LandMarks Magazine  

October 2005 Table of Contents


The Ten Commandments, Part V: Idol Worship is Bad News
By Mike Baugher

As we look at the various forms of idolatry which were practiced in Old Testament times by heathen worshippers, it seems almost inconceivable that the children of Israel could be caught up in something that was so obvious a departure from God.  They knew who the true God was.  They had revelations of the true God; they had prophets who told them about the true God, and yet it seemed almost too easy for them to get caught up in the worship of idols.  The reason they got caught up in the worship of idols is, basically, the same reason why modern Israel gets caught up in idol worship today. 

Ellen White wrote: “Through deceptive means and unseen channels, Satan is working to strengthen his authority and to place obstacles in the way of God’s people, that souls may not be freed from his power and gathered under the banner of Christ.  By his deceptions he is seeking to allure souls from Christ, and those who are not established upon the truth will surely be taken in his snare.”  Testimonies, vol. 5, 295.

The devil’s plan for each of us is to catch us in his snare.  So the Lord, in an effort to prepare us to escape the snare of the devil, pleads with us to follow the counsels that He has given to us in His Word. 

“Thou shalt not make thee [any] graven image, [or] any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the waters beneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them:  for I the Lord thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me, And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.”  Deuteronomy 5:8–10.

We read in these texts that God is a jealous God.  In a previous article, we considered this concept of jealousy.  The original Hebrew word for jealousy, qanna, indicates the jealousy of a husband for the purity of his wife, whom he loves with an affection that will not tolerate any rival.  We find that all through the Scriptures the relationship between God and His people is represented by a marriage, a pure relationship that excludes all other gods.  There are to be no rivals.

God does not expect us to love only Him and ignore all of our fellow human beings, but He wants us to focus on Him as our Husband.  We are His bride; He is our Husband.  This is the kind of relationship, the kind of divine jealousy, which runs throughout the whole Bible.  We need to understand this. 

The Song of Solomon and Psalm 45, as well as other places in Scripture, allude to this marriage relationship that we are to have with God.  An elaborate illustration is given in Ephesians 5 of the husband/wife relationship Christ uses to teach His people of the love He has for them.

Idolatry, then, in its final analysis, is really infidelity to the most sacred of vows—the divine marriage vow.  When we are born again, when we accept Jesus as our personal Saviour, we are counted as the bride of Christ, and we are to be faithful to Him in all that we do.  When we are counted as His bride, we take vows in this marriage covenant which, in reality, are the Ten Commandments.  This is God’s will for us.  This is what God expects us to follow.  But many times we find ourselves, like many others today, having eyes that are casting about in other directions from where God would have us to look, and we become unfaithful to our marriage vow to God. 

If we have the covenant relationship, the Ten Commandments, ever before us, we are going to be faithful to Him—not because we have to be, but because we love Him as God.  I have never known anyone who really loved his or her spouse to be unfaithful to the marriage vow.  If they really love their spouse, every other consideration dims, as they focus on that relationship, and then there is no temptation to commit adultery. 

Gross and Refined Forms

The gross forms of idolatry practiced in heathen lands are practically unknown in the United States.  But we do have what we would term “refined forms of idolatry.”  These refined forms can be just as captivating to us as the gross forms are to the heathen.

In heathen lands, we see this gross idolatry being practiced in the forms of images, temples, shrines, and altars that are of a very imposing nature.  People are captivated by the beauty of these things, and they are drawn to them.  In the United States, it is slightly different.  We have refined idolatry, which is probably more displeasing to God, and because we have such great light shed upon these kinds of things, we are going to be held more accountable. 

In review, the second commandment tells us that we are to have no images or anything that is to be in the place of God.  We have learned that idolatry is serving or worshipping the creature more than the Creator.  To worship the creature does not necessarily mean to worship a living organism, but it is inclusive of everything that has been created.  Whatever or whomever we love and serve more than God becomes an idol to us.  We can love someone, but it is when we love him or her more than we love God that the problem occurs.  I would hate to think what a husband/wife relationship would be if it was devoid of love and if it was believed, “I cannot love you, because I have to love God instead.”  God tells us not to love them more, not to put them in the place of Him.  Are we guilty of idolatry, as far as the divine definition is concerned? 

When the apostle Paul visited the city of Athens, the Bible says that his spirit was stirred when he saw that the whole city was given over to idolatry.  (Acts 17:16.)  I wonder how Paul would feel if he were to walk the streets of the United States today, such as New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles.  Would he recognize the forms of idolatry that are there, or would he just be looking for those gross forms of idolatry?  Would these different forms of idolatry deceive him to the extent that he could not recognize them? 

