Love overcomes evil by doing good, and one of the marks of genuine love is that it is generous. Paul spells out what this looks like in Romans 12:9-21: Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not...
Sometimes when I read the Old Testament, I scoff at the Israelites and the surrounding nations. I think to myself, “O silly Israelites, God just brought you out of Egypt, and you’re making a golden calf to bow down in worship?” Physical idol worship is one of those things that always makes me wonder how people could be so stupid.
Why would you want to worship something that you’ve made with your own hands?
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is a familiar one to many of us. It’s probably one of the most well-known stories of idol worship (no doubt due to Veggie Tales’ masterful retelling). I often read this story without much pause. As we hear this story in our churches or read it to our kids at home, our choice is a simple one: We don’t bow down to the idol. We worship God.
However, is this really what we choose on a daily basis? Is this what I choose on a daily basis?
The book of Daniel is unique in the Old Testament, since it is one of the few books that deals with the interaction between an exiled Israel and their surrounding culture. One of its major themes is how God’s people are to live in the midst of a pagan culture. Peter, along with other New Testament writers, applies this same mentality in 1 Peter 1:1 and 2:10-11.
Currently, we are exiles in a culture whose golden images are much more subtle than we might realize. While we are not brought before some golden statue and commanded to worship it, our culture constantly tells us to bow down to ourselves: our success, our glory, and our desires.
In the White Horse Inn podcast, theologian Michael Horton interviewed Jean Twenge about the recent update of her book, Generation Me. This book looks at the shocking trends of my generation (the Millennials) towards narcissism and its effects on various areas of life, including attendance and giving in the church. But even if you’re not a millennial, don’t think you’re off the hook. Worship of self is something that is inherent to each one of us…and it is only amplified by the culture.
The culture’s songs, advertisements, maxims, and messages are beckoning us, even if not overtly, to lay aside inhibitions and worship self. Kanye West’s declaration a few years ago that he was god, while blunt, simply is an outflowing of what the culture-at-large is telling us. While we may scoff at him for such a blasphemous claim, many within the church live their lives based upon that confession.
People who do not bow the knee to self don’t face a fiery furnace, but they do commit a type of social suicide. If we truly believe that God is in authority over our lives, commanding that we don’t live according to our own passions but his, then much of what we do and believe will seem wholly alien to self-worshippers.
If we’ve been transformed by the gospel and indeed are exiles in this world, we will look very strange to the culture at times. The pressure is real: If we don’t follow the norms, we will face hardship. After considering this, I almost wish it were only a golden statue we had to worry about.
It was the God-centered faith of those three Israelite men which caused them to stand firm, rather than worship along with the culture. I am challenged to do the same in the midst of our own. Let us make the same confident pronouncement from Daniel 3:16: “We have no need to answer you in this matter.” Let us say along with Christ, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
The matter should be so solidified in our minds that our lives reflect it. For God requires that he alone be worshiped.