Date: September 23, 2018

Pastor Matthew Burt

Title: Acceptable Worship and Idolatry

Text: Matthew 5: 21-48, 1 John 5:13-21

Wellspring Church Springfield, Ma.

SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 12: 28-29

28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

BIG IDEA: Acceptable Worship and Idolatry


These two words reverence and awe are translated in the King James as Godly fear.  We will tie this together with 1 John 5:21:   21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

In 1793 a shoemaker by trade from England by the name of William Carey arrived on the shore of India as a self-taught theologian.  He is remembered as the first Baptist missionary to go to the Orient. His diary tells us that he was horrified by the multiplicity of idols and idol temples in India. In his letters home he reports that he was told by the Hindu inhabitants of that city that they counted 330 million deities. He was shaken. He could hardly get over the darkness and ignorance.

Now move ahead to 2001. The Taliban, the radical and militant fundamentalist Muslim leadership of Afghanistan, chose to bomb two idols of Buddha. As these were destroyed, voices all across the world were raised in protest that these works of art were destroyed. What a difference from William Carey who wept over statues to idols and two centuries later there are howls that such would be destroyed.

Last week we saw that there were privileges and responsibilities of being members of  the kingdom of God. The two responsibilities are thankful and acceptable worship. Let’s consider this again this morning.  How might we see in our own lives unacceptable worship?  We think that unacceptable worship is worship of wooden idols. But what we want to see is that all of us live in unacceptable worship.  If I seek to be one who offers to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe, I need to fight against all kinds of idolatry in my life.


Point 1:  What does the Bible have to say about worship that is idolatry?

Point 2:  Three kinds of worship that are idolatry

Point 3:  Why is this so dangerous?

Point 4;  Am I guilty of unacceptable and idolatrous worship?


Point 1: What does the Bible have to say about worship that is idolatry?

A- Exodus 20:1-3 The first two commandments deal with false and unacceptable worship

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before[a]

B- Leviticus 19:4

Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God.

C- Deuteronomy 6:14

You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you—

1- Psalm 81:9

There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.

2- Psalm 97:7

All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!

3-Hosea 13:4

But I am the Lord your God
from the land of Egypt;
you know no God but me,
and besides me there is no savior.

4- Matthew 4:10

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”

5- 1 Corinthians 5:11

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

6- 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

7- Galatians 5:19-20

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,

8- Ephesians 5:5

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

9- Colossians 3:5

 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:[a] sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament make serious and significant injunctures against this thing called idolatry.

Point 2:  Three kinds of worship that are idolatry

Two definitions:

1- C. Ryle “Idolatry is a worship in which the honor due to God in Trinity and to Him only, is given to some of His creatures.”

2- David Clarkson “Idolatry is to give that honor and worship to the creature which is due only to God.”

So we don’t have to bow down to a statue to have idolatrous worship. This could happen in a pagan temple or in a Christian church or in your heart. In the heart is where idolatry resides most fruitfully. There are three kinds of worship that are idolatry:

A- Open or external idolatry – that which comes to mind when we hear the word idolatry. It’s a bowing down to anything other than God.

B- Internal or secret or invisible idolatry– when the heart or mind are set on anything other than God.

C- Upward or God ward idolatry – worshiping the right God in the wrong way. We would do things that we think are appropriate rather than what God says is appropriate.

Point 3: Why is idolatry dangerous?

Focus on type B (above) today.  Why would we say that idolatry is so dangerous?  There are several reasons.

First, idolatry is subtle. False gods present themselves in false clothes. They say to us this is harmless; this is not an issue here. It is often things the world around us deems acceptable.  Sometimes false gods come to us with a promotion – you should do this; this is the way to get ahead. It is so subtle. A poll taken in the late 1990’s found that 76% of Americans in general consider themselves completely true to the first commandment. There’s an incredible subtlety. How contrary it is to this in the statement made by John Calvin: the human heart is a workshop for idol making.

Secondly, it makes false promises to us. We seek safety and security in our lives. We are looking for control, power and pleasure in our lives. The false idols in this world promise to give us these things.

