1 John 5:21
Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
IdolatryBritish Weekly Pulpit1 John 5:21
Self-Guardianship Against IdolatryW. Jones 1 John 5:21
Spiritual IdolatryJohn Wesley 1 John 5:21
The Sin of IdolisingJ. N. Pearson, M. A.1 John 5:21
The True God and ShadowsH. H. Gowen.1 John 5:21
The Three Certainties of the EpistleR. Finlayson 1 John 5:18-21
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. The connection of this verse with the preceding seems to be in the antithesis between the" true God" and "idols." Loyalty to the "true God" demands separation from all false gods. Notice -

I. THE AFFECTIONATE APPELLATION BY WHICH THE APOSTLE ADDRESSES HIS READERS, "Little children." "He parts from them with his warmest and most affectionate word of address." This form of address suggests:

1. The spiritual paternity of the apostle. Probably many of those to whom he was writing were his children in the Lord, begotten by his ministry - by his preaching, his prayers, and his faith. Very tender and sacred is this relationship (cf. chapter 1 John 2:1; 1 Corinthians 4:14, 15; Galatians 4:19; Philemon 1:10).

2. The spiritual affection of the apostle. This is delicately yet clearly indicated by the use of the diminutive.

3. The spiritual authority of the apostle. His relation to them, his affection for them, and his large and ripe experience, combined to invest him with sacred and commanding influence. And, as "little children," his readers needed guidance, and owed to him obedience.


1. The nature of the sin to be guarded against. Idolatry. Originally it seems to have comprised two things:

(1) the attempt to represent the Divine Being by visible and material forms;

(2) the offering to these forms the worship which belongs only to God. Some are in danger to-day of falling into idolatry of this kind through the use in worship of pictures and statues designed to represent the Saviour. But the essence of idolatry is giving to another the love and reverence and devotion which are rightly due to God alone. Many make an idol of riches. Money is their god, and they devote all their powers and opportunities to the eager pursuit of it. "Covetousness... is idolatry." Others worship pleasure. They live but for amusement, and endeavour to subordinate everything to their personal gratification. And others make honour, or fame, or power, their god. We may make an idol of some beloved relative or friend - wife, husband, or child. Or, and this is in some respects worst of all, a man may make a god of himself - may think first and chiefly of himself, study his own interests and happiness, and love himself supremely. It has been well said, "Wooden idols are easily avoided, but take heed of the idols of gold. It is no difficult matter to keep from dead idols, but take heed that thou worship not the living ones, and especially thyself; for as soon as thou arrogatest to thyself either honour, or praise, or knowledge, or power, thou settest thyself in the place of God, and he has declared that he 'will not give his glory to another.'" And this sin offers the greatest dishonour and wrong and insult to God.

2. The damager of the sin to be guarded against. This may be seen from the following considerations.

(1) The worship of anything less than God cannot satisfy our spiritual nature. God has made us for himself, and our souls cannot rest until they rest in him.

(2) The worship of anything less than God dwarfs and degrades man's spiritual nature. The exercise of real worship transforms the worshipper into likeness to the object worshipped; e.g., the idolatry of riches will gradually mould man into a groveling, grasping miser; of power, into a ruthless, despotic tyrant, etc.

(3) The worship of anything less than God will lead to bitter disappointment and irretrievable loss. Sooner or later, the idolater will be awakened from his delusions, and then he will find that his god is a poor sham, and that, as for himself, he has "forsaken the Fountain of living waters, and hewed him out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." And how terrible is death to the idolater! Death may take from him the wife whom he loves more than he loves God, or the child, etc. And when he dies he must leave his idols behind him - his money, etc. "We brought nothing into the world, neither can we carry anything out." "When he dieth he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him." And then will arise the bitter cry, "Ye have taken away my gods; and what have I more?"

3. The method of guarding against this sin. The most effective preservative against idolatry is growing fidelity to God. He who assiduously cultivates reverent attachment and hearty devotion to him cannot fall into idolatry. "The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." - W.J.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols
I. WHAT IS THE RIGHT NOTION OF IDOLATRY, AS IT STILL PREVAILS EVEN AMONG NOMINAL CHRISTIANS?" I answer generally; whatever is so desired and loved, so trusted in or honoured, as to displace God from His preeminence is an idol. Accordingly the objects of human idolatry are exceedingly numerous; and one individual is far from being constant to the same. We see the idol of yesterday cast to the moles and bats today; and that which is deified today may probably be trampled in the mire tomorrow. This multiplicity of idols, this unsteadiness of taste and affection appeared among the heathen polytheists. It is the proper curse and punishment of forsaking the Creator that the heart roam from creature to creature with a sickly capriciousness, and never know where to settle. Consider, then, whether or not you are immoderately attached to any earthly object; to any friend or relation; to money, power, learning, reputation, pleasure, popularity.


1. What is their effect in filling your mind, and memory, and imagination? What do your thoughts chiefly run upon? To what do they naturally tend — God or Mammon? Your memory too, what scenes and discourses does it most fondly review? Those of a spiritual and devout, or those of a worldly cast? Tell me, also, which way your fancy flies when it makes excursions. To airy castles of augumented wealth and importance in this world; to higher distinctions, and finer houses, and more abundant comforts; or to scenes of heavenly holiness and bliss? Try yourselves, again, as to the influence of temporal things upon your religious exercises.

