Before leaving Ephesus, Paul faced a riot in the city caused by idol-makers who were angry. They have reached their frenzied state because Paul's gospel of Christ was spreading like wild-fire in the city, and people were turning from idols to the Lord! So the idol-factory decided to strike back and rioted in the streets.
The Bible says in verse 23 that there arose a "disturbance" because of "the Way" (Christianity). Indeed, the gospel disturbs - it shakes things up. Christ will not share the throne with idols.
In our western culture we sometimes think that because we do not physically bow down to a statue we are not guilty of idolatry. Maybe we even skip over the many verses about idolatry (and even applaud ourselves for not being a heathen idolater) because they "do not apply." But Scripture also speaks of taking our idols into our hearts (Ezekiel 14:1-5) and equates covetousness with idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5), saying that because of our idolatry, God's wrath is coming!
To help us identify our idols, below is a collection of helpful descriptions, Scriptures and probing questions from the Bible and helpful Christian teachers.
Are you willing to honestly and prayerfully search your heart for rivals to King Jesus?
• John Calvin describes our idols: “The human heart is a factory of idols…Everyone of us, from his mother’s womb, is an expert in inventing idols.” “The evil in our desire typically does not lie in what we want, but that we want it too much.”
• David Clarkson (1621-1686) describes our idols: “Indeed, every reigning lust is an idol – and every person in whom it reigns is an idolater. ‘The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).’ Pleasures and riches and honors are the carnal man’s trinity. These are the three great idols of worldly men, to which they prostrate their souls! And giving that to them which is due only to God, they hereby become guilty of idolatry.”
God must have first place in our thoughts and in our affections. “For he (God) being the chief good end of intelligent creatures, it is his due, proper to him alone, to be most minded (most thought of) and most loved. It is the honor due only to the Lord to have the first, the highest place, both in our minds and hearts and endeavors.”
• John Piper describes our idols: Covetousness – “desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God.” Covetousness is idolatry (Eph 5:5; Col 3:5) “because the contentment that the heart should be getting from God it starts to get from something else” (Future Grace, 221).
• Tedd Tripp describes our idols: "..those things that are your passion, that you must have in order to be happy; those things that are the condition of your being OK, that are not God. They're idols..”
• Tim Keller describes our idols: An idol is “anything so central” that you “can’t have a meaningful life if you lose it” (“I don’t know how I would live…”). When you lose it, you’re not just sad, but suicidal. It is a good thing that we make an ultimate thing. Can be an object, a relationship, a pursuit. Beauty becomes Aphrodite; Reason becomes Athena; Money becomes Artemas. There are Personal idols (money, love & romance, children), Religious idols (doctrine, self-sacrifice, gifts, morality & performance) and Cultural idols (family or individualism, tolerance [can’t tell anyone they are wrong], politics & government [capitalism or liberalism]). We sacrifice to these gods (sacrifice children for a lifestyle or job; sacrifice marriage or family for long hours at the job for money; etc).
• Mark Driscoll describes our idols: We make up our own version of ‘hell’ (fat hell, ugly hell, poor hell, lonely hell, unappreciated hell, etc) and go after a savior to rescue us from our hell (a diet, plastic surgery, money, spouse, hard work and performance, etc).
Driscoll's Questions that help us identify our idols:
What are you most afraid of?
What do you long for most passionately?
Where do you run for comfort?
What do you complain about the most?
What angers you most?
What makes you happiest?
How do you explain yourself or introduce yourself to others?
What has caused you to be angry with God? (he’s not giving me my idols!)
What do you brag about?
What do you want more than anything else? If you could have one wish…
What do you sacrifice for most? (sacrifice money, time, family, etc, for what?)
If I could change one thing in my life, what would it be?
Whose approval are you seeking? (boss, dad, spouse)
What do you want to control?
What comfort do you treasure most? If you had to give up everything but one…
Scripture confronts our idols:
• I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Isaiah 42:8
• For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. [6 ] Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Eph 5:5-6
• Little children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21
• And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. Matthew 22:37-38
Good News: Jesus died for idolaters!
The gospel not only confronts our idolatry, but saves us from our idolatry! Jesus died on the cross for our idolatry. He bore the curse, guilt, penalty and shame of it. He rose from the dead in victory and power. He calls us out of idolatry and he gives us his Spirit to empower us to worship him and not idols. We are worshipers, and so we will always be worshiping something or someone. We cannot serve 2 Masters (Matt 6:24). Come to Jesus with repentance and faith in the gospel; when he is in his rightful place in our lives, we will then be free to enjoy other people and other things rightly, without elevating them to a position of ‘ultimate.’
• Sermon by Tim Keller – The Grand Demythologizer: The Gospel and Idolatry. http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/The-Grand-Demythologizer-The-Gospel-and-Idolatry
• Sermon by Mark Driscoll – Resisting Idolatry Like Jesus: First Corinthians (Christians Gone Wild) Pt 22. http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/Resisting-Idols-like-Jesus
• Sermon by David Clarkson (1621-1686) – Soul Idolatry Excludes Men Out Of Heaven. http://www.gracegems.org/SERMONS/Clarkson_soul_idolatry.htm
*Future Grace, John Piper. (quoted from Sam Storms, Enjoying God Ministries: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/idolatry-without-idols-35/)
• Biblical Parenting Conference; Dr. Tedd Tripp at Mars Hill Church; http://theresurgence.com/2009/11/28/featured-media-biblical-parenting