Little children, guard yourselves from idols. -NAS
I have always thought that this sentence felt out of place in the letter. I mean, Jonah ends on a more satisfying note. It seems like the last thing John does is introduce a new topic, and then stop before he develops it at all. It most certainly doesn’t seem like an ending to a letter.
But it is not nearly as out of place as it may seem. I John overall is about Christian living, especially on what marks one as Christian as opposed to one of the world. This final instruction can be seen in that light: obstain from the gods of the world.
It is also important to follow the thoughts starting in verse 18. As a quick review, here again is the flow of John’s final argument:
- We know we are protected
- We know that the world is dominated by evil
- But we also know that Jesus is here now
Considering this, we can view verse 21 as being John’s application of this arguement. The “eidolon” are the images of the evil forces that dominate the world. If Jesus is the power by which we are saved from that evil, then there is no point to return to the evil’s image.
In the pagan world, the people often had very little love for their gods (some did). Often, worship was more motivated by fear than devotion. If the gods were ignored, who knows what they may do! In fact, this is one major issue that Rome had with Christianity: they feared that if it caught on, the gods would be ignored and seek revenge on the empire. Such is the thoughts of pagans.
One can see that if you are converted from such a mentality, there might be the slight fear in your mind. “What of Zeus really did exist? Maybe I should just offer him a little something to be sure. It can only help, right?” However, God will not share us with a bunch of hunks of wood.
John’s arguement then is seen as a simple basis for commanding them to stay away from idols: Christ has come! There is no longer any reason to fear the evil forces that control the world. So stop paying them homage. Doing so pulls you away from Christ.
Often today, many Christians try to do something simular. They try to have one foot in the church, and one foot in the world. “Yes, Jesus is real, but I’m going to cheat on this tax return because I need the money.” “Sure, God is the just judge who will vindicate me, but I’m going to sue this guy anyway to make sure he gets what’s coming to him.” It’s the same kind of mentality.
Humans like to be in control, or at least they like to think that if something is wrong there’s something they can do. This will motivate us to idols and superstitions. But part of being Christian is being mindful that God is the soveriegn one: He’s the one in charge. And He’s good at it! We need to let go of the reigns, and let God be God. Trust that He will protect You, and He will vindicate you, and He will provide for you. You have nothing to worry about.
This marks the end of I John. See you next week.