He – Idolatry and the Word of God

The verses that stand out for me in the ‘He’ section (Ps 119:33-40) are the middle two:

36 Turn my heart toward your statutes
   and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
   preserve my life according to your word.

Despite it being clear that the Psalmist has a deep passion for both God and his word, here he recognises that he has a tendency to let other things get in the way. In particular, he shares the common human tendency towards “selfish gain” – living simply for my own benefit, and is easily distracted by “worthless things” – those things which may not be ‘sinful’ per se, but idle amusements or trivial preoccupations which can so easily dominate our lives.

Meditating on God’s word reorientates our value system and puts things into proper perspective. It lets us see selfish gain for what it is – selfish; and worthless things for what they are – worthless. Meditating on God’s word will rearrange our priorities, causing us to seek first the kingdom of God. Activities such as worship, serving others, giving, and witness, will become central to our life’s ambition rather than inconvenient interruptions to what we would rather be doing.

When Jesus was asked, “what is the greatest commandment” in Matt 22:34-40, he answered immediately. This was not because he was a really quick thinker.  It was because this was a question he already knew the answer to, and he knew it because his mind had been shaped by a lifetime of meditating on the Scriptures:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Meditating on the word of God then is a vital weapon in the fight against idolatry. Have you let your gaze turn towards selfish gain? Are your thoughts dominated by worthless things? Then turn to God’s word and get a fresh vision of the beauty of the Lord. Be captivated by something that is worth living for.

Sermon – Idolatry (Joshua 24)

I had the privilege of being invited to preach at Bishopdown Baptist Church a week ago. They had been working their way through the book of Joshua and I was tasked with speaking on the final chapter.

As part of my preparation, I worked through the book of Joshua with the help of Dale Ralph Davis’ excellent exposition, No Falling Words. The chapter is interesting because it brings up the subject of idolatry, so I also drew on some of Tim Keller’s insights from his Counterfeit Gods book.

Anyway, the sermon is available online to listen to here. There was a slight technical hitch with the recording which meant the level isn’t quite as good as it could be, but it seems to be reasonably good quality.

Actually the whole sermon wasn’t about idolatry. My main points were:

  1. God’s faithfulness in the past
  2. A choice to make in the present (turning from idols)
  3. The need to persevere to the end

In fact Joshua 24 is rich enough to preach several sermons on. I didn’t even get a chance to touch on Joshua’s famous words “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. (Josh 24:15)

While I’m on the subject of idolatry, here’s a link to another sermon on idolatry I preached back in September 2008 as part of a series on the Ten Commandments at KCC.


Book Review – Counterfeit Gods (Tim Keller)

I was deeply impressed by the first book by Tim Keller I read, The Prodigal God, which is a simply outstanding expounding on the nature of the gospel looking at the well-known parable of the prodigal son. This one maintains the high standard, this time tackling the subject of idolatry. Again, it is not only well-written, but profound, penetrative and deeply insightful.

Keller’s thesis is that the human heart is an “idol factory”, that takes good things and turns them into ultimate things – God substitutes, or “counterfeit gods”, which will always disappoint us, often destructively so.

We never imagine that getting our heart’s deepest desires might be the worst thing that can ever happen to us.

Each chapter tackles an example of a modern idol, such as money, success, romantic love, or political ideology. He illustrates each one with well-chosen contemporary examples, and helps us to move beyond simply identifying these idols as out there in the culture, but seeing their pernicious effects at work in our own lives even as Christians.

we know a good thing has become a counterfeit god when its demands on you exceed proper boundaries.

He then picks out a Biblical character or story that illustrates each idol, often drawing out strikingly fresh insights from very familiar territory. Those who are familiar with Keller’s preaching will know that he is never content to simply tell a Bible story and draw out a few morals or lessons though. He always brings us to the gospel. Jesus is always brought in, as the one who is the greater version of the flawed hero of the story. As a result, this book also serves a double function as a masterclass in gospel-centred teaching.

we usually read the Bible as a series of disconnected stories, each with a “moral” for how we should live our lives. It is not. Rather, it comprises a single story, telling us how the human race got into its present condition, and how God through Jesus Christ has come and will come to put things right.

This book will not take you a long time to read, but you will need plenty of time to reflect on its message. It is a call first for us to examine the deep idols that have taken root in our own lives, but then to address them, not by trying to suppress them, but by supplanting them with a living encounter with God himself.

The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.

It deserves a wide readership amongst Christians, not so we can speak out against the idolatry of our culture (though we need to do that), but so that we can clean out the idols that have taken root in our own hearts. I also hope it is widely read by pastors and preachers, and that as a result, we will hear more gospel-centred preaching that gets to the heart of issues, rather than merely calling for behavioural change.

The secret to change is to identify and dismantle the counterfeit gods of your heart.

Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol.