At the end of his first epistle John the Apostle appends a final thought that may appear disconnected from the rest: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (1Jo 5:21) What are idols and how do we keep ourselves from them?
If an idol is merely a physical representation of deity that facilitates worship, then how can covetousness — desiring wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others — also be idolatry? (Col 3:5) Perhaps idolatry is something more than enhancing our worship with an object.
When Paul describes idolaters he provides a clue: “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations … and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image.” (Ro 1:21-23) When we don’t thank God for Who He is we inevitably imagine a different god to fit our own desires. Perhaps this is the heart of idolatry: that God, as He truly is, is insufficient – echoing the dark refrain of covetousness. (Heb 13:5) Whether we physically create a finite image of the infinite, or merely desire one, in some way we’re missing God Himself.
I think God is telling us to be careful to seek Him as He is, and not as we wish Him to be. What we seek we are likely to find; to find God Himself we must cast off all precondition and prejudice as we pursue Him. Evidently, this is also the rare gift of God.
Perhaps then John’s ending is not so disconnected: “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” (1Jo 5:20) Those in Jesus Christ, as He is, find Him utterly satisfying, altogether sufficient … supremely precious. (1Pe 2:7) There is no better place to be. In all our finding then let’s find our place in Him … and stay.