Let us look at some of the things the apostle Paul might see today, if he were on tour.  Paul said, of the idolaters of his day, that they “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”  Romans 1:21, 22.

How would Paul feel if he found himself in a sports arena where, as the teams ran out onto the field, the whole crowd stood to their feet screaming and yelling for them?  Would he recognize this as a form of idolatry?  Certainly it can become a form of idolatry. 

How would he feel if he found himself at a rock concert?  Many people today think nothing of a rock concert.  When they started gaining popularity in the 1960s, people were appalled by what they saw.  Now, when rock concerts are advertised, they just gather a protracted yawn from most people.  Yet, when you consider what transpires at a rock concert, as far as the performers are concerned, is this, indeed, not a form of idolatry?  Billions of dollars are spent annually to gather the music as a shrine, so it can be played over and over again. 

What about movie stars?  As they parade out on stage to receive their trophies at the annual awards shows, to the applause and cheering of the audience, would Paul recognize this as idolatry?  Do we recognize some of these things as a violation of the commandment that says we should not bow down to these kinds of idols? 

Those are some of the more obvious ones, but what about the marvelous discoveries of modern science that have increased the worship of the works of man?  In this age of invention and discovery and scientific progress, we find that these categories can open up a violation of this commandment, when we see the exaltation and the deification of human achievements that present a god before which millions bow in reverence and admiration. 

No longer do we need to depend upon God for life, health, or happiness.  Are you growing old?  Are you wearing out?  Modern techniques of medicine can fix you up better than new.  Do you need a new hipbone?  Well, one can be put in that will last almost forever.  What about a new lung?  A new heart?  Medical specialists can even give you a new heart, and we fall down and serve the creature rather than the Creator, in exalting medical technology. 

But who is really responsible for all of the progress for which man takes credit?  The Creator seems to stand humbly in the wings while the creature takes the bow on center stage. 

Worship of Self

Although I have read 11 Timothy 3:1 many, many times, I present it now in an effort to bring this into a context in which we can understand the dangers that we face in light of this second commandment.  This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.”

Often, people have the idea that these perilous times are referring to wars and rumors of wars.  That is not what it is talking about.  This is the thesis sentence of what is to follow, and Paul very specifically tells Timothy what those perilous times are all about: “For men shall be lovers of their own selves . . . .”  In other words, there is going to be extreme selfishness.  Self is all that is being considered. 

“Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous [desiring what belongs to someone else], boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”  Verses 2–4.  Do you suppose that is idolatry?  “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”  Verse 5.

This is a graphic description of idolatry.  Every one of these words and phrases fall into a category of idolatry—worship of self.  Probably one of the greatest problems we face today is coming into contact with people who are so selfish.  I would much rather be in Iraq, feeling my way along through mine wires, than to be in a setting where all that is mentioned in these texts are present.  You might be able to make it through the minefield, but you may not be able to make it through this minefield of idolatry. 

Many marriages today fail, or are failing, because of the worship of self.  Instead of the marriage relationship being that of total giving, it has become a total getting experience.  “What can I get out of this relationship?” is usually the question being asked, rather than, “What can I give to this relationship?” 

There is probably nothing more responsible for this than the modern media—music, films, and all the rest.  What can I get out of this relationship?  It is this concept that is pounded into the minds of young people today.  It is a philosophy that comes directly from the headquarters of evil. 

Christ is not able to find any corner to stand in or any chair to sit down on, in those whose hearts are filled with self, and unless Christ is the center of the marriage, it will become a “getting for self” experience rather than a “giving experience.”  How wrong is this kind of philosophy!

Selfishness is a malicious ruler.  It cannot be satisfied through simple appeasement.  It clamors for more and still more, and the person who worships self is not even aware, many times, of the terrible dangers and eternal consequences that come through this kind of sin.  If you look at the Law of God and make application of the second commandment, self dies, and Christ takes up residence. 

We know that Jesus is the very embodiment of humility.  On the opposite extreme, selfishness is the very spirit of the satanic.  Indeed, I can say that perilous times have come upon our generation in the fulfillment of this Bible text.

Antidote for Selfishness

According to the Spirit of Prophecy, one of the greatest antidotes for the disease of selfishness is to work for the salvation of others.  (See Review and Herald, August 16, 1881; December 10, 1901.)  And, yet, this too can become a deception.  If we think that we want to guard ourselves against selfishness by going out to work for others, we need to make sure that we have the right motive.  If we do not have the right motive, it can turn into a system of works for self’s sake.


