21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (I John 5:21)
It is a curious thing when observing the conclusion of a biblical book. Perhaps we are accustomed to a closing like the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), a Pauline Doxology such as “to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:27), or even from the Apostle John who wrote, “20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20-21).
However, in the Epistle of I John the apostle, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, wrote a terse, brief, and abrupt statement of warning to all within the church. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Certainly, a verse which is easy to memorize but perhaps difficult to observe. Let’s break it down.
“Little children.” The phrase little children (Τεκνία; teknia) is again a loving term of endearment which John has expressed several times in this epistle. The phrase can refer to a person of any age for whom there is a special relationship of affection and association. It may mean my child, my dear friend, my dear man, my dear one, my dear lad.
“Keep Yourselves.” The word “keep” (φυλάξατε; phylaxate) means to keep away from and to closely guard. The word is a command. It is not optional. What is to be guarded are “yourselves” (ἑαυτὰ; heauta) meaning the church, believers or followers of Jesus Christ.
From “what” are these little children to guard against? From idols (ἀπὸ εἰδώλων; apo eidolon)! An idol is a false god. It is an unreal supernatural being. It may even be that which seems to be a god but in reality is not.
The Prophet Isaiah wrote these piercing words in Isaiah 44:9-20. Consider them closely in light of the Apostle John’s conclusion.
9 “All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.”
12 “The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god’!”
18 “They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand’?”
However, the idols John has in mind may be more in human form. They are the false teachers of which the apostle called “Antichrists.”
Dr. John MacArthur states that, “John contrasts the term “idols” with “the true God” of v. 20. He has reference here to the false teachers who withdrew from the brotherhood with which they had been formerly associated (2:19). Their false beliefs and practices are the idols from which the readers are commanded to protect themselves. The false teachers upheld the world’s philosophy as superior to God’s revelation as demonstrated in their perversion of basic Christian teaching (faith, love, and obedience). In closing, John once again highlights the importance of adherence to the fundamentals of the faith.”
From the Apostle John, to all of us, let each of us be on our guard from the idolatrous individuals and philosophies seeking to infiltrate the church.
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!