You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exod. 20:4-6; Deut. 5:8-10)
Here we have the second commandment of the Ten Commandments, which is more properly the commandment against actually bowing down and worshipping false gods or idols or statues. Growing up in a Roman Catholic home, it was a common scene to be inside a church and witness countless people bowing down before statues, kissing their feet, lighting candles for them, and praying to them. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church would say their adherents are not actually worshipping these statues but simply paying homage to them and honoring them. However, to go to anyone or anything else other than God himself and ask for help is to imply that God cannot help you with your problem, that your best chance of being helped is by going to Mary or St. Martin or St. Lazarus or St. Joseph or any of the countless other saints. To bow down before a figure and pray to it and ask for help or guidance or wisdom is to esteem greater honor and value and worship to that person than to God himself. And the reason for not doing this is made quite clear in the commandment itself. In v.5 God says, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.” God wants all glory and worship and honor for himself. There are many places where God makes clear that he will not share his glory with anyone else (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11). The early church understood this quite well which is why many of them were fed to the lions in the Colosseum merely for refusing to bow before a statue of Caesar and burn incense to it. Sadly, there were many less committed Christians who did bow the knee and burn incense believing that their external actions were not a reflection of what they believed in their heart. However, Jesus makes clear that “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33; Lk 12:9). Jesus was not just speaking empty words. This is not an empty threat. To deny Christ by our words or by our actions is to bring upon ourselves the rejection of God. This may seem like a mere academic point, particularly for those living in the United States, but there will come a day when believers will be asked to choose between the state and our commitment to Christ. I believe that day is not very far off.
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