How Quickly We Fall into Idolatrous Worship
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 May 12
A highway underpass is a strange place for worshippers to gather, but that is exactly what is happening in Chicago. A stain on the wall of an underpass resembles a woman, and some believe that woman is the Virgin Mary. The stain is attracting a large number of worshippers, and indeed others.
The site gained media attention when Victor Gonzalez was arrested for scrawling the words "Big Lie" in shoe polish over the image. He was charged with criminal damage to state-supported property. Gonzalez told relatives the visitors to the site were worshipping a graven image in violation of the Second Commandment. "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 nor 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 fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments (Ex. 20:4-6)."
Using a degreaser to clean the wall the next day on their lunch break, Rosa Diaz and Anna Reczek provided what they obviously deemed a valuable service to those who came to venerate the Virgin Mary. "Onlookers said they again could see the Virgin Mary. The Illinois Department of Transportation said the stain was likely the result of salt runoff on the emergency turnoff area under the Kennedy Expressway." No doubt the worshippers believe a miracle is behind the image.
Literally hundreds of people have flocked to the site to view the image. Devotional candles are lit and left along with other gifts or religious artifacts. Many kneel before the image in prayer while others take photographs. Many of the gathered touch the image and make the sign of the cross on it or before it.
The sad part of the whole affair is the depravity of man on display. Human beings have a need to worship something tangible though the Scripture says we "walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)." Superstition and mysticism are part of the fallen condition in which human beings find themselves apart from Christ. "Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious (Acts 17:22)." The worshippers under the Kennedy Expressway are no different from the Israelites who fashioned a golden calf to worship not longer after the Ten Commandments were given. How quickly men and women turn to idols.
But, it doesn't have to be images or idols in the sense that most persons think. How quickly Christians fall into idolatry without even realizing their error. In Col. 2:18, Paul is combating the Colossian heresy which was comprised of a strange mixture of early stage Gnostic dualism, Jewish legalism, asceticism to a certain degree, and angelology. He says here, "Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind."
First, Paul says "let no one cheat you of your reward." Paul again warns the Colossian believers in regard to the heretical teaching going on in the church. They were in danger of losing their reward by virtue of false teaching. The phrase has reference to the Greek games in which a "crown" of laurel was given to the various winners. Christians are promised various "crowns" including those of victory, righteousness, rejoicing, etc. The Christian's ultimate reward is Christ Himself and these "crowns" will be cast at his feet in worship.
The problem for the Colossians lies in the fact that they were in danger of turning from Christ. They were essentially exhorted to persevere in the faith once for all delivered to the saints. They were to stay the course and run the race with endurance that they might obtain the prize. Christians who listen to false teachers, even for a moment, are in danger of being cheated of their reward. The problem with false teachers is the subtlety of deception they perpetrate upon unsuspecting believers hungry for spiritual things.
Second, Paul exhorts the Colossians not to "[take] delight in false humility and worship of angels." The phrase "false humility" is sometimes translated "voluntary humility." It has to do with an act of the will. Paul's emphasis is a negative one and that emphasis is lost in a literal translation. The humility to which Paul refers is not a biblical or godly humility, but an outward humility flowing from an act of the will as opposed to a humility flowing from the heart. It is a willful or hypocritical humility and is thus properly translated "false humility."
The humility of which Paul speaks has to do with outward appearance, in particular, an outward and false piety in worship. Paul's warning is akin to our Lord's warning in Matt. 6:5: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward." Note that the reward they have is praise of men. They miss out on the true reward: praise from God. Paul is concerned for the Colossians in the same way.
This false humility had to do with a higher form of worship. Some commentators feel that the Colossians were worshipping angels. This interpretation will not stand on contextual, historical, or grammatical grounds. Grammatically, "worship of angels" refers to the type of worship in which the angels engage, not worship rendered to angels. Historically, it is unlikely that early "Christian" Gnostics or Jewish legalists were rendering worship to angels. Contextually, the "worship of angels" is a descriptor of the "false humility" in which the Colossians were engaged. They felt they had a higher form of worship than other believers in the church who only engaged in the type of worship rendered by mere men.
