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Fleeing from Potential Idols in Our Lives (I Corinthians 10:14-22)

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

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Introduction: Potential Idols Are All Around Us

It was theologian and author J.I. Packer who once wrote:

"What other gods could we have besides the Lord? Plenty. For Israel there were the Canaanite Baals, those jolly nature gods whose worship was a rampage of gluttony, drunkenness, and ritual prostitution. For us there are still the great gods Sex, Shekels, and Stomach (an unholy trinity constituting one god: self), and the other enslaving trio, Pleasure, Possessions, and Position, whose worship is described as “The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Football, the Firm, and Family are also gods for some. Indeed, the list of other gods is endless, for anything that anyone allows to run his life becomes his god and the claimants for this prerogative are legion. In the matter of life’s basic loyalty, temptation is a many-headed monster."

As Packer has told us, the sad truth is that there are many potential idols all around us that are vying for the position of god over our lives. And we, like the people of Israel and like the Corinthian Church in Paul's day 2000 years ago, are just as vulnerable as they were. Further, we need to determine what our idols are and rid ourselves of them as soon as possible, or they will destroy us.

In I Corinthians 10:14-22, Paul is continuing his answer to the Corinthian believers who had asked him about meat offered to idols and whether or not it is all right for a true believer in Jesus Christ to partake of it. This meat was used in the pagan rituals to these false gods and later sold in the meat market to anyone who wanted to buy it.

The Apostle's general teaching on the matter is that an idol is nothing and that it is all right for a Christian, as a rule to eat the meat. So, if it is just between you and God, then it is acceptable to partake of it in a meal. However, there are larger considerations involved. For instance, we have to take our weaker brother into account. And if what I do, in eating that meat, offends him and causes him to fall into sin, then I should be willing to give up my freedom in order not to bring harm to that brother or sister in Christ.

Love for God and for your brother should be more important than your freedom.

In chapter 9 the apostle gives himself as an illustration of giving up freedom for love. Paul shows that he is already giving up his right as an apostle to be financially supported by those he serves. That is because he doesn't want anything to get in the way of anyone believing the gospel, the good news of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. He limits his freedoms further by becoming all things to all people to potentially win some to Christ. He disciplines himself like an athlete in training, to get a prize and to avoid being disqualified. By this he was referring to the rewards that one could get at the Judgment Seat of Christ, if you are not disqualified from receiving them by a life not lived to the glory of our Lord (I Corinthians 3:11-15).

In the first 13 verses of chapter 10, Paul reminds the Corinthians of how the Jews disqualified themselves from entering the Promised Land by their many sins, one of which was the sin of idolatry. And God killed almost a whole generation of Israelites in the desert as punishment for it after wandering around for 40 years.

Paul's makes the point in all of this that even though eating meat offered to idols is all right for the Christian there were some who were taking this too far and were participating in the pagan rituals in which the meat was being offered. They were trying to have one foot in the world, so to speak, and one foot in the Christian faith.

These people thought that, if an idol is not real, then it should be o.k. for them to participate in the ritual feasts without harm. Paul did not see it that way. And verses 14-22 explain his teaching in this matter. He gave 2 main reasons why the people shouldn't participate in the pagan feasts that the non-believers were having:

1. Participation in the idol feasts demonstrated an acceptance of it and legitimized their worship practices. (14-18).

2. Participation in the idol feasts was communing with demons (19-22).

Let us take a closer look at this passage and see what we can glean from it for our understanding of our own potential idols today, in order to avoid being taken in by their allure.

I. Participation in Feasts Shows Acceptance and Legitimization (14-18)

Before we look at the text, it is helpful to understand the importance of eating together in the Ancient Near East. According to Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg from the website israelbiblicalstudies.com:

"The mealtime customs depicted in ancient biblical texts are still practiced by many people living in the lands the Bible describes. In this region of the world meals are not utilitarian and mealtime customs can express social, cultural, deeply symbolic and spiritual ideas. Sharing meals often expresses the universal Near Eastern value of hospitality (Gen 18:1-8; Heb 3:12; Rom 1:13). Meals can affirm kinship, friendship and good will (Gen 31:33-54), acknowledge one’s status (1 Kgs 17:8-16, 2 Kgs 4:8-11), recognize a peaceful disposition and commitment to non-aggression (Gen 26:26-33; Josh 9:14). Depending on the context and occasion meal fellowship can convey an array of non-verbal messages relating to interpersonal relationships."

So, eating in a pagan temple indicated to others that you were doing more than just sharing a friendly meal with others. It showed that you were in solidarity and unity with them and were agreeing with their worship of this pagan deity. That is why Paul could legitimately say to them to flee from idolatry. These Christian men wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They didn't want to just be in the world and not of it. They, rather, wanted to be in the Body of Christ and still do all the same things that they did as pagans.

The Apostle uses two examples to illustrate to the Corinthians what they were doing by going into and being part of the pagan feasts of their time. He talks about the Christian participation in the Lord's Supper. And he refers to Israel's sharing in eating the sacrifices on the altar. He tells them this:

"Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we bless, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifice's partakers of the altar?" (14-18).

