A Season of Transition, a Season of Prayer — Please join us each day at 11:30 a.m. in offering a personal but collective prayer for our congregation. Today’s focus for prayer is: Help us to recognize the good in others, even others of different faith or no faith, so that the image of Christ may be seen in us and through us.
Scripture: 1 John 5:13–21
Key verse 21: Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
Reflection: On the way out the door my parents would always try to get in one last, little piece of parental instruction before I crossed the threshold and into the big wide world. “Don’t forget your manners,” “Be good!” “Don’t you dare bring that car back with an empty tank.” And my personal favorite, “Don’t get into an accident!” To that last command I would often reply, “Mom, do you think people plan to have accidents?” Her response would be something like, “I am not talking about other people, I am talking about you. Now be safe.”
The fifth and final passage from the first letter of John concludes in a similar, parental fashion with one last piece of instruction squeezed in for good measure: Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
It seems to come out of nowhere. The previous passages declare powerfully that God is light and invites us to walk in the light, that God is love and how we who abide in God abide in love, but the writer hadn’t been discussing idols at all. The word doesn’t come up once until the very end.
It may be that the writer remembered that— if we are going to follow Christ, love God and one another, walk in the light, abide in God and give testimony in our hearts to God— we have to be careful of idols. The word idol comes from a word that means phantom, which is to say unreal. We can take something fake and make it real. An idol is something that we create in our image and call it God— or good or right or real or true— even though it isn’t and never could be. If we find ourselves thinking that pretty much most of the time God’s thoughts are our thoughts and God’s ways are our ways, we have created an idol. If we are thinking that the people we love and work with should not disagree with us because that means they clearly don’t get it, we have created idols. If we pray already knowing the answer, we have idols. If Frank Sinatra’s song My Way is what you requested at your funeral for the congregation to sing, you have idols—big ones. We are all so good at creating idols that John Calvin declared each of our hearts to be an idol factory! And though idols are not real (phantoms) they can get in the way of what is real. We can deny our reality as Christ’s body and miss hearing our Lord, all because we were unwilling to be vulnerable in our lives with the very one who made our lives. It’s sad. But it doesn’t have to be.
Prayer: Lord to turn away from you is to fall, but to turn toward you is to rise. Amen.
Author: Derek Macleod
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].