Grab your Bible and let’s go deeper into Acts 19:23-41 as we look at identifying, exposing and destroying idols in our life.
How to Discern Idols
The first thing that is important for us to see is how Paul always took on the idols of the people’s hearts.
One of the biggest tools in his bag as he preached the gospel and planted churches and spoke to the lost was his ability to discern idols. I believe it is essential that you and I have this ability too.
See, without discerning and exposing the idols of the heart in both you and I and in those we share Jesus with, Jesus can become something new to add on; to coexist alongside the other things one worships instead of becoming everything or the main thing that drastically changed the life we once knew.
Let’s dig into today’s passage.
To understand Acts 19 we need to go back to Acts 17.
Acts 17:16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.
Paul recognized the idols. How good are you at seeing the idols in today’s culture?
He went to the Augora, the marketplace, to preach. It was the epicenter of the culture. But Paul’s reason for being there was more than that it was the place people gathered. Paul is there to point out the idols that cast the very shadows over the marketplace.
Realize: Every setting that is not based on the glory and majesty of God is going to be based on something that has been put into God’s place. In this, every community, every family, group, gang, team, neighborhood, city, class, country is looking for something to save it, to rescue it; something to put its hope, its meaning in: a form of idolatry. Idolatry that must be replaced with the gospel of Jesus.
The Word of Truth Catechism says that idolatry is worshiping or finding hope, identity, significance, purpose, or security in anything other than in God, our Creator.
It is taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing in your life.
So, whatever good thing that you have made an ultimate thing becomes the god you worship.
Beauty is a good thing, but when you raise it up as ultimate you worship: Aphrodite.
Human reason is a good thing, but when science and thought becomes ultimate you worship: Athena.
Money is a helpful thing that allows us to eat and be comfortable, but when it becomes ultimate you worship: Artemis.
Enjoying the things of life is God’s intention for us, but when wine turns to drunkenness and satisfaction is sought out in the temporary tasty meal or sexual interaction you worship: Dionysus.
Now, none of you likely have a statue of Athena in your home that you bow down to. But we don’t need a physical idol to worship! The key is what it reveals as our soul idolatry!
Do you see the idols in your life? In your vocation? In your family or home? In your social groups? Only after you discern the idols of the heart can you begin to EXPOSE them for what they really are.
This brings us to point #2.
How to Expose Idols
In Acts 19:26, Paul doesn’t just say there are many idols around but he says “among them there are no gods at all.”
It didn’t take much to stir the pot and expose the fact that the idols really do not hold any power to make life better. So if belief in the idol means you expect to be saved by it and it really doesn’t have the power to ultimately save you, exposing this lie is essential.
Take money for example: It is the main idol the passage is focused on. Artemis was the goddess of the hunt and fertility. But over the years, she became the goddess of business. Because she was the goddess of fertility, that meant she was the one they looked to for their crops to grow in abundance which directly affected the main profit stream of the day for much of the culture.
Acts 19:35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky?
A meteorite fell to the earth that many claimed looked like the statue of Artemis. So they passed the word and people traveled from all over to come see it. In that day it became a huge attraction. So they built the temple of Artemis. It was massive. So grand that it is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Everyone wanted to come see it. It became the Disneyland of the day. At Disneyland, there are 1,800 different trinkets you can buy with Mickey’s face on them. Merchants in Ephesus made a living selling trinkets of Artemis as well. That is what Demetrius did.
Acts 19:24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis …
The profits that people were making were good. And so people would sacrifice to Artemis to get profits. They believed that if she wasn’t pleased maybe business would go down. How horrible is that? But really it is not that different from our western culture too.
I grew up in a similar Ephesus called Orange County in the city of Irvine. It was and is still today a business hub in the world. Tons of wealth. One of the local high schools advertises in Asia to draw wealthy Asian families to Orange County so that we can help train their children to be successful western profiteers.
In the culture of affluence I grew up in, there was a ton of child sacrifice. It was designed to be that way. Many of my friends has mothers and fathers that would hand off their children from birth through the next 18 years—not because they had too, but because they wanted a bigger ring on their finger or fancier car to drive. Because the business demand in Orange County was fierce, and to keep up, you had to pay a high price.
We have to see our idols are killing us. They cannot give you salvation nor the joy you hope they will give. So, we have to expose them.
For me, personally, there is no one person I love more in this world than my wife, Jennifer. And for that reason, she is potentially the most likely to become the idol I put in the place of God. But it is not that I want to love her less, it is that I want to know the gospel as the good news that causes me to love Jesus MORE. So that He is my deepest love and has my deepest affection.
