Acts 17:16-17, Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. 17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
Jeremiah 2:13, For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
The apostle Paul stood and looked upon Athens and saw the temples, the idols, and the altars. What Paul saw, no doubt, made him sick to his stomach. Yet, it not only made him sick to his stomach, it stirred his heart and will to action.
He chose to do something about it!
Most, if not all of us, have had experiences much like this. We have witnessed the idolatry around us and God has stirred our hearts, often to a place of deep sorrow and a desire to do something about it. Yet, this morning, while I was reading this passage and pondering upon it, I had to ask myself this question:
“How about the idols in my own heart?”
More often than not, when we think of idolatry we think of those bad things “around us.” And, we should be concerned about the idolatry “around us.” However, think about this for a moment. Are we struggling with idolatry “within us”? As one author penned:
“We think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.”
It is so much easier, and so much less painful, for us to become stirred about the idolatry “around us,” and yet, at the same time, ignore and neglect to deal with the idolatry “within us.” We want to focus on that which is on the outside, but over and over again, Jesus makes the point that it’s all about what’s on the inside.
The heart is the battleground for the gods of this world!
What it comes down to is simply this, an idol is ANYONE or ANYTHING that comes between us and God. ANYONE or ANYTHING that would steal our heart’s affection from the true and living God.
An idol in our heart could be father, family, friends, future ambitions, or financial security. An idol in our heart could be a man in our life. It could be a movement. It could be methods of ministry. It could be money. It could be, well, why don’t you go ahead and fill in the blank!
For most of us, the idol in our heart is that thing (someone or something) we have struggled with over and over throughout the years. And, the Holy Spirit has been faithful to point it out to us. Yet, we ignore His pleas. As another author wrote:
“Old gods die hard. They hold on, they creep in, they quietly clutch at us. Perhaps when we meet Christ, the old gods fall silent for a while. But they regroup. They wait for their time, and they aim as high as ever. They want to rule our hearts again.”
Sadly, for most of us, we can clearly see the danger of the idolatry “around us” and we are sure to point it out. Yet, at the same time, we ignore the idolatry that is “within us.” And, because of this, our relationship with the True and Living God isn’t what it should or can be!
Jeremiah 31:3, The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.
“You can’t understand the seriousness of idolatry without understanding the jealousy of God. And you can’t understand his jealousy without some understanding of his relentless, powerful love for you.”
O Lord, help us to see the idolatry that is all AROUND US and, at the same time, help us to see the idolatry that is WITHIN US, and then help us to be stirred to action by what we see!