THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WORSHIPPING GOD
AND WORSHIPPING IDOLS
In last week's lesson, we read over thirty scriptures in understanding that
God first acts, then calls for our response. A primary form of our response is worship.
Christians worship and serve God in response to what God had done in acting in
Tonight I want to make application of last week's reading by noting three
distinctions between God and idols that are evident in the contrast of worship of
Jehovah God and worship of idols.
There is a distinction! Christians must realize there is a distinction! A failure to
understand that distinction can [and often does!] misdirect our worship and our the way
we live our lives.
First, you must understand the contrast throughout the entire Bible is the
contrast between Jehovah God and idolatrous gods. The worlds of the Old Testament
were worlds of idolatry. Israel often was attracted to and caught up in the focus of
those worlds. Every time Israel was caught up in idolatry, they forgot the contrast and
they lost memory of Who God is. We as Christians must never forget the basic
contrast in the Old Testament is the contrast between the living God and the gods idols
The world of the New Testament was a world of idolatry. The call of the New
Testament is to see the living God in His distinctiveness, to see Him in contrast to the
gods represented by idols. If we fail to see that contrast, if we lose memory of Who
God is, just like Israel we will lose contact with God. The contrast did not change
when God gave the gift of Jesus in his incarnation, his death, and his resurrection.
Second, you must understand that it is very easy for us to lose sight of the
contrast because the common idols of 21st century America are quite different to the
idols of the Bible worlds. Our idols exist in secular institutions and pursuits, not in
religious temples dedicated to nonexistent deities. While their idols represented those
nonexistent gods they worshipped, our idols usually exist in secular forms that
encourage us to worship ourselves. Our idols are greed, jealousy, self-indulgence,
selfishness, pleasure, addictions, pride, arrogance, injustice, hate, anger, and such
like. Our symbols of nonexistent gods take forms like money, controlling power, drugs
used for pleasure, alcohol, abusive speech or acts, exploiting the weak, and such like.
Because we see our idols only in a secular context, we too often do not recognize them
as spiritual forces.
In the worlds of the Bible, people commonly associated the same attitudes with
idolatrous forces. Commonly the characteristics of our secular gods were the
characteristics of their religious gods. Where we make artificial distinctions between
what we declare secular and spiritual, they did not make such distinctions. For them,
the secular was merely an extension of the spiritual.
This evening I want you to consider three basic contrasts between the living God
and idols. It is in seeing these contrast that we can understand another basic truth
about the concept of biblical worship of the living God.
- Contrast # 1: the living God acts in human history before He calls for a
response from people.
- Let me challenge you to consider two illustrations:
- The first is found in Exodus 19, 20 with Israel.
Exodus 19:3-6 Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen
what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself.
Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own
possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of
priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of
- This statement occurs just before God spoke from Mount Sinai and
gave Israel the ten commandments.
- Why? Why did God make this Exodus 19 statement first and then give
the ten commandments to Israel in Exodus 20?
- Remember the exodus from Egypt was history--God delivered Israel.
- Remember the crossing of the Red Sea was history--God delivered
- Remember all the nurturing/preservation deeds in the wilderness were
history--God delivered Israel.
- God declared Exodus 19:3-6 to remind them that Israel had reason to
respond to Him.
- Please note it is their choice to see and respond to what God did.
- Please note they had reason to respond positively to God.
- He already had acted in delivering them from Egypt.
- He asked them to respond to Him on the basis of what He did for them.
- The same emphasis is seen in the New Testament.
- In explaining the concepts of righteousness and justification through faith
in Jesus Christ, Paul wrote these words in Romans 5:6-8.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time
Christ died for the ungodly. For
one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare
even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us.
- Before we were righteous, God acted on our behalf.
- While we were helpless, God acted on our behalf.
- While we were sinners, God acted on our behalf.
- God intervened in human history for our benefit.
- How? He sent Jesus. He permitted Jesus' death for our sins. He raised
Jesus from the dead.
