Idolatry And Freedom
Topic: Default Passage: 1 Corinthians 10:14–11:1
Due to a technical issue with the recording, the audio of this sermon is at a lower quality than normal. We hope you'll also be served by the following transcript.
1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1
If you’ll recall, whether to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols was how all of this started and now Paul’s coming back to it. 4 weeks ago, way back at the beginning of chapter 8 Paul said “now concerning food offered to idols.” And he’s been explaining his position on that subject for the last 3 weeks. In the first week he said, very clearly, don’t eat food that has been sacrificed to idols in the idols temples because you could cause another Christian to fall into idol worship. Our first concern when making decisions of conscience is to be brotherly love- we should ask ourselves is what I’m doing, or I’m considering doing, is it or could it possibly be a stumbling block for my brothers and sisters in Christ?
In chapter 9 he said to the Corinthians, not only should you be concerned with brothers and sisters who are in Christ and be willing to refrain from eating meat sacrificed to idols- you should be willing to give up even more for those who are not yet in Christ. Those to whom our lives are a witness to. Do nothing that would keep the Gospel from reaching non-Christians.
Last week at the beginning of chapter 10 Paul said to the Corinthians if you’re not willing to give up your rights for Christian brothers and sister, and if you’re not willing to give up your rights for the sake of your witness to non-Christians. If your life is more marked by your own self-interest and self-preservation than it is by your willingness to give of yourself to others for the sake of the Gospel- then friend you need to check yourself. You have an underlying idolatry issue that you need to deal with.
The big point that Paul brought us last week was that you can’t be a Christian and simultaneously live out such an idolatrous life.
Church, I hope we’re beginning to see that Paul’s version of Christianity, what it means to belong to Christ and not ourselves- I hope we’re beginning to see that this is true, Biblical, authentic Christianity. It’s not just Paul saying these things, Peter, James and John taught this way in their letters- this is the way that Jesus taught. But the Corinthian error, the way that elevates the self, the individual, above the body of Christ, and in some cases, above Jesus himself- that’s not what it means to follow Christ.
Paul is pointing at this almost-Christianity that the Corinthians are absorbed in. Something that looks sort of Christian on the outside, they gather with the church, they take communion, they’ve been baptized, they do Christian-y things… but down at the core its just gilded syncretism. It’s a mixing of Christian ideas with ideas of the world, mixing the Christian virtues that are easier to live out with worldly ways that are harder to give up. It’s an almost form of Christianity.
But here’s the thing almost Christianity is not Christianity, it is idolatry.
Paul tells us in verse 14, the beginning of this week’s passage, “flee from idolatry.” Run. Away from this way of thinking. If there is any hint of this sort of idolatry in your heart, any “me first” way of thinking that resides in the dark recesses of your heart, flee from it like your life depends on it. God is giving you a way of escape, and that way of escape is to follow Paul’s instruction… so he tells the Corinthians and us to take it- seize this opportunity, heed the warning. Flee from idolatry. Have nothing to do with it.
How is it idolatry? How was what the Corinthians were doing, exercising their right to eat meat in these temple “restaurants”, how was that idolatry? Can we just explore this for a few minutes?
Paul knows good and well that the Corinthian Christians eating in the temples aren’t actively worshipping stone idols. They aren’t personally making the sacrifices. Traditionally that’s how we understand idolatry isn’t it? Worshipping false gods through sacrifice or rituals, praying to false gods, all of those things we typically think of as idolatry. But that’s not what the Corinthian Christians were doing. They even acknowledged that the idols aren’t real, they have no substance beyond what they’re made of. And yet Paul says what they’re doing by eating in their presence is a form of idolatry and they should flee from it.
Paul’s message is “what you think you know about these false idols…. You have no idea.” There’s more to idolatry than meets the eye. Let’s keep exploring this.
