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The First Commandment prohibits false gods, while the Second Commandment forbids false worship. We are instructed in the Gospel of John that: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
God condemns idolatry in both the Old and New Testaments.
The Apostle John exhorted New Testament Christians: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
The second commandment, given to Moses on Mount Sinai, directs: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10).
So just what is idolatry? Is the use of Christian icons and statues idolatry, and why does the Apostle Paul tell us to “flee idolatry” (I Corinthians 10:14)?
Primarily, idolatry is the worship of an image, statue or picture as a representation of a deity, but it can also be the excessive adoration of anything we hold more important than God.
Even after God revealed Himself in miraculous ways and sent prophets, priests and leaders to instruct and guide them, the ancient Israelites were still attracted to the worship of the gods and goddesses of the peoples who lived around them.
It is important to recognize that the Israelite worship of Canaanite idols didn’t mean they gave up worshipping the God of the Bible. They simply mixed the religious ideas and forms of worship together to create an inclusive religion, succumbing to the concept that all gods and religions were simply different ways to connect with the spirit world.
Does this idea sound familiar? If we really understand the biblical teaching—idolatry is one of the most common sins in the Christian world, and Christians can succumb in two main ways:
1. By the worship of an image, statue or picture as a representation of a deity
Many Christians commit idolatry in this way without realising it. For example, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is often represented with statues and images and venerated with prayers, the lighting of candles and giving of offerings. While not denying Mary’s importance in God’s plan as the mother of the Messiah, she should not be worshipped or prayed to as an intercessor with God on our behalf. Venerating Mary and other dead “saints” as mediators with God breaks the Second Commandment.
Notice what Paul wrote to Timothy, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all...” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). The Bible honours Mary, but nowhere is she declared to be instrumental in the intercession or mediation between God and humanity. Christians need no heavenly mediator except Jesus Christ.
In addition to the obvious use of statues, there is another more subtle way in which Christians can be guilty of committing idolatry.
2. By making anything more important than God in our lives
We may not worship images, but are we guilty of idolizing materialism, status, work or pleasure? We can even make a husband, a wife, a child, a job, education, a house, possessions, car, land, status, or even entertainment an idol.
This is the point Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
So another soul searching question to ask ourselves if we are concerned about keeping the second commandment is: How do I spend my time, energy and resources?
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