daily Broadcast

Gods of Love, Part 1

From the series Gods at War

Everyone struggles with idolatry. Even the most committed Christians can be blinded to what they’re truly worshipping. In this program, guest teacher Kyle Idleman addresses the idol of love… and delicately explains how it’s possible to actually love someone too much. Don’t miss the ways we’ve mistakenly made those important people in your lives… thee most important thing.

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Message Transcript

There are gods at war within each of us. They battle for the position of glory in our lives and much is at stake. For whichever god is victorious gains power and control over us. Ultimately the god you choose determines your destiny. Yet, for many of us, this concept of idolatry is something that has been missed.

Even if you grew up in the Church, you likely didn’t hear too much about it. And I’ve discovered as I have studied this subject in Scripture that it is the number one problem in the Bible.

More than a thousand verses speak to it, more than fifty of the commandments in the first five books of the Bible are directed against it. It is one of only four sins in all of Judaism that could have the death penalty attached to it. It’s something God took very seriously, and yet, in large part, today in the United States, it is dismissed as antiquated and irrelevant. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Everything rides on this.

Everything rides on this choice that you and I will make every day of: Will I worship the Lord God or will I worship some other god? How we answer that question makes all the difference. And there is a war for our worship. Who or what will sit on the throne of our hearts?
And we have seen in this series that the sins that we struggle with, it’s not just that there is a sin that we need to address, but there is something behind that sin. There is a false god that is winning the war that explains why we struggle with that particular sin.

But what we have also seen is that idolatry in and of itself is a sin, so that there are many good things in our life, many blessings from God that become too important to us and therefore cause us to sin because we have put them ahead of God Himself.

Listen to what Tim Keller writes. He said, “Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it’s more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. It is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Sin is primarily idolatry.”

And so, here’s what we have been called to do is to reexamine some of the good things in our life and ask ourselves this question: Has this good thing in my life become a god thing in my life? Have I made it more important than it should be? As John Calvin explained, the evil and our desire typically does not lie in what we want, but that we want it too much.

And that is certainly true when it comes to the subject we are studying today, these gods of love. The evil is not in loving these things, it’s that we love them too much.

If you have your Bibles, turn to Genesis 22. First book of the Bible – 22. Gods of love. These are the people whom we love, who God has called us to love. And yet, they can oftentimes replace God on the throne of our hearts.

These are the gods that Augustine would have referred to as disordered, disordered loves. That is to say they are legitimate loves that have gotten out of order in our lives. And it’s precisely because they are legitimate that they can so easily become too important to us.

And so, in Genesis 22, we are going to look at this story. It’s a familiar one. Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. But I want us to read this through the lens of idolatry. It begins this way, verse 1. “Some time later God tested Abraham.” Now, the writer tips us off right here from the beginning that this is a test. It’s only a test.

It’s as if he wants us to know, “Listen, what God is about ready to ask Abraham to do, He’s not going to actually let him do.” There’s no place ever in Scripture where God allowed a human to sacrifice another human. In fact, His commands were directed against it in the book of Deuteronomy. So, He tests Abraham.

“And He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ Abraham replied. Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’”

So God says, “I want you to take this, oh, three-day journey north to an area called Moriah. There’s a specific hill, a mountain there, where I want you to sacrifice your son.” And so, He is asking Abraham for everything.

Just as a reminder, Sarah and Abraham had been promised this boy decades earlier. When he was a hundred and she was ninety-one, there was still no child. And yet, God kept His promise and He worked an incredible miracle and she became pregnant with this little boy. And they named his Isaac. Isaac’s name means “laughter”.

And I’m sure that he brought all kinds of laughter to his home. And they were probably like any other parents, would go in at night just to watch him sleep, just to make sure he’s still breathing.

Maybe they would sit on the front porch and watch him play and how many times a day would they say to their son Isaac, “Be careful! Be careful!” because they just couldn’t imagine if anything happened to him.

And they would feel his little arms squeeze tightly around their neck and they would say to their son, “I love you.” Do you have some of these people in your life? People that just mean everything to you? I know love is a word that has become pretty common, but who is it that you just would have a hard time imagining living life without?

Maybe for you, like Abraham and Isaac, it’s a child. They can quickly become our reason for living. There’s something about it when you look into their eyes, when you see their smile, when they are a baby and you feel their little fingers wrapped tightly around your pinky, they can become your reason for getting up, your reason for working. They can become your everything.

