Nothing but God
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21
Here we are at the last verse of I John. It seems like a a good place for a final summary or a statement of good wishes to John’s reader, and yet, he gives one more warning. It even seems to open a new topic. This is the first time John has mentioned idols.
Some scholars even think the last verse was added on later by someone else. Of course idol worship comes up often in the New Testament. Living in the Roman Empire, John’s original readers would have been surrounded by idol worship. They would have lived among people who went to temples to worship statues and kept their own small shrines at home for prayer. In that way, it’s a reasonable warning, but it doesn’t seem to be connected to anything that came before it.
However, John has been warning his readers about people who preach false gospels, such as false prophets who deny the gospel, people who claim to love God but hate their fellow Christians, and those who deny that Jesus is really God. Images of false gods are not the only idols. Anything that takes the place of the true God is an idol. Money, fame, or relationships can become idols if we prioritize them over God, and believing a lie instead of God’s own truth is also a form of idolatry. So all of the dangers John warns against are, in fact, idolatry. There is only one God and one true gospel, so worshiping anything else, even if it seems almost like the real gospel, is a form of idolatry.
So maybe this last sentence is just a one-sentence summary of John’s message. Hang on to the true God.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. What is an idol for you?
2. How can you keep away from it?
Dear God, keep us focused on You. Protect us from everything that would lead us away from Your truth. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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