The Seriousness of Idolatry

Steve Viars March 25, 2006 Deuteronomy 13:1-18

- [Pic #1 – of the house]
– This is the home of Mr. Charles Martin, of Batavia, Ohio.

- [Pic #2 – of Mr. Martin, with the house picture also still on the screen]...
- Batavia is about 20 miles east of Cincinnati, and Mr. Martin lives alone, apparently a very patriotic man with an American flag flying in the front yard along with a flag for the Marine Corp.
- as you can see, even this time of year Mr. Martin’s yard is a lush green color...
- in fact his neighbors say he is “devoted to his meticulously kept lawn.” [words under the pic of the lawn]

- [Pic #3 – of Larry Mugrage, with the other two pictures also still on the screen]...
- one of those neighbors is a 15 year old boy named Larry Mugrage, Jr.
- Larry is a straight A student at Glen Este High School and is known by his neighbors as being a friendly young man...
- in fact one of the neighbors commented that Larry would play basketball with their little 22 month old son...gently handing him the ball and showing him how to bounce it...

- by all appearances, they all lived together in a quiet Union Township subdivision...
- you might even say...if I ever get near Cincinnati, I might look these fine folks up and admire their way of life...

- that won’t be possible...because last Sunday afternoon, Larry made the mistake of walking on Mr. Martin’s lawn...
- and Mr. Martin came out on his porch and shot Larry with a shotgun and took his life...for walking on his lawn...

- you say, how do you explain that?
- it reminds you of Ecclesiastes 9:3 – “...the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives.”

- John Calvin said that the human heart is a “factory of idols”...
- in other words, we are worshipping beings...and we either choose to love God supremely and organize our desires, and our delights, and our plans, and our words, and our deeds around serving him...
- or we find lesser gods to consume our time and attention...

- there are reasons why...of all the things the apostle John could have said when he concluded his great book we know as I John...he chose the words...
- I John 5:21 – My little children, guard yourself from idols.

- there are reasons why the apostle Paul, in instructing the Corinthian church, would say...
- I Corinthians 10:14 – Therefore my beloved, flee from idolatry.

- “he was devoted to his meticulously kept lawn”....so much so that he would shoot and kill his neighbor boy for having the audacity to walk across it...
- now, you might say...I’m glad I’m not like Charles Martin...
- I’m sure you’re not...but do you mind if I ask you...
- did you become sinfully angry with anybody this week?....
- did you worry or fret this week?....
- were you all concerned about receiving someone else’s approval this week?...
- did you gossip about someone else this week?...
- do you complain about someone or something this week?...
- and what were you worshipping in your heart during those episodes?...
- was it the God of the Bible who loves you and has sent His Son to die for your sin or was it some lesser idol of the heart?...

- see...perhaps...in isolated instances...and undoubtedly to a different degree...but perhaps at times we are more like Charles Martin than we care to admit...
- and maybe God allows us to learn of an extreme event like this one to help us see where the empty, senseless road of idolatry leads...

- with that in mind, would you please open your Bible to Deuteronomy chapter 13?...page 143 of the front section of the Bible under the chair in front of you...page 243 of our Chinese English Bibles...
- this week I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several of our neighbors, as well as some  builders and developers from this side of town...
- and many of us are becoming more convinced all the time that the number of opportunities that we will have to meet and interact with and serve the people who live around us is about to grow significantly...
- I am amazed at how many people already know what our plans are and are looking forward to participating in some way...
- if that’s true...then what do we need to be doing in these next 16 months?...gearing up...
- Gearing Up for Greater Effectiveness...
- that’s exactly what the children of Israel were doing in the book of Deuteronomy...
- Moses took them to a place called Beth Peor...[show slide]...
- they are preparing to go into the promised land after their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness...and Moses brings God’s people together and gives them a series of “gearing up speeches”...
- here are the things that are especially important for us to know and do as we embark on this next stage of our adventure together...

