In our series of lessons on idolatry we have noticed that idolatry in the heart is revealed when we take the good things of God and make them the most important thing, believing that we are worshiping God in what we are doing when in fact we are giving our hearts to our own passions and desires. We saw this with the idol of love, family, success, and the earth. In this lesson we will examine another idol which would seemingly be right and good, but often can be turned into an idol, taking our hearts away from God. The idol is religion.
The twelfth chapter of the first book of Kings records the dividing of the nation of Israel. The people came to Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the king over the nation and asked him to reduce the burden they had in work and taxation. Rehoboam refuses leading Jeroboam, the servant of Solomon, to lead ten tribes in ceding from the nation and begin a new nation. We are told in 1 Kings 12:15 that the series of events were brought about by the Lord. This new nation would take on the name, Israel, while the original nation which Rehoboam ruled over would take on the name, Judah. In 1 Kings 12:25-33 we read about Jeroboam as the first king of the new nation of Israel and the actions he takes.
Lacking Faith In God’s Word
God had clearly told Jeroboam that he would give him this new nation. God said, “But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and will give it to you, then tribes. … And I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires, and you shall be king over Israel. And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.” (1 Kings 11:35, 37-38 ESV)
God was turning the kingdom over to Jeroboam. God had rejected Solomon because of his sins and was giving the nation to Jeroboam, calling upon him to rule righteously and God would establish this nation under him. But look at what Jeroboam thinks to himself in 1 Kings 12:26, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David.” God had promised Jeroboam this kingdom. No sooner has Jeroboam begun to rule over this kingdom and he is fearful that he is going to lose the kingdom. Rather than rely on God’s promise, Jeroboam relies on himself. As we are going to notice, Jeroboam comes up with a plan to try to protect his kingdom rather than trusting in the word of the Lord.
This is the basis of our disobedience. We refuse to trust in the word of the Lord. We refuse to believe what God is promising us. Rather than believing that there is eternal life awaiting us, we seek to find rest and joy in this world, neglecting the promise of God. Therefore, we listen to our own thoughts and desires and try to accomplish our plans rather than trusting in God’s plan. We see this happen repeatedly in the scriptures. Consider Abraham. God promised to give him a child and through that child would come a nation that would bless the world. Abraham, rather than trusting in God’s plan and promises, decides he must take matters into his own hands, and bears a child with his wife’s servant. How often we think we are trusting in the Lord by trying to help God out! We use our wisdom and impose it on God’s plan and think we are doing the will of the Lord. Actually, we are doing what we want to do, but are calling it worship to the Lord.
Failure By Following Our Hearts
Rather than trusting in God, Jeroboam comes up with his own plan. He determines that he cannot let the people return to Jerusalem (which is in the other nation) for worship because the people will decide to kill Jeroboam and return to living under Rehoboam’s reign. Therefore Jeroboam establishes worship centers in the towns of Dan and Bethel, toward the northern and southern ends of the nation, so that the people would not go to Judah for worship.
This is the religion of listening to our hearts. It is the religion of listening to yourself and doing what you think is right. It is the religion of listening to your own little voice within you and following it. Rather seeking the will of the Lord and trusting in his word to guide us, we follow the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of our hearts. Now, what is the problem with listening to our hearts? The problem is that each of our hearts are marred by sin. We cannot know what is right or do what is right without God’s direction. Our hearts do not innately know what is godly. Our hearts innately lead us to destruction. We are only able to know God and his will because he has revealed himself to us through his word.
The Appeal of False Worship
What Jeroboam says is unbelievably shocking. Listen to his words: “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:28 ESV) Do you remember where you heard these words before? Listen to the words of Aaron and the people when the golden calves are built at Mount Sinai. “And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” (Exodus 32:4 ESV) Does anyone remember how that turned out when Aaron and the people did this? Yet we are reading about the appeal of false worship.