Verses 20 and 21 tell us that when the Corinthian pagans make sacrifices to false idols, what they’re doing isn’t benign or neutral, it isn’t innocent and harmless naïveté - it’s much worse, it is demonic. So when the Corinthian Christians eat food that has been sacrificed to these idols it is participating in the demonic.
In order to understand how what they’re doing is idolatry we need to understand first how actual idol worship is demonic. Paul could mean that particular demons are masquerading as false gods but I don’t think that’s the case. The false gods don’t have a real presence. I don’t think that’s what Paul is referring to. I don’t think there are demons possessing these stone statues of Roman gods and goddesses and if you touch the statues the demons enter you. In the same way, the pages of Islam’s Quran aren’t hiding demons within them waiting to possess its readers. Neither are there demons lurking in the program coding of pornographic images on the internet or in the ink of trashy romance novels.
And yet, Greco-Roman paganism, and Islam, and pornography in all of its forms, they’re heavily influenced by the demonic. How so?
Think back to 1 Kings 18 when Elijah challenged the Baal worshippers to a dual of the gods. He’s trying to prove to the people that wicked King Ahab and his evil wife Queen Jezebel have misled them into worshipping a false god. In that story the priests of Baal were to prepare a bull on an altar and call down fire from their god while Elijah would prepare a similar offering to Yahweh and call down fire from the one true God. As everyone watched the priests of Baal prepare their offering and cut themselves and dance around like madmen nothing happened to the sacrifice. No fire from heaven.
And here’s Yahweh’s prophet, Elijah taunting them and said maybe Baal was sleeping or out for a snack or maybe he was relieving himself and just wasn’t paying attention… and the priests are trying harder to call Baal’s attention to this sacrifice and yet… nothing happened. Of course our God, the one true God, brought fire from heaven and consumed Elijah’s offering, proving himself to be the one true God. Baal, meanwhile, was proved to be a false-god and all of his so-called priests were gathered together and led down to the mountain to the creekside and slaughtered- all 450 of them. If there was a demon whose job was to masquerade as Baal that day, he really dropped the ball didn’t he?
But at the same time, whatever demonic force was behind the religion of Baal was enormously successful. Throughout Israel’s history, this imaginary god who never did anything for Israel, led thousands of Israelites away from following the one true God. The deception of these Canaanite religions was so successful in various forms that it effectively split the kingdom of Israel which eventually led to the collapse of both of those kingdoms, the destruction of the temple, and the exile of Israel. There were other influences of course but they can all be traced back to idolatry of various kinds.
How is that possible? Paul says it was demonic. Satan used statues and an idea to effectively keep God’s people from worshipping him. And that strategy is as old as time.
In Genesis 3, when the serpent tempted the woman in the garden he offered an alternative to how God wanted the man and woman to relate to him. God’s desire was that Adam and Eve would rely on him for wisdom. He was to be their source of knowledge of good and evil- not the tree. To seek wisdom from the tree was to go outside of God to satisfy a desire.
The serpent, Satan, sought to undermine this relationship between people and God and his temptation centered around creating a desire within the woman to go outside of what God had provided for her. He tells the woman in Genesis 3:4 it’s okay to eat of the tree because: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The woman craved wisdom outside of what God provided for her, Gen 3:6 says that she saw the fruit was desired to make one wise. And that craving, that evil desire to know and be wise outside of what God had provided, that is at the root of idolatry. And demons use that corruption of our desires to lead us down paths that are opposed to God. To find satisfaction in things outside of what God has provided. Whether that’s Baal worship, or Islam, or pornography. It’s all idolatry.
All false religions are centered on this idea of finding satisfaction outside of what God has given. Think about it, God has provided for us righteousness in Christ Jesus. We have forgiveness and reconciliation with God because Jesus died on the cross taking the punishment for our sins. So what deception do Islam and Jehovah’s Witness and Mormonism and Judaism all teach? Jesus’ cross isn’t enough, your righteousness is going to have to come, at least in part, from you. It’s a lie, a deception, a small tweaking of the truth that pushes us away from what God has provided in his Son.
