“You gotta serve somebody.” –Bob Dylan
We were created for worship. This is why, when we’re not directing our worship at God, we automatically begin investing it in something else.
As far as we know, idols have existed from the earliest days of post-Fall creation. It’s easy for us to scoff at ancient worshipers for thinking that a carved log or chiseled stone could be a god; but perhaps that’s our fault for misunderstanding the custom. The small totems and family idols weren’t meant to be actual gods, but rather physical manifestations or meeting places where the natural could fellowship with the supernatural.
The craftsmen in Ephesus were working from this framework. Their idols of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, were not meant to be Artemis herself, but a physical place where the common could connect to the divine.
Paul’s ministry in Ephesus confronted at least two major problems with this system of worship. The first and most notable was that Artemis was not a true god in any sense. At best, the people of Ephesus were worshiping a figment of their imagination. At worst, they were playing around with dark spiritual powers.
The second problem was that the worship of Artemis in Ephesus had been highly commercialized. It’s easy to see that a large catalyst for the riot in Ephesus was that the merchants and craftsmen were getting hit where it hurt—not in their hearts, but in their pocketbooks.
In spite of the healings they had witnessed and the miracles they had seen, the leaders at Ephesus were outraged because Paul’s ministry was cutting into their sales, distribution, and profits. Fewer faithful servants to Artemis meant a decrease in demand for idols, which meant a decrease in demand for silver, which meant a decrease in demand for fine craftsmanship, which meant less revenue for all involved.
These leaders had been confronted with powerful, life-changing, life-giving truth; but it was far more comfortable and far more profitable for them to protect the idols they knew. They chose to stick with what they knew instead of embracing what Paul continually demonstrated to be actually sacred and true.
It’s easy to judge the Ephesian craftsman and the riotous mob for their stubbornness or perhaps even their greed, but it seems like all too often we make similar decisions with our own lives.
Like the man with his lizard in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, we all have idols or pet sins we hold onto because they are convenient, make us feel better, or in some way seem profitable. We are not foolish enough to think that our idols are actual gods. Rather we use them as a meeting place where we hope to find peace or security.
There are times when following the one, true, and everlasting God will be costly, even painful. It probably won’t be because you’re manufacturing idols to Artemis, but it could be because you’re involved with the production or worship of other cultural idols (less easily recognized as such, but idols all the same).
We are like the Ephesians. We all have things that we worship and adore that are not the one true God. Whether we hold on to them out of fear of letting go, or we protect them to hedge in our comforts, we are called to release them and to lay them down.
True freedom is found in surrender to the one, true, and everlasting God. When we search the deepest recesses of our souls, we know this to be true. All we need to do is ask, and God will deliver us.
Written By Andrew Stoddard