Self can center its expression in fashion.  Fashion, in its broadest sense, embraces idolatry.  The word fashion means to conform to the prevailing modes, practices, and customs of the world.

We need to have more education with concern to fashion.  I mean this in a loving way, but some Seventh-day Adventists and other Christians—and even historic Seventh-day Adventists—take the counsel relative to fashion and interpret it to mean that they have to go about looking like scarecrows!  They think they have to dress like one in order to avoid being fashionable.  We are made in His image, and God does not intend for us to look like scarecrows.  We will scare everyone away to whom we are trying to witness if we look like that! 

Fashion can become an idol when the thoughts and the intents are: How can I be like the world?  How can I acclimate myself to all the customs and the traditions and the dress and the ornamentation of the world?  This can, but does not need to, become an idol.  You can look representative; you can look modest; you can have a pure deportment, but that does not mean that you are being fashionable.  Let us make sure that we have a right understanding of what it means to be dressed as a Christian versus what it means to look like a scarecrow.  We have to be able to know the difference, so we can rightly represent the Lord in all of this.

Worship of Others

Along with the worship of self comes the worship of others.  For instance, there are many parents who make gods of their children.  This is an area about which we must be very careful.  Our children are never to become idols of worship to us, but there are many people who devote their lives, as parents, serving and obeying their children.  In these homes, the children are indulged and pampered and defended until they become so self-centered and such bigots that they expect everybody to bow down to their every whim and to their every wish.  You know them, and I know them.  Where does it all start?  It starts in the home where the children are made an idol of worship.

It is a travesty that children are allowed to control what happens in a home.  The home is where the parents are to be in control and where the children are to be obedient to their parents.  I have never read in the Bible or in the Spirit of Prophecy where parents are to be obedient to their children and are to honor them.  It is the other way around.  The children are to obey and honor their parents.

People can worship other people, and this is a form of idolatry.  This is one of the reasons why the Lord Jesus stated, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  Matthew 10:37.  This revolves around the second commandment concept. 

Can we love father and mother?  Yes, we can.  Can we love son and daughter?  Yes, we can, but this love must be kept in its proper perspective.  

Lovers of Pleasure

Paul mentions, in his list, those who, in the last days, are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.  What would he say today if he could see the advertising in the United States which seems entirely directed toward making us lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God?  Professed Christians spend more time and money in the shrine of pleasure than they do in the house of God and at the altar of prayer.  In this pleasure-mad age, thousands of people live only to satisfy their cravings for fun and frolic. 

In the parable of the sower, the pleasures of this life are said to be thorns that cause the seed to become unfruitful.  (Matthew 13:22.)  Where, on any given day, do you suppose you would find most people if they had to choose between missionary work and play?  What would most of them be doing?  You would probably find most of them at play. 

Is there anything wrong with taking time to play?  No.  It is not my intent to take away anyone’s playtime, but we need to make sure that we have things in their proper perspectives. 

The kind of recreation, inspiration tells us, in which a Christian should participate is that which is of a quality that recreates the body and the mind.  “There are modes of recreation which are highly beneficial to both mind and body.  An enlightened, discriminating mind will find abundant means for entertainment and diversion, from sources not only innocent, but instructive.  Recreation in the open air, the contemplation of the works of God in nature, will be of the highest benefit.”  The Adventist Home, 496.  “Recreation, when true to its name, re-creation, tends to strengthen and build up.  Calling us aside from our ordinary cares and occupations, it affords refreshment for mind and body and thus enables us to return with new vigor to the earnest work of life.”  Ibid., 512.  This is what recreation or re-creation is all about.  Unless it does this, it should not be labeled as recreation. 

Perverted Appetite

One of the other plagues of idolatry can be found in perverted and uncontrolled appetite.  Paul identifies this area, which is part of the refined idolatry of the day: “(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, [that they are] the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end [is] destruction, whose God [is their] belly, and [whose] glory [is] in their shame, who mind earthly things.)”  Philippians 3:18, 19.

The idolatry of appetite embraces, in its broadest application, all the appetites of the flesh.  There are many people today—thousands, perhaps millions—who live to eat rather than eat to live.  This is one of the reasons why many Americans experience such poor health.  On every business street corner and even into suburbia, we find restaurants appealing to the appetites of the people. 

There is nothing wrong with eating.  I enjoy eating, but there are people who make eating the center of their lives.  Many belong to supper clubs where the supposed finest cuisine is served—most of which should never be consumed.