What does secularism teach? That the natural order that God has created wasn’t actually created by God but by randomness therefore you get to create your own meaning out of it. God’s meaning, that we are created in his image isn’t enough, there must be something more. It’s a deception meant to push us away from God. What does Buddhism teach? That the reality that God has created is a deception meant to trap us and if we, through our own strength and wisdom can find true enlightenment we can escape this deceptive reality and enter the oneness. Fundamentally, God has made things to appear in a way that isn’t true and we can’t trust what he has provided. That’s almost straight out of Genesis 3 isn’t it? What did Roman paganism teach? That there wasn’t one almighty God but there were instead many, many gods and we can receive blessings from those gods if we will worship and serve these created things rather than the one true Creator God.
Don’t begin to think that sincerely following some other religion is another path to peace with God. It isn’t true. Paul says other religions are demonic. Believing that is extremism in our country. So be it. We’ll be extreme, but we’ll be Biblical.
From Genesis 3 onward Satan used temptation and deception to lead humanity to find deficiency in what God has provided and revealed. That’s how the deceiver operates. And when we give in to those deceptions in whatever form they come we become idolaters.
Here’s where it ties together for the Corinthians, if the forces behind false religions are demonic then participating in meals that celebrate these religions is participating in the demonic- it is participating in the idolatry that the deceiver is using to draw others away from God.
Paul says that Christians ought never to do this. Why? Because they belong to God.
Look at the way Paul uses the Lord’s Supper to illustrate this for us.
What are we doing when we break the bread and drink the wine of the Lord’s Supper together? V16, we are participating in the body and blood of Christ. How so? How are we participating in the body and blood of Christ? When we eat the bread of communion and take the cup, we are being reminded of the sacrificial offering that the Father has made on our behalf. And the sacrifice of his own Son that the Father has made for you and I, that allows us to participate in a new life with him. A life we could have never had were it not for the cross of Christ.
Partaking in the communion meal is the reminder that we now participate in life with God as one body- we who are many are one as he says in verse 17. It’s a reminder that it’s not our life to own anymore- we don’t get to do whatever we want as individuals, we now have to consider our love for the body of Christ and our devotion to God before making decisions for ourselves.
Christians can’t be people that belong to God in this very visible way, communing, fellowshipping with God and with other believers and at the same time be people who are participating in similar meals that are essentially hosted by demons and meant to be self-serving. To believe that you can do this and not be affected by it, that’s a puffing up of the self… to think you’re particularly special or unique or as Paul says in verse 22, stronger than God… it’s idolatry. Though it isn’t the direct worship of idols it is still falling to the demonic deception that what God has provided, the communion that he has provided isn’t enough.
Do you see then how hidden a trap idolatry is? Idolatry is committed when we actually worship idols on one hand, follow false religions, because that is seeking to find wisdom or righteousness outside of what the one true God has provided or revealed to us. The Corinthian Christians eating in the idol temples, they’re participating in this form of idolatry even though they don’t think they are. They’re participating at the table the same way they participate in the worship of God when they eat at the Lord’s Table.
And on the other hand, because idolatry is treasuring and seeking to find satisfaction in things outside of what God has provided, even if those things aren’t a formalized religion, the Corinthians, are also committing this type of idolatry.
They thought they were clear of any guilt of idolatry because in their minds, according to their consciences they weren’t actually worshipping the false gods. But Paul says they’re committing idolatry by thinking themselves so wise and by being so puffed up that they’ve begun to love themselves more than their neighbors.
Looking after number one is idolatry because the Corinthians were finding their treasure and their satisfaction in themselves, in pleasing themselves instead of finding their satisfaction in God. They had forsaken the fellowship and communion God has provided for them and sought to find satisfaction in doing things their own way, seizing and squeezing tight to their own rights for their own benefit.
Idolatry is wanting more than what God has given and that’s exactly what the Corinthians have done.
