When the apostle Paul visited ancient Greece and saw hundreds of idols in various forms acknowledging its panoply of gods, and today, people still worship perhaps millions of idols without ever realizing them as such.
“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!”
– Psalm 135:15-18
In the Bible, the apostle Paul visited the city of Athens in ancient Greece. It was a place known as Mars Hill, where hundreds of idols are illuminated by the sun. Paul noticed an altar inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.
The apostle wisely seized the opportunity to identify the Jewish and Christian God as their unknown God. Paul told them:
“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”
– Acts 17:22-23
The apostle then proclaimed the God of Abraham to the Greeks.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, they should inhabit the whole earth; he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'”
– Acts 17:24-28
In essence, the apostle Paul told the people of Athens that their “unknown God” was the most important and the one and only God of all. He explained that this God wasn’t an inanimate object but an invisible God who proved himself as coming in human form as Jesus Christ and living, dying, and rising from the dead. Some of the people who heard Paul speak became believers and followers.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
– Galatians 5:19-21
Many people wrongly believe that an idol is some type of figure or figurine that someone worships. Something nonliving made of perhaps stone, wood, metal, or plastic. But there is hidden idol worship that many are entirely unaware of yet fully engaged in.
By biblical definition, an idol is anything that takes precedence over God in your life. Anything you put foremost in your life can be equivalent to idolatry.
It is very telling that we often call certain human beings our idols or label them things such as “teen idol,” “sex symbols,” and the like. They are very much idolized, and many are worshiped as such, becoming idolatry.
Some examples would include celebrities, sports teams, musicians, hobbies, pastimes, even zealotry over one’s career. It would also involve partying, sex, and the pursuit of pleasure.
The late Reverend Billy Graham wrote: “These become gods. While we are busy humanizing God, we are deifying man. Our idols are not statues of gold and marble; our idols come from the things we love the most: celebrities, behaviors, etc.”