“Keep Yourselves from Idols”

The First Commandment in the Epistles

3 min

Genuine obedience is rooted in love. The night He was betrayed, Jesus told His disciples in the Upper Room, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Over the course of this month, we have been looking closely at the first commandment and seeking to apply it to our own lives:

I am to love the Lord because He first loved me, worshipping Him only. 

In the epistle of I John, we are told emphatically that we cannot love our Heavenly Father and the world at the same time. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15).

The Apostle John continues in the next verse to define precisely what he means by the world: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (verse 16).

These three great temptations compete constantly for our time, our affections, our loyalties, and our ambitions. Ever since the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve fell to the temptations of Satan in these same three areas, every Christian has struggled with these very sins.

The Lust of the Flesh

The lust of the flesh fulfills physical desires in unlawful, or unrighteous, ways. God has created every person with cravings for pleasure. Within their proper bounds, these desires are normal, beneficial, and healthy. But when healthy passions are out-of-balance or abused, they become perverted. A healthy appetite for food may be perverted into gluttony and drunkenness. A healthy yearning for physical satisfaction in marriage is perverted outside of marriage when one engages in immorality, adultery, or pornography. The Apostle John warns us that bondage to the lust of the flesh is an indication that we do not love the Lord as we ought.

The Lust of the Eyes

The lust of the eyes is the selfish desire to increase our possessions by sinful means. Every day, we are bombarded with social pressures and advertising. Magazines, billboards, store windows, email promotions, and social media campaigns assail us constantly with the offer of things that we do not have. All these sources of temptation continually direct our time and attention toward having things that we do not need. This constant pull to be dissatisfied with what we have and to obtain what we do not have is the lust of the eyes. The writer of I John warns us that these desires will pull us away from our chief loyalty.

The Pride of Life

Every one of us faces the constant temptation to appear better than we really are. We are enticed to inflate our importance, to belittle others, to exalt ourselves, to boast of our own accomplishments, and to cover our mistakes. Because it is so subtle, this besetting sin of pride is one of the most difficult temptations to overcome.

Of these three primary areas of temptation, most men usually have one particular area where they struggle most. To identify specific areas where we are weak will better enable us to be alert and on guard.

The Apostle John contrasts the fleeting nature of worldly desires and the eternal blessings of loving God and keeping His commandments. “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:17). The essence of the first commandment is to realize that no other loyalty can take the place of our chief loyalty to God Who has loved us and redeemed us.

In I John 4:9, John writes, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” When we appreciate the magnitude of God’s love for us, we have no choice but to give Him our complete love and loyalty in return. John acknowledges in verse 19, “We love him, because he first loved us.” 

The Apostle begs us in the strongest terms to lay aside all competing interests and give the Lord Jesus Christ first place in our hearts. Christ tolerates no rivals. He will not accept second place. John concludes his epistle with this plea: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (I John 5:21).

What are your idols? What in your life competes for first place? Is your ambition for a successful career all-consuming? Are you overly focused on a particular hobby? Is an addiction to fleshly pleasure draining you and your resources? Whatever your struggle, would you in this new year of 2023 surrender your dearest idols and reaffirm your chief loyalty to the Heavenly Father Who loved you and sent His only Son Jesus into the world to redeem you?

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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