In verse 22 Paul says this provokes the Lord to jealousy. It goes without saying that this isn’t a good thing. You do not want to be on the wrong side of God’s jealousy. The Israelites struck down in the desert are an example of what this jealousy that turns to wrath looks like.
Only God is worthy of worship and we as humans are to find our satisfaction in him because he is the only one worth finding satisfaction in. All of us are to give glory only to him because he is the only one deserving of glory. To give glory to anything else, even ourselves, especially ourselves… that’s idolatry.
For those of us who are in Christ he has redeemed us from ourselves and our sin, he has brought us into Christ by his action, bringing us from death to life by his own power and forgiven us according to his mercy and now, because of that, we belong to him. To live as if we belong to ourselves is idolatry.
Last week, as we prepared to participate in the Lord’s Supper together Pastor Greg asked some questions that were meant to help us find areas where we were committing idolatry. Do you remember that? His goal was to help us as a church to examine ourselves before we took the bread of Christ.
If you’re a Christian, someone who is trusting in Christ, you need to know that there are always, until we reach glory, there are going to be areas of our lives that compete with Christ for our devotion. In order to grow in the faith we need to be aware of these areas and work to undermine them- unseat them from Christ’s throne.
If you’re not a Christian, it is because your devotion is not to Christ. It’s that simple. You or something else is lord of your life. For all of us, examining our hearts is helpful to reveal these things where our misplaced devotion is.
This is a worthwhile practice and its worth repeating this morning. Are you ready?
Question 1. What has the ability to frustrate you above all else? What things can disrupt your life to such an extent that you suddenly feel the need to lash out in anger, or have a drink, or eat compulsively, or start calling and texting people frantically. What can push you to rant and vent on social media or cause you to totally check out, shut down and turn on the TV?
Question 2. What can get you in such a huff that you’re willing to treat others who care about you in an unloving way?
Question 3. When do you feel most secure? Or the opposite, what makes you feel most anxious?
Question 4. How do you define success?
Lastly, #5 What sort of things do you pray for? What do you want from God? Do you want from him what he wants for you? Or do you crave things outside of what he desires for you and you frequently ask him for it?
The answers to these questions can help us to see what things are at the center of our lives, what our very being revolves around. These are the things outside of God that we are treasuring or seeking to find satisfaction in- areas where we are perhaps more like the Corinthians than we care to admit. These are the things we need to repent of and flee from.
In the last several verse here, beginning in verse 23 Paul brings all of this to a conclusion. Ultimately, the confusion that had brought about this whole discussion about eating meat sacrificed to idols was a confusion over Christian freedom or liberty.
As Christians we are not under the Old Testament law. We are free in Christ, Christ has fulfilled the law and so we follow Christ in the place of what had been given to Moses. That means we can dine with gentiles and jews and pagans and people from all sorts of backgrounds. And we can drink wine and eat cheeseburgers and baby back ribs and oysters, and men can shave their sideburns and we don’t have to go through ritual cleansings when we get a skin rash. Life is different for God’s children now, this side of Calvary. It is freer and less restrictive because the law has been fulfilled and what sets us apart is no longer these rituals and rules, it’s not our appearance or our practices, what sets us apart is that we’re in Christ and we’ll be marked by our love for one another and our devotion to our Savior. That’s how the world will know that we’re different.
In fact, as verse 23 quotes the Corinthians saying “All things are lawful.” And Paul affirms that they’re right. There are loads of things that we as Christians can do lawfully. But Paul says, not all things are helpful- actually most of those things aren’t helpful. And not all things build up. For the Corinthians it wasn’t helping anyone to eat what had been sacrificed to idols and it certainly wasn’t building anyone up. In fact in some cases exercising our freedom is destructive because it shows a neglect for others. In a sense, because we are free in Christ we have a little work to do before making decision, we have to ask is this helpful to the cause of Christ? Does this build anyone up? Is this edifying for anyone?
