Reading 1 - Exo 20:3
"You shall have no other gods before me" (Exo 20:3).
An "idol" is something men "worship"... which "blinds" their minds, "preventing" the gospel and the love of God from entering, or controlling, their lives. If we get this point right, it seems to me, then we may recognize that anything and everything, essentially, MAY BE an idol... but that nothing, effectively, MUST BE an idol. Let me illustrate what I mean.
For example, it ought not to be considered "judgmental" or "critical" for someone to point out that most anything (or anyone) MAY BE an "idol" -- even the most innocuous of pastimes: gardening or long walks on the beach MAY BE "idols" if pursued and enjoyed to the exclusion of the worship and service of our Heavenly Father. But, of course, they are not necessarily "idols"!
For that matter, the very most legitimate time-consumers -- such as family and work -- MAY BE "idols" IF our interests and concerns in these directions, and our allotments of time and energy, threaten to crowd out God from our lives. After all, Jesus said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple" (Luk 14:26). Harsh language indeed, since elsewhere we are plainly told to love our spouses and families, to provide for them, to honor our parents, etc, etc. Surely Jesus is saying, 'Don't let EVEN your family... those closest to you... who have the most legitimate claims upon you... don't even let them turn you aside from serving God!' Likewise, work -- earning one's daily bread, and providing for one's family -- is the most legitimate of pursuits (supported by various Bible passages), but if through greed (the love of money) or competitiveness (pride) our jobs become the be-all and end-all of our lives, and threaten to consume all our time and all our concern, and to squeeze God out of our lives, then the Bible tells us they are "idols"!
On the other hand, and looking at what might be called the other end of the continuum, we consider the graven images which depicted or represented false gods. Surely, we say, such images were and are ALWAYS "idols". No question there. Aren't they, invariably, "idols"?
I am not so sure. Remember the brazen serpent of Moses (Num 21), which Hezekiah later threw on the scrap heap, calling it -- contemptuously, I think -- "Nehushtan", a mere piece of brass! Was it an idol, or was it merely a piece of metal? I think the answer depended on how any individual viewed it. To Moses and those who were saved by looking to it, it was surely not an idol -- but a reminder of God's love and even a prophetic indicator of the Messiah who was to come -- who would be lifted up on behalf of all men (John 3:13-16). But to the superstitiously-inclined of generations after Moses, it began to be thought of in an idolatrous manner: its veneration threatened to crowd out God Himself, and for that reason it ought to be destroyed.
Similar points might be made about the symbol of the cross: an object whose meaning changed for people (at least, some people) over time.
Likewise, Paul in Rom and 1Co deals with the question of meat offered to idols, real idols of wood or stone or metal, by pointing out -- essentially -- that every person's conscience might be different in regard to the "realness" of such "idols". He says (paraphrasing) that we know (or should know) that such objects are not gods at all; in other words, such a "god" is, really, "no god" -- it's just a lifeless material thing, with no mystical powers, and no evil connotations... unless we endow it with such powers! But for those who cannot help themselves, but view such an image as truly an idol, or have felt or seen its "power" in their lives or the lives of others, then... yes, it's a "god" or an "idol"... and such scruples ought to be respected by other, "stronger" brethren.
So, it seems that even what we might at first glance agree is, very definitely, an "idol"... may NOT be an "idol" either -- unless we make it so!
I subscribe to BAR magazine (Biblical Archaeology Review). A few years ago, BAR ran advertisements for replicas of certain "gods" and "goddesses" -- little images of various statues and figures that had been unearthed by archaeologists in and around the Holy Land, accompanied by descriptions and explanations of their Biblical significance. It was quite interesting to see the sorts of reactions these ads produced: some folks were vehemently angry because BAR was promoting "idolatry"; there were cancellations of subscriptions, and charges of idolatry and blasphemy if even a picture of such images were printed in the magazine, whilst to many others it was plainly a matter of no consequence.
Were such little images truly "idols"? Or not?
Reading 2 - Psa 73:25
"Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you" (Psa 73:25).