My little children, guard yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).
For some time we have considered different desires, attitudes, and mindsets that we have called the “gods of this world.” The concept derived, in part, from 2 Corinthians 4:4, where Paul speaks of Satan as the “god of this world.” The “gods” of this world are some of the means by which the “god” of this world continues to enslave many people in sin and darkness.
The concept also derived from the way people treat these desires, attitudes, and mindsets. They have made them out to be their gods. Very few would actually admit to making such things to be gods; furthermore, most did not do so consciously or intentionally. When people think of “gods,” they most often think of idols of the past: statues, representations of animals or natural forces, and many times some superhuman old man in the sky.
While there still remain some people who actually bow down before statues and images, on the whole, such forms of idolatry are in the past. But Paul says that any time we serve the creation rather than the Creator we commit idolatry, and that service is not limited to bowing down before statues (cf. Romans 1:18-25).
As we have seen, Jesus and Paul, in Matthew 6:24 and Ephesians 5:5, speak of money as a god and covetousness as idolatry. Such shows us that idolatry, and the service of “gods,” may have nothing to do with statues or physical representations. In fact, we can take any thing, belief, attitude, or mindset, and make a “god” out of it!
Such is what we have seen time after time. We have seen how people will seek, above all things, to satisfy their most basic impulses: life, desire, pride, and power. Different people satisfy them through different channels: entertainment, fame, money, narcotics, power, popularity, sex, and work. Far too often these pursuits dominate their lives and consume all of their resources and energies.
The gods of this world are not limited to the basic impulses of humanity. We have seen how some have made a god out of “mother nature,” nationalism and politics, science, and even themselves! The way in which people look at the world also can become gods: knowledge, skepticism, and tolerance can as easily dictate one’s views as they inform them. In our society today, efficiency has all but been made a god to which everyone must bow down. Technology and our stuff can become our masters as easily as they can be our servants.
We should notice that all of these matters have their origin in God and His creation. All of them are able to be accepted or used in ways that are honorable and even to the glory of God. None of them are wrong in and of themselves. The difficulty is always based in how they are used or accepted. If and when any of these things is made absolute–something believed to make life worth living, something to which everything else in life is subject–then it has been made a god. This is when people do exactly what Paul warns against: they have taken something that God has created as good and have made it a god, and have served it rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). They may not be animals or statues, but they are no less part of God’s creation!
While we are concluding this series of examinations into the gods of this world, let none be deceived into thinking that we have comprehensively analyzed all of the possible gods of this world. There are plenty of other practices, attitudes, mindsets, and similar things that God created as good that man can make into a god. Even if we were to address every topic that we could presently imagine, such would not stop future generations from being “inventors of evil” and coming up with even more gods of this world (cf. Romans 1:30)!
Instead, we ought to take John’s warning seriously: we must guard ourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). Any time we take anything of this life and make it our overarching goal and purpose, or we decide to see everything around us through its lens, we have made such a thing our god. We must instead keep our eyes focused solely on Jesus. He is the Source of the treasures of knowledge and wisdom (Colossians 2:3). In Him is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). Through Jesus we learn about the characteristics of the One True God and can be empowered to serve Him wholeheartedly (John 1:18, Colossians 1:9-23). Let us cast off every god of this world and serve the One True God in Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry