The Issue With Idols

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

There is a deliberate design in these last words of John’s first epistle that we can’t afford to miss. Recall that throughout the letter he provides lessons he’s learned in his many years as a follower of Jesus, along with measuring tools to gauge our own walk with the Lord—perhaps causing us to wonder how we can enjoy a closer relationship with Jesus. As if sensing this, John zeroed in using four concise words that give a foundation from which to walk out our faith – “guard yourself from idols.” 

These words are his grand thematic overture to abiding in Jesus. And it looks like this—to commit to all John presented from chapters 1-5, we begin by booting our idols out the door and then guarding against their return. 

Bear in mind, in John’s generation (and centuries prior) idols were seen as monolithic statues that people bowed down to worship—or even small figurines conveniently tucked within a camel’s saddle and sat upon. But John wasn’t addressing just these idols. Rather, they include anything (or person or emotion) placed above God. Anything that controls our lives. Renowned minister Alexander MacLaren described how to identify an idol with striking clarity: “What I prize most, what I trust most utterly, what I should be most forlorn if I lost; what is the working aim of my life and the hunger of my heart – that is my idol.”

Looking at it in more relative terms, let’s say you have a relationship with someone. How would you feel if that person repeatedly turned aside from you in preference of something or someone else? How deflating is it when you are talking to someone and her attention is on her mobile device? I know I feel devalued, and that’s exactly how God feels. 

God views idols as a substitution of our affection, and throughout Scripture, He warns us to flee from idolatry and turn our eyes to Him. It’s to our benefit because “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17 ESV).
God wants to be first in our lives. John, aware of this truth and concerned with our spiritual welfare, wrote this letter to contrast the love of the world with the love of God. He closes by reminding us that when we are born of God, Jesus keeps us. And by keeping our eyes on Jesus, we join with Him in guarding our hearts and minds, furthering us to abide in Him.

DIG: Read Psalm 16, a prayer of confidence, to renew yourself in your walk with Jesus. 

DISCOVER: Ask God to reveal to you anything or anyone you are placing above Him. Sometimes it’s even a controlling emotion, such as anger, greed, or selfishness.

DO: Pray and partner with the Lord to prune away the idols of your life. Ask for His help in keeping you from them, coupled with an increased, unshakeable devotion to Him.

About the Author

Lisa Supp

Lisa Supp lives in Utah and has served within the CCFL Web and Prayer Ministry since 2011. She also volunteers as an editor on the CCFL Prayer Wall and is a writer on the Communications Team. Retired from teaching, Lisa and her husband Ron volunteer at their local Calvary Chapel and share a passion for Scripture, apologetics, and education.