Getting a Grip On Idolatry
Text: 1 Corinthians 10:14-33
Proposition: The root of idolatry lays in the soil of unmet human desires that long for more in such a selfish way that it is an act of war against God called sin.
Introduction: There are certain things missing in the world today that are peculiar by their absence. There is no Temple in Jerusalem, there is no ark of the covenant, there are no pictures or depictions of Jesus, there are no grave cloths that wrapped His body. We don’t know for sure where the tomb was that Jesus’ body was laid in, we don’t even know exactly where the place of His crucifixion was, where the hill of Golgotha is. Why do you think that is? God is certainly all powerful and sovereign over all the ways of man and creation, why would He not leave any of these evidences for the future church? I’d suggest to you that a simple answer might be because we would make shrines of them, we would make them objects and places to be worshipped as a means of appealing to God. A case in point was what happened to the bronze serpent Moses had made. In Numbers 21:8 God directed Moses to have it made out of bronze then lifted up to draw the people to faith in the midst of a crisis. That event happened in about 1450BC, some 700 years later a young king by the name of Hezekiah sought to bring revival to the people of Israel because they had drifted away spiritually. This is what is recorded in 2 Kings 18:4, “He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.” I believe God knows how prone we are to seek alternative ways to security, identity, love and power. Perhaps that’s why He invites us to a faith that can’t see the evidence. Do you remember that definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
In the passage before us this morning the main subject is a warning not to get tangled up with idolatry, not be unaware of the spiritual forces at work in the temples of idols. It’s often thought that an idol can just be something good that’s been pushed to a place of ultimate significance. It could be your job, money, home, anything that seems to define who you are, any number of good things in your life that have been pushed a place of ultimate importance beyond the reality of Who and what God does and is. But what if there’s more to it than that?
Have a look at 1 Cor.10:14-33.
I. Is It Possible That There Is a Much Greater Power At Work in Idolatry?
When you read verses 14 to 22 you see Paul warning us to flee from all idolatry. Then he begins to describe the sense of bond and union we have in the church. We take communion, an eating of bread and a drinking of a juice that symbolizes the body and blood of Christ’s death for all our sin. Paul says we have a communion in Christ with that action, a communion that makes us one body. We are connected to Jesus by faith in His sacrifice for us on the cross, by faith in His resurrection from the dead which meant what he did worked. He paid the price and the price paid was sufficient for the forgiveness of all our sin. Then Paul takes that familiar truth and says that when people go into the temples of idols they are involving themselves with the demonic powers in those temples. They become connected to others in those beliefs and have a fellowship, a common practice of worship, with them. Behind every act of idolatry, behind every act that seeks to do away with God and replace Him with something that is easier to manipulate and from which we attempt to extract life, is a power that is much greater than what we expected. In verse 20 Paul warns, “…the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” To be clear what Paul is specifically referring to are the Corinthians who went into Greek Temples and sacrificed meat to certain idols. Paul is saying there is something greater and more sinister going on behind those silver and stone images, there is a demonic presence doing what it does, using all it can to deflect man’s attention away from God in order to steal what belongs to God. So some of these Corinthians had become Christians and they now assert that the meat left over from the sacrifices was perfectly good for them to go and purchase and eat. That’s what prompted this whole response and Paul is wanting them to see that though they are right in this assertion that an idol is nothing but a block of stone, not everyone gets that. Not every fellow Christian is free in their conscience to do this and that when they are in that temple they are in the prescient of demons and to avoid that as much as possible.
So how does this crossover to us, is this just historical context or does it apply to our lives, to our daily experiences too? Remember how a moment ago I made the assertion that the reason we create idols whether of actual wood and stone or of ideologies and beliefs is because an idol is easier to manipulate, an idol is easier to control than God is. We will always use an idol in some way to try to extract life for us, even though it’s life which is synthetic and fast fading and pale in comparison to the life that only God can bring. You remember the words of Jesus in John 10:10, “I have come that you would have life and have it abundantly.” That’s the only place of lasting, authentic, abundant life. So beware of the idols that come towards us with their various temptations of synthetic life, know that behind them are forces that have their ultimate goal of diverting your hope and faith from God to Satan’s purposes.
II. How Do I Recognize When Something Is Moving From Good to Ultimate?
Paul lays out three guidelines: verse 23, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” You have freedom in Christ but not everything is going to be helpful to your personal faith and growth. Neither will all things which you can most certainly do without judgment be necessarily good for those around you, to edify or build them up.
That leads to second guideline, verse 24, “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” When you are genuinely seeking the good for others, no strings attached, there’s less vulnerability to temptation. ‘Self’ steps aside.
The last guideline he leaves us with is in verse 31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is a call to try to be aware of your motivation as much as you can. Whatever you do, do it with a motivation that seeks to reflect the truth of Who God is, the truth of what Christ has done in you, for you, through you. Reflect Him well.
There’s a post script that we need to put in here that really reminds us of where idolatry comes from, what it ultimately looks like. In Colossians 3:5 it says, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” These are entry points for idolatry in our lives because they are entry points for sin. Idolatry arises from sin, the sin of immorality (pornea), the sin of impurity (profligate or wasteful lifestyle), passion (pathos = suffering because of lust), evil desire (worthless forbidden craving), greed (insatiable or endless hunger for more). These are all hall marks of our culture, all an attempt to find life apart from God by creating a god that can be manipulated. Getting a grip on idolatry means getting a grip on whatever we have chosen to move from good to ultimate and either removing it from our lives if it is evil or reducing it to its proper degree of importance. The ultimate purpose for doing this is as Paul said, to do all for the glory of God, to rightly reflect the truth of to all of Who He is. The glory of Jesus Christ has won our freedom at the cross, enabled us to see what really is life, and invites us to reflect that truth in all of who we really are.