- now, a couple of ideas before we read this passage...
1.  We are actually coming down to the end of this study...it was never our intent to look at every chapter and every verse...
- however, if we skip something, it is not because it might be difficult or challenging...
- you’ll see in this morning’s verses that we’re certainly not skipping the hard things...
- our goal was to pull out the central themes in this book...so because some of the material is repetitive...we’ll be hitting the high spots in these last couple of weeks...
2. Also, please keep in mind that whenever you read/study the Bible...you have to remember key principles of interpretation...[formally we call those, principles of hermeneutics...]
- one key principle of Bible study is the importance of asking...who was the intended audience....to whom was this written?...
- and are we different than them in any way and does that affect the way we would apply the text today?
- clearly, this was written to the nation of Israel...they were a theocracy...they were ruled by God Himself through the ministry of Moses...
- they were also living, as the NT points out repeatedly, “under the law”...at a particular period of time in God’s economy that is different than today...
- we live in the age of grace, and God is mediating His plan not through a country or a political group, but through His church...
- so when it comes to the way we relate to the people around us...we believe in religious freedom [Baptists have especially championed that idea, and so have some other evangelical groups...]...
- so we would never want allegiance to our God to be forced upon somebody else...
- nor would we want/expect God to do through a country or a political entity...what He says in the NT He intends to do through the church...

- now, you might say...then why should NT believers ever study the OT?...
- because the Bible says that all Scripture is inspired, profitable...[develop]...
- also because we are taught in places like Romans 14 and I Corinthians 10 that what happened to the people of the OT can be used by the NT church as examples to give us instruction and hope...
- we just have to be careful and thoughtful as we study...to glean the timeless principles that would apply to all of God’s people at all times without making inappropriate applications today that God never intended...

- with that in mind, we’re talking this morning about The Seriousness of Idolatry...
- read Deut. 13:1-18

- so we’re talking about the seriousness of idolatry, and I’d like to propose to you that in this passage, we can find...
- Three steps to avoid the worship of idols in your heart and life.


I. Establish the Goal of Wholehearted and Singular Devotion to God and His Word.


- you could write over this entire section of Scripture the word “exclusivity...”...
- that’s...
A. The way “geared up” people relate to God – verses 3-4
- verses 3-4 set the standard...
1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
- one of the articles I read about the sad story in Batavia, Ohio last week was written by somebody coming from a gun control slant and was arguing that the problem there was the freedom people have in our country to buy guns...
- I’m not interested in taking sides on that issue, but I will say this...the problem in that situation was not the gun in Charles Martin’s hands...it was the idol in Charles Martin’s heart...
- if he didn’t have a gun at his disposal, he would have found something to use to carry out the sinful desires of his heart...
- it’s not like Cain needed a gun to kill Able...
- and Moses is trying to warn God’s people and encourage God’s people to pay careful attention to the object of their love and devotion...
2. Follow the Lord your God and fear Him.
- and you notice this repeated use of the possessive pronoun...your God, your God...
- the words of your mouth and the actions of your hands reveal the identity of...your God.
3. Keep His commandments.
4. Listen to His voice.
5. Serve Him.
6. Cling to Him.

- just imagine if Charles Martin had singularly loved and worshipped God in this way...
- today he could be on his porch enjoying the beauty of a spring day and praising God for the grass He had made...
- instead of sitting in a jail cell, never to see his beloved grass again...

- now, what is the reason for this kind of devotion?...the answer is, because it fits the facts of the situation...just like it would be wrong for you or I to demand absolute allegiance when we don’t deserve it, it would be equally wrong for God not to demand it when He does deserve it...
- did you notice in verse 5...
B. The reason for this level of devotion. – verse 5.
-  “the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery.”
- It is great that we are having this study right around Easter time...
- when you think about all God did in sending His Son for us...
- and all Christ did on the cross to secure our salvation...
- how could we respond with anything other than wholehearted allegiance to Him?...

