We have spent a good amount of time, on and off, studying 1 John. We have observed in this letter that John’s readers were being threatened by false teaching that presented a superficial view of Jesus Christ. John writes to combat this false teaching. He concludes his letter with a passionate exhortation: “Little children, keep yourself from idols” (5:21).
John was not concerned that his readers would bow to images of Jupiter or Diana. He was concerned that they would embrace the superficial view of Christ promoted by the Gnostics. His exhortation was pointed: Whenever we embrace an unbiblical view of God, we embrace idolatry.
It has been noted that the difference between the first and the second of the Ten Commandments is that the first instructs us to worship God alone while the second instructs us how to worship God alone. Another way of stating this is that the first command instructs us to keep God first while the second instructs us to keep him separate. We must not treat God the way idolaters treat their gods. We must not treat him the way we treat our gods.
We do well to recognise that we are all tempted to idolatry. Calvin wrote that the human heart is a perpetual forge of idols. He did not mean that we are unendingly tempted to produce statues of Zeus, Ra, or Ganesh. He meant that we are prone to treat God as nothing special. We are prone to relegate him in our affections to the same place as—or even lower than—our other affections.
Paul Tillich has defined faith as “the state of being ultimately concerned.” We worship, in other words, that which ultimately concerns us. Your god is whatever is of ultimate concern to you. Since we all have something of ultimate concern, we are all worshippers. The question is, what holds that place of ultimate concern in your life?
It comes down to a question of value. We far too often fail to grasp God’s inestimable worth. Our sinful hearts place inordinate value on things like money, success, family, and education, and the unbelieving culture elevates the worth of these things. The result is that we underestimate God’s worth in our lives and therefore fail to accord him the place of ultimate concern that belongs to him alone.
When our worship of and devotion to the Lord wanes, the solution is not to try harder. The solution is to see clearer—to gain a clearer vision of who God is. This will enable us to put all other things in their proper place so that he receives our primary devotion. The simple hymn states it beautifully:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
look full in his wonderful face,
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of his glory and grace.
How do we do this? How can you turn our eyes upon Jesus today and thereby gain a clearer vision of God’s worth? Here are three brief suggestions.
First, immerse yourself in the Gospels. Spend some time reading about the life and ministry of Jesus. Discover, from the mouth of the Spirit himself, Christ’s kindness, power, grace, and beauty.
Second, engage with those who have a clear vision of Christ. We saw in Numbers 11 on Sunday that our choice of companions will affect our response to God. Sharpen your own vision by fellowshipping with those who understand the worth of Christ.
Third, pray for a clearer vision of Christ. Ask God to enable you to see Christ in his beauty so that you will worship him as you should. Pray that the things of this earth will lose their lustre as you gaze intently upon the glory of the resurrected Christ.