Over the next few minutes, I want to challenge you to think about what you truly worship. In the book of Exodus, we find the familiar story of Moses going up Mount Sinai and receiving two tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments. As powerful as that story is, what’s even more intriguing is the scene down in the valley.
In Exodus 32 we read that Moses was delayed in his return trip from the mountain, so the people of Israel went to his brother, Aaron, for a little chat: “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him” (v. 1).
When the cats away, the mice do play.
Aaron instructed the people to take off their gold jewelry, from which he crafted a golden calf, and the people said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (v. 4).
Now, don’t miss the significance of the very next verse: “When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it” (v. 5a). And then he announced, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord” (v. 5b).
I’ve read this passage numerous times, and I’ve even preached from it by emphasizing the application of the sin of idolatry and Aaron’s compromise during Moses’ absence. But not until reading Chuck Colson’s book, My Final Word, did I see the impact of Aaron building an altar for the Lord right in front of the golden calf. Colson pointed out that Theologian Cornelius Plantinga called this, “idolatry alongside” (My Final Word, 20).
We tend to think of idolatry as worshiping something or someone other than God, and it is. But in Exodus 32, the sin of the people is not just worshiping a false deity but attempting to worship God alongside something else. The people had their pick: one day they could worship the golden calf, the next day they could worship God. Maybe the people were trying to play it safe. By worshiping both, they could have their cake and eat it, too.
“Idolatry alongside” is not unique to the people of Israel. All of us are tempted to worship God and our job, our money, our house, our reputation, our dreams for our kids’ future. The “and” will get us every time.
John Calvin wrote that people are incorrigibly religious—that is, we were created in such a way that we cannot avoid worshiping someone or something. God created us with this innate expression of putting something on the throne of our lives, whether that something is self, mammon (which is still a reflection of self-worship), or God.
My concern is not just with people “out there” who may commit “idolatry alongside”; my concern is with Christians “in here”—those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ but continue to worship at two altars. Even inside the Church, we worship God and our music; God and our programs; God and our pastor. Don’t believe me? Just ask yourself why people change churches like they’re changing cable television services. Is it because of God or is it because of the “and.” Which altar is more important?
The point is that we all have a choice to make between two altars. What will you worship? Who will you worship? Your marriage or God? Your children or God? Your church or God? When we prioritize God above all else, we discover that “all else” begins to fall into place. The ordering of our lives begins with God at the top of the list, and everything else flows from our worship of Him. How did Jesus put it? “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
Take some time today to look at the altars of your life. Are you prioritizing God above all else, or are you a living example of “idolatry alongside”?