1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 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, and to wait for His Son from heaven…” (ESV)
As a football fan, I am still trying to make sense of the result of last night’s World Cup semi-final match between Brazil and Germany. 7-1 was an astonishing score-line. It has been described as extraordinary, shocking, and humiliating. For a country with such a proud footballing heritage to suffer the ignominy of a complete thrashing, it will take some getting used to. For Brazil, this wasn’t just a defeat at the hands of a great footballing rival. This was something more akin to the demolition of hopes and dreams. A sixth World Cup, and on home soil; it had the taste of destiny about it.
And that dream is in tatters. To be fair, some had thought that losing their star player, Neymar, was an end to their challenge. Many Brazilian football fans were in mourning for his loss – a broken vertebrae in the last match meaning he will be out for several weeks – and even his team-mates seemed to be dominated by his absence. As the national anthems rang out, Brazilian players held up his No 10 shirt. He may not be there in person, but in spirit he certainly was seems to be the message. What struck me, though, was the faces of the Brazilian football fans as they watched their football team hit self-destruct, as goal after goal went in. Hurt, anguish, confusion, despair, were there for the world to see. This really mattered to them.
For many football fans, and I wonder whether this is even more the case in Brazil, football is seen almost with religious overtones. Where else do people sing other than in a church or a football stadium? When we invest our lives, our hopes and dreams in something or someone, what happens when they fail, or disappoint? The Bible calls these things idols. Idolatry doesn’t have to take the form of worshipping figures made of metal or wood. It is worshipping anything other than the living God, turning a good thing into an ultimate thing, as Tim Keller has written. It is whatever we derive our ultimate hope, joy, meaning and satisfaction from. We invest our lives in them, expecting something in return.
The turning point, perhaps, comes when we realise those idols are false, full of empty promises; they are powerless, and will always disappoint. They can never provide the sustained joy, hope and life that we so desperately need. Our idols may not be football, but whatever they are, we need to turn from them to the living God, recognising that they cannot provide us with the happiness we need. Is it any wonder that when things don’t go to plan (our plan) we end up angry or despairing?
Question: what are our idols?
Jesus, however, offered life, and life in all its fullness. Only the living God, who has revealed himself perfectly in Jesus Christ, can offer us that. Because he is the only God, and only he has the power and the right to be everything we need. As the source of life and love, he alone is worthy of worship. Unlike our man-made idols, he will never fail or disappoint.