“Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”
That is the last word in the text, and the last word of the epistle.
But we would like to begin with it.
You know, of course, that with the use of this little word the apostle does not mean to signify that he now concludes the sentence, or the epistle; so that the word serves as a period, a punctuation mark, indicating the end of a thought. Rather, you know it means that all the apostle had written in the text, as well as in the epistle, he conceives to be the truth.
The truth is the Word of God.
What does not conform to God’s Word is of the lie.
And God’s Word, as it addresses itself to the people of God in the world, is centrally the Son of God come in the flesh, revealing to them the true God. He is the revelation of the true God, and eternal life. (I John 5:20) “This is eternal life, that they may know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
God’s Word is the Holy Scriptures, the infallibly inspired and written Word of God, revealing to us the Christ of God from Genesis to Revelation. This is the truth. It is not a word of man in any sense of the word—of man who always speaks the lie. It is God’s Word from beginning to end. Though God was pleased to use fallible, sinful men to write the Scriptures, He does so in such a way that what they wrote was only His Word. That is the truth. And that is why John adds at the conclusion of our text, and, for that matter, the entire epistle, the “amen.” It signifies that what is written is the truth.
God’s Word is the thesis!
The truth is the thesis!
What opposes God’s Word and the truth, is the antithesis!
The children of God are of the thesis, while the whole world which lieth in darkness is the antithesis. (I John 5:19) “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.” (I John 5:20) So we are of the thesis, the children of God, the children of light.
The thesis is that which is set forth, is fixed, established as positive truth.
The acknowledgment of this is the “amen!”
Scripture always approaches the church of God as living in the world of darkness, and the children of God as living in the flesh. And therefore when it exhorts us, as it does in the text, that exhortation is often molded in a negative form. Hence—
Little children, keep yourselves from idols!
The positive expression of this would be, love and serve the only true God, Who has been made known unto you through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The world in which we live and the flesh in which we dwell assumes the position of the antithesis. It does not want God. It always chooses the idol. It does not want the truth, but the lie.
Keep yourselves from the idol, little children!
The idol, in Scripture, has a twofold significance. It signifies the image or likeness of a heathen god, an image which the heathen worship, which they conceive of as their god. It also signifies that this image or likeness is a false god: a god, which on the very surface is a lie. It is undoubtedly this conception that is intended in the text.
An idol is anyone or anything one may contrive or make, literally or in his imagination, which he conceives to be his god, in distinction from and in opposition to the true God Whom he is commanded in His Word to serve. An idol does not necessarily have to be an object which he can make with his hands. Whenever one departs from revelation, which tells him in no uncertain terms Who and What God is, he forms in his mind an idol.
This sin of idolatry, therefore, is not only peculiar to the heathen then who know not God. It is the sin also which God’s people are liable to commit, and always do commit when they ignore or depart from God’s Word and revelation.
It must not escape your attention that the words of our text are addressed to the church, not to the heathen. The apostle is speaking to the people of God who by nature are always inclined to depart from the true revelation of God. These idols we form in our mind when we worship God, not as He would have us, but as we would serve Him.
The warning is very real, and has serious practical implications. The sin of idolatry on the part of God’s people can also be clearly demonstrated. When God, for example, says in His Work, “Keep my sabbath day holy,” and we on that day do as we please and corrupt it, then we have not only transgressed His commandment but have made for ourselves an idol. When God informs us in His Word that He is omniscient, that He sees and hears and knows all, but we in our thoughts imagine that He is far from us and knows not our secrets—we have made for ourselves an idol. When God instructs us in His Word that His grace is eternal, sovereign, particular, and free, but we conceive of it as being common, temporal, dependent on our will—then we have not the God of the Holy Scriptures, but an idol-god. If I love money and seek it with all my heart so that I am distracted from the service of God, then I seek after an idol. If I form in my mind a conception of God that is not according to His Word, I have made an idol. If, for example, I conceive a God Who is so loving and merciful that He neglects to deal with my sins, then I have an idol. If, when I pray to God, my mind and heart are far from Him, I pray to an idol. If I familiarize, and by my familiarization, bring God down to the level of my next door neighbor, I have made an idol. If I read and study Scripture as I would read a novel, or if I study God’s Word in a mere academic way (the idolatry, by the way, of many ministers) then I have made myself guilty of serving the idol. No doubt you can add to this list of examples.
Keep yourselves from idols!
