The Gods That Men Serve

The Golden Calf

There is “one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6). But there are “many gods” that men serve (1 Corinthians 8:5). The “one God” is the true and living God. The “many gods” are the false gods that arise from the mind of man.

God has placed in man an inherent inclination to worship something greater than himself (Acts 17:26-27). This inclination is intended to lead men to serve the one true and living God. But many have misplaced their loyalty, devotion, and faith. This is why John warned, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

The gods have changed, but idolatry is still a problem today as it was in the days of the Old Testament and at the time when John penned his epistle. Let us notice some of the gods that men serve.

Man-Made Idols

When we think of idolatry, this is typically the first object of man’s worship that comes to mind – the “gods made with hands” (Acts 19:26). This is not a widespread problem in this country, but it certainly remains a problem in different places around the world.

Paul explained that the Gentiles as a whole had gone into serving these idols (Romans 1:22-23). This came about because they had rejected God (Romans 1:20-21) which led them to practice all kinds of wicked things (Romans 1:24-32).

The Lord, through the prophets, showed the foolishness of worshipping an idol made with hands. Isaiah talked about a man cutting down a tree, burning half of it to cook his food and provide warmth and then taking the other half and fashioning an idol to worship (Isaiah 44:14-19). The words of Jeremiah are more pointed: “But they are altogether stupid and foolish in their discipline of delusion—their idol is wood” (Jeremiah 10:8). “Every man is stupid, devoid of knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols; for his molten images are deceitful, and there is no breath in them. They are worthless, a work of mockery; in the time of punishment they will perish” (Jeremiah 10:14-15).

One day the earth and everything in it will be destroyed (2 Peter 3:10). These idols, since they are made from the earth, will be destroyed along with everything else. Do not follow the gods that cannot see, hear, speak, or do anything.

Political Leaders

Luke recorded the event that led to God punishing Herod the king: “On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. The people kept crying out, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!’” (Acts 12:21-22). Some people today, especially in this country, look to government or politicians as their god.

It is easy to draw a comparison between Herod and Barack Obama, the newly elected President of the United States. Herod was praised for his speech and likened to deity. Obama is known for his polished and inspiring speeches and has been likened to, or called, the Messiah.

Many politicians – not just Barack Obama – have led people to put their trust and faith in the government. How have they done this? By providing more and more aid and services so that people learn to rely on the government. This is what Herod did that preceded the praise from the people. Luke explained, “Their country was fed by the king’s country” (Acts 12:20).

God’s plan for government is simple – keep the peace, punish evildoers, and, beyond that, leave us alone (Romans 13:4; 1 Timothy 2:2). In our country, men have added education, health care, retirement, stabilization of the economy, and more to the work of the civil government. As a result, many people now immediately turn to the government as the provider of their basic needs and as the source of help in difficult times. They rely on the government and have put their faith in politicians. God does not look kindly upon those who accept such praise. This can be seen in the example of Herod who was “eaten by worms and died” (Acts 12:23).

Material Things

In the discussion of putting off the old man and putting on the new man, Paul told the brethren in Colosse that they needed to give up covetousness or greed. They were to consider themselves dead to “evil desire and greed, which amounts to idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). When we covet after material things and make them into the objects of our desire and devotion, we make them into our god.

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). We can apply the principle of this passage to many areas of life, but the specific application Jesus had in mind had to do with material wealth. Either we will serve God and be good stewards of His blessings or we will pursue material things and reject God. We cannot “ride the fence.” God demands our complete devotion (Matthew 22:37; Romans 12:1).

We need to remember that the physical things we have are from God. James wrote, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). Do not take a gift from God and make it into an idol in competition with Him.

Their Own Appetite

Paul spoke of those “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). Their appetite was the object of their lusts. Whatever they desired, that was what was important. Paul said that such people were “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18).

This same language was used about false teachers: “Those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned” (Romans 16:17). Paul said, “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ, but of their own appetites” (Romans 16:18). They were not following God’s standard but their own. They pursued “the lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16) and would do whatever was necessary – even persuading others to believe certain things – in order to get what they desired.

What Do All of These Have in Common?

There is one characteristic that these different idols have in common – men serve the god of their choosing. Whichever one they believe will benefit them the most – in whatever way they deem to be most important – that is the god that they will serve.

We must choose the being or object to which we will devote ourselves. However, there is only one right choice. Joshua presented this choice to the children of Israel:

If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

God is our God regardless of the choice we make (Ephesians 4:6). So we must “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

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