Or maybe for you it’s a husband or a wife. Or maybe it’s the pursuit of a husband or a wife that has become a god for you. After all, in our culture, romantic love is held up as the ultimate human experience. There’s all kinds of books that have been written with love as the subject.

Many movies have love as the plotline. Romantic love has inspired works of poetry and art. It has been the theme of almost every song. I mean, who can forget songs like Whitney Houston singing, “I Will Always Love You?” And who can forget songs like Celine Dion from the Titanic when she sings, “My Heart Will Go On?” I mean, even if you want to forget those, it’s very difficult. I feel like I have made an honest effort, and I still can’t forget them. I mean, who can forget these things? Or the Beatles singing, “And I Love Her,” Stevie Wonder declaring that, “You are the sunshine of my life”?

Or there was the classic from Meatloaf, “I Would Do Anything for Love”. Do you remember that song? “I would do anything for love,” the chorus would say, “but I won’t do that.” I never could figure out what “that” was. I mean, I listened to that song a lot! What won’t you do, Meatloaf? Will you not, will you not share the remote? Will you not change your name? What is it? I don’t know, but he won’t do it.

Who would you sing these songs to? I mean, who would you just say, “I would do anything for you”?

See, for Abraham and Isaac, or Sarah, it was Isaac. Now, Isaac was God’s greatest gift to them. And it also turns out that’s it God’s greatest test for them. And this is what you’ll find as well. It is your greatest blessings that can also become your greatest test.

And so, are you like me? Do you have a spouse that you just don’t deserve? Do you have a job that you love? Or maybe for you, you have financial blessings and you can afford every convenience and God has blessed you in that way. Maybe He has blessed you with a child. Maybe He has blessed you with a special gift in some way or another.

Well, these points of blessing carry with them a test of your allegiance. Will this blessing become competition for God or will this blessing draw you closer to Him? Will this blessing become your primary affection or will this blessing cause your affection for God to increase? We’re about ready to find out with Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac.

Verse 3 begins, “Early the next morning,” Abraham shows us something here about beating and conquering the gods that are at war within us. He doesn’t put it off. He doesn’t wait. Early the next morning he wakes up; he obeys God. You keep reading there, he takes a couple servants with him. Here’s what I want you to notice.
Abraham was a very wealthy man. He was one of the wealthiest men of his day. And yet, God does not say to him, “Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor.” Why? Because money for Abraham was not a false god. It was not competing for the position of glory in his life. Instead, God puts Himself in direct competition with his son, Isaac and says, “You’re going to have to choose.”

Verse 5, he says to the servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” I want you to notice the word “worship” here, because this is the first time it is used in the Bible. There is a principle in hermeneutics that when you’re interpreting Scripture and you’re trying to understand the meaning of the word, you should pay attention to the first time that word is used.

This is the first time the word “worship” is used in the Bible. And it’s used to describe a man who is sacrificing something great for God. It’s used to describe a man who was declaring with his life that God is what matters most.

And so, worship is not just something that takes place here when we gather together and when we sing, but worship takes place every day when we make some kind of declaration that says, “God, You matter more to me than this.”

Every day, we have an opportunity to worship when we say, “God, You’re what matters most.”

And it says the two of them went on together, verse 7, Isaac spoke up. He’s probably fifteen-ish at the time, mid-teens. He knows what’s going on. Something is not right. He says to his father, “‘Father?’ ‘Yes, my son?’ Abraham replied. ‘The fire and the wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ And the two of them went on together.”
Verse 9, “When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged wood on it; he bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and he took the knife to slay his son.”

Put yourself in his position just for a moment. And with his knife raised. I want us to push pause on the story and talk about our disordered loves. How would you do with a test like this? Truly, this is a test of the first two of the Ten Commandments, “You shall no other gods before You. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything.” And an idol can certainly take on the form of someone we love. And for me, it often does.

If you want to know where I am the most guilty of idolatry, what area I’m the most guilty, this is it. There have been times in my life where I have made people that I love more important than my relationship with God. There have been times where I have looked at my relationship with a person to do for me what God wants to do for me.

