February 2

Smooth Stone #3 – Truth and Narcissism (Deuteronomy 11)

Some of my favorite high school memories were in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana with my dad fishing and enjoying the typically calm, balmy beautiful ocean.

While the surface may be placid, lurking below the seabed are oil deposits created by decomposing organic materials that create oil and gas under enormous pressure.

From time-to-time efforts to tap into those oil reserves are overcome by immense pressure, leading to catastrophe.

On April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon floating oil rig suffered a critical failure, the oil well exploded killing eleven people, leading to the largest oil spill in history. What was lurking deep inside the earth suddenly exploded to the surface leading to a human tragedy.

So, it is with humanity. On the surface, all appears calm and placid yet lurking below is the source of human tragedy. When rising to the surface lives are destroyed by wickedness, evil, and ungodliness. 

This is Moses’ concern in Deuteronomy 11:19, when he urges the Israelites to “teach them to your children”.

The phrase “teach them” refers directly to the “words” (vs.18) that Moses had shared with the Israelites. This may be strictly interpreted as the Ten Commandments or the totality of the Law in the Pentateuch.

From our New Testament viewpoint, we might think of those “words” as the Word of God. Moses knows that for the next generation to experience the work of God, live in obedience to God, and avoid idolatry they need to be taught the Word of God.

In today’s blog, we will look at the Word of God and idolatry particularly as it impacts children. 

The Primary Idol That Temps Children

The Primary Idol That Temps Children

One might ask how idolatry is an issue for little children. Is idolatry an issue for a two-year-old?

Let me suggest that idolatry doesn’t become a temptation as you approach and enter adulthood, but rather is an ever-present concern from birth. 

Moses says exactly that in Deuteronomy 11:16.

Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.

In fact, I would suggest that a certain kind of idolatry develops in the life of a child like the oil deposit and as they grow into adulthood it can burst to the surface and bring tragedy. 

Paul speaks directly to this same issue in Romans 1:21-25:

"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen." (NIV)

Paul argues that idolatry leads to immorality (in this case sexual immorality), but he goes on linking idolatry to all kinds of “wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity” (vs.29).

Like Moses, centuries earlier, Paul sees the catastrophic effect idolatry has on human life. It is no wonder that Moses was concerned about the children of Israel and future generations. 

When we think of idolatry, we tend to imagine graven images, statues, and “golden calves” that are worshipped and ascribed with divine qualities.

However, this narrow view ignores the more subtle and impactful temptations that children face today. Idolatry is defined by N.T. Wright as “giving worship and allegiance to forces and powers within creation itself” (The Day the Revolution Began; pg. 77). 

When we investigate the lives of children in modern American society, we can begin to identify the idolatry issues that offer temptation. Although we might touch on others, it seems to me that the primary idol tempting children is “narcissism.”

Years ago, I read The Culture of Narcissism, by Christopher Lasch and although not being a big Sigmund Freud fan, much of that book became a groundbreaking assessment of what has become an epidemic in our society.

Bandied about the term narcissism connotes excessive self-admiration, selfishness, a sense of entitlement, inflated view of one’s importance, arrogant, talking about themselves, seeing themselves as the center of their world, inability to distinguish between themselves and material objects, seeing themselves as special with an inflated ego.

That these qualities are self-evident throughout American culture would seem indisputable. Our task is to see what Bible truth can help children avoid the idolatry of self. 

Deuteronomy 11:18-20, as noted, is a recapitulation of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and the use of the term “them” is a good place for us to begin our search for relevant Bible truth.

  • Tie them as symbols…
  • Bind them on your foreheads…
  • Teach them...
  • Talk about them...
  • Write them on your doorframes...

“Them” refers to the “word of mine” at the beginning of the passage (vs. 18) and is the teaching that Moses is giving the Israelites. This is the same reference in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, references to “them/” Although the Deuteronomy teaching is expansive. 

At the core lies the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses. These are the core of the commandments and narrows our search for relevant truth. 

Examining the Ten Commandments, we can see that the first five are focused on our relationship with God, and the second hone in on relationships among people.

This explains Jesus' response to the question in Matthew 22:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV)

Finally, we see that the essential Bible truth, likely at the forefront of Moses thought in Deuteronomy 11:18-20, was love of God and love of neighbor. It follows that these are proscriptive for the scourge of narcissism as idolatry of self.

Teaching children a love for God and for their neighbor moves them away from the ever-present temptation to idolize themselves.

How then is this accomplished? Let me suggest some ways forward. 

How to Teach Children to Not Idolize Themselves

How To Teach Children To Not Idolize Themselves

Image of God and Depravity

The Scriptures establish a tension between our sinful, depraved nature and our creation in the image of God.

Over-emphasizing either causes a child to develop an overly inflated or deflated sense of self.

Every child is created in the image of God, to bear His image in this world. However, every child has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

These two truths need to be taught in a balanced fashion helping boys and girls to have a sense of worth before God all the while realizing that they need the forgiveness of sins. 

We need to be “talking about” these principal truths, teaching them to our children. 

Mom, Dad, or Caregiver

The sixth commandment and first regarding others is focused on parental relationships.

With so many blended families, single parents, foster families, and other unique situations I have included the term caregiver.

We can help children show honor to those whom God has charged with their care. Honor connotes respect, obedience, and holding them in high regard. 

Teaching little children to be respectful to their parents and caregivers is a certain medicine for the ills of narcissism. It is also a challenge to parents and caregivers to live in a manner that is honorable 😊!

Service/Care to/for Others

We can help boys and girls be concerned about the wellbeing of others.

This can be done through acts of kindness to siblings, friends, parents (see above), and serving others. T

eaching children that they are to serve their family rather than the family serving them only breaks the potential bondage of narcissism.

Church Community

Moses was not only calling Israel to care for their children (Deuteronomy 6:4) he was calling children to serve the larger community of God’s people.

We can teach children the importance of the church family, not just in terms of Sunday attendance, although that is important, but in terms of being part of the church family. 

In the last forty years, children have been unintentionally taught that sports teams, dance, ballet, music, and a host of other activities are more important than being involved in a church community. This may serve to fuel the fires of narcissism. 


Material wealth is a feature of American society and teaching children to give, helps them experience the profound heart/treasure principle of Matthew 6.

Teaching children to give money to God inspires them to give their heart to God. 

One family we know has their children give away a toy for every new toy they receive at Christmas or birthdays. We like that idea!

Closing Thoughts

Closing Thoughts on Idolatry

Moses was concerned that idolatry did not capture the hearts of boys and girls in his day.

We have argued that one of the primary idols tempting children today is an unhealthy love of self, narcissism. 

My mom, like most parents, kept a little baby book. In my book, she wrote that my first word was “cookie,” a harbinger of things to come.

However sweet that memory, most children’s workers, and parents for that matter, would cite “mine” as a first and oft-used word. Just step into a toddler room at church to verify 😊! 

Understandably toddlers find themselves at the center of their world. Our challenge is to help them to move beyond that to embrace love of God and love of neighbor. 

This weekend, join me in teaching God’s Word to boys and girls so that they might be free of the idolatry of self and experience the joy of loving God and others as they learn to love themselves.

Next week, we’ll look at listening as a key element in discussing God’s Word in Deuteronomy 11:18-20.

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