A twist to the plot, an unexpected demand, a plan that doesn’t work, an action that produces an undesired result; I never saw that coming. Without these deviations from the expected course, books would be boring, work would be predictable, strategists would be out of a job and home video TV shows and internet video posts would be the last thing people watched.
1 John ends with one of those “I never saw that coming” statements.
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21 (NIV) The last verse in a letter that lays out the Christ follower’s need to recognize their sin, to love each other and to avoid denying the incarnation of God, suddenly, without warning, brings up idols. It just doesn’t seem to fit.
I guess you could say the verse before, “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” 1 John 5:20 (NIV), is about the true God and that John is pointing out that any other God is an idol, but then why didn’t he say that?
What seems to be an orphaned thought may be a summary of the entire letter.
It is so easy to simplify the word idol, limiting its meaning to a carved statue that is worshiped and assigned the position of a deity. This would fit much of the pagan world around the people being instructed in this letter. Still, one short sentence about such an important topic when John spent a considerable amount of time on all his other points seems strange to me, but strange does not automatically make it untrue.
I don’t know if I am right but that’s never stopped me from giving my opinion before!
I am no biblical scholar nor would I attempt to debate anyone with or without degrees and diplomas over the possible meaning of this verse. As I read through 1 John all I can think is, I never saw that coming. That being said I am going to take a chance and present my take on this verse. Some may debate my point of view as out of context for this letter but I think we will all agree that I have not taken my interpretation out of the context of scripture as a whole.
Idols take the rightful place of God.
The word idol in general terms refers to something worshipped. If you are a follower of Christ it is a little more complicated. An idol is something that is substituted for God and therefore takes His rightful place in your life. If you were a follower of Christ in John’s time you would see many examples of this in the temples and in the homes of those who did not share your beliefs. Statues of the various gods were worshipped. They were placed in temples and homes to bring blessings and prosperity to all who bowed down to them. With the living God at the ready to hear the prayers of His creation replaced by carvings of earthly beings unable to speak or act seems silly; no wonder John warned about them.
Idols don’t have to be carvings to take the rightful place of God.
What we value most is what becomes our god. We may look at carved or chiselled works as no more than a piece of art or a ridiculous rendering designed by ignorant cultures to assist in rituals aimed at pleasing a made-up deity, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have idols. Any activity, person, item or pursuit that gets more of our attention than God, takes the rightful place of God. Any action or behaviour that opposes the commands of God or places more importance on us than on God, takes the rightful place of God.
Could this be what John is talking about when he says “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
Again, I am not a biblical scholar but if we view this verse in the context of the rest of the words in this letter, it is conceivable that John was saying not following his advice removes God from His rightful place in our lives.
Walk in the light.
The darkness places Satan in God’s rightful place.
Do not love the world.
Loving the world places activities, people, items or pursuits in God’s rightful place.
Warning against the Antichrists.
Following those who claim to represent Christ or are the Christ, places people in God’s rightful place.
Living sinful lives.
Fulfilling our worldly desires over God’s perfect design, places ourselves in God’s rightful place.
Love one another – love as God loves.
Love comes from God, when we do not love we do not present God and put hate in God’s rightful place.
Test the Spirits.
Following beings that do not acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh from God, we place them in God’s rightful place.
Faith in the Son of God.
It is through belief in Jesus and His completed work at the cross that we have His testimony on our heart, without this we place our own way of life in God’s rightful place.
Obedience allows God to take His rightful place.
An individual Christ follower or a collective of Christ followers that walks in the darkness, loves the world, follows anyone who claims to be the Christ, listens to spiritual gurus who claim to have truth, people or churches that do not love others or place their faith in themselves (works) have idols that are in God’s rightful place.
Obedience to the only true God is worship of the only true God. It leads to the activities, people, items and pursuits that God has planned for us.
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.