The concept is akin to those at Corinth who felt they were superior to other members of the church who did not have the sensational gifts. The Colossian problem is more akin to persons who believe they engage in an angelic type of personal worship. Those who do not engage in such are spiritually inferior in their minds. Paul says this notion is sinful. There is no such thing as an angelic worship in which men can engage. The premise is false and Paul says those who engage in such are in danger of losing their reward.
Third, Paul gives two reasons men should not suppose they engage in a super spiritual form of worship akin to that of the angels. The first reason thy should not suppose such is that they are "intruding into those things which [they have] not seen." When individuals think they worship as the angels do they are intruding into things they have not seen. They have not been to the spiritual realms and therefore have no idea of what they speak. They are ignorant and demonstrate their ignorance by their arrogant, false worship.
Paul says as much by virtue of the second reason he gives as to why men should suppose they engage in a worship akin to the angels. Those who think they do such are "vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind." Not only are they puffed up, but they are vainly puffed up. They are puffed up in themselves and that notion is nothing but vanity. It is hollow and useless. They are vainly puffed up in their own "fleshly mind[s]." They are engaged in a fleshly, that is sinful, way of thinking.
Paul says these individuals "take delight" in these things. They may exude a genuineness and joy that surpasses that of other believers. The problem lies in the fact that sin is often delightful. Some of the most joyful expressions may be seen in the faces of those in the midst of blatant sin. The deception here is that the activity in which these individuals were engaged appeared to be spiritual. Thus, it may appear that they indeed are more spiritual then others. But sadly, it is a dangerous heresy. Let us shun any notion of super spiritual worship. Let us be content with rendering praise to God from hearts that have been transformed by the Spirit and grace of God.
While bowing down to an image under the Kennedy Expressway is not exactly what Paul is talking about, application can certainly be made in terms taking delight in things that are fleshly. God alone is worthy of worship. Upon seeing an angel, the apostle John fell down before him in worship. The angel admonished him, "See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!"
Paul expands upon his preceding thought in Col. 1:19. Not only were some prone to "taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which [they] ha[d] not seen, vainly puffed up by [their] fleshly mind[s.], but these individuals were "not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God." The problem with those who are discontent with the Scriptures, the normal operations of the Spirit of God, and the worship of Christ alone lies in the fact that they are always seeking something more. In so seeking, they are "not holding fast to the Head." That is, they are not holding fast to Christ and His sufficiency. He is the Head of the church and He is the One to whom Christians look. Christians are in danger of not holding fast to Him when they focus on angelic worship, experiential highs, or even the Holy Spirit Himself. Our focus is not the Spirit, but Christ. It is not that Christ points to the Spirit, but that the Spirit points to Christ. Our focus is certainly not the Virgin Mary or a supposed image of her which is nothing more than salt runoff under and expressway.
Christ is the One "from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God." The church is pictured in many places as the body of Christ. The church is nourished by Christ Himself. The church is knit together by Christ Himself. The church grows as it focuses on Christ. The church grows with the increase that is from God, not from men. It is God who provides spiritual sustenance and growth for and in the church. A contrived worship, no matter how super spiritual it appears to be, no matter how miraculous the circumstances seem, not matter how much we want to reach out and touch, can never do such. Super worship and the worship of images or anything other than God Himself is unnecessary and sinful. Christ is sufficient.
Moreover, Christ is not one aeon among many as the Gnostics would teach. He is the Head of the church and it is from Him that the church is "nourished and knit together." In this verse we see an affirmation of Trinitarian doctrine as Christ is the One who nourishes and knits together the church. At the end of the verse, it is said that the church "grows with the increase that is from God." Here we have one sentence and one thought. Christ and God are used interchangeably. Christ is not one god among many, He is the Head of the church, and He is God. Paul has made this point previously. He simply affirms it again here. Nor do we find anything here about Mary or images. We simply find Christ.