April 17, 2015

Tools in The Toolbox I: Idol Repellant

The context of the next few posts is pretty simple. Paul Tripp made a list for an article on The Gospel Coalition website found here. It was an article on advice to young pastors. The entire article was framed beforehand by a question to Paul David Tripp and two other gentlemen in ministry or theology that will remain unnamed for clarity. I will also remove the second part of the question and zero in on the first core question because that’s where the crux of spirituality lies. The questions is as follows:

In addition to Scripture and sound doctrine, what should young pastors today be studying?

The person that poses this question is asking knowledgeable Godly men what other tools that will need in their toolbox other than the utter necessities of Scripture and doctrine.  The interviewer is biblically sound in asking the question this way because even the interviewer understands that the backbone and core of a church, small group, family or even an individual starts with Scripture first and then sound doctrine. Paul knowing this immediately launches into the next most important thing about churches, discipleship and relationships…he discusses people. And the dynamics in a fallen world that negatively affect them both internally and externally. 

Again, Paul is smart enough realize that the Christian life is not just subject to demonic attack from external sources but also sinful motivations from within. Hence the warnings of idolatry in even non-graven images in the Bible. Paul rightly says that we must tear down anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4. That is because we fight against ideas, spiritual entities and principalities not just physical evils. Not everything wrong in life is a demonic attack. Our sins are forgiven but there are consequences for sin. In the end, the choice to act is solely an inner one that the believer will need to take accountability for and answer for in the presence of the Lord.

The advice Paul Tripp (and Apostle Paul) gives is not just sound for young pastors but all who will be called to the position of leading, teaching and preaching to the people of God. In the article Tripp proposes that many pastors are often excellent exegetes of Scripture but when it comes to interpreting and understanding other people, they fall flat on their face. To measure where these pastors stand, Paul asks very astute spiritual questions. Paul correctly frames the condition of relationship in this post and in his questions. He frames them spiritually and relationally. We are to become students of other people to learn what makes them tick and figure out how to best relate to them. This doesn’t just apply to just strangers either, it even applies to family, friends and close acquaintances.

What is interesting about these questions is that they should be asked by all members of a congregation at a church about their fellow brethren. That is because, in reality, as most members mature and grow in the faith they should be discipiling and teaching others from the fruit of what the Holy Spirit is giving them. This of course requires to things: That one is growing and what is willing to give. If these are missing there is evidence of a major shortcoming in a believers life. What is discipling it is not a position of teaching by word and example. In this way, we should all answer these questions or should at least understand why Paul Tripp asks them. I will break them down over the next three (3) posts.

Here is the first of the helpful questions to ask yourself as you attempt to be a student and exegete of your people:

(1) What are the cultural idols that are particularly attractive to my people?

The issue of idols is an ongoing ever-present battle for the believer. It has been since the days of antiquity and the Garden.  In simplest terms an idol is any person, place or thing of the created order that a believer makes a god. It is anything that a believer places before God in their thinking that either potentially usurps God’s position in a believer’s life. Idolatry is to give honor to (specifically divine honor) to anything that is created by God rather than God Himself. It is insulting to God and demeaning to the person that does it because it says that our Creator is less than magnificent. Think about that for a moment. What does that make us? It makes us even of lesser value…in other words…we border on worthless. The difference to proper reverence to God and a subtle slip into idolatry is a condition of the heart a spotlight off of obedience and onto a sin. Idolatry says that God is not enough. God is infinite…to think this way makes no logical sense and is spiritually and physically deadly.

The prophet Isaiah paints an excellent example of an idol and the sheer stupidity of making it their god (lower case “g”).

Isaiah 44:9-17 (edited & paraphrased) ~ “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless….Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing?...The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline [of an idol] with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in human form, human form in all its glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!”

Please understand that worship isn’t just bowing down to an object in veneration but it is anything that obsesses and makes a person fixate on things of the created world: Money, other people, family, material possession. Some will even go as far as to say it isn’t fixation on another person, it is love but when love seeks to control and manipulate by inadvertent insistence to inane rules, it is not love, it is obsession. An obsession of any form is too intense a focus on something other than God. That obsession is therefore and idol that has replaced God. It is abusive not only to the object of control (note I said object not person), and it is destructive to the person obsessing because it takes the proper focus off of God and lets them pine away for a mental construct of a person that is an ideal in their head…it is not reality. It is idols. Idols cannot save people, only kill them. Any perceived power behind an idol cannot be of God because God has forbid them...so it has to be demonic.

We need to see where idolatry is affecting our brothers and sisters (and even those on the street) and at least inform them of the presence of it in their lives. If it has too much of a grip on them and they cannot extract themselves from idolatry we must help them do so because we are all fallen and just as susceptible to idolatry as everyone else. If I fell into it which I often do, I as a obedient Christian would wish to be told so that I can begin to make inroads to stem the tide of sin and demoniac activity in my life. Only a fool would not.

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