Imagine a friend comes to you because she is stressed that she might lose her job. Realizing that her anxiety is a result of her idols being threatened or harmed, you ask a few questions to try to discern the idolatry of her heart. Very quickly you conclude that she has made an idol of money. More than anything else, she is worried about what losing her job will mean to her finances. Money is the idol -> it is being threatened by a job loss -> she is stressed.
Knowing that the solution is to fight inferior worship with superior worship, you proceed to tell her, “You have made an idol of money, so you need to worship Jesus instead. Remember, Jesus is better.” Maybe you even throw in 1 Timothy 6:10 about the dangers of the love of money.
Now what you have said is very true, Jesus IS better, but it can often seem very impractical to people. It would be like giving your child a math book for Christmas instead of the video game system he wanted and telling him, “Math is better.” Again, true enough, but it does little to encourage your child’s heart.
Back to our counseling situation: you can almost picture your friend saying, “I know Jesus is better, but I need to pay the bills,” or “I know Jesus is better, but what will people think if I have to downsize?”
What then is the solution? How can we be more practical in our help?
The answer, in part, is this: We need to think more deeply about a person’s idolatry, so that we can more particularly and more practically demonstrate Jesus as supreme.
A person’s idolatry is often simply the means by which she can satisfy the deeper longings of the heart. Your friend doesn’t love money in and of itself; she loves what it represents and what it can accomplish. For instance, if she had a stack of a million one hundred dollar bills, she would likely be pretty happy. If there were some sort of financial crisis and that pile of money was worth only a few cents, she wouldn’t be excited for the same stack of green paper, because it no longer represents nor can it accomplish what she desires.
Think of our 1 Timothy 6 passage. In verse 10 Paul tells us, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” Later, however, in verse 17, he gets to the deeper longings of the heart behind our love of money. He writes, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”
He points out first that people seek money because it provides an identity. He says, “charge them not to be haughty…” In the original Greek, haughty is a compound word meaning to understand your high place. It is to have an exalted opinion of oneself: to think you are better because you have money as oppose to not having money.
Second, he points out that people seek money because it provides security. He writes, “nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches…” People place their hope in riches, because they think there is certainty with them. They believe they are secure because of what they have.
We must not only understand people’s idolatry, but also the deeper desires associated with this idolatry. If we are going to show Jesus as supreme, we must discern what they are really seeking. This might lead you to this question: How can we tell an idol from the deeper desires behind the idol? Ask yourself this question, “What is it they are seeking from their idol, that they are meant to find in Christ?” They aren’t seeking money in Christ, but they might be seeking identity, or security, or pleasure, or hope.
Let me offer three steps that you can us to help people better understand the truth that Jesus is better. (We will use our example above as the case study)
- Identify their idols
- Determine the deeper desires behind their idols
Again, what is it that they seek in money that they are meant to find in Christ? This step is essential, because it moves the vague idea of “Jesus is better” to concrete ways that Jesus is truly supreme. One person may seek money because of identity (nice cars, good zip code, name brand clothes). For another it might be security (dependable cars, solid retirement plan). For another it might be joy (vacations, good food). In each case, they have made an idol of money, but the deeper desires of the heart are VERY different, and so your counsel will vary accordingly.
- Show how the deeper desires of the heart are only truly and fully satisfied in Christ
Paul’s solution in 1 Timothy 6:17 is to “set their hopes… on God.” (He then gives very specific reasons why they should do so). When you determine the deeper desires of the heart, your counsel can be very practical. For the person who seeks money as an identity, you don’t have to leave her with a vague, “Jesus is better.” Rather, you can show her from Scripture that Jesus is better because of what it means to find her identity in him. For the person who seeks money for security you can teach her, from Scripture, what it means to be fully and finally secure in Christ. For the person who seeks money for pleasure (joy) you can show her, from Scripture, what it means to find the deepest and most abiding joys in Jesus.
The point is this: “Jesus is better than money” is a true statement, but it can be a difficult lesson to teach someone. But learning that Jesus is better than money because he provides our true identity, or enduring security, or deep joy, is a lesson that can yield true heart change.
Join the conversation
Do you think ideas like “power” and “control” are idols, or the deeper desires behind the idols? How could we use the truths in this post to apply the gospel to people’s lives?