WHAT DO YOU WORSHIP?
1 CORINTHIANS 10:14-22
The nomadic tribes known as the children of Israel had camped at the foot of the craggy peaks of Mount Sinai. They had come here through the waters of the Red Sea, leaving behind forever their former slavery in Egypt. The hand of the Lord had guided them here, feeding them each day with miraculous food.
They had come now to this lonely windswept mountain. It was known to them as the mountain of God. It was here that they would be given the Law of God. The people of Israel were warned to keep off the mountain. To touch it would mean death at the hand of God.
A month earlier, Moses had gone up into the mountain to meet the Lord. No one had seen or heard from him in all that time. No one knew whether he lived or died. As far a the people knew, God was silent. In their impatience, the people turned to Aaron, the older brother of Moses.
2 And Aaron said to them, "Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me."
3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron.
4 And he took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it into a molten calf; and they said, "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt." (Exodus 32:1-4).
These people who had pledged themselves to follow the Lord now turned aside to worship the statue of a calf, declaring that it was this image who had delivered them from their slavery in Egypt.
These were people who had witnessed the mighty hand of God. They had seen the plagues of God bring destruction upon the mighty nation of Egypt. They had seen the parting of the Red Sea and had walked through on dry land. They had seen the armies of Pharaoh drowned as they tried to follow and destroy the Israelites. They had been guided each day by a giant pillar of smoke. A great pillar of fire had brought light to their encampment each night. But now within a short time of their deliverance, they had turned aside to idolatry.
God hates idolatry. It strikes at His very character. It seeks to take something from His own creation and to seat it on His throne and in place of Him.
Corinth was a city that was overrun by idolatry. As you first approached the city, the first thing that you would see would be the Acrocorinth, a great mesa rising hundreds of feet above the surrounding countryside. At its peak was a temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and erotica. Upon entering the city, you would find temples and idols of every kind. At the edge of the city marketplace stood a temple to Apollo, the pillars of which still stand to this day.
It was into this culture that Christianity had now come. People had been called out of their former life of idolatry to come and to serve the Living God. The only problem was that they still lived in Corinth.
A number of years ago, I met a young believer who was attending a church belonging to a denomination that taught salvation is not by faith alone but that certain rituals are necessary for a person to undergo in order to be saved. When I talked to this believer about that church, he said, "I know that what they teach is wrong, but they are such nice people."
There were those within the Corinthian church who took a similar attitude toward the heathen temples. Some of the believers in Corinth were continuing to go to the temples. There were a number of reasons for this.
At the heart of this problem was the problem of idolatry. This is the problem that Paul now addresses.
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14).
Paul is going to give several reasons why it in important and necessary to stay away from idolatry, but he first begins with the command to get out of it.
There is a reason for this. If you are in the midst of idolatry, then you will be deaf to the teachings of God until you get out of it. If you are listening to false teachings and accepting them as the truth of God, then you will not be able to listen to proper teaching until you have first come out of that false teaching and have seen that it is false.
This is not a matter of Christian liberty. If you are in idolatry, then you need to leave it right now.
Idolatry is the worship of something other than the true God in the correct way. To partake of idolatry is to say that God is not God. It tries to take God off His throne. It is no accident that the first two of the Ten Commandments deal with the issue of idolatry.
You might be thinking to yourself at this point, "I donít need to hear what is in this passage because Iíve never been tempted to bow down before any idols of wood or of stone." You need to know that there are other forms of idolatry. Colossians 3:5 says that greed amounts to idolatry.
Now that Paul has told us to flee idolatry, he proceeds to give us three reasons why we ought to flee idolatry:
BECAUSE WE ARE IDENTIFIED BY A CEREMONY
15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.
18 Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? (1 Corinthians 10:15-18).
Paul says that we ought not to engage in idolatry because we are identified by the ceremonies in which we partake. This is graphically illustrated in the Lordís Supper. When we partake of the Lordís Supper, we are being identified with the body and blood of the Lord.
The cup of wine and the loaf of bread were used by Jesus on the night of the Last Supper to illustrate His coming death. The cup of wine represented His blood that was about to be poured out for our redemption. The loaf of bread represented His body that was about to be broken for our sins.
When the disciples drank of the wine and ate of the bread, they were identifying themselves with the shed blood and the broken body of Jesus. It was that shed blood and that broken body that brought about our salvation.
