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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Idolatry = Adultery (it's personal)
Text:LD 34 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 1st Commandment (God alone)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 3:1-2

Psalm 45:1,4,5 ("A Wedding Song")

Psalm 96:1-3

Hymn 1

Hymn 3:5

Scripture readings:  Hosea 2:1-13, 1 Corinthians 10:1-22

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 34

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

Imagine the scene.  A husband pulls into his driveway.  He’s come home early from work.  He suspected it.  He parks behind the car he’s never seen before.  He reaches over into the passenger seat and grabs the gun.  He walks up to the door and enters his house.  His blood is boiling.  They were married less than a year ago.  Together they stood at the front of the church.  They looked in each other’s eyes and exchanged vows before God and his people.  They covenanted for a life together.  They promised to love each other and only each other in this special way.  But now she’s broken the covenant.  As he storms in the bedroom gun in hand, there are screams for mercy.  But it’s too late for his jealous anger to be quelled.  Double-homicide is the news headline the next day.

Proverbs 6 warns against adultery.  One of the reasons is that you endanger your life when you mess with another man’s wife.  It says in Proverbs 6:34, “For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge.”  And in Proverbs 7, the Holy Spirit says that the adulterer “does not know that it will cost him his life.”  When it comes to human beings, God says, “Watch out for the rage of a jealous husband.”

Marital unfaithfulness is wicked and I think we can understand that the anger of a jealous spouse is justified.  When you make vows and commit to each other, it’s supposed to be for life.  You’re not supposed to cheat.  Husband and wife have to be faithful to each other, and only to each other.  If someone comes between them, that’s going to arouse strong emotions on the part of the spouse that’s been cheated on.  No, that doesn't justify murder, but it does justify spousal jealousy.  It's good and normal for husband and wife to be jealous for one another. 

This afternoon we’re learning about the First Commandment.  This is about idolatry.  And in the Bible idolatry is compared to adultery.  The worship of idols is compared to marital unfaithfulness.  Whenever God’s people give themselves over to idols, they are committing spiritual adultery.  And we belong to the jealous God.  He is jealous that we would be committed to him only.  Idols come between us and him.    

Now I have to pause here for a moment and remind you what of what we mean by “idolatry.”  You might think that’s just referring to little statues, or maybe false gods such as the Muslims worship, or the Hindus, or Sikhs, or whoever else.  Those are idols, but the Bible doesn’t limit the term to those things.  Ephesians 5:5 says that covetousness is idolatry.  When you make stuff your priority and you want more and more, you’re an idolater.  That’s just one example.  Idols are anything that takes the place of God.  Anything we make more important than him is an idol.  Anything we trust instead of him is an idol.  Anything we trust in addition to him is an idol.  Anything we find comfort from instead of or in addition to him is an idol.  Anything that we start living for instead of God is an idol.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  It could be sexual pleasure, pornography, money and wealth, sports, fishing, food, exercise, music, alcohol, it could be personal or family pride, and the list goes on and on.  Human beings can take anything and turn it into an object of worship and devotion.  That’s idolatry.  That’s the problem the First Commandment is addressing.

The Bible teaches us that our idolatry is not an abstract problem.  It’s not merely a theoretical, theological, or conceptual issue.  There’s a heart issue and that heart issue is directly connected to our relationship with God.  The God who has called us his own.  The God who has redeemed us with the precious blood of his Son.  The God who has loved us and pitied us.  Idolatry is against him, idolatry is forsaking him, idolatry is adultery.  Therefore, whenever we worship idols, God takes it personally, just like a jealous husband when he discovers his wife has been cheating on him.  We’ll explore this more fully this afternoon and we’ll learn about:

  1. The Husband
  2. His Wife
  3. Their relationship

God is the Husband of his people.  That picture of God as a Husband is most vividly portrayed in the Old Testament in the book of Hosea.  In fact, the prophet Hosea’s life was even meant to be a picture of God and his people.  In chapter 1 of Hosea, God commanded the prophet to marry a promiscuous woman.  So Hosea married a loose woman named Gomer.  She got pregnant with the prophet’s child.  She gave birth to a boy named Jezreel.  It was all good.  The child was his.  But after that, she started cheating on Hosea.  She was that type of woman who couldn’t stop from throwing herself at other men.  She got pregnant again, but not with Hosea’s child.  This daughter was named Lo-ruhama, “No Mercy.”  After that child was weaned, Gomer was back to cheating.  She became pregnant again, and again it wasn’t Hosea’s child.  She gave birth to a son and the son was named Lo-ammi, “Not my people.”  All of that was meant to be a living illustration of what had happened between God and his people.  He was the faithful, committed husband.  She was the “wife of whoredom.”  Gomer committed adultery against Hosea by cheating sexually with other men, Israel committed adultery against God by cheating with idols.   

All of that becomes explicit in our reading from chapter 2 of Hosea.  God reveals that he is the Husband of his people.  In this chapter, he compares himself to the lovers that they’ve pursued instead of him.  Israel went after those lovers, after those idols, because she thought the idols would bring her good things.  Look at verse 5:  “For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’”  She thought that food, clothing, water, the necessities of life would be coming from her idols, and therefore she went after them. 

But then look at verse 8:  “And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.”  Her Husband had given her not only the necessities, but also beyond.  He had given her more than what was necessary:  not only grain for bread, not just water, but wine and oil, silver and gold.  He had lavished her with good things.  All the good stuff she had was from her Husband.  Then she took her Husband’s good gifts and used them for her lovers, for her idols. 

That tells us something about God and something about idols.  With idols, we’re inclined to think we’re going to get something good from them.  Our idols are going to give us some pleasure, some comfort, or some other kind of benefit.  That’s what we think.  But idols lie to us.  Perhaps it’s better to say it this way:  our hearts lie to us about what idols can do for us.  Here’s the truth.  Here’s reality:  idols will destroy you.  It’s destructive to pursue idols.  They can’t and they won’t ultimately provide you with good things.  Instead, they’ll ruin your life and lead you to hell.  Let me illustrate how that happens with a couple of common idols.

What does pornography promise you?  It promises you sexual pleasure and, for a time, it may deliver.  But it comes at a cost.  The cost is enormous.  By giving yourself to this idol, you are deadening your soul to God.  By giving yourself to this idol, you are destroying your marriage with your husband or wife, or your future marriage.  You’re destroying your family from within.  By giving yourself to this idol, you are reducing people, made in the image of God, into sexual objects for your pleasure.  If you don’t stop living in this sin, you won’t be in heaven when you die.  This idol of pornography is so destructive.  Yet it is so commonly pursued even by Christians.  Loved ones, do you see that it’s an idol?  Do you see that it’s going to chew up your life and then spit you out?

What does drinking to excess promise you?  Drunkenness promises you a good time, and sure, you may have some good times while over-indulging in booze.  It promises to dull your senses, give you some momentary comfort or relief.  But this idol also will also demand a huge price from you.  Are you ready to pay the price?  If you don’t forsake this idol, look, it will take and take and take.  You won’t have a choice.  Loved ones, it will take your health from you.  There’s liver cirrhosis, alcohol-induced dementia, cancer, obesity-related illnesses, diabetes, the list goes on and on.  This idol will destroy your health.  It will also take your family from you.  Alcohol doesn’t build up families, it destroys them.  It destroys marriages and other relationships.  The abuse of alcohol results in lies, violence, deadly accidents through drink driving, drownings, sexual immorality.  And the Bible clearly says that those who abuse alcohol are not going to inherit the kingdom of heaven.  Is the pursuit of this idol worth it?  Does it make sense to give yourself to an idol that will ruin your life and leave you empty?             

Those lovers are looking less attractive, aren’t they?  Now check out the Husband.  He’s the One you want.  He promises you that he’ll love you through thick and thin.  He doesn’t want to destroy you.  He wants you to flourish.  He wants you to live with him forever.  God, your Husband, has your best interests at heart.  He wants what’s best for you, for your family, for your marriage, for everything.  He’s not a destroyer, but a builder.  He’s not a deceiver, but a truth-teller.  He’s a gracious provider, not a leech.  God has freedom for you, not slavery.  Your Husband in heaven has pursued you even before the world was created.  He’s chosen you to be his own and so why would you forsake him to chase after idols that will slaughter you? 