Eating and drinking, as a means of health and strength, should be practiced by every Christian, but eating and drinking as an end in itself is a foolish, dangerous, and deadly practice.  It is legitimate to satisfy a normal, temperate appetite, and doing so should be pleasurable. 

The Lord has given us a tremendous amount of counsel concerning proper eating and drinking—not only from the standpoint of health but also from the standpoint that if this is a pleasure that has taken the place of God, then it is in violation of the second commandment. 


Another idol that is worshipped today is the goddess of sensuality.  There is no question in my mind that we have arrived at the anti-type of the days of Noah when the earth was destroyed with the flood—the time when the earth was so corrupt before God that every imagination, every thought, and every intent of the heart was only evil continually.   

As we read, in the second commandment, the Lord will punish generation after generation after generation who hate Him and are not following His commandments.  This does not mean that God is going to punish children for the sins of their parents.  Ezekiel 18 is very, very clear about that.  But what it does tell us is that there is a proliferation from one generation to another of the traits and the characteristics of the former generation.  Just by virtue of beholding, we become changed into that which we behold. 

We must make sure that we are always following the Lord and not following the dictates of the household, if they are different from what the Lord has instructed us.  It is an unfailing rule of justice that the iniquities of parents are visited upon their children if they follow their footsteps. 

Think about that for a moment.  Parents’ ideas of religion are usually accepted by their children.  This can be a sobering thought.  We would wish that it would be wholly positive, but it can be just the opposite, if the parents’ ideas of religion are skewed.

The parents who say they will let their child decide what religion he or she wants to practice when he or she grows up, will usually find that their child will reflect their philosophy.  Ultimately, no one is saved.  The parents are lost, and the child is lost, because neither has a definite belief regarding the Saviour. 

How do you worship God in your home?  Is it consistent?  Is it spiritual?  Is sin rebuked, or is it condoned?  Whatever attitude you are fostering is the attitude with which your children will grow up, whether you realize it or not.

The law that says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” proves true every time.  Proverbs 22:6.  But there is a contrast.  Sin is visited unto the third and forth generations (Exodus 34:7), but the contrast is greater than the sin.  “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”  Romans 5:20.  Notice what the commandment says: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me, And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.”  Deuteronomy 5:9, 10.  In other words, sin is visited unto the third and fourth generations, but the reward of obedience reaches to a thousand generations.  I like this positive aspect that, if we are serving the Lord, these effects can be felt right on down through generations to come.  Sin will eventually run its course; it will become extinct, but virtue and loyalty and righteousness will never, ever die.  Obedience to God’s Law, both moral and those that involve our well-being, brings a rich reward in character and happiness. 

“Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he [is] God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations.”  Deuteron-omy 7:9.  There is a limit to God’s wrath that will be poured out upon the sins of the third and fourth generations, but a thousand generations beyond that will experience His love and His mercy.  His mercy reaches far beyond His wrath. 

What is Permissible

We could go on about the prohibitions of image worship or idolatry, but let us look at one image that it is permissible to worship.  This image of worship is not only permitted, but it is actually commanded as the only means of salvation. 

Because the Father knew that it would be difficult for man to worship an invisible God, He sent His Son into the world to become Emmanuel—God with us.  The incarnation of Jesus, as the Son of God, was God manifest in the flesh.  Christ was declared to be the very image of the invisible God.  (Colos-sians 1:15.)  His character is described, and it is that which is promised to be reproduced in us as we worship Him.  By beholding Christ, we become changed into His image.  (11 Corinthians 3:18.)  We must learn of His attributes, His character, His love, His long-suffering, and incorporate these into ourselves by beholding His image.  This is the only acceptable image worship, because it is all righteousness.

The chief ambition of every Christian should be to worship the only true image of the invisible God, Jesus Christ, and have His character likeness reproduced in his or her life.  This form of worship is not idolatry.  It is Christianity. 

“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.”  1 Corin-thians 3:18.  We have a tendency, as human beings, to think that our wisdom is okay if it centers upon the things of the world to the neglect of Christ.  But we have become fools, if that is the case.  We need to understand that there is a God in heaven Who has commanded us, Who expects us to respond to His command, and that by beholding Him, we can become changed into His likeness.  That is where true wisdom is found.  The rest is all foolishness.  Solomon called it vanity: “Vanity of vanities; all [is] vanity.”  Ecclesiastes 1:2.  

The only responsibility of human beings is to “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man.”  Ecclesiastes 12:13.  May that be our vow to God, and may we be determined to serve Him to the end.

To be continued December 2005 . . .

A retired minister of the gospel, Pastor Mike Baugher may be contacted by e-mail at

October 2005 Table of Contents



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