|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
5:18-21 All mankind are divided into two parties or dominions; that which belongs to God, and that which belongs to the wicked one. True believers belong to God: they are of God, and from him, and to him, and for him; while the rest, by far the greater number, are in the power of the wicked one; they do his works, and support his cause. This general declaration includes all unbelievers, whatever their profession, station, or situation, or by whatever name they may be called. The Son leads believers to the Father, and they are in the love and favour of both; in union with both, by the indwelling and working of the Holy Spirit. Happy are those to whom it is given to know that the Son of God is come, and to have a heart to trust in and rely on him that is true! May this be our privilege; we shall thus be kept from all idols and false doctrines, and from the idolatrous love of worldly objects, and be kept by the power of God, through faith, unto eternal salvation. To this living and true God, be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Verse 21. - Keep yourselves from idols; or, guard yourselves from the idols. In verse 18 we had τηρεῖ; here the verb is φυλάξατε. The aorist, rather than the present imperative, is used to make the command more forcible, although the guarding is not momentary, but will have to continue (Compare μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί, John 15:4; τὰς ἐντολὰς τὰς ἐμὰς τηρήσατε John 14:15). What is the meaning of "the idols" τῶν εἰδώλων here? In answering this question it will be well to hold fast to the common canon of exegesis, that where the literal interpretation makes good sense, the literal interpretation is probably right. Here the literal interpretation makes excellent sense. Ephesus was famous for its idols. To be "temple-keeper of the great Artemis" (Acts 19:35) was its pride. The moral evils which had resulted from the abuse of the right of sanctuary had caused the Roman senate to cite the Ephesians and other states to submit their charters to the government for inspection. Ephesus had been the first to answer to the summons, and had strenuously defended its claims. It was famous, moreover, for its charms and incantations; and folly of this kind had found its way into the Christian Church (Acts 19:13-20). As so often happens with converts from a religion full of gross superstition, a good many of the superstitious observances survived the adoption of Christianity. With facts such as these before us, we can hardly be wrong in interpreting "the idols" quite literally. The apostle's "little children" could not live in Ephesus without coming constantly in contact with these polluting but attractive influences. They must have absolutely nothing to do with them: "Guard yourselves and abjure ἀπό them." Of course, this literal interpretation places no limit on the application of the text. To a Christian anything is an idol which usurps the place of God in the heart, whether this be a person, or a system, or a project, or wealth, or what not. All such usurpations come within the sweep of the apostle's injunction, "Guard yourselves from your idols."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Little children, keep yourselves from idols, Amen. From Heathen idols and idolatry, into which the saints in those times might be liable to be drawn, by reason of their dwelling among Heathen idolaters, and being related to them, and by the too great freedom used in eating things sacrificed to idols in their temples; and from all other idols that might be introduced by some who went by the name of Christians, as the Gnostics, who worshipped the images of Simon and Helena; and the passage may be an antidote against the worshipping of images, afterwards introduced by the Papists. Moreover, errors and false doctrines, which are the figments of men's minds, and what they are fond of, may be called idols, and should be guarded against, and abstained from; as also the lusts of men's hearts, and all the evil things that are in the world, which are adored by the men of it; and even every creature that is loved too much is an idol; hence covetousness is called idolatry; nor should any creature or thing be loved more than God or Christ: the one only living and true God, Father, Son, and Spirit, he is only to be worshipped, feared, and loved.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
21. Affectionate parting caution.
from idols—Christians were then everywhere surrounded by idolaters, with whom it was impossible to avoid intercourse. Hence the need of being on their guard against any even indirect compromise or act of communion with idolatry. Some at Pergamos, in the region whence John wrote, fell into the snare of eating things sacrificed to idols. The moment we cease to abide "in Him that is true (by abiding) in Jesus Christ," we become part of "the world that lieth in the wicked one," given up to spiritual, if not in all places literal, idolatry (Eph 5:5; Col 3:5).
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