And you have to remember something else.  God has revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ.  Christ came to make God more fully known to us.  This is true also in terms of his being our Husband.  Look to Christ, the most perfect bridegroom.  Look at what he does.  See how faithful and committed he is to his bride, to us.  He gave up his exalted position in heaven.  He’s the Son of God, Creator and Ruler of the Universe.  The King of kings became one of us.  He loved us enough to take our place.  He knew what God’s demand was.  The demand of the law is perfect obedience.  When it comes to the First Commandment, he knew that it means absolutely no idols.  The Husband saw his wife and saw her weakness and inability.  He said, “I’ll do it for her.”  And he did.  The bridegroom Jesus came and lived a perfect life in our place, a life that included zero idols.  Everything that belongs to the husband belongs to his wife.  His idol-less obedience belongs to us.  What a beautiful gospel truth!  It goes on.  Our bridegroom also knew we had a price to pay for our idols.  He knew that we couldn’t pay that price for ourselves.  So our Husband Jesus said, “I’ll die for my wife.  I’ll suffer and die in her place and pay for all her idols.  I’ll take all her sins on me.”  That’s what he did.  In Jesus Christ, we see a loving Husband who has laid down his life for his bride to save her.  He’s the loving Husband who sacrificed himself to save you.  Loved ones, see that and believe it.  Believe that Jesus is better than your idols.  He’s better because he loves you.  You love your idols, but they’ll never love you back.  They’ll just kick you in the teeth.  Jesus would never do that.  Look at the cross and you know it’s true.

So to understand that idolatry equals adultery, we have to look at the Husband.  But we also have to consider ourselves as his wife.  Who are we and what difference does it make?

We have to remember above all that we are the beloved of the Groom.  We have been and are the objects of his affection.  This is not because of anything lovable in us or because of what we’ve done.  In his good pleasure, he has chosen to love us and have us for his own.  We didn’t earn his love in the past and we still don’t.  That love goes a long way back.  It didn’t start when we were born, or even when we were conceived.  It’s a love that stretches back before creation.  According to Ephesians 1, before the world was created, God knew his bride, he chose his people and loved them.  He ordained that the Saviour Jesus Christ would come and die for them in his love.  We were loved before time, and then we were loved at the cross.  The blood shed at the cross was blood full of love for us.  And still today, we are the beloved.  Still today, our groom Jesus is full of care for his bride.  A good husband speaks up for his wife, and that’s something that Jesus does for us today in heaven.  He takes note of our cares and burdens, and brings them to the Father.  That’s love and commitment! 

That’s a love and commitment that ought to be reciprocated.  It should come from our side of the relationship too.  But, on our side, there’s a constant temptation.  The temptation is to forget who we are and that stands in the way of loving our Husband back.  The Husband is the Creator.  The wife is his creature.  Not only did he marry us, he also created us, just like he created all things.  The temptation is for us to think of ourselves as creators.  We do that with idols.  We create them.  We take good things that God has put in this world, and we create idols from them, we twist them into things that violate our relationship with God.  For good reason, John Calvin once said that human beings are idol factories.  We’re busy churning out idols constantly.

The world around us encourages us to do this.  It even encourages us to make idols out of ourselves.  We’re told to put ourselves in the place of God.  There’s this popular book by Rhonda Byrne called The Secret.  This is what Rhonda Byrne says about how you should think of yourself:

"The earth turns on its orbit for You [capital ‘Y’].  The oceans ebb and flow for You.  The birds sing for You.  The sun rises and it sets for You.  The stars come out for You.  Every beautiful thing you see, every wondrous things you experience, is all there, for You.  Take a look around.  None of it can exist without You.  No matter who you thought you were, now you know the Truth of Who You Really Are.  You are the master of the Universe.  You are the heir to the Kingdom.  You are the perfection of Life.  And now you know The Secret."   

