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  • Virginia Brown

Functional Idols

Do you serve a functional idol? This question was posed during my attendance at conference hosted by Relational Wisdom 360. The question comes from Jas 4:1–3, which reads,


“From where are conflicts and from where are quarrels among you? Is it not from this, from your pleasures that wage war among your members? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”


The process of a functional idol involves four steps. Step one is “Desire.” I desire something, often a good thing. Step two is “Demand.” This occurs when a desire is not fulfilled, so I demand what I want. This desire exerts control over me, giving birth to a “functional god.” This idol is something other than God that we set our heart on, that rules us, that we trust, find fulfillment in, fear, or serve (Ez 14:2–5). Step three is “Judge.” This occurs when others who fail to provide what I demand, often at the expense of relationships. The final step is “Punish.” I hurt those who don’t serve my functional idol with ungodly words, coldness, unkind facial expressions, intimidations, threats, and, sadly, even violence.


Functional idols are individualistic. They serve a personal interest that we require everyone to worship. I was stunned by how easy it is for secular or worldly issues to become part of the church. When idols grip our heart, we force the church to worship false gods. Trusting in God alone is the only way for believers to keep themselves from idols (1 John 5:21). Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker is a great resource on this topic. I highly recommend it!


Rick Vallery

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