Little children keep yourselves from idols. – 1 John 5:21
1 John 5:13-21
What an interesting way to end a letter. After spending all of his time defending the deity of Jesus, ensuring his readers of Jesus’ Sonship and role as Savior, encouraging them to love one another and warning them of false teaching, John closes with a warning about idols. It seems a bit abrupt and unnecessary. After all, he is writing to believers. These were people who loved Jesus and worshiped God. Why would he need to warn them about worshiping idols? Because that is the natural tendency of all men – both saved and unsaved. We are wired for worship. But John has made it clear that our worship is to be directed toward God and His Son Jesus Christ. We are to worship no one or nothing else. An idol is nothing more than a false representation for God. It is something we turn to other than God for hope, help, assurance, acceptance, joy, and ultimately, salvation. It can be whatever we give our time and attention to, including money, our career, our marriage, children, material things, recognition, power, prestige, or a host of other good and not-so-good things that we place our trust in other than God.
So John begins his letter with a personal testimony regarding the deity of Jesus. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3 ESV). Then he ends it with a warning to avoid idols. He knew that there was a constant capacity within his readers to turn their worship of God and His Son into the worship of something or someone else. They could even falsely worship God. That is what the former members of their fellowship had done. They rejected Jesus as their Messiah. They claimed to have fellowship with God, but refused to accept the idea that Jesus was the key to that relationship. Rather than worship Him as the Son of God and Savior of the world, they had manufactured their own version of Jesus, making Him into a mere man whose life was worthy of emulation. They redefined Jesus. But John exposed the fallacy of their thinking. “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23 ESV). You can’t have a relationship with God without the Son. To attempt to do is to turn God into an idol. He becomes a false God. You make Him a liar, John says, because it was He who testified to the very fact that Jesus was His Son and the long-awaited Messiah or Savior.
Idol worship is a constant temptation for believers. We can make a god out of doctrine. We can worship our knowledge of the Bible. We can place our trust in a pastor or teacher, which is not necessarily wrong, unless we place them on a pedestal, making them our sole source of strength, comfort, direction, and encouragement. As believers, we are never free from the temptation to make money and materialism our gods. We still have a powerful propensity to worship self – seeking comfort in our own significance. We can seek satisfaction in a host of worldly things, from sexual pleasure to material gain. Which is why John warned, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15 ESV). He said, “the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16 NLT). When they take on more importance than God, they have become our idols. When we think about these things more than we do God and His Son, we have allowed them to become false gods.
Man is born with a God-shaped vacuum in his life. He will inevitably fill it with something or someone. No one worships nothing. But John would have us remember that we are God’s children. We belong to Him. As believers, we are not only His creation, we are His spiritual children. We are born of God, both physically and spiritually. And He has given us His Son in order that we might have a right relationship with Him. So that we might worship Him. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Man was created to glorify God. But sin separated man from God. It replaced the worship of God with the worship of self. Sin is rebellion to and rejection of God’s rightful place at the center of our affections. It is a desire for something other than God. It is a desire to make ourselves god. But Jesus was sent by God to remedy not only our sin problem, but our worship disorder. He came to provide us atonement for and forgiveness from the penalty of sin. But He also came to restore us to a right worship of God. Some of us have gladly accepted God’s gift of salvation, but have never fully recognized that we were saved to worship. God restored us so that we might recover our love for and worship of Him. We are not to worship salvation. We are to worship the one who provided it. We are not to worship heaven, but the one provided us access into His presence and with whom we will spend eternity in a loving Father-child relationship.