Yeah so, basically, you are God, according to Rhonda Byrne.  Even if people don’t always say it this explicitly, that’s the way a lot of people think.  God is not God.  I am.  The world revolves around me.  It exists for me.  Loved ones, that’s idolatry, full stop.  That’s a totally mistaken view of who we are and who God is. 

Look, we are his creatures.  We were created by him.  We were created by him for a relationship with him.  Adam and Eve destroyed that.  However, we were redeemed by him through Jesus Christ for a new relationship with him.  We have the Holy Spirit living in us so that we do have that relationship with him.  We are his beloved, redeemed, creatures.  We are his Bride – and therefore we have to be who we are. 

Have you ever heard of the idea of open relationships or open marriages?  It’s this wicked idea that a husband and wife or two “partners” don’t have to be exclusively committed to each other.  I trust that you agree that such an idea is wicked, that it’s totally contrary to God’s plan for marriage between one man and one woman.  The idea of an open relationship is just evil, repulsive, wrong through and through.  Can we then have an open relationship with God?  We’ll have him as our husband, but also have other lovers alongside – can we do that?  No, we have to see that this is wrong too.  God is jealous to have us as his bride, that his bride would have eyes for no one else but him -- that his bride would have that special relationship with no one else but him.

Let’s learn more about this relationship.  Particularly, I want to lay out for you how there are two types of relationships.  There are dysfunctional and unhealthy relationships.  Then there are also healthy relationships.  When it comes to God, we are to flee one and pursue the other. 

In terms of our marriage relationship with God, it can be and even often is dysfunctional.  We all have idols that tempt us, and I include myself in that.  Sometimes we have to admit that we’ve given into those idols.  We’ve committed spiritual adultery and we’ve compromised our relationship with God.  We’ve been unfaithful.  What then?  Take comfort from Hosea’s prophecy because it reminds us that God doesn’t give up very easily.  In his grace, he remains committed.  And he wants us to repent and come back to him.  He wants us to make that 180 degree turn from our sin, hate it, and flee from it.  He wants us to repent.  Paul writes about that in 1 Corinthians 10 as well.  The Christians in Corinth had pursued idols.  They had not been consistently committed to their husband.  Verse 14 says, “my beloved, flee from idolatry.”  Repent from your idolatry, return to the Lord who loves you.  When things go sideways in your relationship with him, don’t give up on that relationship.  He doesn’t.  Go back to the one who loves you.  Confess your sins to him, and ask him for forgiveness through Christ.  In his love, he will receive you back and he will carry on with you.  It’s not hopeless.

And seeing that, we’re also to pursue a healthier relationship with him.  We’re to go hard after it.  What does that healthy relationship look like?  There’s a lot that could be said about that, but let’s just take our cue from Answer 94 of the Catechism.  It’s a great summary of what the Bible teaches.  A healthy relationship between wife and Husband, between us and God, must include the following:

Knowledge.  You can’t have a relationship where the wife doesn’t know who her Husband is, what he’s like, what he’s done, what he will do.  If you have no knowledge of your spouse, how can that be healthy?  Our knowledge of the true God, our Husband, comes from studying his love letter to us – his Word! 

Trust.  “Trust in him alone.”  A healthy marriage is built on trust.  That’s true with human beings, and also true between us and God.  We know that we can trust him – he’s proven himself worthy of our trust through Jesus Christ.  So place your confidence in him.    

Submission.  The Bible teaches that wives are called to submit to their husbands.  The pattern for that is found with the church’s relationship to Christ.  This is in Ephesians 5.  Submission means that we yield up our will to his.  We give up what we want, and we follow what he wants.  We do that because we know that he loves us and what he wants will be good for us and for his glory.  Therefore we humble ourselves before our divine Husband and patiently follow his lead. 

Expectation.  In a healthy relationship with God, we expect “all good from him only.”  We don’t place our trust for good things in anyone or anything else. 

