Love and Idolatry

By Beth Hyduke

Idolatry is the act of putting something or someone else in God's place. We are told to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27), and to "have no other gods before Me [God]" (Exodus 20:3). Since God should be preeminent in our lives, the moment we demote Him in order to replace Him with another, we become idolaters. The object of our idolatry can be nearly anything, including another person. Idolatry, at its heart, stems from a basic human need to worship. This idea has been explained by saying that every human ever born has the same God-sized hole in their heart. We can try to fill the hole by forcing something else in there, but the hole will never be adequately or sufficiently filled with anything but God.

It is important to understand that what makes some love idolatrous is not the fact that we love something in addition to God, it's that we love something more than God. The Bible commands us to love others (Luke 10:27, John 13:34, Romans 13:8-10, Ephesians 5:25, Titus 2:4-5), celebrates the passionate, committed love between a man and a woman (i.e. Song of Solomon), and even goes so far as to tell us that if our actions are not motivated by love, even if our outward conduct is immaculate, we have "nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

So we see that love is a good, necessary, God-given thing; it is the sinful inclination of our hearts that can pervert it into something selfish, twisted, and ugly. Love is devotion and action; it is not exclusively based on how we feel about someone. Certainly our emotions are involved, but they should not be our only criteria for love. True devotion always leads to action. First John 3:18 says, "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but in actions and in truth." Christ, who is the personification of love, loved us enough to take action by coming to give His own life for us (John 3:16, Romans 5:8), even when He did not feel like it (Matthew 26:39). Getting back to a basic, proper understanding of who God is and what He has done for us realigns our priorities and clarifies what real love looks like; it is a sacrifice of the self for the good of another not an excuse to place unrealistic demands on a person that they can never fulfill. When you idolize another person, saddling them with all the expectations, desires, and hopes that only God can satisfy, you set up the person you supposedly love for repeated failures and yourself for bitter disappointment. A big part of loving a person is recognizing and understanding that you are both sinners in need of God's grace — which leads you both back to God.

God has given us so many blessings — including people in our lives — and He wants us to enjoy and cherish them. But these things were not given to be appreciated on their own, but to lead us back to God in praise and thankfulness. John Piper puts it like this: "If created things are seen and handled as gifts of God and mirrors of His glory, they need not be occasions of idolatry — if our delight in them is always also a delight in their Maker."

If you are still unsure of the demarcation between loving someone and idolizing them, and if you are having difficulty discerning whether you are putting something or someone in God's rightful place in your life, start asking yourself questions like these: In what or who do I put my trust? Where do I find my confidence and significance? What makes me truly angry? Typically, anger boils up when an idol in your life gets knocked off its shelf.

By worshiping the Giver rather than the gifts, we give God the honor and preeminence that rightfully belongs to Him. The Bible teaches our relationship with God should have priority over all other relationships. (Luke 10:27 again, for example: "Love the Lord your God" is first for a reason; then, and only then, are you able to love "your neighbor as yourself.") Our relationships with others flow out of our relationship with God. A right relationship with God enables and prepares us to love another person rightly, in relation and submission to God.

Image Credit: Dennis Jarvis; "Venus de Milo"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | God-Father  | Personal-Relationships  | Sin-Evil

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Published on 10-22-15