolatry?

Fornication can be understood as a sexual relationship outside of the one place where such is honorable: the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). God created sexuality when he created man as a beautiful and fulfilling part of human existence; He then created marriage and said, “This is where this beautiful thing belongs” (cf. Genesis 2:22-25). Effectively, a fornicator looks at what God has created and says, “I believe this beautiful thing ought to be experienced elsewhere and in other ways.”

Uncleanness when used in a non-literal sense references a condition of moral filth or corruption. It is contextually given its broadest range of meaning by Paul when he says, “all uncleanness” (Ephesians 5:3), and thus refers to anything that denigrates us or makes us worse. Things are unclean because they are contrary to God’s nature, and, as souls made in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27), they are contrary to our nature too. When God identifies something as unclean and sinful, He effectively says, “This is awful. It will hurt you and make you worse.” An unclean person looks at what God has forbidden and, contrary both to God and himself says, “I’ll do this or have that anyway.”

Covetousness refers to a greedy desire for more. Though it could reference a desire for illicit goods obtained in an ill-gotten way, it could equally reference a lack of satisfaction with good things obtained lawfully and a stubborn determination to have more. When we work according to the principles of God’s word and God provides for us, it’s as though God is saying, “This is what you should have.” A covetous person though says, “No thank you God, I want more, and I’ll get it at any cost.”

In Ephesians 5:5, Paul effectively paints three portraits: one of a person who seeks to change what is good, one of a person who seeks to do or have what is bad, and one of a person who is not satisfied with what he has been given. One thing is common to each person: a prideful exaltation of self and a corresponding devaluation of God’s values. No statue or idol is needed in any of these pictures to declare them idolators, because rather than worshipping God, each person is worshipping the god of self.

Sin leads you to elevate yourself to the level of God so that you can attempt to take the rule that belongs to Him. When you sin, you become your own idol. It’s important though to return to the thought with which Ephesians 5:5 concludes: no idolator will have “any inheritance in the kingdom Christ and God.” As much as you might be tempted to sit on the throne of your life, heaven and earth belong to God, and He has given Jesus authority over them (Matthew 28:18). Don’t be an idolator, but rather worship and serve God and His anointed King, Jesus, by allowing Him to determine what is good, what is bad, and what you should or should not have.  
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org

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