Here’s what it comes down to… verse 24 “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” That’s Christ’s law isn’t it? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. And your neighbor isn’t just other Christians, it is non-Christians as well. That’s our instruction. Christian freedom, the freedom we have in Christ is not meant to be used for our own good but for the good of others.
Think of when Peter received the freedom to eat unclean foods in Acts chapter 10. In that story Peter is up on the rooftop praying at his friend Simon’s house and God brings him this vision 3 times. God tells Peter he can eat foods that to Jews would have been unclean. He is giving Peter Christian freedom. And then what does God immediately tell Peter to do with that freedom? He’s to go to a gentile’s house, Cornelius, and he’s to eat with him and he’s to share the gospel with him. This newfound Christian freedom is to be used to do the most neighbor loving thing we can do, share the gospel.
So now we have verse 25. “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness there of.” Paul is telling the Corinthians they can eat meat! It wasn’t the meat itself in the idol temples that was raising the problem, it was the fact that it was in the idol’s temple. If that meat somehow finds itself into the market, no big deal.
Paul goes on to say tighten up this illustration in verse 27 “if you’re at an unbeliever’s house and they offer meat, eat whatever is set before you without asking any questions.” Don’t offend the hospitality of the unbeliever. Use that time instead to get to know them and show kindness to them and respect for their traditions and so hope to eventually share the Gospel with them as one who genuinely cares for their soul. That’s the purpose of our relationships with unbelievers, that’s our goal. Making disciples. Wherever we go, whatever we’re doing we remember that we belong to Christ and making disciples brings him glory.
Verse 28, but if you’re sitting there about to eat that meat and someone at the table says “this has been offered in sacrifice.” What does Paul say to do? Don’t eat it. Why not? If someone tells you that this is idol food they’re essentially asking you as a Christian if it is okay to eat food knowingly sacrificed to idols. Now that we know this about the meat we have to ask, is eating this going to possibly cause this person to stumble or will this possibly become an obstacle between them and the Gospel?
Which is more important, my desire to eat this delicious looking cheeseburger or my testimony to this person? Our testimony, our witness is more important. For those of us who find our identity in Christ we have to communicate to unbelievers that our union with Christ, our being bought and brought into the body of Christ prevents us from participating in any hint of idolatry. At the same time, we want to communicate to other believers who may be present that our concern is for their conscience and we want to protect them from any temptation to go back to their old life.
Verse 31, so whatever you eat or drink, whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
What does that mean? For God’s glory? What brings God glory? Lots of things bring God glory but there’s one thing in particular that Paul is talking about. Notice how he follows up this statement-
V.32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
How do we bring glory to God? We seek the salvation of others. Ah, there it is.
That’s how Christ brought glory to God isn’t it. He didn’t seek his own advantage, he sought the advantage of others. Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord… now look at this…. To the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus Christ’s number one concern was not himself was it? He didn’t seek his own advantage but instead sought the advantage of the many that they would be saved. That we would be saved. And God gets the glory.
And Paul takes Jesus’ example and he lives it out. He goes from city to city, giving up his own rights to safety and security and he’s beaten and whipped and shipwrecked and stranded and abused and he does it not so he would have some advantage but so others, the many, they would be saved. He does it all for the sake of the spread of the gospel. He gives up his own rights for the sake of those that God is bringing in to Christ.
And when those disciples of Christ are made. When someone hears the good news of the gospel and they repent of their sin and their brought into salvation, God is glorified. So Paul says in 11:1, be imitators of me as I am of Christ.
Our attitude, our way of life should be like Paul’s. We’re to imitate Paul as Paul imitates Christ who emptied himself, died to himself for the sake of others. That’s who we should be as Christ’s followers, people who are always willing to empty ourselves for the sake of others.
The purpose of Christian freedom is not for our benefit. Christian freedom isn’t given to us so we could live like the world. It is given to us so that we could reach the world!
The purpose of Christian freedom, is that we could be flexible enough with our own lives that people would clearly hear from us and see in us the good news of Jesus Christ and they would be saved.