And “to keep” here has its own significant meaning. Literally it signifies: to guard, to watch over, to keep in safety. Two words appear in the New Testament which are translated: “to keep.” Both words are used together in the gospel of John (17:12) where Jesus said, “While I was with them in the world, I I kept them in thy Name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition. . . .” A study of these two words as they are used’ here and elsewhere would reveal that, though basically they refer to the same thing, there is nevertheless a difference. The one means simply to keep in safety; while the other carries with it the added notion that there is an assault from without that threatens the safety of the keeping. It is this latter word that is used in our text. And that implies that in the matter of keeping we have a battle on our hands. The battle, of course, is not with or against the idol. The idol is a dead object, which can do nothing for you or against you. The modern philosophy which prates about God’s being dead, applies not to the true and living God, but to the idol. No! Our battle is not with the idol. If you leave the idol alone, it will not hurt you; and if you serve the idol, it will do nothing for you. The battle which ensues when you keep yourselves from idols is with ourselves, particularly against your and my flesh. Against our flesh, our old man, we are to take our stand when it is inclined to seek and serve the idol, which it is always inclined to do. We are to guard and keep in safety our true self, the new man in Christ, which is enticed by the old man of our flesh to go after the idol.
This explains why the apostle sounds the warning, the alarm, in the text: Little children, keep yourselves from idols!
As we said, the positive implication of this is: Serve the true God, and Him only!
Him you know, not only because He has revealed Himself unto you, but also because He has given unto you an understanding. He has not only revealed Himself to you, but also in you.
This, God has done through His Son, Jesus Christ.
He is the true God and eternal life!
The apostle John could say this because, as he declares in the first part of this epistle (I John 1:1), he had seen Him with his eyes and handled Him with his hands. And that which he had seen and heard declared he unto us, that we might have fellowship with him and with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (I John 1:3).
Him we are to love and serve, not only because He commands it; but also because He has saved us thereunto.
The apostle Paul puts it this way, as he writes to the Thessalonians: “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (I Thess. 1:9)
We have been saved to serve. That salvation we experience when we know Him and are in Him that is true. And when we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ, as the apostle says in the verse preceding our text, then we are of Him. Then we live the life of the thesis. That is positive living! That is walking in the light! That is revealing the life of Him in Whom we live!
This life of the thesis will of necessity reveal itself in opposition to the idol, the god of the world of darkness. And this is what is meant by living antithetically in the midst of this present age.
Keep yourselves . . .
Such are the addresses to whom this exhortation is directed. When you study this epistle you discover this is the apostle’s favorite term to describe those to whom the epistle is written. No fewer than seven times does the apostle use it. And there must be a reason.
Several explanations have been offered to explain the apostle’s use of this term. Some think the apostle uses the term only to have his readers reflect on the apostle’s age. At the time the apostle wrote this epistle he was quite old, and because of his age conceives of himself as a father, in distinction from his readers as little children. Others, along this same line of reasoning, conclude that the apostle indicates by the use of this term “his long attachment to his readers, to whom he has ever been a kindly father.” Though there may be elements of truth in these explanations, we believe they fail to interpret the real meaning of the expression.
When the apostle addresses his readers in this endearing term, he considers himself to be their spiritual father. Like the apostle Paul writing to Timothy, he conceives of the church as composed of children begotten through the Word, that is, that through the gospel which the apostle was privileged to bring to them, his readers have been born again from above. In this sense he was, under the providence of God, their spiritual father, and the readers are become spiritual children.
But make no mistake about it, the addresses are not merely children begotten by the apostle through the gospel—they are also, and in the first place, children of God.
They are distinguished in every way from the children of the world. The latter are the children of their father, the devil. And therefore they continue to serve the idol. But God’s children reflect the image of Him Who has begotten them No matter how old you get, or how far you have come on the way of sanctification, you remain little children of your great Father-God.
Also it is the prerogative of Father to command, and the duty of children to obey. Never in this relationship is it ever true that the children of God mature to the point where this relationship is in reverse. Never is it true that the children of God mature to the point where they are no longer children. Unto all eternity it will be true that we continue to be the children of God.
Little children, you who have been begotten again by the Spirit of the crucified and resurrected Redeemer, who have been translated from the children of darkness into the children of light, who have been recreated to conform to the image of God, in whose hearts the love of God abounds—keep yourselves from idols!
Little children, you who have been begotten again by the Holy Spirit of Christ through the gospel, so that in your deepest consciousness you know that you are in Him that is true, Who is the true God and eternal life—keep yourselves from idols!
Never allow, not even for a moment, the old man of your sinful and corrupt nature to dictate in your life and walk. Never give way to the enticement of your flesh to go a whoring after the false god, but bring the old man of your sinful nature into subjection. Point out to that old man the truth of revelation, which has made known to you the true and living God in Jesus Christ. Say to it, as Jesus said to Satan, “‘It is written, Thou shalt worship God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”
And you will reveal yourselves as children of the Most High!
That when He shall appear, as He surely will in Jesus Christ in the last day, He may say to you and to me: “Come, ye children, enter into My heavenly and eternal tabernacle, where ye shall serve Me without opposition for ever and for ever.