When we think of idolatry we often imagine it to be an easy sin to detect and stay clear of. Thoughts of carved images and statues from the Old Testament come to our minds and certainly no good Christian succumbs to such things. But, there is another side of idolatry that is more subtle. It’s the type of idolatry that takes something good and makes it more important than God. This idolatry doesn’t involve formal worship or a confession of faith, yet it is just as dangerous. Martin Luther once said, “That upon which you set your heart and put your trust, is in reality your God.” Our “Not Your God” series takes a look at several modern day idols that can wrestle away your heart faster than you may think.
Luke 12:15 He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”
I enjoy sports. I enjoy watching them and participating in them. I would say that sports are a big part of my life. Because of this, as I think of sports I often draw connections and applications to real life. Many of you are familiar with the most basic sports analogies – teamwork is important, together we can accomplish more, persistence in adversity pays off, etc. These are often so common they become cliches.
However, when it comes to professional sports, we’re currently witnessing a new moral lesson that can be learned. Jesus says it best of all in the passage above, “one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.” The major professional sports in America (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) have become gigantic money-making enterprises. This wealth extends from the owners to the players. The fame of being a notable sports professional even extends beyond the field and court, to lucrative promotions and advertisements with other companies. This isn’t even mentioning the overall popularity and praise heaped upon today’s athletes. We’re kidding ourselves if we act like these kinds of things don’t affect a person. That’s not to say that wealth is evil, but there is a reason why the Bible says, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil… (1 Timothy 6:10)”
Greed is one of the biggest idols in America today. In professional sports it causes athletes to complain, to invest in materialism instead of what really matters, and to turn their backs on the very things that make sports appealing, like teamwork and effort. While most of us live much different lives than rich and famous athletes, we do have a tendency to look up to them as role models. That’s why they work so well as spokespersons for major companies. Fame can sell. But as we look up to athletes for their achievements, there’s also a part of them that looks back and shapes our lives. We follow them for more than just their accomplishments between the lines of competition. It’s becoming more and more common for professional athletes to speak their minds on political, cultural, and even religious issues. Sometimes, we buy into what they say just because we like them or because they must know something we don’t since they’re so popular. What happens is that we stop judging things based on God’s Word and we start making our own decisions based on the opinions of those we admire.
And so it is important to remember what Jesus said, to paraphrase, “life is not about what you have.” No one is entitled to the truth. Knowing the truth is a privilege, not a right. It has nothing to do with the amount of money or Twitter followers you have. Jesus phrased it this way in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:1).” While wealth is not evil, it does have a way of wedging itself between a person and God. The point here is that that can happen through another person’s wealth just as easily as through your own. We are often well aware of the dangers of personal greed, even if we have a hard time living by it at times. But it seems to me that we are almost entirely ignorant of how the people we admire have an effect on our lives, especially because of their wealth. If you trust and listen to a person just because of their sway here in this world, you could be submitting to an idol, and one based on greed.
The gospel is often communicated in financial terms. We speak about Jesus paying for our sins, that He has bought us back to God, and that He fulfilled the debt we owed to God. This is where real true, lasting, and abundant life (John 10:10) is found. And as Jesus freely gives us this priceless wealth, we follow and obey Him as our God. No need to be greedy. No need to make everything, even our thoughts and opinions, a matter of popularity and fame. True wealth comes by God’s grace – His undeserved love for sinners.