I have heard it said that an idol of the heart is a thing that you will sin to get or that you will sin if you do not get it. I think that’s true. I also think that such idols are easy to overlook, easy to justify, easy to accept as a normal part of everyone’s life. Certainly, there are things that our society tells us are simply understood things that you must have or you will sin.
I want to point us to one idol of the heart and the solution Jesus hints at in a parable from Luke 14.
Luke 14:7-11 – 7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The parable here is a very simple one, at least in its surface application. Jesus warns that people at a dinner party should not push and shove for the best seat. It would be very embarrassing to work your way to near the head of the table only to have your host ask you to move for a guest who is more important than you. Instead, Jesus points out to us that we are wiser to take the lowliest seat so that, should our host want to honor us, the host can ask us to move to a better place.
Often when I think of this parable, what I just wrote is about as far as it goes. It is as if Jesus has just given us a nice slice of etiquette to help us navigate a social setting so as to avoid an embarrassing faux pas. But I think there is much more to be found here. It has to do with being a Christian and avoiding a dangerous idol.
The reason I think that this is more than social advice is in the word “everyone.” In verse 11 Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” I do not think that this can be said to be true in every dinner party setting. After all, I think we have all sat in a room, watched a person promote himself shamelessly, and seen that everybody in the room just lets it happen. Often times we would prefer to suffer through a person’s boorish behavior for a couple of hours than to go through the social awkwardness of rebuke.
Instead of being mere social counsel, I believe that the Savior is here asking us to think strongly about the rewards we seek. Self-promotion in this life will lead to ultimate, eternal humbling. Exalt yourself in the here and now, and you will be humbled forever. Godly humility is something the Lord will eternally reward. Of course, this is not about behaviors that will somehow earn a person the grace of God. This is about a reshaping of personal priorities so as to live for the Lord and not for the world.
So, Christian, make some application. Where do you press for the better seat at the banquet? Let me ask it a better way. What reward do you seek in this life? What type of temporal reward for your behavior and achievement do you long to have and bemoan when you do not get? What social or political wrong will not only disappoint you but drive you to sinful distraction? What will you press forward to make sure you have, especially when it comes to recognition? Or, if you will not press to get it, where will you sulk, pout, and drive yourself toward depression if you do not have others see you in a certain way?
I think if we will ask these questions, we are starting to get at what Jesus was doing in this teaching. The parable, after all, is always deeper than the simple story. Jesus is telling us that, if we find our reward in this life, if we press forward to have the lost world around us prop us up, we are heading for a humbling eternity. We cannot, we must not, live for the smiles of the world around us. Whether that be recognition for all the work we do in the church or recognition in the workplace for all we sacrifice, if our desired reward is the applause of men, we are in deep trouble.
But Jesus says that the humble will be exalted. Again, this is not true at every dinner party. But it is true eternally. All who forsake this world and turn to the Lord will find life. All who come to Jesus are to have eyes that are set on things above, not on the things of this world. No, we do not pretend life does not matter. But if we are to get the call of God right, we must see that the rewards that matter are those of heaven. The smiles that matter are the smiles of god. The seat we want is at the table at the marriage feast of the Lamb.
Friends, this can apply in so many ways. Our world tells us to demand what we feel we must have. You must have that vacation. You must have that bonus. You must have that “thank you.” And all of those things can be very good things. It is not wrong to ask about things if you feel you are being overlooked. But if you are willing to sin to get the things you believe you deserve, they are idols. If you drop into despair, if you will sin if they do not come to you, they are idols. And if you chase after the idols of the heart, you are like a person elbowing his way to the high seat at the table. You will be humbled when you find out that was not your place to begin with.
There is a better way. Set your eyes on eternity. Look for eternal reward. Be willing to sit at a lower seat at the table now, because the eternal reward is the one that matters.