Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” – 1 Samuel 7:3
In the context of this verse, the Israelites had gone away from serving God alone and added the worship of other gods. They still acknowledged the Lord, but the Lord did not accept their worship as long as other gods were a part. It was either Him alone or not Him at all (as we see from the first commandment). As a result of their unfaithfulness, the Israelites became oppressed by their enemies, the Philistines. They quickly realized that these other ‘gods’ had no power to save them from the Philistines, so they turned to the Lord for help. The Lord agreed to help, but on one condition: they must be rid of the other gods and serve Him only.
It seems archaic and primitive to conjure up the idea of worshipping multiple gods, but what the Israelites did in forsaking the Lord is precisely what modern people do today. Our current culture is very much a poly-theistic culture. We may not be as superstitious as the ancients were, but we are certainly as religious (as we will soon see).
In former days, the people would align themselves in worship with the gods that suited their fancy. Those that sought wealth would worship the gods of agriculture, livestock, and weather. Those who were power-hungry would serve the gods of war and power. Those inflamed with lust would serve the ever-so-popular gods of love and erotism. People are no different now. They worship the same gods, they just leave off the names.
With his in mind, we see that Paul, in writing to the Philippians, in the midst of a very poly-theistic culture, remarked on those whom he calls the ‘enemies of the cross of Christ.’ He said this:
…whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame–who set their mind on earthly things. – Philippians 3:19
Despite the fact that Paul (and those to whom he wrote) lived in a world saturated with named religious deities, he chose not to name any of them as the gods of those that oppose Christ. The reason? Because Paul could sum them all up in this one statement: ‘whose god is their belly.’
There is among those who call themselves Christian the great temptation to bundle up the worship of Jesus with the worship of other gods. These gods aren’t stone or wood but are the god-like desires that dwell within. To worship a god is to serve that god. To worship a desire is to serve that desire. When any desire (whether inherently sinful or not) begins to command our servitude or draw us away from service to the Lord, it has become our god.
It is not often thought of in this way among modern day Christians. But the fact remains that many who worship Christ also worship other things. And it needs to be understood that God will not be part in any pantheon. He will be worshiped alone, or not at all, as Joshua once so eloquently put it:
“If it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served…, or the gods of the Amorites…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15
But what are the gods served by modern men? Let’s take a look.
The god of lust is a particularly well-known god of our time. Among her priests are well-paid actors, pornographers, dancers, and singers. Her worshippers range from the richest to the poorest. Her images are easily found on every tv, computer, cell phone, and movie screen. Some men unashamedly worship her in public places, others bow in secret behind closed doors. Among the gods, this one continues to remain among the most popular.
But the worship of lust is incompatible with the worship of the one true God. She is among those that we are commanded to put to death (Colossians 3:5). God demands that we live in holiness and purity. We cannot serve both God and lust.
Pride is a particularly controlling god. He demands that only those things be done that serve his purpose. He will not allow his adherents to admit a wrong or apologize for a thing done. These he sees as weakness. He forbids any association with those of a lower class. Image and class are of paramount importance to him. He demands that his worshippers elevate themselves higher and higher, stepping over whoever they must get there. He demands their sacrifice of relationships from time to time, for asking and giving forgiveness is anathema to him.
But the worship of pride is incompatible with the worship of the one true God. God commands us to humble ourselves, to forgive, to associate with the lowly. We cannot serve God and pride.
A friend of pride is the god of power. This god demands his worshippers be in control. He demands disregard to the needs and wants of others in his adherents pursuit of greatness in their own eyes. This god commands the use of whatever means necessary to manipulate and control. If it can’t be done by direct means, indirect means will certainly do.
But the god of power is incompatible with the worship of the one true God. The true God demands that we serve others, not seek to be served. Jesus demonstrated this so greatly when He stooped down to wash the feet of His disciples. We cannot serve God and power.
The god of entertainment and ease demands tasty food; she demands movies and video games for many hours; she demands easy work, or, even better, no work at all. Her temples are movie theaters, game stores, and restaurants. Her sacred items include TVs, game systems, and arm chairs. Her priests are actors and sports stars. She demands that they faithful serve her adherents on demand. Her worship carries on day and night, especially among the young, the poor, and the super rich.
But her worship is not compatible with the worship of the one true God. God commands that we deny ourselves, make difficult sacrifices, and follow Jesus Christ. We cannot serve God and entertainment and ease.
The god of earthly pursuits is the god of ‘other things.’ These things may not be good or bad per se, but this god elevates them to the place of primary importance. The god of earthly pursuits demands that his adherents love him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It may be sports, career, hobby, or game. Whatever it is it consumes the mind. Instead of ‘setting the mind on things above,’ these worshippers have their mind set on whatever these earthly pursuits may be. It has become their god.
But this god is not compatible with the worship of the one true God. The Lord commands that we set our mind on things above, that we abide in the Vine, and that we meditate upon the Word of God day and night. The mind full of earthly pursuits can do no such things. We cannot serve God and earthly pursuits.
The god of religious duty is quite cunning. She masquerades herself as the one true God, but is really just a band-aid god, seeking to ease the conscience of her adherents. She extols the religious reciting of prayers and chants and demands good works of her followers. She erroneously promises that such things can purge sins and grant favor with God.
But the worship of this god is not compatible with the worship of the one true God. Good works for righteous amounts to bribery in the eyes of God. No man can be justified by good works, for we are only ‘saved by grace, through faith.’ We cannot serve God and religious feelings.
These are but a few of the innumerable gods that men serve. Any desire that arises from our being (whether power or lust or a need to feel religious, etc), when elevated to such a place to become the object in which we serve, it becomes our god(s). We must recognize this evil for what it truly is: idolatry. It’s the worship of false gods, it’s the worship of images and things.
And we must realize that although these gods may give temporary satisfaction and fleeting pleasure, they cannot save. They can’t save in times of trouble, they can’t provide in times of need, and they certainly cannot deliver a soul from the fires of hell. Only one God can do these things. And if we are fortunate enough to encounter (and survive) times of calamity and through it feel our helplessness without the true God, we should do as Samuel exhorted the people of Israel. We should forsake the false gods among us and serve the Lord only. Of course, it would be better for us to recognize our need to do this without such hard times to teach us–we can learn from the Israelites instead of having to learn the hard way ourselves.
God is very merciful, and He loves us. He desires to be in relationship with us. He wants us to put away these things, to cease serving the desires of the flesh. True satisfaction is found in Him, and true salvation only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These other gods are phonies. To try to satisfy the desires of the flesh is like trying to fill a bottomless pit. When those desires speak, saying, “Serve me, and I will give you all you’ve ever wanted,” the best course of action is to respond as Jesus did to Satan in the wilderness. What did He say?
“Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” – Luke 4:8
Let us put away these false gods and serve God only.
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