Worship has turned into what is appealing to ourselves. Worship has been corrupted into the promotion of us. God is not seen as a God to be honored, glorified, and served. Instead we see God as someone who is to serve us. How often are prayers are filled with selfish requests rather than simply praising the glory and goodness of the Lord! In Jesus’ prayer, called by us the model prayer, the first three requests were about fulfilling the Lord’s plans and purposes. So what are our golden calves that we choose to lead us in this life rather than the true and living God?
An enormous error that has become an idol in religion today is that of horizontal worship. What will I get out of the worship? What will others do for me? The worship is evaluated as if it were a restaurant. Worship is measured by our consumption, not if God was praised. Worship is not about us. Worship is not about if the songs were pretty. Worship is not about you feeling good. Worship is not about hearing what you needed to hear or agreeing with it. Worship is not a personal experience. This is not a Christian club that has weekly gatherings, pay your dues, listen for a few minutes and go home. We have become deluded when we think that any of this is about us. Worship is strictly vertical. Worship is about giving God glory and honor. When our hearts are engaged in praising the Lord and focusing on him, then great benefits occurs: We will be built up. We will be encouraged. We will have received a tangible benefit. Horizontal worship is not the goal and it is not our effort. People want contemporary, new worship. We are looking for something new and improved. The only thing we should care about is God-centered worship.
Our language reveals how self-centered and false our worship has become. We are concerned about if there are people who are in our age group. We will trade the truth of the gospel just to find a church that fits our age group or our style. We get upset because people do not pay attention to us like they should. People do not visit us. People do not do things for us. People do not say things to us that we want to hear. Don’t you see that you are worshiping your idol and not the Lord? This thinking is horizontal worship, not vertical worship. Worship is not about you. This church is not about you!
People come into our worship and want to know what we have to offer. We have nothing to offer you. We have nothing for you. The only thing you are going to find here is service to Jesus. We offer you nothing else. What do we have for the children? Nothing but teaching them about service to Jesus. Do we have daycare? Absolutely not. You are to teach your children and train your children and we would be happy to assist. Teach your children that it is not about them but about glorifying Jesus. We have nothing to offer but Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Jeroboam was offering convenient worship. You don’t have to go all the way to Jerusalem. It’s too far. Just stay is Israel and worship at these golden calves. This is yet another appeal of false worship. When we say that worship is inconvenient for us means that we do not understand what worship is. You are worshiping yourself when convenience is your concern. How convenient was the worship under the Law of Moses with all the sacrifices, feasts, and offerings? How convenient was first century, New Testament worship as people are dying for the cause of Christ? We are seeing the end of the Sunday night worship, Sunday morning Bible classes, and Wednesday Bible classes because it is too inconvenient. Who said worship was easy? Why do we think that worship is to fit our schedule? But let me turn this thought a different direction. Why is our love for the Lord so weak that we will not let the inconvenience of worship not be an obstacle? Why do we look for excuses for getting out of worship rather than giving all we have to be at worship? Where is our heart? Where is our passion? Churches today are having worship on Saturday night to make worship more convenient. Please notice that Jeroboam did the same thing. He changed the feast day in 1 Kings 12:33. It was supposed to be the seventh month, fifteenth day but he changes it to the eighth month and fifteenth day. Worship when it is convenient for you is not worship at all. What do we think we have the right to dictate how we will worship and when we will worship?
What is more likely: a week without prayer or a week without television? What is more likely: a week without Bible reading or a week without the internet? We make time and great sacrifices to engage in what we want to do. Somehow we do not have time for the community groups. Somehow we don’t have time for the service and worship of the Lord. We have time for sports. We have time for recreation. We have time for work. We have time for family. We have time for everything else but the Lord.
We have lost the cross.
We don’t want to carry a cross. We want to sit on a couch. We want horizontal worship where we get what we want when we want it. We do not trust in the promises of God concerning the eternal life and rest to come. So we seek rest and life now in this world. God does not worship you. God does not yield to you. We either love our Lord and come to the cross or we go home. The idol of religion has captured our hearts. We think we are worshiping God, but we are worshiping our definition of what we want worship to be.