What am I doing with my time and energy? Why do I feel entitled to comfort, convenience, and entertainment all of the time? And ultimately: if I spend more time watching TV, scrolling through social media, and engaged in hobbies and entertainment than reading the Bible, prayer, worship, fellowship, hospitality, and serving others, have I made these things idols? In order to answer this question, I took another look to clarify the definition of idolatry. Of course, we know about the worship of physical idols that occurred primarily in ancient times, but idolatry is as much of a problem now as it ever was.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia says this, “Idolatry originally meant the worship of idols, or the worship of false gods by means of idols, but came to mean among the Old Testament Hebrews any worship of false gods, whether by images or otherwise, and finally the worship of Yahweh through visible symbols; and ultimately in the New Testament idolatry came to mean, not only the giving to any creature or human creation the honor or devotion which belonged to God alone, but the giving to any human desire a precedence over God’s will.”

Human desire is king in our culture. Everything seems to come down to what makes us happy and comfortable, and anything that feels unpleasant is avoided. We hear fairly regularly about how money or ambition can be idols, but it appears to me that comfort, convenience, and entertainment have all become idols as well. Not everyone is super ambitious or looking to make a fortune, but I think most of us in the U.S. rank our own comfort and feelings of happiness very high on our list of priorities.

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” 2 Timothy 3: 1-5

“‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.” Ezekiel 16:48-50

The passage about the sins of Sodom is especially interesting because we think mainly in terms of the sexual sins that went on there, but here God is telling Ezekiel that the people of Sodom also had an overall attitude among them of pride, self-indulgence, and lack of concern for the poor. I find it’s pretty chilling to read in that description “fullness of food” and “abundance of idleness.” This could be describing American society to a T. It’s amazing how progressive sin is – what starts out as pride, selfishness and idleness can mutate into every kind of evil. Since those are very common sins to most people, this is a sober warning about how easily we can get into a destructive path if we love ourselves too much.

As I’ve reflected on these things the past couple of weeks, it has occurred to me that the root of idolatry is self-love. When you read about the various gods worshiped throughout history, it’s been very common for people to worship multiple gods with the purpose of getting what they want: making offerings to a god of war, a god of fertility, a god of harvest, or whichever god they wanted to meet their current needs or desires. These people did not love their gods; they used them as a means to an end to please themselves. It’s crucial that we remember not to look at God in this way. He is not there to serve our desires or grant our wishes like a some kind of a genie; He is the Creator and the Lord of all the earth, and not to be taken lightly. When we shift our focus from worshiping and honoring Him for all that He is to focusing on how He can benefit our own lives, we will inevitably become warped by our own selfishness and pride until we, too, make idols of the things we love. So how do we resist that abundance, pride and self-indulgence? How do we go against the culture of today and move the focus back to God?

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.‘”
Matthew 22:37-40

If I focus my energy, my time and my thoughts on loving God with everything I have, and on loving my neighbor as myself, there isn’t going to be a lot of time for idleness and self-indulgence. If I love not just in an emotional way, but in the biblical way of love as an action, then I will stay very busy every day of my life with just these verses. It seems to me that the root of idolatry is self-love, and the remedy for idolatry is an all-encompassing love for God.