- but that’s the rub, isn’t it?....prone to wander, Lord I feel it...prone to leave this God I love...
C. The alternative – divided loyalties.
- please go back to the questions I asked you earlier....what about the person here who this week became sinfully angry with others?...
- is that just sort of oops?...
- is it, well all Christians behave that way during the week but we put on our “nice face” when we come to church?...
- no, it’s idolatry...in that situation, its loving something else more than loving God...
- and you might say...loving what?...
- that’s a great question...but the answer is as varied as the number of persons here this morning...we don’t all get sinfully angry for the same reason...
- your task as a follower of Christ is to evaluate the kinds of situations where you tend to become angry...and then ask...what was I wanting more than wanting to please God?...
- and then to confess that to the Lord...not as an innocent mistake, not with some lame “that’s the way my parents made me” or “I have red hair...”...

- its also challenging because not everybody becomes sinfully angry in the same way...
- some practice the blowup in your face anger, while others prefer the slow burn, cold shoulder, stubbornness variety...
- 1 Samuel 15:23 - For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry...”

- see, there’s something seriously wrong with the heart that says...sometimes I love God, but sometimes I love getting my own way...
- and we have to get to the place of acknowledging if its the case...that when a person becomes sinfully angry in those instances, then the fact of the matter is...he loves getting his own way more than he loves the Savior who redeemed him...
- and that kind of idolatry is deeply offensive to the Lord...

- and part of the challenge is...the list of potential idols is practically endless...
- I have to have the approval of other people [that can become a very powerful idol]
- I have to meet my own perfectionistic and unbiblical standards...
- I have to have others perform up to my expectations at all times...
- I have to have a certain amount of money...
- I have to have a certain amount of security...
- I have to have respect...
- I have to have the assurance of good health...
- I have to look a particular way...
- I have to have my free time...I have to have my space...
- I have to have a particular material possession...
- I have to have more than my siblings...I have to have more than my neighbors...
- I have to make the team...I have to get the job...I have to win the game
- I have to have control...I have to feel good...I have to feel loved...
- I have to be married...I have to have kids...I have to have perfect kids...

- Paul Tripp suggests that the progression goes something like this:
- a desire [I want] turns into...
- a demand [I must] ...which turns into...
- a need [I will] ...which turns into...
- an expectation [You should] ...which turns into...
- a disappointment [You didn’t] ...which turns into...
- a punishment [Because you didn’t now I won’t, or because you didn’t now I will...]

- friends, an Idol is – Anything or anyone that begins to capture our hearts and minds and affections more than God.

Ezekiel 14:3-7 - 3 “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them?
4 “Therefore speak to them, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols,
5 that I may seize the house of Israel by their heart, because they are all estranged from Me by their idols.” ’
6 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations.
7 For anyone of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who separates himself from Me and sets up his idols in his heart and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, then comes to a prophet to inquire of him concerning Me, I the LORD will answer him by Myself.

- see, the point of all of this is, there was no way the children of Israel were going to be geared up for what God had for them unless they understood how important it was to rid their hearts and rid their lives of competing affections...
- God and God alone redeemed them...He is worthy of their wholehearted allegiance...

- now, what is...
D. The effect of singular devotion.
1. It honors the Lord.
- let’s take something as simple as coming to church on a Sunday morning...
- do you realize the affections of your heart are even evident in church?...

- some folks woke up this morning and they began thanking God for His redemption...and they began ordering their day around serving and worshipping the God they love...and they prayed, Lord help me to serve you today...
- help me to be sensitive at church to somebody who might be alone, or hurting, and in need of your love today...
- and even if that moves me out of my comfort zone...or my desires...Lord, I’m here to worship you today, not me...
- and that affected the time they came here...and where they sat...and who they spoke to...
- and the truth of the matter is, in some churches and surely to a degree in this one...worship of God really is more of a worship of self...