- Our worship and our service is in response to what God already has
- God acted for our benefit; we respond to His action.
- The first contrast between the living God and idols is that God acted in
history for our benefit before He asked us to respond to Him.
Contrast # 2: the living God cares and expresses His caring; idolatry
commonly was based on fate.
- The concept of fate in regard to the action of idolatry's gods is a concept of
inattentiveness and unconcern--a general disinterest.
- It is the basic view of "what is going to happen will happen"--good or bad.
- Thus if something good happened to you, the gods smiled on you for
- If something bad happened to you, it was going to happen and you could
not prevent it.
- Your behavior or decisions had nothing to do with the outcome.
- Fate determined the outcome.
- To me, one of the best revealing of the attitudes common to the Baal gods in
the region of Canaan is declared in Elijah's contest with the prophets of Baal
on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18:25-29.
So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one
ox for yourselves and
prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under
they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from
morning until noon saying, "O Baal, answer us." But there was no voice and no one answered.
And they leaped about the altar which they made. It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them
and said, "Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is
a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened." So they cried with a loud voice and
cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on
them. When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening
there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.
- The ten tribes of northern Israel rarely worshipped God but frequently
- Elijah wanted them to return to God and abandon completely Baal.
- He proposed a contest of sacrificial worship.
- Listen to the words of Elijah when the prophets of Baal received no
response from their god.
- "He is a god" (gods are disinterested).
- "Use a louder voice" (you do not have his attention).
- "He is occupied" (you are not his priority).
- "He is gone somewhere" (he is too removed from you to hear you).
- "He is asleep and you need to wake him up" (he has no
consciousness of you).
- Gods are inattentive to human concerns even if humans seek to worship
- Compare those statements to what is declared about God.
- David, Psalm 139:7-12: Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee
from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in
Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the
remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand
will lay hold of me. If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light
around me will be night," Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as
bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.
- Jeremiah, Jeremiah 23:23,24 "Am I a God who is near," declares the Lord, "And
not a God far off? "Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?"
declares the Lord. "Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" declares the Lord.
- Jesus, Matthew 6:25-32 For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are
you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not
toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed
himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What
will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek
all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
- Paul, 2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so
that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for
every good deed;
- The gods functioned on impersonal fate, but Jehovah God functions
on constant awareness.
Contrast # 3: Jehovah God is compassionate; the gods of idolatry are
- My term for worship objectives in idolatry would be manipulation.
- "The gods do not care what happens to you."
- "First, you must get their attention."
- "Second, you must get them concerned about your problem."
- "Third, you must convince them to act in your behalf."
- Thus commonly the idol worshipper tried to do those three things:
- Get the gods attention.
- Get the gods concerned.
- Get the gods to act in their behalf.
- In contrast with the idolatrous gods indifference, Jehovah God is compassionate.
- Consider two examples:
- Example one:
- The story of Jonah, ending in this statement: Jonah 4:9-11 Then God said to Jonah, "Do
you have good reason to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "I have good reason to be
angry, even to death." Then the Lord said, "You had compassion on the plant for which you did
not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.
Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000
persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many
animals?" [God is compassionate even when His people are not.]
- 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient
toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. [God does not wish to destroy people.]
- Example two: Jesus Christ.
- The coming of Jesus shows how compassionate God is.
- The death of Jesus shows how compassionate God is.
- The resurrection of Jesus shows how compassionate God is.
- The role of mediator and intercessor that Jesus Christ serves shows how compassionate God is.
Romans 8:31-34 What then shall we say to these things? If God
is for us, who is against us? He
who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him
freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who
justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised,
who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
We as Christians worship God as a response to His acts which rescued us. He
acted in Jesus Christ, and we in worship respond to His actions. We worship Him
because He is the God of involvement, not a god of fate. We worship Him because He
is the God of compassion, not a god of indifference.
Thus Christian worship is inherently a declaration of gratitude.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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Evening Sermon, 8 February 2004
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