Question:Could you help me understand what idolatry is according to the Bible? I know it seems like a simple concept, but I have heard so much conflicting information on the subject. For example, I heard one preacher complaining that being devoted to American Idol constituted idolatry (how about that?). Another said that following celebrities is idolatry. And another even said that having overly enjoyable sex with your wife constitutes idolatry. One of the main reasons that I worry about this is that I am very interested in a girl I've met, and I think about her constantly. I would never put any human relationship above that which I have with God (for example, even if asked, I would never fornicate with this girl), but I still worry -- am I committing idolatry?
Idolatry in its simplest definition is anything which a person puts in control of their life above God. The idea is captured in the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3).
Thus, for some people sports becomes their god. Their lives revolve around sports and whenever there is a choice between doing what God asked or what the sport demands, sports comes first. A very common idol for people is wealth. The making of money is far more important to them than any concern for their fellow man or for doing as God directed.
Another part of the definition is to who a person gives their worship. "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me" (Exodus 20:4-5). So anything that you honor and seek aid from above God becomes an idol.
I've seen this with Buddha statues. People who will claim to worship God will have chubby Buddha statues. They'll rub it's tummy as they walk by as if this will give them luck in their ventures. Though the Roman Catholic church denies they are involved in idolatry, still, I know Catholics who bury statues in their lawn for good luck and safety for their house ["Burying a St. Joseph Statue"]. Realizing it or not, these lay Catholics are involving themselves in idolatry.
This is what got Asa into trouble. "And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians" (II Chronicles 16:12). Doctors have their place, but Asa put his doctors so far above God that he did not stop to consider asking God for help. Intentional or not Asa made gods out of his physicians.
Can a television show become an idol for a person? Perhaps if the person allows his whole life to revolve around it and use things from the show to direct his own life's decisions. Following celebrities gives another person too much honor. If it leaves the person no place for honoring God above all others, then it is a form of idolatry. But what we often find is that people expand the definition of idolatry beyond what is reasonable. Pleasure, in itself, does not define something as idolatrous.
I take it that you are a young man because young males often have difficulty with compulsive behavior and thoughts -- it is a phase in men go through in development. But though this young lady dominates your thoughts at the moment, notice that she doesn't have first place in your heart. You still hold God first in your life. You still honor God with your obedience to His laws. So no it is not idolatry.
What it is is infatuation. From there it will develop into true love or it will die off as you get to know her better.
Thank you for such a timely answer; it has really helped. However, two things still concern me. First of all, I worry that I do not love God enough. I hear my friends saying things such as "God is so great" and that they have spoken to God, whereas I have had neither of these sensations. I obey God simply because I realize it is my duty above all else. I have never had the "warm and fuzzy" sensation toward God that I have had to, say, my parents. So even though I am primarily devoted to God, I worry that I break the First Commandment in that way. Secondly, you give the example of Asa trusting in the doctors above God as an example of idolatry. I have never really bothered to trust God in that way, mabye because I have never really needed to. What are your suggestions for this?
Let's start with the second question first. Asa wasn't condemned for seeing a doctor. What he was condemned for was not seeking God's aid. He only went to the doctors. Saul made a similar mistake, "So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the LORD; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse" (I Chronicles 10:14). If we believe that God answers prayers and that He is concerned about us, then we ought to demonstrate such trust in God as to take our problems to Him. Too many state in words that they have trust in God, but few demonstrate that trust by going to Him concerning their own personal problems. "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them" (Mark 11:24).
I seen many people declare their love for God, but that is as far it goes. There are words, but in their lives you wonder what it is they really love. "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (I John 3:18). Notice how God defines love:
"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5).
"If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15).
"He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21).
"Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me" (John 14:23-24).
"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10).
"So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep"" (John 21:15-17).
"And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma" (Ephesians 5:2).
"But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him" (I John 2:5).
"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:2-3).
The most famous definition of love is given by Paul: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails" (I Corinthians 13:4-8). There are no warm fuzzies in this definition. Love is a freely given, absolute dedication to another. Now that dedication, might lead to you to having warm fuzzies about another, but it is the dedication that shows love, not the feelings.
I can say that I love God because I have complete confidence in Him and His teachings. I serve Him willingly and with joy, knowing that service is repaid far beyond what it is worth to God.
Perhaps a better understanding of God would benefit you. Take a look at the study, "The Lord Your God is an Awesome God."