For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God . . . 1 Thessalonians 1:9
Working in addiction medicine, it’s not uncommon for me to encounter addictions with which I am unfamiliar. I understand drug and alcohol addiction. I’ve been there. When I meet a gambling or a shopping addict though, it just boggles my mind. I imagine this is how others look at my drug addiction, but I simply cannot grasp the compulsive need to waste money on those pursuits. They’re just not things with which I struggle.
We’ve all got different indulgences that we turn to though, seeking satisfaction or gratification. For some it’s drugs, but for others, it’s money, work, beauty, status, toys, or popularity. We seek these things because we find immediate gratification in them, but often, these things end up controlling us. They consume our lives as we sacrifice everything for them, pursuing them above all. Anything we look to, hoping to find our life, joy, and meaning, by definition, becomes our god. The problem of course, is that these pursuits are not actually God. They’re just things and so they can never truly satisfy. They are what the Bible calls idols – false gods of our own making.
In today’s passage, Paul commended his audience for abandoning their idols to serve the living and true God. When I think of idols in the biblical sense, I usually think of some golden statue – a man-made object meant to be worshipped. It seems silly to me that anyone ever did that, just like it seems silly to me that anyone would waste their life savings on gambling or shopping. Again, I’m sure this is exactly how others see my drug addiction – as an absurd behavior.
Yet, no matter how absurd, we all have our idols. We all have those things to which we turn to find relief or gratification. The problem is that our idols can never truly satisfy. We were created by God to know life, joy, and peace only in him. When we seek our meaning in man-made pursuits, we engage in futility. By nature, our efforts at immediate gratification eventually will always cause us misery as they leave us empty and hopeless.
If we want to know the authentic life for which we were created, then we must turn from our idols to find our purpose and meaning in the God who made us. We may find momentary pleasure in drugs, gambling, or even shopping, but those things can never truly satisfy us because they are not God. They are simply man-made idols.