I am honored to lead the Resources Division at LifeWay and serve with a team of leaders who are passionate to serve the Church in her mission of making disciples. Each Wednesday, I share the heart behind one of the resources our team has developed and give an opportunity for you to register to win a free copy of the resource. This week’s post is from author and speaker Kelly Minter, who has just released a revised and expanded version of her popular Bible study
We tend to think of idolatry in terms of money, materialism, or an inordinate pursuit of power or fame. Perhaps more sinister idols come to mind, like sexual addictions or blatantly sinful pursuits that have become all consuming. As Christians in leadership or ministry, it’s easy to dismiss idolatry as being a central problem in our lives—especially if we confine the idea to those above terms.
I love how author Ken Sande put it: “Most of us think of an idol as a statue of wood, stone, or metal worshiped by pagan people… In biblical terms, it is something other than God that we set our heart on…”
So what about when ministry itself becomes an idol?
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I deal with this question everyday on some level. In a social media driven culture, it’s nearly impossible not to compare the “success” of our ministry with that of others. It’s hard to keep numbers, followers, status, even dollars from becoming the gods of our hearts. We may not realize that we’ve slipped into the trap of putting ministry success before our pursuit of Christ; the way in which we serve Jesus can turn into the very thing that keeps us from Him.
I’ve found that nothing refocuses my heart away from false gods and toward Christ like Scripture does. In Exodus 20:1-3 we find the Lord speaking personally to Israel, passing down the Ten Commandments. We discover that idolatry is at the top of what God forbids. I think this is true partly because if God is not the one true God of our lives, then of what value are the following nine commandments? But I also think God lists idolatry first because of what a threat it is to our personal intimacy with Him.
For the longest time I jumped clear over Exodus 20:1-2, the two verses before the main show of the Ten Commandments. “Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” (CSB). We find out so much about God in this single sentence. So much about His character and nature and how He relates to us. So much about His tender heart that sets up the first of the Ten Commandments.
First, we see that He reveals Himself to Israel as Yahweh, the deeply personal name for God. Second, He goes on to reveal His intimate relationship with them. “I am your God,” He says to Israel. As New Testament believers, we experience this intimacy in even greater degrees through Jesus having come to us as Immanuel (God with us) and through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Last, we see that God doesn’t only tell the Israelites He’s God but also that He’s done something to prove it. He delivered them out of Egypt, that terrible place of bondage where they lived as slaves. He rescued them out of that oppressive land into a place of freedom. It is not with cheap Christian lingo that I say He’s rescued me out of my own versions of Egypt, places too overpowering for me. No false god could do what Jesus has done for me.
When I meditate on His Word, reflecting on who He is and what He’s done for me, wherever my ministry has erred into idolatry, I find Him faithful and kind to redirect my affections to Him—the One who rescued me.