What Idolatry Looks like in the 21st Century

By: Alex Cook

I recently read a great book by a well-known American Pastor Timothy Keller called Counterfeit Gods. In it he talks about what Idolatry looks like in our modern world and that it is generally not how most of us think about it.

When we think about idolatry, we tend to think of the Israelites bowing down and worshiping the golden calf, and other manmade objects. Timothy Keller however describes Idolatry in our western society as usually being a good thing that is taken too far.

“Working hard is a good thing. Owning a home is a good thing. Having a nice holiday from time to time to relax and rejuvenate is a good thing. The problem is when we take it too far, the danger is that these things control us and consume much of our thought life. That is when idolatry has gotten a foothold in our life.” 

For me, I use to read car magazines voraciously, but ended cutting back on them, not because car magazines are bad, but because I found myself wanting expensive cars more and more, especially after seeing the Porsche ad that said “you work hard, now play hard’. Somewhat appealing to a hard working young bloke in finance! It got to the point where it was really consuming me and was going to have an impact on my financial decisions.

Let me say this is not about cutting out things you enjoy from your life. Quite likely you have a God given desire to enjoy certain things and that is probably the reason why you are good in certain areas more than others. What I am saying is we need to be careful not to take any one thing too far, where that one thing becomes the ultimate thing as Timothy Keller suggests.

After all the only ultimate thing is having Jesus in our life. It is the only thing of lasting eternal value.

It is important to not downplay the seriousness of this issue. God makes it abundantly clear when he says to the Israelites:

“You shall have no other gods before me”. Exodus 20:3

God doesn’t want anything to come between you and him. He loves you, wants what is best for you. He is not trying to stop you from having good things and enjoying great experiences, he just wants to make sure that you don’t lose sight of your purpose on earth, that is to advance his kingdom, or to become so consumed by things to the world that your relationship with him suffers, or worse still ceases altogether.

Paul warns us that Greed is idolatry in his letter to the Colossians:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” Colossians 3:5

When we think about greed today, we tend to think of it as being the Wall Street tycoons and Corporate CEOs. This is largely due to the focus of the media on these individuals and the regular scandals. Whilst there can be no doubt that greed is rampant in those areas, it is not particularly helpful to focus on. The truth is that most of us are constantly ‘wanting more’ or live with the view that “I don’t have enough’. This is not just a mild case of discontentment. It is greed, plain and simple.

When we think about the Global Financial crisis, we can look at the headline reasons, such as the subprime mortgage mess in the US. But when we look at the spiritual side of it, it can be boiled down to one word, and that is greed.

The problem in much of the Western world is that home ownership has been taken to such a degree that it is simply a form of idol worship. Paul warns us that in our age people will be lovers of money.

In 1 Timothy [6:10] he says:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

God never said that money, nor having it or making it is evil. It is the love of money that is evil. So let me challenge you today, by asking you this – are there any possession or plans in your life that are distracting you from your love of God and holding you back from the purpose he has for you? If so, it is easy to fix, and God loves a repentant heart. He will help you back on track and live for him each day.

Article supplied with thanks to Wealth with Purpose.

About the Author: Alex Cook is a financial planning expert and has advised individuals and businesses on how to manage their finances for over 19 years. He recently sold his successful financial planning business to pursue his passion of helping people like you to take control of their finances and future.