Post Series on 1 John 5:18-20:
- He Who Was Born of God Protects You from the Touch of the Evil One (1 John 5:18)
- The Whole World Lies in the Power of the Evil One (1 John 5:19)
- Jesus is the True God and Eternal Life (1 John 5:20)
- Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21)
The last verse of John’s letter has puzzled commentators for centuries: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” John has written nothing of idols throughout his entire letter–why would he end on this note?
Certainly, formal idolatry is not addressed whatsoever at any point in this letter. John nowhere mentions the making of idols, nor sacrificing to them, nor eating the meat sacrificed to them, nor cultic prostitution that was so prevalent in idol worship, nor even the human sacrifice that many idolatrous gods demanded. These issues are confronted elsewhere in the Bible, but no here.
On another level, however, we might say that John has written about nothing other than idolatry–if we define idolatry as anything that distracts us from worshiping the true God, the Lord Jesus Christ, by worshiping false gods, false ideas about the true God, or false obedience to the commandments of the true God.
If, then, we take idolatry as a general idea, encompassing all things that distract us from Christ, then this is the perfect point on which to end the book. It’s almost like a word of application after a long sermon, bringing everything into real-life perspective.
And so let’s begin to apply John’s application to our own lives. Which things are distracting us from Christ? Some may be illegitimate temptations that push us toward sin, and away from Christ. Any kind of sin is idolatry, where we are valuing something that Jesus has forbidden over Jesus himself.
Or perhaps your biggest sins are legitimate relationships and activities in your life (e.g., job, spouse, children, friends, hobbies) that consume your life to an unhealthy degree. You elevate them beyond where God has intended them, and they become more and more the idols that you worship.
The way to conquer idolatry, no matter what form it might take, is not simply to try really, really hard to “keep yourselves from idols”–these are the words John uses, but it isn’t all that he has said. All the rest of of 1 John concerns itself with the glory of Christ in his gospel; only in this one last verse does John tell us to keep ourselves from idols.
Instead, the way to conquer idolatry is to seek to love Christ more than your idols. When sinful temptations arise in our hearts, we must preach to ourselves that we are really looking for Christ, not the temptation. When legitimate relationships and activities seek to crowd out Christ, we must preach to ourselves that we will lose whatever we put before Christ; only when we seek the kingdom of God first does God add to us all these other things. The gospel is always the best weapon when we fight against temptation.
And so, little children–keep yourselves from idols.