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Flee Idolatry

Idolatry has everything to do with what John has written.

“keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21, NKJV) 

The writer of Judges closes with words of indictment and need: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). Ezekiel closes his prophetic word with a name of great promise, “THE LORD IS THERE” (Ezekiel 48:35). Paul and other epistle writers frequently end with a benediction that lifts the readers’ eyes to God or expresses words of encouragement. 

How does John wrap up his first epistle? What does he want ringing in our ears? “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (1 John 5:21). It seems like an odd and abrupt way to end his letter, raising a topic that he has not mentioned earlier. Yet idolatry has everything to do with what John has written. 

Idolatry is the worship of false gods, something prohibited by God in the Ten Commandments (Exo. 20:3-6). We tend to think of idols as objects made of metal or wood or stone but idols can also be whatever we give acclaim or allegiance, even worship in some way. 

John has great concern for truth, because it is truth on which faith must be founded. Idols are false conceptions that offer false hope. They stand in opposition to the true and living God. They offer a message contrary to the word of truth. 

Throughout his epistle, John has told us what is true, something he just underscored in the prior verse (5:20). A now he tenderly cautions us to steer clear of idols that are nothing but the fabrications of our minds and are a vain hope for deliverance and meaning. Jesus alone is true God and eternal life. 

To put defection from Jesus in terms of idolatry John cuts to the chase. Any other supposed way to God, any other so-called truth, any other rival to God is not reasonable; it is nothing but a lie. To pursue an idol is to forsake God. To forsake God is find ourselves mired in our sin and without hope of life. 

When John closes his letter with the mention of idols, it is like cold water to the face of what we do when we reject God’s truth. More than that, John recognizes the inclinations of our hearts to stray. We are prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love. One theologian put it that our hearts are idol-factories. We must be vigilant of our hearts. 

Keeping ourselves from idols means keeping the living God central to what we believe and how we live, giving Him the glory due His name. From that will flow all that John has laid out in his letter, and give us the assurance of which John has written (1 John 5:13). 

What idols do you tend to erect in your heart that compete for your love and allegiance to God?

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and ten grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale

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