“Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21)
John wrote his letters to 1st century Christians, and in the 1st century Roman Empire idolatry was rampant and pervasive. Not only did people regularly go to the temples to worship the Roman pantheon of gods, but most families even had their own personal small idols they could wrap up and even take with them on trips, “gods in a bag,” if you will. It was a common practice and so much part of the culture that it wasn’t even noticed. It was normal and expected then.
John knew that these idols had no power or basis in reality, so what he was warning believers about was the influence of idolatry, or the influence of its pervasiveness. He knew that the call to follow Christ was a call to the confession that “Jesus is Lord,” and ONLY Jesus. Just prior to this warning he wrote in verse 20, “He is the true God and eternal life.” That means there is no room for any other god. But John also saw the pervasiveness and total acceptability of idolatry, and he was concerned that some believers might continue to be influenced by idolatrous practices or maybe just passively ignore them. He saw the need for them to move totally away from any form of idolatry.
Believers in the 21st century need to hear this word in our context, because there is some clear application to us. Christians in some cultures in our world still face that same literal question of what to do about idolatry because in some countries it is still widely practiced. But even in our own “enlightened” western cultures, there are forms of idolatry that are practiced. Idolatry is any thing or person which usurps God’s position of sovereignty in His personal relationship with us.
In our American culture are there any more or less universal practices which are widely accepted which might constitute a form of idolatry, anything that might draw us away from our walk with the Lord? Think about it.
Lord, Help us to have no other “gods” besides You. Only You are God. Amen.