Idol worship is a practice that has occurred for centuries. To create an idol is to esteem a person or a thing far above anyone else. Idolatry can occur in the form of spending too much time in an activity, or worshiping a person with a high level of devotion. Anyone and anything can be a god or an idol. For some, money is an object that is worshiped, while for others their home or vehicle is their god. However, when we as humans commit idolatry, we are essentially putting something or someone before the one and true God.
In the book of Acts chapter 17 verses 16-31, we see that the Apostle Paul travels to the city of Athens. At that time period, Athens was known for its idol worship and institution of Greek gods. In verse 16, it says that Paul was distressed by the worship of idols in the city. So, he begins to make a plea concerning Jesus Christ and His resurrection to those who would listen. However, he is challenged by Greek philosophers in verses 18 – 20:
(NIV) “A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.”
The philosophers were curious as to who Paul was referring to. In their minds, Jesus was a foreign god who they had never heard of. However, here is what Paul says in verses 22-23:
(NIV) “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship.”
The issue with those in Athens was that they were so insistent on their idol worship that they erected an idol which was marked, “to an unknown god.” Who was the “unknown god”? Notice that Paul says in verse 22 that the Athenians were“religious” meaning they have a form and fashion of rituals without truly knowing who God is. Which then results in Paul saying in verse 23 that the Athenians who are practicing idolatry are ignorant of the very thing that they worship.
What Paul is alluding to is that the Athenians were so caught up in their idolatry of other gods, that they failed to recognize God for themselves. So, in their error they erected a statue among many other gods, without truly knowing the Lord through relationship. The Athenians were so ritualistic that they worshiped and instituted every idol they could think of, including the one they did not know. There are a couple of principles that we can take away from this:
1. God desires to be known – It is clear that the “unknown god” is that of God almighty. In verses 24-25 Paul says the following:
(NIV) “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”
What Paul is saying is that what distinguishes God almighty from the idols that the Athenians erected is the fact that God is a living God. God desires that we know Him in the pardon of our sins through Jesus Christ. He is a living God who wants to have a relationship with us, but when we are insistent upon worshiping and serving idols in our lives, we cannot know Him in His fullness.
The problem with the Athenians was that they were thrown into confusion because they allowed idolatry to rule. Not only did they worship idol gods which is a sin before God, but they attempted to worship God in their ignorance without knowing who He was. As long as we remain in our sinfulness and disobedience, we cannot see the truth of God for who He is. Unknowingly, the Athenians erected an idol which represented the one and true God, however, it was a part of God’s plan to reach out to the Athenians through their error and through Paul.
2. God will not tolerate idolatry – Paul not only expresses the fact that God is the giver of life, but he also makes it clear that God expects us to lay down our idols and repent:
(NIV) “For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Notice the words “repent” and “judge.” God not only desires to know us and that we know Him, but he wants us to turn from our sinfulness and idolatry. There are many in today’s world that have erected their own idols which are an attempt to replace God. Truthfully, we were made to worship God the creator, but because we all have a need to worship, in our sin we choose other things or people to replace God.
However, we must repent and turn from our wicked ways. Not doing so, will bring judgment as Paul mentions. If you were to look at scriptures throughout the old Testament, you will see examples of nations that were destroyed because of idolatry and sin. Sodom & Gomorrah is a prime example of a city that paid a heavy price for its sinfulness and idolatry. In our current time, there are many nations that have erected false gods, in an attempt to replace God almighty. However, God promises to judge each person and nation based on their behaviors and sin.
God who created the Heavens and the Earth deserves our worship. We all have a choice in the matter because God wants us to love Him by choice. Some will choose to worship God, and others will worship their own gods. However, the key difference between the gods we create and the God that is self-sufficient is that there is a peace and love that surpasses all understanding when we are in God’s presence.
God’s presence is unlike anything you and I could ever experience. Even if we choose to worship our own gods, the gods that we create cannot match the awesome power of God almighty. Satan wants us to be blinded by our own desires and to create idols. However, he does not tell you the judgment that comes when we serve created gods. If you haven’t chosen Jesus Christ as your savior, you have an opportunity to know God in the pardon of your sins. God wants every human being to know Him. Choose Christ, and serve the one and true God.