2. Is your sensibility to sin as lively as ever? If you have lost ground in this respect, and are less particular than once you were, what has so sadly altered you? Has it not been too warm an attachment to this or that person; too keen a solicitude for this or the other acquisition?

3. Are you greatly elated by gain, and greatly dejected by loss in your worldly affairs and connections? In thought survey your possessions and still more your friends. Now, which of all these is dearest to you? Have you ascertained? Then I ask whether you could bear to part with that possession by the stroke of misfortune; with that friend by the stroke of death? Ah, you exclaim, it would break my heart to be deprived of such a blessing. Would that indeed be the ease? Then tremble lest that blessing turn into a curse by proving your idol.

III. SOME OF GOD'S METHODS OF DEALING WITH SUCH IDOLATERS; for He is a jealous God. "The idols He will utterly abolish." Sometimes He sweeps them away as with a whirlwind. They are smitten to the ground and disappear in a moment. Health, strength, beauty, knowledge, fame, wealth, just now they were flourishing like a flower; and like a flower they have faded away. Sometimes the cup of idolatrous happiness is not dashed from our lips, but wormwood is mingled with it. God embitters to us our darling enjoyments, so that where we looked for peace and comfort we find nothing but misery. Was it the husband you loved more than God? That husband becomes faithless and unkind. Was it the wife? She grows sickly and fretful. The child? He turns out wild; or is lost to you in some other way. Be assured that the over-eager pursuit of any worldly good is full of mischief and peril. And this dreadful consummation occurs when God leaves us to our idols; when he suffers them to take and keep possession of our souls. "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone. Leave him to his fatal infatuation. Let him take his fill of carnal delights till the day of repentance is closed and judgment bursts upon him." Merciful God, sever us from our idols by whatever visitation thou mayest see fit; only leave us not bound up with them to perish in the day of Thy coming!


1. Exercise a sleepless vigilance, kept awake by a sense of your proneness to fall into this evil; and be much in prayer for Divine help, conscious that you are too weak to preserve yourselves without assistance from above. Understand, however, that what you have mainly to guard against is not any particular object, but the turning of that object into an idol.

2. Do not heedlessly form such connections and acquaintances, whether by marriage or partnership in business or domestic service, as threaten to absorb the heart and alienate the affections from God. Recollect that it is easier to abstain from making idols than afterwards to put them away.

3. Think much of the vanity of human things; what they really are and of what account. Often the dearest idol gives birth to the greatest sorrow. How common the remark upon something of which high expectations were conceived, "It has turned out quite the reverse." Oh, truly, it is most unwise to set our heart upon a gourd which may wither away at any moment and leave us more painfully sensible than ever of the scorching sunbeams.

4. Never forget that it is the prime end of the gospel to unbind your heart from the creature in order to its being reunited to your Father in heaven. Are you not to be "temples of the Holy Ghost"; to be sanctified into "an habitation of God through the Spirit"? What then have you "to do any more with idols"?

(J. N. Pearson, M. A.)

By the "true God" St. John means the God not only truth speaking, but true in essence, genuine, real; by "shadows" or "idols" he means the false principles which take possession of the senses — the unreal reflections of the only Real. There was in deed plenty of need for this warning in St. John's day and in the Churches under his care. Perhaps the antithesis of Christianity and the world is not now so sharply apparent. But the contrast still exists. Although the twilight realm may be vast, yet broad and deep are the shadows which men take for realities, and live in them, and worship them, and believe in them. Can there be a more evident example of shadow worship than the devotion of the world to the material — which in reality is the immaterial? In every form of matter there is indeed the hint of God, but it is a hint only, the pledge of the reality, not the great Reality Itself. It is from heedlessness of this great truth that the First Commandment of the Decalogue, which some imagine completely needless for themselves, is perhaps really more necessary than any of the other nine. For all around us is a world worshipping sham gods of its own deification. How then does Christ teach us the eternal distinction between shadows and realities? In His temptation we have exhibited to us the whole matter in a nutshell. Temptation is the battle of alternatives, the choice between the high and the low, the real and the shadowy. Alexander, conqueror of the world, wept for worlds beyond to conquer: Caesar, with his hand grasping Satan's gift of the world empire, dreamed of something more real when he told the Egyptian priest he would give up all, even Cleopatra herself, to discover the mysterious sources of the Nile. It is this reality, this wider con quest, this source of eternal life, which has been man's search in all his philosophies and religious systems. Napoleon, beset with quagmires in Egypt, bade his officers ride out in all directions, the first to find firm ground to return and lead the way for the rest. So man's heart has bidden him ride out in every direction to seek the Real, and St. John comes back from his fellowship with Jesus, and cries, "This is the real God and the life which is eternal. Little children, guard yourselves from the sham gods."

(H. H. Gowen.)

British Weekly Pulpit.
If an idol is a thing which draws the heathen away from the living God, anything which does this for us may be named an idol.

I. SELF. Love of self is born in us, and if not early checked will be our master. It feeds upon falsehood, unkindness, greediness, and pride. You must gratify it at whatever cost, and then it demands more and more. Self is a dreadful idol. Beware of it.

II. DRESS. You may forget the pearl in anxiety about its setting.

III. PLEASURE. Do not children encourage the passion for exciting amusements till they are miserable without them, though so many innocent recreations remain to them? We have known children whose Sundays were a weariness to them, and their studies a punishment. Their pleasures were their idols.

(British Weekly Pulpit.).

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