How to Defend an Idol; Acts 19:21-40

"This Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people saying that gods made with hands are not gods."

As a rationalistic Brit it is far too easy to assume that all people can see that things made with the hands are not gods. We made them so we rule over them, not the other way around. The fact is, however, that not only do most people in the world not see the fallacy, but that my Brit perspective is wrong. Almost everybody - including rationalistic westerners - make idols with their hands and worship them as gods. Idolatry in various forms is the default setting of all human hearts. The things we reckon to have value in our hearts are the things we serve because Jesus said that where your treasure is your heart will be. The thing about fashioning things with our hands, our labour, our effort is that we did it.

In the absense of God of course we make gods out of what we have done. Just watch the relocation shows on the TV to see pure idolatry - "Janet and John want the house and lifestyle they really deserve." Idolatry! A heart set entirely on house and lifestyle. How is that not gods that are made with hands?

Any message that challenges idolatry is therefore a dangerous message. In Ephesus is was enough to get a guild meeting called, a plan concocted to suppress the message, a riot started and extreme local fervour and religious bigotry played upon. When a man called Alexander tried to speak to the crowd they realised he was a Jew and simply drowned him out for two hours. We would rather put our hands over our ears and scream at the top of our voices than hear a message that challenges our idols.

Here is how I would apply this to Christians in London:

  • You make things with your hands which you worship
  • To the extent that you make your job, money-making, new car, foreign holidays the thing that you live for you worship an idol just as much as the Ephesians worshipped Artemis
  • To the extent that you will not hear a biblical message to live wholeheartedly for Jesus instead you make your idol your treasure. When push comes to shove you cherish yourself and your work above God
  • Therefore repent, with whatever real-world consequences that will need to have for how you use the things of your hands
  • If you aren't giving significantly of yourself and your money for the extension of the kingdom it is a pretty obvious sign that there are idols in your heart that rate higher than God does

And, just like in Ephesus, I will expect to hear all kinds of reasons and non-reasons for not responding. It isn't just non-Christian Ephesians or non-Brits who worship idols. Christians do too. How much I need to continually submit, asking God to remove the idols from my own heart. In Jeremiah's words I far too easily ignore the cisterns full of living water that God provides and try to hew cracked and broken cisterns for myself that hold nothing of true, eternal value. 

At the end of the day that's what idols do, they replace the eternally valuable with the seemingly instantly valuable that isn't valuable at all. It only seems so because I did it.