1Co 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
Surely Not Me
Paul was writing to a culture where people worshipped wood and stone statues. Of course the statues weren’t innately evil, but believing they had power to do only what God can do (good weather, good crops, give children, etc.) is idolatry. Because this ancient practice is primitive and superstitious, I tend to ignore the admonition (flee from idolatry), thinking, “That is good advice for those people but it surely doesn’t apply to me.”
But then I realized something: if idolatry means giving credit to anything other than God for doing only what God can do, is it possible that I could be committing 21st century idolatry? Do I believe, for example, that my retirement pension and savings account can do something only God can do: give me security? Hmmm.
When do good things become idols?
A retirement pension…your IRA…your 401(k)…your career…your house…your family. These are all good things. The question for me, and for you, is this: “When can good things become idols?”
James tells us, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
When can good things become idols? When we put our trust in them instead of in God. The recession should have taught us that our IRA’s and 401(k)s and investments and even our homes are precariously fragile. I have been guilty of saying “Tomorrow (or next year or ten years from now), I will be in this financial position because of what I am doing today.” Wrong. James calls this practice arrogant boasting, because I am trusting my future to my own plans, not to the God who controls the future. For all I know, everything I have worked and planned for can disappear in an instant.
How to avoid idolatry
It is an easy thing to drift into idolatry. None of us want to; it is just that over time, as we plan and see our plans come to fruition, we begin a subtle process of starting to think that we are in control of our own destinies. How do we check that process? By never losing the perspective that God and God alone is ultimately in control. James gives us a hint: “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”
Of course we should continue to save, plan, invest and be smart with our money. But we should never for an instant believe that our bankroll is our security. The good news is that we can have real, unconditional and eternal security through a loving, sovereign, all powerful God. Even if everything else it taken away, He has promised to never leave us or forsake us.
That is true security.