Idol: “An image worshiped by man; something man regards with more reverence than he does the word of God” (Webster).
In the days of the prophets, the children of God frequently became tired of God’s control and sought to have their own way. It has always been God’s ruling that when men became dissatisfied with divine control that God permitted them to have their own way, yet condemnation came to them when they would forsake God, and follow the teachings of men. Not only is this taught in the Old Testament, but in the new dispensation God threatens to send strong delusions to men who have no pleasure in truth, that they might believe a lie and be damned (2 Thess. 2:11-12).
Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness with the promise that all needed blessings will be added unto us (Matt. 6:33). In Rom. 12:1, we are commanded to offer our bodies a living sacrifice, which He claims as our reasonable service. In Eph. 4:1, we are taught to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we have been called. In 2 Cor. 5:7, we are told to walk by faith. In Rom. 8:1-2, we are told there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ and who walk after the Spirit, and not after the flesh. So we must conclude that all men are safe who will follow the spiritual law and walk to please God instead of to please man.
A few examples of men setting up their idols and following them may be of help to us in this lesson. In Numbers 22, we read about Balaam, who was an Old Testament character and worshiped God under the Patriarchal Age. Balak was king of Moab, and had noticed the influence and power of Balaam. God’s people had to pass through the country of Moab from Egypt to Canaan. Balak had noticed that as long as they were faithful to God and did His will God fought their battles, but when they would forsake God he left them alone to fight their own battles. Balak knew that Balaam was a prophet, and he believed if he could get Balaam to curse the children of Israel that God would help him to overcome them. So he sent messengers to Balaam to hire him to go and curse the children of God. The messengers came to Balaam and told him their mission. Balaam treated them kindly, invited them to come in and stay all night and he would see if God would let him go.
During the night, God appeared to Balaam, and asked him who the men were and their mission. Balaam told God, and God said, “You can not go with them, neither can you curse Israel for they are blessed.” This language was as plain as that part of the Bible which says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). But Balaam, like many denominational preachers who have set up their idols in preference to the word of God, did not like God’s charge to him. Next morning Balaam reported to the messengers that God would not let him go with them, nor let him curse Israel, which should have been an end of all controversy, but no doubt these messengers saw in his conduct it was not his desire to follow the Lord, and that he was disappointed in not being permitted to go. So they reported their work to the king, and he at once selected men of greater influence, and ability to give larger rewards, and sent them to Balaam and told him to let nothing keep him from coming. Balaam told them if Balak should give him his house full of silver and gold, he could not go beyond the word of God to do more or less. But he invited them in to stay all night and see what God would say more. God, seeing that Balaam had set up his own desire and will to go, and had refused to accept Gold at his word, told him that night to go. Here was a man deliberately setting up his way against the plain statement of God, to go and curse the children of God.
Along the road God sent his angel to make the way rough. The angel stood in a narrow pass, with a great wall on either side holding his drawn sword. The ass upon which Balaam was riding saw the angel and refused to go. Balaam smote the ass, and the ass spoke with man’s voice and rebuked the prophet. Still the prophet refused to yield to God’s command and went on and burnt sacrifices, and when he opened his mouth to curse the children of God, blessings came out of his mouth instead of cursing. This was done each time until Balak became angry and condemned him for blessing instead of cursing God’s children. He drove him away. Later we find this man Balaam killed on the battlefield fighting against God, because he had set up his idol in his heart and turned from God to serve Balak for reward.
We read in the Old Testament that God, through Samuel demanded Saul to go and destroy the Amalekites—men, women and children, as well as all livestock. Saul went forth to battle, destroyed all but the king himself, and the best of the stock to offer a great sacrifice to God. He set up his idol and lost his throne; for God rejected him from being king over Israel. Saul turned from God, consulted the witch of Endor and finally committed suicide and lost all—even heaven, for following his idol instead of the word of God.
Jesus teaches that if we would be his disciples, we are not worthy of him unless we are willing to forsake father or mother, brother or sister for him (Matt. 10:34-36). I often find men and women who claim I am teaching the Bible, yet their mother did not belong to the church of Christ, or their wife belongs to some human church and they can not afford to turn from them, so they set up their idol, and God says, “I’ll answer them accordingly and let them believe a lie and be damned because they have no pleasure in the truth.”
Others come like the rich young man, and are wedded to riches and set them up as an idol, and forsake the house of God to multiply riches, and declare they have no time to serve the Lord as it takes all their time to run their business. This kind of a man has set up his riches as an idol in his heart and Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for him to go to heaven.
Then here comes the whole system of Protestant churches setting up their idol of “justification by faith only” in their hearts. They will read, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16) and “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). They read where Ananias told Paul to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16). Then they will hear James say, “Faith without works is dead, being alone” (Jas. 2:17). To all these Scriptures they will turn a deaf ear, and set up the idol of Martin Luther and John Wesley, “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort” (Art. 9, Methodist Discipline).
Others will claim, “I do not know which church is right, therefore I’ll set up my idol of goodness and morality.” Notwithstanding the Bible says, “Blessed are they that do his commandments that they may have right to the tree of life,” they will claim that they know as much about it as God does, and they know they will be saved on their goodness or works of righteousness which they have done, by which Paul plainly says we are not saved (Titus 3:5). Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Still some, in order to justify the many human churches, will set up their idol of “many ways of salvation” and “it makes no difference which way you go, nor which church you join, as long as your heart is right in the sight of God.” Others will set up their idol of infant baptism, declaring their parents had them baptized when children, and to break off from their early training and obey the commandments of God would be a reflection on their dead parents, and they must honor and reverence the commands of man more than those of God. Others will claim that immersion is baptism. They know that people went down into the water, that they were buried in baptism, they came up out of the water, they were born of water, yet they prefer sprinkling and pouring, since their kinfolks all had it that way they are satisfied to fight it out along that line.
I find good people whose clothes are good enough to wear to town each day in the week, to visit all neighbors they desire, to attend every show that comes to town, yet said clothes are not good enough to wear to church. They raise poor clothes far above God, and bring them up as excuses why they do not serve Him. Others claim Masons do more good than the church. And say “The church will go dead without our societies.” They forget that any society organized in the church to do the work of the church holds the same relationship to the church that a mob does to the government when it takes the enforcement of law from the government and puts it under mob control. All Christian work should be done by the church, and not by some human organization.
The final thought. Many of my brethren who once loved the word of the Lord and stood firm for it, have today raised instrumental music in the church far above the word of the Lord and will push it into churches over the godly protest of ninety percent of the old members. They often wreck the church and drive out the best members who cannot tolerate innovations in the church. They will rejoice over the division and downfall of the church of God in any community where they can make an idol of instrumental music and they will hear its sound rather than hear the word of God read. Let each examine his own heart, and see what idol he is holding to that will cause him to go down to eternal ruin.