I got to prepare a Sunday school lesson this week on 1 Corinthians 10. Great book in the Bible. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Real meat and potatoes doctrine in there. Love it.
Anyway, Paul is expounding on the whole “meat sacrificed to idols” thing that was threatening to split the young Christian church in those days. In a nutshell, you had these pagan temples dedicated to various false gods being worshipped by their heathen followers. Once the animal sacrifices had been made to whatever god it happened to be, rather than let the meat go to waste, vendors would cook the meat and sell it cheap on or near the temple grounds. Paganism and entrepreneurialism in action.
The controversy was this: Gentile and even some Jewish Christians were buying the meat, because a) it was cheaper than meat NOT sacrificed to idols sold elsewhere, and b) we don’t believe in pagan idols so what’s the big deal? It’s just meat. This did not sit well with the Orthodox Jewish elements in the church who were still clinging to the old Mosaic law and customs. Now Paul had had some conflict with these folks. He writes about this in his letter to the Galatians. Jewish nationalists were trying to impose Mosiaic law and Jewish customs on Gentile believers. And meat sacrificed to idols was one of the issues they stuck on, along with circumcision, not eating meats deemed unclean, and the keeping of holy days and feasts.
Paul’s argument was that meat sacrificed to idols is no different than any other meat. Meat is meat. But, because you had to most likely enter a pagan temple to get it, and the money went to support the worship of pagan gods, it was not a wise thing for Christians to do. The meat was innocent – the location where it was sold was not. So, to avoid guilt by association, he advises Christians to stay away. However, if you are at a Christian brother’s house and they serve you meat, receive it with thanksgiving and don’t ask questions on its origins. That’s the basic gist of it.
What I want to shed some light on here is Paul’s definition of idolatry.
“Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” 1 Corinthians 10:7 This is referring to the incident in Exodus 32 where the Hebrews pressured Aaron to make a golden calf for them to worship while Moses was still up on Mt. Sinai receiving the tablets of the Law from God.
It’s a substantial warning. The problem is that American Christians in our post-Enlightenment culture have no concept of what idolatry really is. They’ve never seen it. In an attempt to understand this passage, they cast about for some kind of corollary that this passage could apply to. I have heard the argument made that idolatry is “anything that takes the place of God in a Christian’s life.”
That is a bad interpretation of this passage, in my opinion. The problem with this line of reasoning is that literally anything a Christian does or enjoys can be considered idolatry based on that definition of “taking the place of God.” Inevitably, the things you do and like are idolatry, and the things they do and like never are.
I think when Paul says idolatry here, he means real idols with actual heathen worshippers in legit pagan temples. He means real idolatry. Not imaginary idolatry of no substance. It is not necessary to allegorize something in the Bible that has a direct, physical application.
So what is the idolatry here that Paul says we should avoid, and how can you identify it in the absence of physical idols? It’s not hard. Pagan worship has pagan practices that go along with it. There are characteristics throughout history common to all pagan cultures which you can study if you can stomach it.
Those characteristics are:
1) Sexual perversion, usually ritual in nature
Many pagan religions featured temple prostitutes, male and female, who would engage in sexual perversion with worshippers as an act of devotion to a pagan deity. The Bible mentions several of these practices in antiquity.
2) Ritual murder
Nearly every pagan culture practiced some form of ritual human sacrifice. The blood of innocents had to be sacrificed in order to appease the nature deities or spirits.
3) Drug/alcohol use, typically to achieve altered states of consciousness and communicate with the spirits
The word translated “witchcraft” or “witch” in the Bible comes from the same Greek root that gives us the English word ‘pharmacology’. Drug use has always factored very heavily in the ritual practices of pagan worship.
4) Nature worship
Pagans worshipped the rocks, the trees, the rivers, the ocean, the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars. God is in nature, and God IS nature.
5) Rejection of the true God
Of necessity, if you are worshipping false gods, you have rejected the true God.
6) Killing God’s followers
Nearly every pagan culture has persecuted Jews and Christians. And often killed them rather than hear their message of redemption.
These are the evil things that Paul is condemning, and is the reason why a Christian would not wish to be associated with idol worshippers, as was the case with going to pagan temples to buy cheap meat.
So what is the application in our modern, secular world today? Do we have such idolatry today?
1) Sexual perversion – you bet. It’s rampant. Fornication, adultery, homosexuality and now transgenderism. And you are evil if you have a problem with it.
2) Ritual murder – our culture has industrialized ritual murder in the form of abortion.
3) Drug/alcohol use – we have an ever increasing list of intoxicants considered to be ‘recreational’
4) Nature worship – environmentalism; they say Nature like we say God
5) Rejection of the true God – today’s Neo-atheist is absolutely convinced that there are no absolutes, and above all else, no God.
6) Killing God’s followers – it hasn’t happened here, yet. But it will. And around the world the persecution of Jews and Christians is on the rise.
Who do we know that fits the bill with these idolatrous practices and characteristics?
The modern Left. Today’s so called Progressive Democrat. They are in fact modern day pagans. All the way. It is why I call them heathen Leftists. Because heathens they are.
That’s what real idolatry is. And in our modern world with its secular sensibilities it is right there, hidden in plain sight.