Just as 1 Corinthians 2:14 warns us not to expect a person who has not placed their faith in Christ for eternal life to respond biblically to life’s situations, so too, Ezekiel 14:4 warns those who would seek wisdom from a godly person that they must first deal with their own heart idols before expecting any benefit from faithful counsel:
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any Israelite sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and then goes to a prophet, I the Lord will answer him myself in keeping with his great idolatry. Ezekiel 14:4
Have you ever wondered why Christians in conflict sometimes fail to hear faithful counsel even though it comes straight from the pages of Scripture? Look no further than Ezekiel 14:4. God makes it clear in this warning that any heart idol—anything a person or church places before love, devotion, and total commitment to God—will be a stumbling block that will prevent God’s freeing message of redemption and reconciliation from even being heard. Heart idols block both eyes and ears and until that idol has been recognized, repented of, and totally put to death by the person or church caught in this wrong worship. Ezekiel 14:4 is similar to Matthew 7:5 in that it warns and instructs us of the absolute necessity of first getting our own “sight” corrected before we seek to pursue any other spiritual reality.
I suppose this is all very obvious, but how easy it is to assume a person is spiritually mature or a church is seasoned in the ways of the Lord. I have learned the hard way never to assume such things. I have spent hours conflict coaching pastors, elders, even entire congregations just to learn that the real issue at the center of their conflicts is not what they all say it is, but rather an idol that has set up residence and taken captive the whole corporate heart! For example, in one church, the idol of success had so taken over that when disappointments arose even after the new building was finished and the all anticipated explosive growth never materialized, the idol continued to feed on the hearts of the saints in such a way that they eventually blamed God. When they didn’t get what they wanted (“ministry success”), their eyes were blinded, their ears were deafened, and their idolatrous worship (of “success”) drew their focus away from preaching the simple Gospel and trusting God with the results. Rather than turning again to the power of God’s Word, they instead trusted in the brick and mortar of beautiful architecture and “consumer focused” postmodern strategies. Their time and treasure revealed their true desire (“success”). They forgot the true goal of Christians and Christian churches: proclaiming the message of Christ crucified and risen and then living to please and honor God as He faithfully, patiently softens hearts and changes lives.
So how then shall we respond to this call on our lives? How do we help our brothers and sisters who are caught in destructive church conflict? Remember first that even people who need help can appear very righteous and mature. Many will not expect you to call first for self-examination. They almost always want you to agree with them that the problem lies in some other direction and not in their own heart’s desires, goals, and secret, deeply disguised idols. But we must all remember Ezekiel 14:4! We are called to deal with our heart idols first and then, when the stumbling blocks have been removed, the real message of freedom in Christ can burst forth in a way that will bring the expectation of bountiful spiritual fruit.
Even godly people, when in conflict, can be taken captive by a dominating heart idol. In their spiritual blindness, they need prayerful help to listen and heed the wisdom of God’s Word.
May we all worship God rightly and turn away from idols!
For the glory of the Lamb,