Have you thought much about the biblical sin of idolatry lately? Most people don’t think much about it because, after all, it’s not something that we deal with too much in the 21st century West. We don’t see many people bowing down and worshiping statues and shrines today, do we? But is that all idolatry entails? Is bowing down to an Asherah pole the full idea behind the biblical prohibition against idolatry?
I don’t think so. In fact, I think idolatry is the most pervasive of all sins. To be more precise, I am now convinced that all sin is a form of idolatry.
My friend and I are going through the book of First Corinthians in our Bible study right now and we just finished up the section in 10:14-22. This is part of a major section of this letter from Paul to the church in Corinth; it starts in 8:1 and goes to 11:1. In this section Paul is addressing a concern that was brought up in a letter that Paul received from the Corinthian church, that of whether or not it’s OK to eat meat sacrificed to idols. In this section he’s more specifically addressing the issue of Christian freedom as it pertains to eating meat sacrificed to idols in the temple dedicated to that idol.
Here’s the passage:
1 Corinthians 10:14-22
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 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. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (ESV)
And here are the final notes to that section as they were summarized in this morning’s study.
Participation is repeated several times in this passage. The word used most often for participation is koinōnia which is frequently translated fellowship in the NT.
New Testament authors expressed the essence of Christianity in one word. It is the Greek word koinõnia usually translated as “fellowship.” St. Paul reduces the whole Christian vocation to a koinõnia when he writes “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship (koinõnia) of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). St. Luke uses the same term to depict the life of the first Christians: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship (koinõnia), and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). 1 John goes a step further and affirms “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship (koinõnia) with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Fellowship with Christ, leading to a fellowship with the Father, and fellowship with one another in Christ: there you have Christianity in one word.
(from the Overview of the book Koinōnia in the New Testament: A Dynamic Expression of Christian Life by George Panikulam • Pontifical Biblical Institute 1979)
By participating, or having fellowship, with demonic activity, we are joining ourselves in the same way to demons as we should to Christ. This is a smack in the face of the God who saved us and must be avoided at all costs.
An idol is anything that replaces the one, true God as an object of devotion. The most prevalent form of idolatry in Bible times was the worship of images that were thought to embody the various pagan deities. From the very beginning of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, the people were to worship God alone.
Idolatry extends beyond the worship of idols and images and false gods, however. Our modern idols are many and varied. Even for those who do not bow physically before a statue, idolatry is a matter of the heart—pride, self-centeredness, greed, gluttony, a love for possessions, and ultimately rebellion against God.
All the various forms of modern idolatry have one thing at their core: self. We no longer bow down to idols and images, but all too frequently we worship at the altar of the god of self. This brand of modern idolatry takes various forms.
- Materialism – we like the comfort of things.
- Pride – we want to make sure people think of us as important, accomplished, or worthy of adulation.
- Child-worship – we do everything we can, honest or not, to ensure our children get the best education or things or accomplishments.
- Freedom from discomfort – we often seek out, as primary importance, any escape from the difficulties and pains of life.
- I’m sure you can think of many more.
The very basic command to us as children of God in a covenant relationship is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk 12:28-31). We fail at that constantly. In fact, we do not obey that command for more than mere split seconds at a time. We are constantly in disobedience to that command. So, if we are not putting God first, we are putting something else first. That is idolatry.
It is my opinion that any sin is idolatry at its core, of which we are in constant violation. That is bad news. “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro 7:24-8:1)
Though we are in constant violation, we must strive every moment of every day to avoid idolatry wherever we can. We must constantly seek to serve God in every decision and every activity (cf 2Pt 1:5ff). Anything that comes before that is idolatry.