The Pious Hoax About Idolatry
It does not mean “putting things before God.”
People say, “If you are putting a relationship, or a job, or success, or music, or anything else in place of God, then you are an idolator.”
Sometimes they will go on to say, “So we are really all idolators.” It makes for good preaching if you are trying to produce a big altar call with lots of tears. But here’s the thing. It’s not biblical. It’s a pious hoax.
It might be sin, but it’s not idolatry
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for being challenged to search my heart to see if God is really first. But it’s not a matter of idolatry.
Idolatry means there’s an image. And you’re worshiping it.
It can be the image of a false god.
Or it can be a false image of the true god. And any image of the true god is a false image.
The only exception is Colossians 3.5, where greed is called idolatry. Wait, greed? And nothing else anywhere in the Bible? Why? Why that sin?
I suspect it comes from Matthew 22.17-21. Jesus is asked if they should pay taxes to Caesar, and in so doing he would be implicitly siding with the Romans. Jesus asks for a coin. Apparently he wasn’t carrying any money with him. I know that feeling.
“Show me the money used to pay taxes,” he says. They show him a Benjamin. Technically it was called a Denarius, and it was worth about a day’s wages for a field worker. So a Benjamin is probably a good equivalent by today’s standards.
“Whose image and whose inscription is on it?” he asks.
“Benjamin,” they say. Okay, my attempt to make it contemporary has completely broken down and failed at this point. Actually it’s “Caesar” they say. But it meant to them what a Benjamin means to us.
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s.”
But notice the question Jesus asked them. “Whose image?”
When you pursue money, you are metaphorically putting an image before God. Of course we all know it’s not literal worship. Except that it kind of is. And that’s the play that Paul is making in Col 3.
Greed is idolatry because you can’t serve both God and Benjamin.
Photo credit: Arian Zwegers