1 Timothy 1:3-4 (NIV)

3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.

I wonder if Paul knew, when he wrote this letter to Timothy, that people were taking items, such as his handkerchief, that had touched him and using them as a means to be healed? (Acts 19:12) I think he would have been appalled if he knew, but I don’t think he’d have been surprised. What I wonder though, is where is the line drawn between idolatry and faith? Were the people healed because the items touched Paul or by their belief in the holiness of Paul or their faith in God?

The Second Commandment states, “not [to] make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4). For thousands of years, people made idols from the things around them to worship the other things around them such as the sun, moon, and stars. If the object of worship couldn’t be seen then an object was made that represented that thing and it was worshipped. It’s easier to believe in something when you can see it with your own eyes.

When the Israelites had sinned against God they were punished by poisonous snakes. When they had confessed their sin to Moses, God had Moses craft a bronze snake that would heal anyone who had been bitten by a snake when they looked at it (Numbers 21:4-9). God knew that the people didn’t have the faith to be healed by believing in Him alone, who they could not see, which is why He had Moses craft the bronze snake. However, this same bronze snake later became a false idol to the people that King Hezekiah destroys (2 Kings 18:4).

The story of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and couldn’t be healed by any doctors (Matthew 9:20-22) is one that shows great faith. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell this story and each concludes with Jesus’ declaration to the woman that it was “her faith” that healed her. However, when we read Matthew’s account it’s slightly different:

21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”
22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. (Matthew 9:20-22 NIV)

The woman, in Matthew, was not healed when she touched the cloak. She was healed after she touched the cloak and when Jesus told her that her faith had healed her. In any case, the faith of the woman was not faith that the cloak, itself, could present any healing but that Jesus, the Son of God, could heal her.

In Acts 5:15 we see that “people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by” (NIV). Let’s note that the text doesn’t say that anyone was healed by the shadow. I don’t believe that they were. What stands out here, though, is that the people recognized that Peter was an instrument of healing and thought he was also the source of the healing. Hence, their belief that his shadow could heal people. I don’t know if those people got healed. I know that they would have been healed if they had stopped Peter as he walked by and asked him for healing. We can see proof of that in Acts 5:16, “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed” (NIV).

This is where we can so easily stumble as Believers. When we stop seeing God as the source of power and start seeing His instruments as the source. No one is going to applaud a guitar or a piano for producing beautiful music but we, too often, will credit a teacher of the Gospel as the “power” of God. When we look to determine the line between idolatry and faith I think the key to it is in the source. Whenever we look to anything else as the means to satisfy us and forgetting that it came from God, we are not relying on Him. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a cold refreshing ice tea on a hot day or relax to beautiful music. God is our source for all things good. When we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33 NIV) for all of our needs then we are living in faith in God.

Do you know God? He loves you. He wants you to know Him. He already knows you and He would rather die than not have you in His family. Jesus died for your sins and mine so that we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.