Category Archives: Idolatry

Setting Aside the Counterfeits (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 17-21)

One of Paul’s responsibilities, and a responsibility of all spiritual leaders, is to identify counterfeits to the true gospel.  Given the rebellious nature of human beings and the very active influence of Satan, there should be a high expectation of distortions to the message of life.  Paul leverages his own example of orthodox living and orthodox doctrine, then he begins to describe those in particular, the Judaizers, who are threatening all of Paul’s church plants.

Not everyone is agreed that these are “the enemies of the cross” to whom Paul is referring.  To some it looks like Paul is describing a group who seeks to push the limits of godly morality.  “Their god is their stomach” sounds to them like those who eat greedily. “Their glory is in their shame” sounds like taking pride in their willingness to push the boundaries ethically.

But in the context Paul has only identified one group of false teachers.  These appear to be people who teach the Jewish law as the standard of holiness and focus on the requirements of circumcision for males and kosher food laws for all.  With that in mind, “their god is their stomach” means their focus on keeping kosher has become their idol; “their glory is in their shame” means they rest confidence in circumcision as their badge of honor.  In all this “their mind is set on earthly things.”  What God designed as a picture of ultimate spiritual truths to be revealed when the new dispensation arrives, these false teachers are still clinging to and giving saving power to instead of looking at faith as the basis for salvation.

By way of contrast, Christianity, God’s new revelation in Christ contained in “new wine skins” (Matthew 9:17), is focused on heaven.  Though the Philippians might take pride in their Roman citizenship, the real reason to boast is their heavenly citizenship.  As citizens of heaven we need no longer be enslaved to earthly elements.  We are people of the last age, the age of the resurrection.  When Jesus comes He is going to resurrect us, make our bodies like His, with all the attributes of a body made suitable for the kingdom.

Focusing on the coming resurrection when Jesus returns to rule on earth helps us stay moored to the true gospel.  We are not trying to muster our own law obedience in order to earn God’s love.  We are operating in God’s already abundantly outpoured love.  We are depending on what Jesus can work in us (the willing and the doing of His good will, 2:13), something He is able to do as the resurrected one.  We are free from the earthly elements that so many have clung to as a means of earning God’s love.  We are in training to recognize the false so we may more readily embrace the true.


Lessons From the Old Testament: God and Terrible Marriages

LOL Just divorced. And no, that's not my car.

Image via Wikipedia

Yahweh has had one of the worst marriages possible!  Jeremiah 3 chronicles some of it:

“If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again?  Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers—would you now return to me?” declares the LORD.  During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 3:1,6-10)

Things got so bad between Yahweh and Israel, the northern part of Israel that split from Judah and formed its own kingdom, that He divorced her.  The practical import of this is that He allowed a foreign nation, Assyria, to take Israel captive and exile many of her inhabitants in Assyria’s other conquered territories.  The real penalty for adultery was death, but Yahweh instead divorced Israel and then was ready to go against His own prescription for healthy marriages in Israel (found in Deuteronomy 24:1-3) and remarry her.  The same offer was available for Judah, the southern part of the once unified kingdom of Israel, but it had no affect.  Jeremiah is told to prophesy her “divorce” as well.  This did indeed happen in Jeremiah’s lifetime when Babylon conquered Judah and exiled many of her residents.

So God has had a terrible marriage to Israel/Judah.   And we may suppose that His current wife, the Church, hasn’t been a complete blessing to Him either.

How has God responded?  Well, in one case, Israel/Judah, things got so bad He felt the necessity of divorcing.  God is a divorcing husband!  He didn’t want to do it.  He gave numerous opportunities for his bride to repent.  And I would suggest that this is what any husband or wife ought to do upon discovering unfaithfulness in one’s spouse.  This process would be greatly helped by loving counselors being involved and the prayers of loved ones and friends.  But there may come a time when the unfaithfulness cannot be stopped or it is so egregious or flagrant that divorce is best worst option.  God believed so.  This still did not preclude the possibility of restoration, but only God can make an erring spouse repentant, and His grace is desperately needed should restoration be a consideration.  Jesus does not require restoration (Matthew 19:1-12), but He certainly desired it, if possible (Matthew 18:15-17).