I was talking to a young mom this week and she told me that her children had become for her a false god. I said, “What do you mean? Do you mean you have just made them too high of a priority?” She said, “It’s not so much that,” she said, “it’s that I have given them control of my life. I have given the controls of my life over to my kids and they have the power to determine whether I have a good day or a bad day. I have given the controls of my life over to my children and they can determine whether I’m an angry person, whether I’m a depressed person, whether I’m a person who is in despair.”
And see, she is recognizing that the joy of the Lord isn’t her strength. The joy of her children had become her strength. And she wasn’t feeling very strong. Now, she’s right, by definition, whatever has control over you is your god. Is there a relationship that determines whether or not you’re a joyful person, whether or not you’re a content person?

And then she went on to explain that for her, she was living to please her kids. That in her life, everything revolved around making her children happy. Well, that, by definition is your god. What you live to please, that is your god. And so, maybe that’s true for you. Maybe it’s a child, maybe it’s a spouse that has replaced God as the controller of your life.

When we begin to ascribe divine attributes to something or someone, they become a false god for us.

So, when we look to a relationship as our source of satisfaction, our source of significance, our source of security; when we look to relationship for salvation, we are making that relationship a god. And God is jealous because He wants to do those things for us.

He wants to be our source of significance and security and satisfaction and He wants to be our salvation.

There’s some pretty graphic language in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel to help us understand how it feels to God when we are guilty of idolatry. The picture that is painted for us is one of us having an affair on God. That’s how He feels. When we make something more important to Him in the Old Testament, God sees it as spiritual adultery. And He is jealous. He is hurt. He is angry.

Some of you understand the pain of unfaithfulness, because the person who vowed their life to you, you found was sleeping with someone else. Your husband or your wife sharing intimate moments with another, giving their body to another person, and the pain that you felt, the anger that you felt, the hurt that you felt it’s hard to imagine anything worse. And God says, “This is what you have done to Me. This is how you have made Me feel by your disordered loves.”

An illustration I have used a few years ago I think helps paint the picture of how God feels. Imagine that you walk into a restaurant, nice candlelit, romantic-type restaurant, and you see me sitting at a table for two with a woman I’m not married to. We’re just imagining here. Just imagining.

So, I’m sitting there with someone who is not my wife having this date, this candlelit dinner, you come over, and you’re quick to be, to accuse me. Say, “This isn’t your wife. What are you doing? Where is your wife?” And I say, “Listen, my wife is at home. This is my date night with this lady. My wife and I have a date night on Tuesday night, just relax, everything is fine.” And you go away and you’re angry and you’re upset and so, you call my wife to tell her what has happened.

Let’s just imagine I go home and my wife meets me at the door, gives me a big hug, and she says, “Honey, did you have a nice time on your date?” Well, that’s just ridiculous. She would never say that, because the attention that was supposed to be hers I was giving to someone else. The affection that belonged to her I was giving to another. The money that should have been spent on her I was spending on someone else.

My wife would not say to me, “Honey, did you have a nice time on your date?” She wouldn’t say that. My wife would not, my wife would not say, “Hey, I don’t mind if you date other people as long as you love me the most. I don’t mind if you see others as long as I am first place in your life.” She wouldn’t say that.

And this is how God loves us. He says, “I’m not going to share you. I’m not going to share you.”

And so, it’s not enough just to have God in first place. He wants there to be no second place. Luke 14, Jesus has large crowds following Him. I think large crowds always made Him a little uncomfortable. He was never that concerned about the size of the crowd, He was much more concerned about the level of commitment in the crowd. And so, He would say things when the crowd would get big to make people go away.

Here’s what He says, Luke 14, verse 26, we read. Jesus says, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brother and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” If you don’t hate your mom and your dad, your husband, your wife, your children, your brother – if you don’t hate them, you can’t follow Me. Don’t call yourself My follower.

What do you do with that? Hate? Really? I mean, the Bible consistently tells us that these are the people we should love. There are a few things you need to understand. One, the word that’s translated “hate” here, in Jewish culture was meant to communicate a lesser love. The New Living Translation puts it a little more accurately. It says, “You must hate everyone else by comparison.”

The other thing for us is that we tend to equate words like “love” and “hate” with emotion, with feeling. “I love you,” “I hate you,” it’s full of emotion. Not true in the first century. These words were not meant to communicate an emotion or a feeling, they were meant to communicate a level of commitment.

And so, what Jesus is saying is, “Your commitment to Me, your level of commitment to Me should be such that there really is no other commitment.”

And here’s what we discover. When we get this commitment right, then all these other relationships start to be relationships that honor God, that they were meant to be when God gave them to us.