Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
1 John 5:21 (NIV)
I find it interesting how writers choose to end their letters. Some people regularly add postscripts with little bullets of thought that they realized they forgot to add in the body of the message. Some have a stock sign-off like “Sincerely yours” that might be personalized to the writers own preference. I’ve always been partial to one of Paul’s favorite phrases “Grace and peace” or the chipper sounding Brit salute “Cheers!”
So it was that John’s sign-off on the letter to followers of Jesus leapt off the page at me this morning when I got to the end of the chapter. For the entire letter John has been confronting the false teaching of gnostic contemporaries who spreading all sorts of contrary and false ideas about who Jesus was. Today’s final chapter was no different. The gnostics of John’s day that Jesus was just a man upon whom Messiah descended at his baptism but then departed before death. Therefore, the gnostics claimed, Jesus death was nothing special (and there was no resurrection). John writes that both the water of Jesus baptism and the blood of His death were essential in the spiritual sense.
Then John gets to the end of his letter and simply says, “Dear children, keep yourself from idols.”
Where did that come from?! He hasn’t written anything about idols or idolatry in the entire letter. It’s essentially a postscript thrown in without the “P.S.” But postscripts are typically important thoughts to writers. They want to get it in. They don’t want us to forget it. It’s worthy of sneaking in as a final thought.
So I’ve been thinking about idolatry this morning in the quiet. I find that it’s easy for me as a 21st century western human to dismiss the notion of idolatry. It conjures up images of ancient pagan statues and religious artifacts from art and natural history museums. I have no real connection. When I come upon an admonition to “keep from idols” I pass over it without giving it serious thought. But I looked up the definition of idolatry this morning:
idolatry [ahy-dol–uh-tree] n. excessive or blind adoration, reverence, devotion, etc.
Excessive and blind adoration, reverence, and devotion can be given to almost anything. It’s not confined to ancient statuary. Along my life journey I’ve encountered individuals who appeared to offer more reverence to the church building and/or sanctuary than to the God it was built to honor. As I meditated this morning on the things to which we offer “excessive devotion” and it wasn’t hard to think of things…
I’ve known men who are so devoted to a sport like golf that they pretty much ignore their job, their marriage and their family. It’s all they think about, talk about, and desire to do.
Just this week a person told me about a poor teen dancer in the family whose father was so blindly devoted to himself that he couldn’t show up on time nor practice the father-daughter dance for her recital. Instead he embarrassed her by simply standing there next to her refusing to participate in the actual dance.
I recently had a fellow believer who admitted that they were so obsessed with cross fit that it had begun to be all they thought about to the detriment of other areas of their life.
These are all forms of idolatry according to the definition of the term. Any hobby, interest, or activity and slip across the from a healthy life-giving piece of life into an obsessive, blind devotion that begins to have negative effect on my life and relationships. John’s postscript bullet is important. If I believe all the right stuff with my brain but my life is blindly obsessed or devoted to the wrong thing, then my adherence to some statement of belief is meaningless.
This morning, I’m taking stock of my own interests and devotions. Do they bring life and goodness to me and my relationships, or do they distract me from critical life priorities?