Is Your Money an Idol? Think Twice Before Answering.

by Joe Plemon on January 22, 2010

Incan Idol
Creative Commons License photo credit: Itinerant Tightwad

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.”

Think Again

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.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Bucksome January 23, 2010 at 8:55 am

My bible study class has been making our way through the old testament for the past three months so I’ve done a lot of reading about idolatry.

Thanks for relating it to modern life and that it’s possible to go overboard in our quest for financial security.

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joeplemon January 23, 2010 at 10:41 am

Bucksome,
Yes, the bible is quite relevant today. The idols may have a different form, but they are still around.

If you ever write about what you have learned from your reading on idolatry, drop me a note so I can be sure to read it.

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Ryan January 27, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Joe, this is so true. I have always done everything I can to properly save. Only recently have I realized that saving is just a wise thing to do but should not be our focus or security. Ultimately God controls things and we must constantly trust in him while doing what he commands.

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joeplemon January 28, 2010 at 8:41 am

Ryan,
You “get it”. Good things such as saving only continue to be good things when we keep them in the proper priority.

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