Being part of a church is a good thing because Christians need each other. We should be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10). We should encourage one another (2 Corinthians 13:11). We should serve one another (Galatians 5:13). And the list of “one anothers” goes on. But it is very possible for our participation in church to become idolatrous. How?
First, we need to understand what idolatry is. It’s not bowing down or singing to a statue. Idolatry is much more sophisticated than that. Idolatry is taking a good thing and turning it into an ultimate thing. The Bible often uses the term “desires” to point out idolatry. Scholar and pastor John Calvin once said the human heart is an “idol factory.” We can manufacture idols out of anything at an alarming rate. So if idolatry is simply turning a good thing into an ultimate thing, one can begin to see why and how church can become idolatrous.
Second, it’s important to understand the basic motivational structure of the human heart when idolatry has taken root. We all have an innate need to feel “whole,” “content,” “at rest,” “satisfied,” “justified,” etc. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Idolatry is the desire to find this in someone or something other than Jesus Christ. Some people pursue this through the acquisition of money and possessions. Some people pursue this through accumulating the approval and praise of people. Some pursue this by racking up more “victories,” however that may be defined.
Some pursue contentment, satisfaction, and wholeness through church participation. Upon first blush, this may seem fine, but probe a bit deeper and you’ll discover not all is well. The million dollar question is this: why is this person so committed to church participation?
If it’s because they’re trying to impress God and get him to bless them, it’s idolatry.
If it’s because they’re seeking the applause of church staff or other volunteers, it’s idolatry.
If it’s because they’re attempting to convince themselves they’re “worthwhile” through ministry success, it’s idolatry.
If you’re using participation in church to give you a sense of wholeness, contentment, rest, satisfaction, or justification, it’s very likely church has become an idol. Church programs and activities can’t give you this. Only Jesus can and the two of those things are NOT the same.
How will I know if I’m making church an idol? Examine your heart. Why are you doing the things you’re doing at church? Talk to God about it and then respond when you see that something is off. Confess the sin of idolatry to him, ask him to purify your motives, and then seek to find your contentment in who Jesus is and what he’s done.
Let's be honest. Our prayer lives can be anemic. And often, our times of prayer only heat up when things are difficult. In those difficult times we cry out to God to solve our problems, but how much of our prayer time should be used for this kind of praying?
Studying the apostle Paul's prayers a couple of years ago was eye-opening for me. Most people may not realize contained within his letters are prayers for that particular group of Christians to whom he was writing. So I spent a considerable amount of time looking at those prayers. What I discovered was earth-shattering. Paul never, not even once, prayed for these Christians' circumstances to change!
He prayed for them to live lives worthy of the calling they had received (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
He prayed for them to grasp the magnitude of God's love for them (Ephesians 3:17-19).
He prayed for them to grow in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-11).
And many more!
Not once did Paul pray for their circumstances to change. Dare I say, Paul was praying for bigger things?! Does that mean we shouldn't bring our concerns to God? No. We should cast our anxiety on him (1 Peter 5:7). But what it does mean is that our prayer lives need to reflect the prayers of the Bible. Which means, our prayers should be concerned with more than just the difficult circumstances immediately before us. Our greatest good isn't changed circumstances, but changed lives!
If you missed my post earlier this week, you can read it by clicking here. But in that post, "A Manifesto Against Male Passivity," I discussed the importance of male leadership as outlined in Genesis 1-3. To dig further into that topic, this week I am giving away two copies of the book, The Masculine Mandate: God's Calling to Men by Richard D. Phillips. To enter, simply sign in to the Rafflecopter giveaway below and enter either by following me on Twitter, on Instagram, or on both! Winners will be chosen and notified by email. At this time, I do ask that only those living within the 48 contiguous United States enter the giveaway. Thank you for understanding.
Marriage is awesome! It can also be difficult. There are numerous factors that contribute to it being a mishmash of both. In conversation and counseling with couples I am convinced God’s blueprint for marriage, particularly as outlined in Genesis 1-3, needs to be stated and restated. One feature to that blueprint that requires emphasis: male leadership.
After God made Adam, he gave Adam instructions on how to live life in the garden. God hadn’t created Eve when he gave those details to Adam. The implication from the text one draws is that Adam was responsible to communicate those to his wife. This is exhibit ‘A’. Adam had the spiritual and theological responsibility to hear, understand, and communicate God’s Word to his wife and, ostensibly, the rest of his family. There’s nothing in the Bible that suggests this has changed. Men have the responsibility to be students of God’s Word, embody those truths in their lives, and communicate those truths to their wives and children (cf. Ephesians 6:4).
Exhibit ‘B’ is more subtle. In reading Genesis 3:1-7, it can be easy to picture the scene as involving just two characters: the serpent and Eve. But that’s not what the text says. After the serpent successfully dupes Eve into thinking eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil will make her life wonderful, she takes some fruit from the tree and eats it. But the text then says this: “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her…"(Genesis 3:6).
Adam was there!
The whole time!
And he said nothing!
The result? Sin. Brokenness. Conflict. Dysfunction.
Male passivity in marriage (and life in general!), is never a good thing because it was never a God-thing. So, men, please listen. Our understanding of what it means to be a man should never be shaped by 21st century life in the U.S.. T.V. shows, movies, and social media don’t get it right. Our understanding of what it means to be a man and how to be a man, comes from just one place: God’s Word, the Bible! You’re not going to naturally drift towards the Bible’s picture of manhood. You’re going to need help. Help from the Scriptures, your church, your pastor, and other Christian men. (This is one of the reasons, I’m grateful for our Men’s Frat ministry!) So go get help in becoming a man who rejects passivity!