Love.  We love him with all our heart.  We have a full measure of affection for him in our inmost being.  So we don’t just know things about him with our heads, we also have a deep emotional attachment to him in our hearts.  Your whole heart has to be in this relationship. 

Fear.  The fear of God is sometimes misunderstood.  When we’re talking about a marriage-type relationship with God, the possibility for misunderstanding is even greater.  After all, if a wife is said to fear her husband, we would hear that and be somewhat concerned.  Does he beat her?  Does he put her down and insult her?  Wives fearing their husbands is not a good thing.  So how does fear fit into the relationship we have with God, a relationship compared to marriage?  I like the way Tim Keller explains it in his book on prayer:

"Imagine that you suddenly are introduced to some person you have always admired enormously – perhaps someone you have hero-worshipped.  You reach out to shake her hand and suddenly it hits you.  You can’t believe you are actually meeting her.  You discover to your embarrassment that you are trembling and sweating, and when you try to speak, you are out of breath.  What is going on?  You are not afraid of being hurt, or punished.  Rather, you are genuinely afraid of doing something stupid or saying something that is inappropriate to the person and occasion.  Your joyful admiration has a fearful aspect to it.  You are in awe, and therefore you don’t want to mess up."

That’s a good way of putting it.  In this relationship, we have the greatest reverence for our Beloved.  Because of how highly exalted he is, because of how impressive he is, that reverence is totally healthy and appropriate.

Last of all, there’s honour.  Good wives want to bring honour to their husbands.  In Proverbs 31, the virtuous wife polishes the shine on her husband.  That’s what we want to do.  Rather than embarrass him with our cheating and unfaithful lives, we want to see our God lifted up and praised because of us. 

So these are the things that we ought to pursue:  knowledge, trust, submission, expectation, love, fear, and honour for our God.  Brothers and sisters, these are things we should desire and pray for.  We ought to pray that the Holy Spirit would work these things in our hearts so that we would be faithful to the jealous God who’s claimed us for his own bride. 

Do you get it now that to God idolatry is the same thing as adultery?  When we pursue idols, we’re being unfaithful to him and he takes it personally.  Idolatry is not a theoretical problem, but a relationship problem.  You don’t want a bad relationship with God – that’s going to end badly, guaranteed.  Instead, you want to have a relationship with him in which he’s being glorified, and you’re growing and flourishing.  You want to have a relationship where he’s loved the way he should be, and you are growing in the experience of his love.  So I can’t think of a better way to end this sermon than with the words that John ends his first letter with:  “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”  AMEN.


O LORD God, our beloved Husband,

We thank you for your love and patience with us.  We give thanks for your commitment to us, your faithfulness to us.  We worship you because you’ve revealed your great love to us through our Saviour Jesus.  We thank you that in him we have the perfect obedience we need for our right standing with you.  We’re glad that through Christ we have the forgiveness we need to have all our sins washed away in your sight.  O God, thank you that we can be yours and that we have been yours even before the world was created.  Your sovereign grace and love amaze us.  O God, we know that you are a jealous God.  You don’t want your bride to share her love with others.  Yet we confess how many times we’ve done exactly that.  We have committed adultery against you with our idols.  We have idols of pornography, drunkenness, money and wealth, pride and prestige, sports, music and heaps more.  O Beloved God, we have broken the marriage covenant with you and we are sorry for that.  We repent.  For the sake of Christ, please forgive us.  We turn away from our idols.  We sorrow over them, we hate them, and we want to flee from then.  Please help us with your Spirit to do that.  Please help us with your Spirit to have a healthy relationship with you.  O Beloved God, give us mercy so that can know you more, trust you more fully, submit to you more consistently.  Let your Spirit work in us more expectation, deeper love, a healthier fear of you, and always a desire to honour you.  As the One who has loved us so richly and graciously, O God, you are worthy of all this.  We are so weak, so feeble, so fickle.  Please make us strong in our relationship with you through the power of your Spirit.

(Credits to Shai Linne and his song “The Jealous One” for the idea in the first paragraph of the introduction)                                                     

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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