Now, if we are going to truly expose our idols, it is really important to understand the different layers of idols in our lives. A way to begin this road for yourself is to take some honest inventory of your life. You can do this yourself or invite a few people that you trust who know you well and can help you see what you maybe cannot see on your own. Here is a taste:
In Tim Keller’s book “Counterfeit Gods” he writes: “The idols of the Heart become spiritual addictions. We take more and greater risk to get an ever diminishing satisfaction from the thing we crave until breakdown occurs.” In recovery we think to ourselves, “What was I thinking? How could I ever be so blind?” We wake up like people with a hangover who can hardly remember the night before. But WHY? Why did we act so irrationally? Why did we completely lose sight of what was truly satisfying? John Calvin said it best when he said, “The human heart is an idol factory.”
As a pastor, I have had the privilege of being invited to help in these recovery moments. When the bottom falls out. When an idol doesn’t deliver. Every time the person says, “I didn’t see it. Why couldn’t I see it?”
See, we must EXPOSE our idols because if we don’t they will EXPOSE us. See, a created thing will never be able to deliver on an ultimate level.
Finally, and this is vital to understand:
How to Destroy Idols
First, we must remember that idols live in the affections and desires we have for the things we have inflated to function as God.
So, how do we destroy them? We don’t!
Thomas Chalmers said it so well, “There is not one personal transformation in which the heart is left without an object of ultimate beauty and joy. The heart’s desire for one particular object can be conquered, but its desire to have some object is unconquerable. The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.”
The vital thing you must see when it comes to trying to defeat your idolatry is that you cannot destroy your idols.
The world’s remedy for addictive behavior, bad habits, hurtful loves, lust filled affections, etc. is to work hard to eliminate them.
You might be able to temporarily remove one idol, but your heart still must cast its affections on something. So, you will simply pick up another to fills its place.
Chalmers is saying here that you cannot defeat or remove your idols. You can only REPLACE THEM. Idols of the heart cannot be removed, they can only be replaced.
So, the question then is replaced with what? The only thing that ultimately can satisfy and bring joy and life and identity and security and purpose is JESUS. This is why in our ministry we must become far less concerned with telling people what to do or not to do. That just equals religion’s failed road to salvation which is, “Suck it up and try harder to do the right thing.”
Temporary fixes and/or helpful habits do not cure the deepest disease and self-inflicted pain we struggle with in life: our idolatry. Only the expulsive power of a bigger and better target for our affections can eliminate the failed idols the heart has tried to cling to.
Soldiers, we have to focus on stirring our affections toward the gospel—THE GOOD NEWS—to understand the fullness of the beauty and wonder of Christ. To fall deeply in love with Him. The key to being rid of the idols we worship is not really to love them less but to love Christ more. And in doing so, if the heart truly is that taken by Jesus, our clinch to over elevate God’s created things is rightfully placed on God.
If my children are my idol, He is not calling me to love them less. He is calling me to love them rightly. The only way I can do that is to be satisfied in the one thing that can truly satisfy; is to be saved by the one and only thing that can save me; is to be secured by the one and only person who can keep me secure; is to be purposed by the only one who can give me eternal purpose …Jesus!
Jeremiah 2:11-13 “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
Please hear this: We have to never forget that the temporary victories of this life are not our ultimate victory. How easily we can get caught up in trying to use God as a mere idol to get to what we think our hearts really want (the created temporary wells of water that leak and never satisfy). Or we can grow our affection and enjoyment for the fountain of Living Water, which is God himself. We have to forsake the wells and dig God.
When we get this, when we begin to really understand the gospel and Christ’s power in and through us, it changes everything. Like Paul in our passage today, we are emboldened to risk our lives to share the gospel and see the society truly changed as a result of the gospel.
Acts 19:30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater.
When the idols are identified and exposed, it is dangerous. Because on one hand idols are powerless as they are created things lifted up to an ultimate place. But on the other hand idols wield unbelievable power of influence to swing us here and there.
Notice how Paul here is willing to risk his life to defeat the false worship of idols and replace it with the life-giving gospel. WHY? Because he understood the gospel--the power of Christ at work. Jesus did the same thing. He put His life in the hands of an angry crowd who was resolved to have Him killed yelling, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And they did. And in doing so …
Colossians 2:15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
When the power and principalities unleashed all their fury and darkness upon Jesus on the cross, when He was wearing the weight of all of the world’s sin, He bowed his head into it and died. And in doing so, consumed it and by the power and supremacy of God, conquered it. He defeated the idols and the wickedness that fuels their worship. Only Jesus can do this in you.
In this, Christ offers you and I deliverance from our condemned idolatry and victory in Him alone. Jesus is the expulsive Power that crushes the failed affections of your idolatry.