Silhouette of young girl praying to god

by Brian Shilhavy

And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia… They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thessalonians 1:7-10)

Are you a “model believer?” This passage gives us a good description of what was considered a “model believer” in the early church. It was someone who turned away from idols (and idolatry) to serve the living and true God. It was someone who set their hope for the future on Jesus, and his eventual return to earth to one day set up his physical kingdom here. As we saw from the passage in Colossians in a previous devotional, it was also someone who set their hearts and minds on the things above, where Jesus currently is, and not on worldly things.

What is an “Idolatry”?

But to fully understand what a model believer is as defined in these verses in 1 Thessalonians, we need to define “idolatry.” The word “idol” means an image, and in the context of the biblical literature it referred to man-made images of deities or “gods” that people worshiped. The image itself is man made, and therefore has no power of its own.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)

The Bible clearly teaches that the worship of images as idols is the result of rejecting God as their Creator, and that this leads to immoral behavior:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:18-25)

Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 10 that idolatry was associated with demonic powers. Participating in idol worship was to be a participant in demonic activities. This was especially true during his day and age with food that had been sacrificed to idols, which was in direct contrast to the partaking of food in the Lord’s Supper:

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:14-21)

Interestingly, there appears a whole word group in the Greek language used in the New Testament for idols and idolatry that does not limit itself to just images. This word is used in Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:5, for example, and is equated with immorality and “greed.”

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:5)

This follows along closely with what Jesus taught about pursuing wealth, which can become an idol:

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Can Medicine be Idolatry?

Another interesting observation about the Greek words for idolatry is that they were often used in a list of sins and closely linked to the Greek words pharmakeia and pharmakos. We have discussed this word group in previous articles, and have noted that in our English Bibles they are most often translated as “witchcraft” or “sorceries.” But it is also the same word group from which we get our English word “pharmacy” and could be properly translated “medicines” or “drugs.” Here are the passages where both the Greek word for idolatry and pharmakeia or pharmakos are used:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 – pharmakeia is translated “witchcraft” here.)

The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts. (Revelation 9:20-21 – pharmakeia is translated “magic arts” here.)

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. (Revelation 21:8 – “those who practice magic arts” here is from one Greek word “pharmakos” – similar to pharmakeia which means “magician, sorcerer, or one who poisons with drugs”)

Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 22:15 – “those who practice magic arts” is one Greek word, “pharmakos,” as in the verse above.)

Let’s now return to the text in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 where we are told that the “model believer” is one who turns away from idols “to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” There is a tremendous amount of text written in the New Testament warning believers to avoid idols.

Are we to assume that idolatry was simply an old fashioned belief system that was strictly tied to worshipping images in pagan temples? Hasn’t modern day “science” disproved all that and eliminated idolatry, at least in developed “modern” cultures?

I think not. The old idols have just been replaced with new ones that aren’t so new at all. They just have different names. Greed and love of wealth are still around, for example. And so is pharmakeia and pharmakos. It’s just that they are seldom practiced outright with witchcraft anymore, but instead with science and modern day medicines and drugs.

Our evolution-based science has supposedly eliminated the need for the supernatural, so it is simply replaced with humanism and the same belief that we don’t need a Creator God, because we now have science, technology, and medicines. These are our modern day idols, and the demonic influence behind them is as strong as it has ever been in the history of man. Paul’s description of idolatry in his day and age is just as true today:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. (Romans 1:20-22)

The truth that Paul wrote about images that were idols is also true today: “We know that an idol is nothing.” For just as man-made images serving as idols had no evil power in and of themselves (it was the worshiping of them and the demonic influence behind them), so too most idols today are not evil in and of themselves.

Science, technology, wealth, and medicines all have good purposes. But when they replace our faith and worship of God, they become idols and tools that Satan and his army of demons can use. The “model believer” will not trust in them, but trust in God alone, waiting patiently for Jesus to come back to earth and set up his kingdom. The model believer is heavenly minded, and not worldly worthless.

Are you a model believer, or an idolater?

The Authority to Heal

Medicine: Idolatry in the Twenty First Century

The subject of “authority” and health is one that affects every living person on the planet today, and everyone reading this article. Here in the 21st Century, various government agencies regulate “health” and operate under laws and regulations as to just who has the authority to practice healing. This would include the World Health Organization (WHO) internationally, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States.

“Health” of course is generally defined today as “practicing medicine,” and the authority given by government to “practice medicine” is tightly controlled through government licensing. Someone not licensed, or using unapproved products for healing, face arrest and imprisonment.

A similar situation existed during the First Century. Jesus and his disciples did not follow the laws set forth by the government body of their day, and their system of healing was far superior. When common people outside the educated ruling class dared to oppose their authority and implement healing in Jesus name, they faced arrest and even execution in the First Century.

The authority of Jesus is still in place today, as is his healthcare plan. Just as there was during the days and times of Jesus’ earthly life and immediately afterward, there is a competing health care system in place today that denies the authority of Jesus, and would feel threatened if enough people started being healed through Christ’s healthcare plan. To oppose the authority of today’s medical system and their approved cures is to risk punishment and even imprisonment.

The current healthcare system is not a “healthcare” system at all, but a “medical” system designed to bring great profit to the pharmaceutical companies and others who profit from treating sick people. If enough people started exercising the authority of Jesus to see cures without having to pay for medical care, it would threaten their business, and opposition would be just as fierce as it was during the days of Jesus and the early disciples. But will that ever happen?

Medicine: Idolatry in the Twenty First Century

Medicine: Idolatry in the Twenty First Century