Bethesda-Khankho Foundation

Idolatry in Modern Christianity (1 Kings 18:21)


No Christian that I know of, not even a nominal one, would openly and honestly declare, “I am an idolater.” Yet many believers today are, in fact, obvious idol worshipers. Their idolatry may not be the physical idols which were blasphemed by God in the past. But their idolatry is conceived in the human mind and it slowly eats away our divine relationship with God.


Bible Verse: 1 Kings 18:21 (explain the immediate context)


In 922 B.C., the nation of Israel was torn into two nations, Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Israel was racked by internal tribal differences and, subsequently, became susceptible to frequent invasions. It was, however, solidly following the beliefs of Yahweh, the "one and true" God, according to the Bible. Phoenicia (now known as Lebanon) was located to Israel's north, and on the whole, was just the opposite—cosmopolitan, populous and religiously diverse.


At the beginning of the 9th century, a Phoenician princess named Jezebel was born, the daughter of King Ethball. The Bible does not describe her childhood, but from deductive reasoning, it is assumed that she lived in a fine home and was educated by the best tutors. Her family worshipped many gods, the most important being Baal, a nature god. While Jezebel was growing into a woman, Israel crowned a new king. To create an alliance with Israel, the king arranged for his son Ahab to wed Jezebel. Their marriage cemented a political alliance, but it was a dramatic event for the young woman. After enjoying a life of luxury, she was suddenly taken into a conservative society and made to oversee it.

She continued to worship the god Baal, and in doing so, earned many enemies. Her citizens' displeasure came to a critical point when, at their expense, she brought 800 Baal prophets to Israel and ordered the murder of several Yahweh prophets. At this major moment, Elijah, a Christian prophet, appeared. According to the biblical book of Kings, Elijah gave a prophecy: That terrible draught would come upon Israel. Amazingly, famine spread across Jezebel's land, according to the story.


Elijah is the prophet chosen by God to lead the people back to the truth of their relationship with Him and to restore fidelity to the Alliance, or Covenant. The famous episode of the confrontation with the prophets of Baal, narrated in chapter 18 of the First Book of Kings, is also the only Elijan account which is expressly set by the Bible on Mount Carmel.


Baal is seen the god of the storm, of the rain, of the great meteorological phenomena, and above all of fruitfulness. It is he - for the peoples of Canaan - who gives the rain and the fruits of the earth; because of this, in Canaanite mythology, his name and his cult are associated with the world of nature and the cycles of life and death: when Baal dies the earth dies too; when he returns to life, with the autumn rains, he gives fertility back to the earth and the productive cycles can recover their vitality.


The choice of this locality can be easily explained by the historical context and by its geographical position. Placed exactly on the border between the kingdom of Israel and the territory of the Phoenicians, the sacred mountain summarized well the situation of the people, still faithful to the religion of their Fathers yet at the same time attracted to the new cults of Baal. The south-eastern part, which opens onto the plain of Jezreel, knew a more pure Yahwist cult while the north-west promontory, which descends into the Mediterranean, was orientated to the cult of Baal. Like the heart of the people in that particular historical moment, the mountain was also divided between Yahweh and Baal.

3 Types of people:

We have upon that hill of Carmel, and along the plain, three kinds of persons. We have first the devoted servant of Jehovah, a solitary prophet; we have, on the other hand, the decided servants of the evil one, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal; but the vast mass of that day belonged to a third class—they were those who had not fully determined whether fully to worship Jehovah, the God of their fathers, or Baal, the god of Jezebel. On the one hand, their ancient traditions led them to fear Jehovah, and on the other hand, their interest at court led them to bow before Baal. The great mass of them did not reject the God of their fathers wholly, nor did they bow before Baal wholly

Verse 21

Elijah's appeal also called his hearers to account for the period of time in which they had made not decision between Yahweh and Baal. "How long," he asked them. "How many more sermons do you want? How many more Sundays must roll away wasted? How many warnings, how many sicknesses, how many toilings of the bell to warn you that you must die? How many graves must be dug for your family before you will be impressed? How many plagues and pestilences must ravage this city before you will turn to God in truth? How long halt ye between two opinions?"

Waver: 1) to pass over, spring over 1a) (Qal) to pass over 1b) (Piel) to skip, pass over 2) to limp 2a) (Qal) to limp 2b) (Niphal) to be lame 2c) (Piel) to limp eg bird hopping from branch to branch.

But the people answered him not a word: There was no object and no repentance. They lacked the courage to either defend their position or to change it. They were willing to live unexamined lives of low conviction. That is the human condition. Weak, powerless, undecisive, fearful, and we have more affinity to the world rather than the metaphysical. Human logic has no place for faith when obstacles give you to choose a side. We no longer bow down to idols and images. All the various forms of modern idolatry have one thing at their core: self. The self at the centre and God at the periphery.

