January 14, 2014

“Everybody does it”

If I put myself on the top of the heap, I am guilty of self-idolatry. If I blindly follow the opinions and values of others, I am guilty of people-pleasing, another form of self-idolatry for in pleasing others, I am really serving myself.

Either way, self-serving always leads to conflict simply because we live in a world filled with people who serve themselves and our desires seldom match. The Bible calls this core motivation sin . . .  

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him (Messiah) the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

As a Christian, I am charged to abandon that old way of life, that “own way” that looks out for me, myself, and I. However, I sometimes I fall back into it. Scripture is filled with commands, admonitions, and warnings about the dangers of self-centeredness. Instead, the Bible tells me to focus on the needs of others and the glory of God.  

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6)

When Christians have this goal in our hearts, living in harmony is made possible by the grace of God. He helps us love each other and abandon our mutual idolatries. Yet we don’t do this as a “herd” nor do we “go with the flow” into some kind of “everybody does it mentality.” Each person has to deal with their own issues of self-idolization and people-pleasing in order to be in harmony with the rest of God’s people.

Bad things happen when anyone decides to do the “herd” thing. One example is Saul before he became a Christian and was renamed Paul. He listened to a young Christian named Stephen who preached about the faithlessness of Israel. The rest of the crowd became enraged and “cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.” (Acts 7:54–57)

Saul was standing there holding their coats, but he “approved of his execution” going with herd as did many others. That very day, “a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria . . . .” (Acts 8:1–3)

Saul led that herd, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” He also “went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” However, God had other plans for this man . . .

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:1–6)

Saul was blinded by this light and helpless. A man named Ananias was told to take care of him, but he was afraid and protested. God told him . . .  

“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized. (Acts 9:13–18)

The cure for following the herd into idolatry and sin is the same as the cure for a self-centered life of sin. We must surrender allegiance to God. When God sits on the throne of my life, I can be part of society, but motivated by what I can do for the herd, not by how they can feed my sinful desires.

You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice. (Exodus 23:2)

The opposite of idolatry begins with the heart, but it shows itself in action. By loving God with all my heart, He sets me free to see that the herd is not a tyranny to follow but an opportunity to love others as He loves me.

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