Paul refers to the 'cup of blessing' here. This is the proper name given to the third cup during the Passover Feast. At the last Passover, with his disciples, before his crucifixion, Jesus used this third cup as the symbol of His blood shed on the cross for sin. That same cup became the one He used to institute the Lord's Supper. This cup, Jesus set apart as a token of salvation blessing. Then He handed it to His disciples.

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The word 'sharing' in this passage literally means to 'have in common,' 'to participate and have partnership with.' By participating in this ceremony, the believer recognizes the Lord's death on their behalf and celebrates the common salvation and eternal life they have together which is a reflection of their perfect spiritual oneness.

In a similar way, the Old Testament sacrifices of Israel were given on behalf of all who ate them. By offering these sacrifices, the people of Israel were identifying with that offering on their behalf and demonstrating their shared devotion to their holy God to whom they were offered.

Just like the Lord's Supper and the offerings made by Israel were identifying and participating in the worship of the One True God, the sacrifices made to the idols in the idol feasts were identifying and participating in the worship of that idol. And so, it was totally inconsistent for a true believer in Jesus Christ to take part in them in any way. By doing this, they would be demonstrating, and saying to the world, that they believed that the worship of that idol was a legitimate practice.

II. Participating in the Feasts Was Participating with Demons (19-22)

In the next section, Paul is quick to point out that, no matter what people may think, the idols themselves are nothing. There is no other god besides the one true God of the universe, the maker of heaven and earth. However, there is a part of the spiritual world that is in rebellion, for a season, against the Lord. And that is Satan and his followers, the demons. And, though we live in the 21st century with all of its scientific knowledge and abilities, that doesn't negate the spiritual world all around us. In Ephesians 6:2, Paul told the Ephesians:

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."

It was C. S. Lewis who wrote that:

"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."

In Paul's time, many people tended to lean more toward an unhealthy interest in Satan and the demons, as do a few even today. However, most of the time, in our day and in our modern civilization, we try to explain away the supernatural all together. But that doesn't mean that Satan and the demons aren't active and still trying to destroy the plans of God and the people whom He loves. And they can use our modern-day idols against us to do that.

The apostle indicated that the idols of his day had no supernatural power of their own. However, if the pagan worshippers believed that they were gods, the demons would act out the part of the imagined deity and would trick the believer into thinking that the god was the one acting.

Paul's answer to those who are followers of Jesus Christ but still follow pagan rituals is found in verses 19-22. He tells the believers:

"What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that 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. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?"

No matter what time period a person lives in, back 2000 or more years ago, or today, the truth is still the same. God will not share His glory with anyone or anything. One cannot worship God and worship anything else. This hearkens back to the very first of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The First Commandment is recorded in Exodus 20:3. It tells us:

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”

It commands for us to put God first. The First Commandment lays an essential foundation that all the other commandments build upon.

Further, in Exodus 20:5, it states:

"For I the Lord your God am a jealous God..."

Paul again hearkens back to this when, in verse 22, he tells the Corinthians:

"Or do you provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are you stronger than He?"

Jealousy means that God tolerates no competition because there is no competition with Him. Neither, god, nor human, nor demon. He is the Eternal, Self-Existent, Self-Sustaining, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Present Creator. He is the One Who maintains the universe and the Only One of His Kind. And He is the Savior of the world.

I like the insight Jessica Brodie gives about what the term jealous means, as found in Scripture, when she speaks about it on the website crosswalk.com. She states:

"The word in Hebrew used for these instances of “jealous” is qanna, and not only does it mean jealous but also zealous, as in caring passionately. For we know that God does indeed love us with passion, fervent zeal and wants us to be His people. He does not want us to fall under the spell of any other. As our Creator and Father, He knows what is best for us and wants to keep us safely in His fold, where He can love, guide, and protect us. That is the jealousy God speaks of."

Conclusion

As we complete this section, I am reminded of a set of biblical rules that I once read. They are often referred to as Goudzwaard’s three basic Biblical rules. They are as follows:

1. Every person is serving god(s) in his life.

2. Every person is transformed into an image of his god.

3. Mankind creates and forms a structure of society in its own image.

The question, from these rules and this passage, is plain. What is the idol in your life? What is it that you place above God? You may never say it out loud or even admit that it is an idol. However, by looking at the time that you spend on it and the devotion that you give to it, which is more than the devotion that you give to God, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

In North America and in many other parts of the world, we don't have idols of clay, stone or metal. We don't bow down to statues like they did in those days, although there are some in the world that still do this very thing.

But we do have things that get in the way of our worship of the One true God. And only we as individuals know exactly what those things are. My prayer is that each one of us will identify and root out those idols from our lives, leaving God alone to sit on the throne in His rightful place.

May we not provoke Him to jealousy, for we indeed are not stronger than He. God will be Number One in this universe. He already is! However, one day that will become clear to all and not just a few. Let us bow before Him, for He alone is the God who deserves, and is worthy, of our worship!

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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