Yesterday’s sermon, the first of a four-part series called Idols, was one of the best sermons I’ve heard since I’ve been at Abstract. If you weren’t there, you missed something wonderful.
If you read the blog I ran during my internship with New Spring Church, you may remember the series I wrote on Gods at War by Kyle Idleman. This sermon series says some of the very same things Idleman does in his book, but it certainly has something unique to offer, concepts that Idleman didn’t touch on. It’s similar, but not an exact replica.
And to clarify, this blog series isn’t going to be the very same as the sermon series. It’s simply my take or expansion on something that was said or read during the sermons.
One of the scriptures from yesterday’s sermon is Acts 17: 16-34. I won’t discuss the entire scripture here, but I do recommend that you read all of it.
We find Paul in Athens, soaking up a lot of the culture. Rome, and Athens in particular, is known now for their philosophy back then. I’m sure the names Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, all of whom come from Athens, ring some bells. So Paul is walking around the city, and he sees all of these idols that the people there are worshipping.
I took a class my senior year in college that was about eastern religions, and the very first religion that we covered was Hinduism. While I’m not going to convert to Hinduism, I think it’s fascinating. At the end of that section of the course, we watched a very old video of a British man going over to India and talking to Hindus about their beliefs. In reality, Hinduism is more of an umbrella term for hundreds of different belief systems, some of which aren’t even really that similar. (Think of it as an easy way for the British to categorize the people according to their religion when they arrived.) So the man encountered several different types of Hindus. Some of them had statues in their homes that represented whatever god they worshipped. (It’d be like you having a statue or painting of a crucifix in your home.) The British man automatically assumed that the Hindus worshipped the statues themselves. In fact, he assumed it so strongly that the people had to keep telling him that the statue wasn’t an idol.
This is not the case with the people of Athens when Paul was visiting. They were worshipping the items and images before them, and they had altars built to even more gods than that.
The Athenians thought Paul was crazy, of course. I’m sure more than a few people whispered about how many nuts and bolts had come loose in his head over the years as he talked about the One True God and this guy named Jesus. “What’s he even talking about?” “Where did this guy say he was from?” “Seriously? The guy came back to life? He expects us to believe that?” They had no clue what Paul was saying, so they asked him to explain.
Paul says, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:22-25, NRSV).
Paul continues to explain the Gospel and Christianity to them, but I’m going to stop here.
Paul was the perfect person to explain all of this to the Athenians. I know that all of God’s plans are perfect, but I really wish I could give Him a high five on this one.
Before his conversion, Paul was “extremely religious” himself. Paul (or Saul, as he was called then) didn’t just go around killing Christians for the fun of it. He thought he was doing what was right, what was truthful. He thought he was happy and fulfilled in his service to his old religion.
It took one fall, being struck blind, and a short conversation with Jesus for Paul to realize how wrong he’d been.
We’ve all changed and looked back on who we were, what we were, and shook our heads. How could we have been so stupid? How could we have been so blind? Whether it causes us to chuckle or cringe, the one thing that’s for sure is that it seems so obvious to us now that we were wrong back then.
Saul’s religion was the center of his entire life. Where he went and what he did was based solely on his beliefs. Because of that, Paul was compelled to spend the rest of his life preaching the Gospel, making whatever amends he could and paying the price for his old life.
Perhaps Paul felt that he was looking into the past when he looked at an Athenian. So wrong, but of course, they wouldn’t believe it. Hadn’t he been that stubborn once?
Paul knew better than anyone the emptiness that comes with worshipping the wrong thing.
Idols will always leave us empty and disappointed. They weren’t designed to be held up, to receive undying devotion. Idols are created by humans and are therefore below them. If something is made by a human, it’s not to be worshipped by a human. What is created is subject to the creator.
Which makes everything subject to THE Creator.
You may be wondering how this applies to you. “Carrie, this is great and all, but I don’t worship any idols. I’m proud to say that I’ve never bowed or prayed to any image or statue.”
Good on you, I say. But idols are much more than carvings or brush strokes. An idol is anything that someone puts before God, knowingly or not.
How well do you function without coffee? Would I rather walk down a dark alley alone than meet you when you haven’t had a cup? Are you a connoisseur, if you do say so yourself? Then coffee may be your idol.
Maybe you’re really into music, especially this one band. You have a song of theirs set as your ringtone and a different one set as the alarm on your phone. Your heart rate goes up when you watch their music videos. You literally think about them all the time. You’re obsessed. Such love and adoration often point to worship.
How determined are you to be successful? Perhaps you’ve plainly planned everything out and you’re carefully taking the necessary steps. Setbacks absolutely gut you. Hang-ups and failures do more than frustrate you; they really mess you up mentally and emotionally. You won’t stop until you’ve achieved your goals. The idol of success has many worshippers.
The list goes on and on of things, people, and concepts that we so easily turn into gods. Idolatry is just as rampant and relevant today as it was when Paul was in Athens. It’s just taken on much different forms.
By Carrie Prevette