Selfishness: as idol (There are 3 types of selfishness found in human nature. Perhaps there must be more but I want to discuss these three and raise three questions later)

Firstly, we worship at the altar of materialism which feeds our need to build our egos through the acquisition of more “stuff.” The needs and the wants are not distinguished anymore. Wealth has become more important than our personal relationship with God. The nature of human greed takes precedence over the atoning grace of God.?

Secondly, we worship at the altar of our own pride and ego. Our achievements and positions have become more important. Our identity in this world in terms of achievements and degrees have become more important than out our identity found in Christ. Christ becomes the outside appearance and the pride and ego takes residence at the core of the heart.

Thirdly, the Christianity of today has compromised our faith for humanism.?Our moral standards are based on feelings rather than Christ (if we feel right we think it is right if we feel wrong than it is wrong), our belief is based on reason rather than faith (Abraham man of faith his sacrifice of Isaac), our religion is not based on ritual, liturgy and sacraments (Pharisees and Sadducees) rather these things are built around our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

QUESTION 1. Why do we need to be selfless towards God?

2 Corinthians 5:15- And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

It is because of the atoning Grace of God.

Today we need to retrospect on, why should we embrace the cross and give up everything, why the self should die? Because it’s the only way God can get glory out of a human being. We don’t serve God because we want to have a good life, security, happiness.... that is selfishness. We serve God because He deserves all the glory because he paid for our sins. Is God an end or is he a means??

Is your reason for your existence is search happiness? Contentment? Security? That is selfishness. We can say we believe in the death and the resurrection, we believe in heaven and hell, we believe in the Bible, we believe in the Deity of Christ yet they search for happiness in material things, security in financial things, position in terms of status, cultural matters become more important than religion, the self comes first and God takes second place. We re in grave danger when we let our accomplishments become the ground of our confidence. Anything that we love more than Jesus Christ is an Idol, Dont care what it is.

A.W. Tozer “The sovereign God wants to be loved for Himself and honored for Himself, but that is only part of what He wants. The other part is that He wants us to know that when we have Him we have everything - we have all the rest.”

QUESTION 2. What is the key to a selfless Christianity?

It was true for the case of Elijah too he had only God and nothing else when he challenged the Baal prophets....

Let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves: In this proposed test, Elijah was careful to give the prophets of Baal every potential advantage. They picked the two bulls, and picked which one they would sacrifice and which one Elijah would sacrifice. Again, Elijah gave plenty of advantage to the prophets of Baal. It was thought that Baal was the sky-god, lord of the weather and the sender of lightning (thought to be fire from the sky). If Baal were real, he certainly could send fire from heaven.

John Wesley: John Wesley died in 1791 got converted at 35, preached for 53 years, and died at 88 years. And u know what he left a handful of books, a faded gown, six silver spoons, six pound notes, “give one each to the poor men that carry me to my grave” he could have died a rich man, sure he made money lots of money, he built orphanages, he printed Bibles, compiled the Methodist hymn book, financed missionaries to go across the earth.

QUESTION 3. So how do we fit Jesus in selfless Christianity?:

Which interests you more—who Jesus is or what He can do for you? many of us are more concerned about what the Lord can give us rather than about getting to know who He is.

There is a fine line between selfishly trying to use the Lord to get what we want and humbly coming to Him with our needs and struggles. Some of the issues we bring to Him are so pressing and urgent in our minds that our desire for Him to take action in the way we want becomes greater than our willingness to submit to His will.

The question I want to ask is that, “Is Jesus the means to your selfish end or is he the purpose of your end”

Buffet: (Illustration)

We all go to buffets and when we do we get to choose the different items laid on the table. Picking the ones that we want to eat and leave out the rest. Christianity for many of us has become like that. We pick the aspect of Christianity that appeals to us and we leave the rest which is not appealing to us. We filter our own brand of Christianity. If we are accepting Christ as the personal saviour we have to accept the whole package unconditionally.


Car and petrol pump (Illustration): most of drive cars. When we drive cars we pour the petrol at the station and we take the car wherever we want to go and when the petrol gets over we come back to refill the car. Selfish Christianity is also like that we go wherever we want to go and when the spirituality gets over we go back to Jesus to fill us up. The cycle goes on repeatedly.

If we want to live a life of selfless Christianity we should not ask Jesus to fill us up but we should invite him inside our spiritual car and ask him to hold the steering wheel and we should not sit in the passenger seat nor even seat in the back seat. Instead we should open the dickey of the car get inside and close the dickey and ask Jesus to lead us trusting him not knowing where we are going.

So, let us not waver between the two opinions like the Israelites i.e. God and self, let us not be lukewarm anymore but surrender ourselves fully to God putting God first as the greatest commandment says and carry on our pilgrim journey on this earth until we return home.

Mr Echenren is doing his BD final year at Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India. This sermon is published with his kind permission.