As for the church, Paul warns that individual churches can be spit out of his mouth (Revelation 3:14-22).  It seems, however, since the Church, as a whole, is now living under the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8), that we are no longer susceptible to divorce.  Though it seems the Church has been allowed to languish in idolatry for long periods of time, God has always called her back and brought her to repentance and restoration.  Individual congregations may, however, lose their “lampstand” (Revelation 2:5).  There is the promise, however, in such a church, that one who is willing to open the door to a knocking Jesus may usher in the restoration of this church under Jesus’ loving direction (Revelation 3:20).

What does this mean for our terrible marriages?  We must look to God for the same power to love that He has displayed toward his erring spouse.  We must love the way He loves even when, especially when, what we are getting in return is so painful.  After all, what does it mean to love someone if you don’t love them when they are giving you nothing but pain in return (Matthew 5:43-48)?

Related Articles: 

Four Views on Divorce and Remarriage (The Counseling Moment) ; The Truth About Divorce (The Counseling Moment); A Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage (The Counseling Moment); I Stayed (The Counseling Moment); Does God Want Me in a Bad Marriage? (The Counseling Moment); Lessons From the Old Testament: Passionate Marriages (Thimble Full of Theology for Daily Living)


Lessons From the Old Testament: Our Greatest Temptation

While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’s anger burned against them. (Numbers 25:1-3)

When the  Moabites failed to get Baalam to curse Israel, they came up with this alternate plan of seducing the men, suggested, it seems, by Baalam (Numbers 31:16).  We may imagine that Yahweh was not happy with the men of Israel committing sexual immorality with the Moabite women.  But what really seems to have raised His ire the most was their willingness to embrace the Baal of Peor as well.

What is our greatest temptation?  We really struggle to say whether it is sexual sin or idolatry.  But inevitably the one seems to lead to the other.  What do we do when we are faced with a sexual temptation and want to give in to it?  We rationalize that God’s law regarding sexuality is in need of reinterpretation.  And when we decide that we can go against His law and indulge ourselves regularly, we find our hearts growing cold toward God, the true God who wants to rule our lives, and we substitute a petty god who allows us to feel less guilty but who at the same time steals our hearts from the living God, our true husband.

Israel’s downfall throughout the Old Testament is idolatry.  Try as they might, the prophets, priests and kings of Israel cannot wipe out this proclivity to idolatry.  God tells the Israelites through Moses that they will give in to idolatry to such a degree that He will exile them from the land:

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you…. The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deuteronomy 30:1-3,6)

And though God deals with idolatrous Israel’s ups and downs in faithfulness for 700 years, His patience finally reaches an end and He sends them away from the land.

Why are we so drawn to idolatry?  Why are we so willing to make God in our own image?  It is because we are unwilling to trust Him and His direction for our lives and more willing to trust ourselves to get our needs met.  We tell ourselves that our sexual urges are paramount to our existence and so we must disobey God’s leadership in this area.  We tell ourselves that we can’t take a chance on God to provide our sustenance so we look to other means as well to cover all our bases, including asking other gods to feed us (in our day this takes the form of getting assistance from our government, or get rich quick schemes, or credit cards leading to bankruptcy).  We feel confident in our own ability to earn our living and maintain a merely socially acceptable relationship to church and God.  But our lives are not totally sold out to the Creator God who demands our all and provides the means to give our all.

So it seems the Old Testament teaches us that our greatest temptation is idolatry.  It is the one thing that ultimately moved God to divorce Israel (Jeremiah 3:1-13).  This level of unfaithfulness on our part is not only our greatest temptation, it is our greatest downfall in our relationship to God.  It is marked by a failure of gratitude for what God has already done in our lives and a failure of trust in God’s goodness.  How are you being tempted to substitute a lesser God for the One who saved you?