World Wide Wolfmueller

Law and Gospel in Joyful Clarity

The Idolatry of Giving to God

God doesn’t need anything from us. He is not poor or hungry or cold. He is not in want.

For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. (Psalm 50:10-12)

And yet, most Christians like their lives like they are constantly giving God something. “I’m giving my life to God. I’m giving God my best.” We’ve never stopped to ask if the Lord wants us to give Him our life. In fact, if we were to pause and ask that dangerous question we might find that the Lord is the one who gave us life, and presumably He wants us to have it. But more, this seemingly pious and humble sentiment of serving and giving to God is nothing less than idolatry.

Think about it, if the Lord is so poor that He needs something from you, who is God?

Martin Luther hints at this in the Large Catechism. Unfolding the First Commandment, he describes “extreme idolatry” as follows:

Besides, there is also a false worship and extreme idolatry, which we have hitherto practiced, and is still prevalent in the world, upon which also all ecclesiastical orders are founded, and which concerns the conscience alone, that seeks in its own works help, consolation, and salvation, presumes to wrest heaven from God, and reckons how many bequests it has made, how often it has fasted, celebrated Mass, etc. Upon such things it depends, and of them boasts, as though unwilling to receive anything from God as a gift, but desires itself to earn or merit it superabundantly, just as though He must serve us and were our debtor, and we His liege lords. What is this but reducing God to an idol, yea, [a fig image or] an apple-god, and elevating and regarding ourselves as God? But this is slightly too subtle, and is not for young pupils. (Martin Luther, Large Catechism I.22-23, Concordia Triglotta)

There’s more Luther like this in his commentary on Isaiah 66. Isaiah’s critique of Israel is reaching a crescendo. The Israelites think that they are serving God, helping God, giving something to God, and the prophet gives this idolatry a beat down.

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?  All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:1-2)

You think your sacrifices are so fantastic? Take this:

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations. (Isaiah 66:3)

Pow! Our friend Luther will help drive the point home (and look, you have to read this quotation. Everything else is building up to this):

So here the prophet confounds them: “What are you building for Me? Were not the wood, the keys, the stones, yes, the builder himself, Mine to begin with, and you want to give them to Me?” Madness possesses us that we want to give God something, when everything is His and He has no need of what we have. We were not created by God to give to Him but to give to our neighbor. I can give a cow something, but I cannot give God anything. Away with the sacraments, annual observances, and all our own righteousnesses by means of which we want to give God something! You must know that you got everything you have from God and that He does not need what you have. This we must give to God, that we acknowledge Him as the dispenser of all the world’s goods. We make Him a beggar who presumably needs our merits and our works. He will give you the fire of hell. Summary: If I were to keep the commandments of the Second Table perfectly and would want to trust in that and boast of it before God,k then I would be sinning against the First Commandment, which teaches that I have received everything and can give nothing. Summary: The only sacrifice that God wants is that we say, “Everything is Yours, nothing is mine. Religion, sacrifice, and righteousness are Yours.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Isaiah [66:1], Luther’s Works 17.397)

Thinking God needs what we have is madness, extreme idolatry. Our Lord does not want to receive, but to give, to serve, to love, to die. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) True worship is not giving to God, but being served, forgiven, by Jesus.

3 Comments

  1. Hey hey, blog of the week. Thanks, Jeff. It gets you more synodical credit.

  2. Is “synodical credit” sort of like Table Talk Radio points? :o)

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