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Is Your Family the Idol in Your Life?

Several years ago, a coworker approached me, upset and confused from a sermon at her church. The preacher taught that our families can become idols. The statement lay heavily in her heart as she questioned how it was possible. She was a very intentional mother and wife. I understood her concern. Aren't we to love and care for our families?  How does love breed idol worship?  

Exodus 20: 4-5 introduces us to God's warning against idol worship through the Ten Commandments. "You must not make any idols. Don't make any statues or pictures of anything up in the sky or of anything on the earth or of anything down in the water. Don't worship or serve idols of any kind, because I, the Lord, am your God. I hate my people worshiping other gods…" (ESV). God wrote this commandment along with nine others during His executive meeting with Moses. Ironically, while God talked to Moses, the people used the material blessings to create a golden calf.  Of all people, they summoned Moses' brother, Aaron, to sculpt the idol.

Human nature looks for things seen in times of distress. Aaron gave credence to the idols instead of God by saying, "These are the gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt (Exodus 32:4)." After being exposed to many gods in Egypt for hundreds of years, the Israelite's mentality absorbed the culture. Without spiritual understanding, self-awareness, and intentionality, we will fall prey to idol worship and what appears important.

Spiritual Understanding of Idol Worship

When my coworker approached me with the question, she sought a spiritual understanding of love versus idol worship of family. Spiritual understanding of idol worship prevents a disconnect between us and God. The obvious is any object one bows down to in praise or worship.  When the people didn't see their leader, Moses, they desired something they could see. 

We are close to this practice today. An idol rules our hearts, directs our behaviors, and causes us to make decisions that don't serve God's purposes. 

Our families can be idols. We look at our families' desire for material things and their feelings and often operate from what we see or desire to see. If we operate against God's will for our families for their happiness or to create what seems to be a peaceful relationship, then we place our families in the seat of worship. Worship to God is our devotion and commitment to His will above all others, including ourselves.

Remember Moses' brother, Aaron, created the calf. Imagine the shock, embarrassment, and confusion Moses felt. God chose Aaron to speak for Moses, to walk with and support Moses' call to lead Israel from bondage to serve Him. How could Aaron do such a thing? Moses faced redirecting the people and choosing between protecting his family's decision or serving God. Angered by Aaron's misleading the people, Moses chose God over Aaron. Moses could have coddled Aaron's decision, yet he rebuked him. 'He said to Aaron, "What did these people do to you, that you brought such a great sin upon them?" (Exodus 32: 21).' If we allow our idea of love to misguide others or protect sin, we worship falsely placing others above God's will. 

Proverbs 27:5-6 proclaims, "Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." Why would rebuke be better than love? Rebuke, which turns us towards God and away from our sinful desires, helps us to remain in fellowship with God. If Moses had allowed Aaron to not accept accountability or attempt to compromise, Aaron would have been left in his sin and not in a position of reconciliation with God. 

A true friend or loving relative will sacrifice their feelings of possible rejection to gently give the opportunity to not be enslaved to sin. Jesus rebuked Peter in Mark 8:33, 'But turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter saying, "Get behind me Satan because you're not thinking God's thoughts, but human thoughts!" We know Jesus loved Peter. The responsibility Jesus gave Peter indicated His love and trust in Peter. After His resurrection, Jesus commanded Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:17). Surviving his denial of Jesus, Peter later provided leadership for the apostles and the early church. 

The Role of Self-awareness

Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one's character, feelings, motives, and desires. Self-awareness requires us to sit at the feet of Jesus. If we learn more about and from Him, we become more aware of our character, especially our motives. Our relationship with Christ hopefully consists of constant growth. This growth depends on our self-awareness in relation to Christ's reflection. In other words, do we see our character transforming into God's character? This is one reason it is critical to focus on our relationship foremost instead of others' relationship with God. There is so much within us that will never be discovered if we constantly look through the lenses of how others need to show spiritual growth.

Moses learned about his desires and feelings when he killed the Egyptian who fought against his fellow Israelites (Exodus 2:11-22). Moses' unrestrained love and misused compassion for his people drove him to kill the oppressor. From a brazen murderer to a frightened fugitive, Moses fled to Midian. He stayed there for forty years.

When God called Moses to return, the once fearless man wrestled with self-doubt. How did a man who possessed the nerve to kill a person considered his equal by adoption into the Egyptian royal family become so low that he referred to himself as a nobody? (Exodus 3:11 GNT) Even when the all-powerful God comforted him by saying He would be with him, Moses wrestled with God's calling. Moses became aware of his inability to lead without God. A brutal and unfortunate way to learn. However, Moses' attitude adjustment opened the door for God to operate through Him. Moses fought against it. God's grace prevailed. 

Moses didn't have any problems redirecting his brother or the people. Though his anger got the best of Moses, he honored his relationship with God and remained loyal to God's will to teach the people to serve no other gods. He threw and broke the engraved tablets but didn't kill anyone. He burned the calf, ground it to powder, scattered it into the water, and made the people drink it. Please don't ask me why they obeyed Moses, but they did. What a significant lesson to see what they called a god could be ground to powder! 

Moses' self-awareness of his relationship with anger and his relationship of being God-directed and not emotionally controlled refocused him on God's will multiple times throughout his leadership. When he killed the Egyptian over 40 years prior, he allowed emotions to override God's timing and took matters into his own hands. A more spiritually mature leader emerged and benefited the people. 

Idol Pulse Check

In relation to family, how do you know if your family is an idol? Consistent behaviors and awareness show where your heart is. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What have you agreed to that satisfies your family members but goes against God's word?

  • What do you keep a secret that allows sin to continue to protect a loved one's image or reputation?

  •  Do you witness to your family members about God's saving grace or only discuss what they are comfortable discussing? 

  • Are you intentional about carving out time to spend alone with God in prayer, or do family memories take precedence?

  • Are your prayers centered around family only?

  • Do you have a relationship with God that is evident in your behaviors, words, and intentions? 

  • What activities do you go along with to fit in with family members who aren't believers?

  • Are you willing to be uncomfortable with rejection or isolation from family members who don't follow Christ?

If our goal is to align ourselves with God's word, our desires must align with that goal within the standards of God's given covenant. Jesus ushered in and completed the new covenant. In Luke 22:14-23, Jesus told the disciples while sharing the Passover meal before He suffered the crucifixion. This final covenant between man and God is the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ. Our belief in Christ as the Son of God crucified for our sin but rose again on the third day, is the relational agreement we make with God to enter into His Eternal Kingdom. 

It is easy to recite the agreement, but we must be intentional to remove idols. Like the Israelites freed from Egyptian culture, we can find ours serving things of the world. Romans 12:2 states, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will." Things of the world offer no proper protection or loyalty. False idols offer false hope like fool's gold. The appearance is appealing, but sustenance is lacking. 

The Israelites had a choice after worshiping the false God. "So he (Moses)  stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is for the Lord, come to me" (Exodus 32:26). We can repent, changing our minds to correct our behaviors. God's grace and mercy allow our spiritual maturity to develop while protecting us. We have a choice daily to keep God first while loving our family. It won't always be easy, but true worship requires a sacrifice. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1 NIV).


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