Here is a great truth. When Jesus died on the cross, you were considered to have died with Him. When His blood was poured out, it was evidence that you had legally died. When His body was broken, it was by His stripes that your spiritual condition was healed.
When the church sits down to observe the Lordís Supper, all of the various members eat of that one loaf of bread. Not only does this identify us with Jesus Christ, but it also identifies us with one another.
Christians have a bond of unity with one another. It is a bond of unity based on the fact that we have all been identified together with Christ.
Here is the point of the passage. If we are identified with Christ by means of a ceremony, then we should not be partaking in ceremonies that are meant to identify us with false gods.
This principle is seen in the sacrifices of Israel at the temple in Jerusalem. When the Jews brought their sacrifices to the altar, portions of those sacrifices were eaten by the priest and portions of the sacrifice were eaten by the one who brought the sacrifice. By their eating of the sacrifice, both parties were identifying themselves with the Lord of the sacrifice.
The principle is clear. When you partake in a ceremony, you are identified with that group that conducts the ceremony.
Now letís make this practical. How do people identify you" If your coworkers and your neighbors were asked about you, how would they identify you? For what are you known? If it is for anything other than being a Christian, then you need to ask yourself whether you are guilty of idolatry.
BECAUSE IDOLATRY IS DEMONIC
19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?
20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.
21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:19-21).
Idolatry is not wrong because there is something inherently evil about a rock or a statue or an image. If this were the case, then it would be wrong to take a photograph or to hang a painting in your house or to go to the museum and look at a statue.
Paul has already shown that idolatry is wrong because it takes the glory that is due for God and gives it to another. Now he shows that idolatry is wrong because it is demonic in nature.
Even though the false gods of the pagans are not really gods at all, there is a real spiritual force at work behind them. That spiritual force is an evil force. It is demonic.
The Bible has quite a bit to say about demons. It tells us that they are powerful spirit creatures and that they are servants of Satan. They are apparently the angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God. This means that they are the army of the prince of darkness.
We, on the other hand, are soldiers in the army of light. We ought not to partake of anything that would put us in the position of consorting with the enemy.
Paul is still using the analogy of the Lordís Supper. He says that you cannot partake of the Lordís Supper along with Satanís supper. You cannot be identified with both God and Satan. You cannot serve both God and mammon.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24).
There are a lot of people who are trying to serve two masters. We try to do it every time we sin. But it cannot be done. God will not share loyalties. He will not act as your master unless He can be your only master.
An idolater is like a wife who expresses her love for her husband but then goes out with other men. Her words are inconsistent with her actions. The natural reaction of the husband is jealousy. This is Godís reaction, too.
BECAUSE IDOLATRY MAKES GOD JEALOUS
Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? (1 Corinthians 10:22).
God is a jealous God. He will not stand for competition. It is not a petty jealousy. He is jealous for that which is the most holy and upright and worthy to be esteemed and worshiped. He refuses to allow His people to settle for anything less and He will now allow them to play the part of an unfaithful wife.
You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, 15 for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 6:14-15).
The story of Israelís rise and fall is a story of the jealousy of God. When Israel was faithful in worshiping God, then the nation prospered. When the people turned away to worship false gods, the enemies of Israel were victorious over her.
Paul alludes to this principle with two rhetorical questions:
These two questions are a warning to the Corinthians. It would be one thing to provoke God to jealousy if He were merely a little god with not too much power. It would be one thing to provoke God to jealousy if He did not meddle in human affairs.
But the God we worship is the God of creation. He is El Shaddai, the Almighty God. He is the God who parted the Red Sea, who made the sun to stand still, and who destroyed the Assyrian army. He is the God who stopped the waters of the Jordan River, who brought down fire from heaven and who struck down Ananias and Sapphira. He is the God who destroyed the world with a flood and who will one day burn the earth with fire.
It is not smart to mess with this God. You may be able to bully a lesser god, but donít try it with the God of the Bible, because He just might push back.
There is a danger in taking God lightly. There were some in Corinth who had tried to push God around and now they were suffering for it.
For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. (1 Corinthians 11:30).
There were people in Corinth who were having health problems that were a direct result of their disrespectful attitude toward God. This makes me a little uncomfortable. It ought to. That doesnít mean I need to be terrified of God, but it does mean that I need to take God seriously.
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