Recognizing Modern Idolatry Day 1: The Idol of Money, Part 1
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away. (Colossians 3:1-8, ESV)
When Paul was writing to the believers in Colossae, he wanted to direct their minds off earthly things to spiritual things by directing their hearts to Christ Himself. This week, as we examine the deceptive lure of modern idolatry, my aim will be to do the same. In a world full of distractions, deception, and destruction, we must fix our minds on things that are true and eternal by fixing our hearts on the person of Jesus Christ.
If all covetousness is idolatry, as the apostle Paul states, we are left with three questions: what is covetousness, how can we notice it in our lives, and then, what should we do when we notice it? Saint Thomas Aquinas succinctly pointed out in a discourse on the sin of covetousness that “sin arises from the desire of mutable good.… But virtue arises from the desire for the immutable God” (Summa Theologica). In other words, we veer into sin by longing too much for things that will one day change or be lost, and we correct course by instead desiring to know the God who can never change or be lost. Pastor Toby Sumpter clearly echoed this contrast on his blog:
“Covetousness is fundamentally the objectification of people. While God has designed the world to be thoroughly personal, sin tempts people to depersonalize the world, to commodify it, to use people for their things, or to use people as things…. And this is precisely what idolatry does. It is constantly trying to trick life out of lifeless things. But the problem with this is that life doesn’t come from lifeless things. It comes from the living God and by His design it comes through His living image bearers” (“Covetousness & Idolatry” Sumpter, 2016).
We must root out idolatrous desires for lifeless, earthly things that are unable to satisfy us, and then set above all others the desire to obey and worship our life-giving God in the way He has designed us to. In short, we must learn to trade the temporal for the eternal.
Today, we will focus on recognizing one of the two most obvious idols in our culture today—the idol of money. Greed is certainly not a new vice; the Old Testament is filled with story after story of people who desperately wanted what they did not have and suffered catastrophic consequences for pursuing it. The greed of Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, is one such story. Let us pick it up in 2 Kings 5:20, right after Elisha refuses Naaman’s offer of payment for the healing of his leprosy and Naaman has departed for home. As we read 2 Kings 5:20-27, we should note four important steps in Gehazi’s story: his temptation, his choice, his deception, and his consequences.
As a servant of the prophet Elisha, Gehazi had been witness to the power of God many times, but Naaman was perhaps the most prestigious recipient of miraculous healing that he had met. Naaman was a very powerful man that could bring Elisha and his household acclaim throughout the world, but he was also a military general for one of Israel’s foreign enemies. Gehazi likely wondered why Elisha refused the gift that would both benefit himself and harm, at least financially, the nation of Syria. Gehazi saw the glittering wealth of Naaman’s caravan; then, as he continued to think about what he saw, he rationalized disobeying his master to get what he wanted. This sure sounds familiar to us, doesn’t it? When we are overcome by greed, our hearts are naive to the destruction it will bring us.
Gehazi then made a conscious choice before the Lord to go against the will of Elisha and pursue material gain for himself. He lied to Naaman to get the money and clothing, and then he lied to Elisha about getting it. He was even offered an opportunity to confess, but refused, choosing instead to deceive his master. How often do we see this pattern play out in our own rebellion? We see something we want, justify how we will get it, and then when we are faced with the guilt, we try to cover up our foolish choice with avoidance and lies. Unfortunately for us, we have just as little success in deceiving God as Gehazi had in deceiving Elisha.
Surrendering to the pull of greed in our lives will always come with consequences. In Gehazi’s case, he was sent out of Elisha’s presence, lost his health to leprosy, and brought upon himself a curse that would endure in his family line long after he was dead. Were Naaman’s coins and clothes worth the cost? Definitely not. The long-term effects of financial idolatry can reap similar results in our lives today: loss of position or career; loss of mental, emotional, or physical health; and even generational harm. As C.H. Spurgeon once said, quoting Andrew Fuller, “How much better it is to hold [gold] in your hand than to have it in your heart. Goods in the hand will not hurt you, but the goods in the heart will destroy you” (“Avarice a Fatal Vice,” sermon, via Bible Hub).
Tomorrow we will continue looking at the idol of money and the consequences of greed, and will outline some practical steps we can take to avoid or remove this idolatry from our lives.