“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or 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.” Exodus 20:3-4
When I was younger and read this verse from Exodus, I always thought, Well, I’m in the clear on that one! I don’t worship any other gods. Upon reading or hearing the word “gods” I would picture Buddha or the Greek mythological god Zeus. It’s not like I had carved out a wooden character and bowed down to it, so honestly, I thought the verse was inapplicable.
Over time though, I realized how naïve that thinking was. Yes, this verse applies to the figures people make out of gold or whatever material and then proceed to worship. Actually, while Moses was on Mount Sinai with God, the Israelites were practicing pagan worship, making a calf out of gold and bowing down to it. This verse speaks to that. However, the gods and idols that God bans for us to worship are not limited to mere objects.
Think about what a god or an idol is. It’s something that is placed above all other things in its level of importance. It’s precious to you. It controls and dictates how you live, the decisions you make. It’s worth sacrificing for. It’s a huge part of where you find your identity.
Now, some can insert the literal gods they worship such as Buddha and they fit into these descriptions. But at some point, I was stunned to realized that I had other things in my life that could fit the mold of being an idol: my passions such as singing, friendships, money, grades, college, even myself… the list could go on. And I knew what God said about idols… “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”
Thankfully, God tells us exactly what to do with our idols. Deuteronomy 7:5 says to, “Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire.” Basically, God asks us to destroy them. Now, God doesn’t want us to destroy our friendships, passions, grades, etc. No way! He made us to be relational people; He instills in us passions; He is delighted that we seek knowledge. However, sometimes we let these good things blow out of proportion.
Suddenly, our grades become way too important. I must make all straight A’s this semester, whatever it takes. Want to make straight A’s? Go for it. But if it starts to control and dictate how you live, if it’s where you find your identity, then your extreme approach might need to be altered.
You can tell that things are becoming idols in your life when things become unbalanced, unhealthy, and ultimately detrimental to you. We keep the things we love in life in proportion by, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews12:2). God is a jealous God, but He is also a loving God. He wants to help us break down the altars we have built, however many that may be.