A few weeks ago, I began a series preaching through 1 Thessalonians. This epistle is so rich and reveals much of the heart of the apostle Paul. This letter also instructs the reader as to what it means for genuine conversion to take place. In 1 Thess. 1:9-10, Paul speaks of how the Thessalonians turned away from idols to serve the true and living God. Consider how profound this statement is from Paul in describing what happened there in Thessalonica.
The turning away from idols brought many sociological implications. Christians were cut off from and by their families because they stopped participating in social events tied to the pagan gods. This was a big deal. Thessalonica was only fifty miles from Mount Olympus, the supposed home of the Greek gods. These idols made up a huge part of the local and family traditions of those in Thessalonica. For those in Thessalonica, not only would they have ceased worship of the Greek deities but they would have stopped participating in the imperial cult which worshiped the Roman emperor as a god. All of these things contributed to Christians being labeled as atheists
Do not miss that being a follower of Christ will invite scorn and anger from society. Do we think that we are exempt from such reproaches even from those who are close to us? In many parts of the world, even in the 21st century, various cultures are wedded to tribal deities and family gods. The gospel calls forth me and women everywhere to turn away from such idols to serve the living God. Why is that the call? As Paul notes in verse 10, Christ delivers us from the wrath to come. God’s wrath is connected numerous times in the OT to idolatry. Man is still addicted to idolatry and God does not change. Apart from Christ, the end for idolaters is the eternal wrath of God in hell.
Some might object saying that they do not bow down to tangible idols that are made of materials that can be handled. While it might be true that there is not physical homage given to a statue in “civilized” parts of the world, we are all naturally addicted to idolatry. Let there be no mistake: we might not have gods carved out of gold and silver, wood or iron, but idols abound more than ever. Timothy Keller provides a needed word that assesses the current situation well:
Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols. Each one has its shrines – whether office towers, spas and gyms, studios or stadiums—where sacrifices must be made in order to procure the blessings of the good life and ward off disaster. What are the gods of beauty, power, money, and achievement but these same things that have assumed mythic proportions in our individual lives and in our society? We may not physically kneel before the statue of Aphrodite, but many young women are driven into depression and eating disorders by an obsessive concern over their body image. We may not actually burn incense to Artemis, but when money and career are raised to cosmic proportions, we perform a kind of child sacrifice, neglecting family and community to achieve a higher place in business and gain more wealth and prestige.
Anything that we cannot do without and that we think is a must or we cannot live has become our idol. Right now, we can easily point to all of the idols that others have but do we recognize the ones that are in our lives. As Christians, we are not immune to idolatry. We can have good desires but they can easily become idolatrous when they reveal that we are not content in Christ. This is why our faith needs to be renewed each day by coming to the truths of the gospel and realizing that there is nothing greater than our communion and covenant relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What areas in your life are you enslaved to idolatrous tendencies and find yourself easily ungrateful in that area? The gospel still possesses freeing power and the Spirit brings us liberation from bondage that can creep in our hearts.
May the words of this hymn by William Cowper be a prayer from our hearts each day:
“The dearest idol I have known, Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee.”
 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York: Dutton, 2009), xi-xii.