Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, gave the opening message at The Gospel Coalition 2009 Conference. He preached on Acts 19:21-41 about the near riot that took place in Ephesus because the economy was tanking. Why?
Paul was confronting the idols, and people were placing their faith in Christ and living in such a way that it was impacting their culture… their economy. How was that happening? They weren’t buying the statuettes of Artemis. They weren’t participating in the idolatry that held Ephesus in bondage. Demetrius, a silversmith who crafted silver shrines of Artemis led the charge against Paul, (Acts 19:24). He said to his fellow craftsmen:
“And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship,” (Acts 19:26-27, ESV).
Dr. Keller states that Paul always took on and challenged the idols of the culture and the idols of the people’s heart. In order to really communicate the gospel in a lifechanging way Keller says that pastors, but also any follower of Christ needs to:
Need to discern the idols – personal, cultural and religious idols.
Expose the idols.
Destroy the idols – destroyed objectively based on Christ’s work on the cross, (Colossians 2:15), and subjectively as we share the message of what Christ has done for them. Their idol won’t die for them… can’t die for them, but Jesus has.
So what is idolatry? I like Dr. Keller’s definition:
“When you look to some created thing to give you what only God can give you that is idolatry. An idol is anything in your life that is so central to your life that you can’t have a meaningful life if you lose it.”
An idol can be anything. Dr. Keller states that it can be family and children, career and making money, achievement, critical acclaim, physical beauty, social standing, romantic relationships, competence and skill, political or social cause, your moral record, religious activity, or even ministry success.
Idols must be addressed as the Gospel is proclaimed.