“Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”
We come now to the closing verse and admonition of the epistle. This is John’s swan’s song and also one of the last New Testament books written.
John’s final challenge is to the family of God (2:1,12,28; 3:7,18; 4:4). “Children” means born ones. John loves his spiritual family.
keep yourselves from idols.
Following false teaching is idolatry. It is to follow an idol of one’s own invention. The Christian life will be severely blunted if a believer acquiesces to false teaching.
The word “keep” expresses urgency and decisiveness: “Do not hesitate. Do not fool with false religion because of the serious damage it can do to your soul.” The meaning is guard, defend: “Defend yourselves from idols. Do not desert the reality of God’s Word for an illusion.” Anything or anyone that substitutes for God is idolatry.
An “idol” is anything that represents itself as God. It is a substitute for the real thing. It can be any false idea of who God is. It could be any value that is central and most important to the believer. It is anything that comes between the soul and the Savior. That might be a person, a pleasure or ambition.
The command to keep us from idols is a command to protect ourselves against spiritual corruption. This command presents a contrast to “the true God” of the previous verse. John pits the true God against false teaching. Their teaching was the idolatry that John refers to here: “Since you already know the true God, defend yourself against any teaching that would violate who God is.” How can we forsake the One who saved us and gave us operating assets for living the Christian life?
John affirms this principle by the word “amen.” “Amen” means so be it, “I believe it.”
Faithfulness to the truth is a maxim for maturity in the Christian life.
An idol is any substitute for the real thing. It imitates truth but it is not truth. Whatever robs our worship of God is an idol. It is anything that comes between God and us. It does not have to be a statue but anything we worship over God. It might be our job, our family or success. If we think more of these things than we do of Christ, we commit idolatry. God will not take second place to anything or anyone. This is the greatest threat to our spirituality.
Twenty-first-century idols are as real as the first-century idols. The name may change but the principle behind it does not. First-century people worshiped Narcissus but we worship self. They worshiped Bacchus, the god of booze, and we addict ourselves to drugs, alcohol and things. They worshiped Venus, the goddess of love, and we worship illicit sexual pleasure. They worshiped Apollo, the god of physical beauty, and we worship the body. They worship Minerva, the goddess of science, and we put great trust in science to answer the ultimate cosmological questions of life.
God equates covetousness and idolatry.
Lu 12: 15 “And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’”
Ep 5: 5 “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Co 3: 5 “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
God wants us to guard ourselves against anything that would ruin our march toward maturity in Christ. Anything that masquerades as truth will blunt development in the Christian way of life.
We can tell if we are idolaters by what we give our commitment, attention, interest, energy, time or money. Whatever controls our thoughts is our god. What do you get animated about? That is your god. It is the very thing that will crush your Christian life.
It is one thing to have faith in God but it is another to be faithful to Him. We claim the Son of God as our Savior but we reject His sovereignty over our souls. We give ourselves to completely different value systems. Anything that deflects us from Jesus Christ as the center for life is an idol. What we devote ourselves to is our idol. The more we cultivate our loyalty to God and His values, the more free we are from our personal idols.