Thirdly, it is the natural tendency of the human heart. We were created to worship God but because of sin we now worship other:

“Man’s corrupt nature is the nursery, the seed-plot of every sin… [we have] a proneness, a disposedeness, to all abominations, idolatry not excepted. Grace being imperfect in this life, does but correct this corruption in part, it does not extinguish it it weakens this disposition to idolatry, it does not abolish it. Those natures that are mot sanctified on earth are still a seminary to sin; there is still in them the roots, the seeds of atheism, blasphemy, murder, adultery, apostasy, and idolatry. Though the virtue of these roots of bitterness be weakened by renewing grace, yet it is not quite lost; the old man abides in those that are most renewed, and it is furnished with all its members; thought they may be weakened, maimed, mortified, yet not one of them is quite perished.” David Clarkson

It is dangerous because it resides in each and everyone of us. We tend to serve self more than God.

Fourthly, it is so pervasive that it seems normal to us. We don’t even realize where idols dwell in our hearts.

Fifthly, idols always become masters and we become slaves to these masters.

Sixth, it kills hope in God and His power. There is at least one area in your life that causes you to weep with sadness. You are happy you only have to admit to one because there could be more than one. It makes us want to give up.  Fitzpatrick has written Idols of the Heart. She writes this:

“I want you to know that my struggle with sin and idolatry is the same as your…. We all struggle with putting our hope and trust in something, someone, anything other than the true God. We find ourselves weak, afraid, fretting or angry. bitter and complaining.” Elyse Fitzpatrick

Seventh, it causes us to become insensitive to the things of God. In order to keep our conscience quiet, we make ourselves insensitive and harden our hearts. We cannot hear the Holy Spirit warning us.

Eighth, it closes the door to heaven.  Idolaters will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

Point 4: Am I an idolater? Am I guilty of false, unacceptable worship?

Here are some fruits of idolatry:

  • Worry – what if, if only
  • Angry – explosive or simmering
  • Fear of man or fear of creation
  • Embarrassment- children, spouse, friends and family will embarrass you
  • Pride in self
  • Envy of another’s achievement
  • Discontentedness
  • Discouragement
  • Addiction – unbreakable habit
  • Desire to be perfect
  • Insensitivity to the things of God
  • Vengeance – get back at someone or inability to give up hurt

There’s a lot of fruit hanging on the tree of idolatry!

What are the replacement gods we find in our lives:

  • What do I value most highly? The thing that is most important to you that is not God on high is an idol. It could be your name or reputation? Safety/control in our lives? If it is not to know God and please Him then I am offering unacceptable worship
  • What is upper most in our thinking? What do you think about that brings you pleasure or anxiety? When you think of happiness, what comes to mind? It could be sports! It could be retirement!   It could be your health. It could be politics. It could be a past pain.  It could be a change in your circumstances. When I read that I am to love God with all of my mind, it means that my thought life must be examined. Even when we have put time aside to be with God, we realize that our minds are often thinking of other things.
  • Check our goals and dreams. What endpoint am I seeking to accomplish? To be rich. To retire early. To make yourself indispensable to your children.  Any aim that is not God Himself is self-destruction.
  • We all have things we love in this life. I love my spouse, my car, my house, my work. If I love anyone of these things more than God then it is unacceptable.
  • What do you trust? It might be your money, your doctor, science, the weatherman, my leaders, the process. This kind of trust is idolatrous when we put our confidence in any of these things and not God.
  • Distrust – we live in a culture that says don’t trust anyone. You have your truth; it’s yours.
  • Fear – fear will take us off acceptable worship. Worship of God is a pathway to full and total freedom. Fear is a prison that holds us tightly and does not allow us to live life as God has designed it. Fear is used as a synonym for worship in scripture.
  • Hope
  • What is your zeal and passion?
  • Luck and chance

What am I going to do about this? Am I an idolater?  Do I worship my own hard work?

Here are seven questions to ask yourself:

  • What brings me the most contentment and joy in my life? That is your god.
  • What am I afraid of losing in my life? That is your god.
  • What would make me happy if only I had it?. That is your god.
  • What keeps awake at night with longing or dread? That is your god.
  • Who’s opinion and acceptance do I seek to have? That is your god.
  • What distracts me when I am in worship? That is your god.
  • What sin is a constant battle for me; what is the idol that that sin represents.



Idolatry is pervasive in the human heart, it is subtle, it has many faces. Perhaps the Hindus in India were not wrong when they said there were millions of gods. But the good news is that there is one who came to crush the chief false god: Satan.  He was nailed to the cross and says come to me all of you who are burdened by false gods.