I remember several years ago when I first started preaching I did a lesson on the works of the flesh (Galatians 5). As I’m sure you’ll recall; listed among these sinful works are the acts of idolatry and adultery, which, pronunciation-wise, sound an awful lot alike!
I remember that after the lesson that I was approached by a member of the church who sought to educate me in the proper pronunciation of the two words.
“It’s IDOL-UH-try and UH-DUL-tery.” I remember him saying.
I’d like to examine these two works of the flesh that sound so much alike and examine what exactly makes them so different, why they are so destructive, God’s attitude toward them both, and then bring it back around to discuss the striking similarities.
…And I’ll do my best to pronounce them correctly…
What is Idolatry?
1: the worship of a physical object as a god
2: immoderate attachment or devotion to something
Basically, idolatry is the worshiping of idols or false gods. In Old Testament times, many ancient societies subscribed to the belief in numerous deities and often turned to idolatry as a means of worship, whether the idol was meant merely as an aid in worship or the actual object of worship.
The Israelites – A History of Idolatry
We recall that among the Ten Commandments was a warning against the practice of idolatry.
Exodus 20:3-6 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."
Unfortunately, despite God’s warning and commandments, the Israelites, God’s chosen people, were constantly tempted by idolatry. In fact, shortly after Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, he came back down from Mount Sinai to find them worshiping the golden calf.
Exodus 32:1-6 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to theLord.” Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
Following this incident, God nearly destroyed the children of Israel, but this wasn’t the only time the Israelites would turn to idolatry instead of the true God. Throughout their history, the Israelites would be enticed by the idols and false gods of neighboring nations.
The Israelites were warned time and time again to avoid idolatry.
Deuteronomy 4:15-19 “Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth. And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage."
The Futility of Idolatry
Isaiah 44:8-10 speaks to the futility of idolatry: Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.’” Those who make an image, all of them are useless, And their precious things shall not profit; They are their own witnesses; They neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed. Who would form a god or mold an image That profits him nothing?
Why in the world would anyone bow down and worship something they created with their own hands?
Isaiah 2:8 Their land is also full of idols; They worship the work of their own hands, That which their own fingers have made.
Habakkuk 2:18 What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it, The molded image, a teacher of lies, That the maker of its mold should trust in it, To make mute idols?
God’s attitude toward Idolatry
As the Israelites made their way through the Promised Land they were commanded to destroy idols of the people they conquered and, in many cases, to utterly destroy that civilization, people and all!
What is Adultery?
Concerning Adultery, the Ten Commandments simply state in Exodus 20:14 - You shall not commit adultery.
We can see God’s attitude toward adultery is much like his attitude toward idolatry.
Leviticus 20:10 The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.
Adultery, like all other sins, is not victim-less and opens the door for other sins to take place that will have long-lasting effects. Just look at the account of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11.
David allowed himself to be enticed by Bathsheba and committed adultery with her. When she was found to be pregnant, he attempted to cover up his sin through deceit, but when that didn’t work, he arranged for her husband to be killed. David’s sinful deeds did not go unnoticed by God and as a result, the king faced the consequences of his sins for the rest of his life, despite being forgiven by God. The child he fathered by Bathsheba died. He was a bad influence on his sons: One of David’s sons, Amnon, raped and humiliated his own half-sister while another of his sons, Absolom, rebelled against him and tried to overthrow him by force.
Adultery and the Sanctity of Marriage
How often do we hear of people cheating on their spouses with other individuals who are also married? The adulterous couple will proclaim that they never truly loved their current spouse and that their new relationship is “true love”. In many cases these adulterous couples will get divorces from their original spouses, only to get married to the individual they committed adultery with that they are “truly in love with”. What do these people expect to happen with their new marriage that was founded on adultery? What happens when they wake up one day and decide they don’t love their new spouse? How many families are destroyed by the sin of adultery?
Jesus taught that marriage is sacred and binding and that getting divorced for any reason other than sexual immorality is a form of adultery.
Matthew 5:31-33 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’
We must remember that marriage is not just an oath between two individuals and the government, but additionally (and most importantly) God Himself! This should show how holy marriage is and how seriously we should revere it!
Matthew 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Jesus points out that all sin, including adultery, begins in the heart and just the act of lusting is equivalent to the act of physical adultery. How easy it is to commit adultery in this modern age! We are all constantly bombarded with temptation on our television, movie, and computer screens!
Idolatry and Adultery: Less different than we think?
From here on out, the line blurs between idolatry and adultery.
Notice that the words are almost synonymous in Ezekiel 23:36-38 - The Lord also said to me: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare to them their abominations. For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and even sacrificed their sons whom they bore to Me, passing them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover they have done this to Me: They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths.
Likewise, the idolatry of Israel is described as spiritual adultery in Hosea 4:10-12 For they shall eat, but not have enough; They shall commit harlotry, but not increase; Because they have ceased obeying the Lord. “Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart. My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, And their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, And they have played the harlot against their God.
Think about it… As Christians we are members of the church, which the Bible states is likened to being the Bride of Christ.
Ephesians 5:25-33 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Just as we should take our earthly marriage seriously and protect its sanctity, we should likewise protect our spiritual marriage with a similar respect and love.
But how many times do we commit adultery against Christ by turning to modern false idols? How often do we “cheat” on Christ by giving preference to earthly things?
Covetousness and other self-seeking sins are essentially idolatry.
Colossians 3:4-6 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience,
Even preachers/religious leaders can become idols if we allow them to! This was case during the in the instance of Paul and Barnabas' healing of a crippled man. This miraculous work of healing astonished the crowds who then sought to worship them as false gods (Acts 14:11-18).
We are just as susceptible to this deviation from true worship today. Consider the modern false idols many worship in the place of God today: Money, sex, political affiliations, sports, entertainment... The list goes on and on.
We must recognize that anything we allow to take the place of God can become an idol and force us into a spiritually adulterous state.
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
– CS Lewis
Romans 1:24-26 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Ultimately, we must realize that the things of this world are temporary and pale in comparison with the glory that await the faithful in Heaven.
2 Corinthians 4:18 While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21 - Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Where is your treasure laid up?
What are you truly worshiping?