Did you know the Bible gives some precise instructions on when we are to FIGHT and when we are to FLEE?
But you, O man of God, FLEE these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. FIGHT the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called, and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. - 1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NKJV)
The first verse instructs us to FLEE, and the very next verse commands us to FIGHT. So, which is it, fight or flight? Both. Sometimes, God intends for us to get in the ring and fight. Other times, he intends for us to run in the opposite direction. Over the next few weeks, we will evaluate God’s expectations of us in these regards.
Looking at it again, Paul said, “FLEE these things….” What things? If you choose to read it, you will discover the list is quite specific in 1Timothy 6, but Paul also gets very direct in some of his other writings regarding what we are expected to flee. Idolatry is one of the things that he speaks of specifically to the church at Corinth, “Therefore, my beloved, FLEE from idolatry.” (1 Corinthians 10:14 NKJV) Don’t stick around. Don’t put on your boxing gloves and fight with it, just get moving. Get out of there! Flee from it!
In our day, hearing this term, IDOLATRY, we might think that Paul’s exhortation doesn’t apply to us in this modern world, but that's because we lack context.
First, let’s look at it in a New Testament setting and then our present day. As revealed in the New Testament’s Book of Acts, at the time Paul was preaching and teaching, there was a great deal of pagan idolatry in the world. Each city worshipped its favorite god or goddess and built shrines around its idols for worship. So, for instance, when Paul went to the philosophical epic center of the ancient world, Athens, he observed that it was overly inundated with idolatry.
The idolatry of ancient societies was facilitated through worship that sought a pathway to receive such things as beauty, power, and money. When you evaluate that list of things to pursue, it becomes evident that modern society is not fundamentally different from ancient cultures. Today, we still bow perpetually to BEAUTY, POWER, and WEALTH.
A great lesson in learning to flee idolatry is that we must realize, one doesn’t have to visit a paganistic shrine or burn incense to a false god to become an idolater. God speaking through Ezekiel informs us, “Son of man, these leaders have set up idols in their hearts.” (Ezekiel 14:3 NLT) Based on this statement by God, Tim Keller provides the commentary, “The Bible teaches us that the human heart is an idol factory.” This principle is why so many people will sacrifice so much to obtain beauty, power, and wealth.
Grasping the truth that Idolatry can manifest in anyone’s life, each of us must evaluate our lives to see if it is time for us to flee personally. Thankfully, Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods (which influenced many of my thoughts on this subject as a whole), provides an excellent survey for understanding, “What is an idol?” So, we can better know when it is time to flee!
An idol is:
Anything more important to you than God
Anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God
Anything you seek to give you what only God can give
Keller, Timothy. Counterfeit Gods . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Idols can rise in your life in the form of a relationship or anything that rules your thought life and overly consumes your imagination or creative energy. An idol can be almost anything that is elevated to an improper status in our hearts! Even an addiction can be a form of idolatry. One clear example of a potential idol from the Bible’s teachings is money as it can also take on divine attributes in our lives, “...Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” (Colossians 3:5 NLT) According to this verse, a greedy person is no different than someone who worships false gods! So, we learn, God views idolatry as something more than that which we associate with statues, shrines, and incense.
As we referenced before, Paul further exhorts, “But you, O man of God, FLEE these things and PURSUE righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:10-11 NKJV)
Notice in those verses, we are told to FLEE one thing and PURSUE another. Run from idolatry to God! We are to FLEE from idolatry and PURSUE the things of God.
The reason we can fall in love with pursuing Jesus passionately is that He first loved us. He loved us so much He gave His life for us! But too often, we take His love for granted and become complacent in our relationship with God. To maintain spiritual success, it is imperative that we always put God first and never lose our first love. This approach helps tremendously with overcoming the temptation to elevate idolatrous behaviors in our hearts.
I find it helpful to think of it this way:
L OVE ____________over
FLEE from idolatry by NEVER putting anything above your FIRST LOVE! According to his own word, only God is entitled to own that spot; your First Love (Ref. Revelation 2:4).
As you run from idolatry and towards God, remember this point of worship, it is impossible to topple the idols in your life without denying yourself. You will always have to lay some things down in order to flee the idols in your life. But, don’t get discouraged -- it’s an ongoing process because there will always be another thing to lay down! We are human and the world has a way of reeling us in unexpectedly. You will constantly need to make sure that you are putting your First Love first by giving Him your whole heart, mind, and soul.
Paul took idolatry so seriously that he went as far as to encourage us to take a spiritual inventory every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:14–16 NKJV)
It’s impossible to experience a “common-union” with God and simultaneously bow to the idols that tend to take an elevated position in the desires of our hearts. So right now, stop what you’re doing. Invite the Holy Spirit to help you examine your heart. Is there any idol that needs to be toppled over? If so, don’t delay. Knock that idol down and flee! Arrive at the throne of God’s presence and go all in, once and for all!