- the applications are endless...but the question always comes back to....did you honor the Lord this week by your singular devotion to Him?...and your refusal to bow to idols of man?...
- if you said this week...I’m not going to bow down to the approval of man and ruin my testimony for Christ...that honored the Lord...
- or, I’m going to respond to this trial by seeking to become more like Christ because His purpose is more important than my preference...
- or, I’m going to cultivate a heart of thankfulness for what I have instead of a stew of bitterness for what I don’t...
- I’m going to find my peace in the Holy Spirit of God instead of this bottle, or this pill, or this chemical in the bloodstream...
- see, all of that and more honors the Lord...

2. It blesses you.
- the word for anxiety in the Bible literally means “torn apart”...
- that’s what worry does...
- you start trying to control the future...and orchestrate tomorrow...and imagining all the things that could possibly go wrong...
- and pretty soon your brain is racing around and tearing you apart...contrast that to...
- Isaiah 26:3 - You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.
- the point is...living with this kind of singular devotion simplifies life in a lot of ways...
- now, what about the person who says...I just want to practice idolatry of the heart...a little bit...I want to follow the lusts of my heart a little bit, and then I’ll be satisfied...friend, it doesn’t work that way...
Ephesians 4:19 - Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

- so, what are we to do with all of this?


II. Be Prepared for the Temptation to Idolatry.


- that’s what this chapter’s gearing up message was all about...
- and the point is clear...these temptations to idolatry can come from different places...
A. From inside the group – verses 1-5.
- Moses says, there might be a prophet or a dreamer, who can even perform some kind of sign...and then says to you...let’s go after other gods...
- Moses says...it doesn’t matter how skilled that person is, or how charismatic, or how gifted...
- if that person is trying to take you away from your allegiance to God and His Word...do not go...
- this sounds very similar to Acts chapter 20 where Paul says to the leaders of the church at Ephesus...there will be false teachers that will arise from inside the flock...from inside the church...
- you say, what might that look like today?...2 very distinct possibilities that keep coming up in this book...
1. Those who might want to take away from God’s Word.
- of course it would be great to be approved by everybody, but often a church has to choose between please God and pleasing man...
2. Those who might want to add to God’s Word.
- there’s an equal amount of pressure for those who want to add their pet preferences to the pile...as if they are equal with Scripture...
- and sometimes the worst idolatry in the church is done in the name of something that sounds/appears highly spiritual.
[if time, could also deal with the issue of our test of truth not being experience]

B. From your family – verses 6-11.
- Moses even raises the possibility of a brother, or a wife, or a close friend suggesting that you serve another god...
- and it doesn’t mean you don’t love your family member...but you are called upon to love your God more...
- it is a question of priorities...
- Matthew 10:37 - Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
- I realize that we will have people here today who have had to choose between the approval of a family member, and the approval of God...
- and sure you continue to love that family member in every way you can...but you will not serve their idols in order to secure their love...
- some have had to choose between a friendship and your fidelity to Scripture...and you’ve made the right choice...

- there’s all kids of applications here...
1. Be careful about the friendships you choose...
2. Be careful about the kind of friend, and kind of family member you are...
- [deal with serving – are you the kind of spouse who encourages your spouse to serve, even if that means you paying a price?...]
C. From the culture – verses 12-18.
- we live in a very idolatrous culture...
- ministering in the world without becoming like the world requires the wisdom of Solomon...
- [could develop current challenges with the American Red Cross – being encouraged to work closer with religious relief groups --- how can those groups do that without compromising their convictions?...]

III. Enjoy the Blessing of Spiritual Influence.


- people who choose to live with a singular devotion to the Lord are going to have lives of significant influence...

- [develop --- parents to children, employers to employees, employees to one another, employees to employers, neighbors to one another, teens to one another, a church to its community...]

- where does all of this start?...
- develop the gospel...
- what’s next?...
- taking an honest look for idolatry of the heart...
- David Powlison – It’s a serious mistake to engage in introspective “idol hunts”, attempting to dig out and weigh every kink in the human soul.  The Bible calls for a more straightforward form of self-examination: an outburst of anger invites reflection on what craving ruled the heart so that our repentance can be intelligent.  The Bible’s purposes are “extrospective”, not introspective: to move toward God in repentant faith.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video