Most of us realize that enjoying anything other than God, from the best gift to the basest pleasure, can become idolatry. Paul says in Col. 3:5: “Covetousness is idolatry.” “Covetousness” means desiring something other than God in the wrong way. But what does that mean—“in the wrong way”? The reason this matters is both vertical and horizontal. Idolatry will destroy our relationship with God and it will destroy our relationships with people.
All human relational problems—from marriage and family to friendship, to neighbors, to classmates, and colleagues—all of them are rooted in various forms of idolatry; that is, wanting things other than God in wrong ways. So here is my effort to think biblically about what those wrong ways are. What makes an enjoyment idolatrous? What turns a desire into covetousness, which is idolatry?
1. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it is forbidden by God. For example, adultery, fornication, stealing and lying are forbidden by God. Some people at times feel that these are pleasurable, or else we would not do them. No one sins out of duty. But such pleasure is a sign of idolatry.
2. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it is disproportionate to the worth of what is desired. Great desire for non-great things is a sign that we are beginning to make those things idols.
3. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it is not permeated with gratitude. When our enjoyment of something tends to make us not think of God, it is moving toward idolatry. But if the enjoyment gives rise to the feeling of gratefulness to God, we are being protected from idolatry. The grateful feeling that we don’t deserve this gift or this enjoyment, but have it freely from God’s grace, is evidence that idolatry is being checked.
4. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it does not see in God’s gift that God himself is more to be desired than the gift. If the gift is not awakening a sense that God, the Giver, is better than the gift, it is becoming an idol.
5. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it is starting to feel like a right, and our delight is becoming a demand. It may be that the delight is right. It may be that another person ought to give you this delight. It may be right to tell them this. But when all this rises to the level of angry demands, idolatry is rising.
6. Enjoyment becomes idolatrous when it draws us away from our duties. When we find ourselves spending time pursuing an enjoyment, knowing that other things or people should be getting our attention, we are moving into idolatry.
To Be Continued
- John Piper