Neither Be Ye Idolators, No. 1

Morris W. R. Bailey
Moose Jaw, Sask., Canada

"Neither be ye idolators, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play" (1 Cor. 10:7) .

In the above words the apostle Paul sounded a stern warning against one of the common weaknesses of humanity, the sin of idolatry. The Bible uses the term idolatry in various senses. Sometimes it is spoken of as the worship of false gods. This is the sense in which it is used in Acts 17:16 where Athens is described as a city full of idols. Sometimes the idol is the sensual appetites. This is the sense in which the term is used in Phil. 3:19 where Paul speaks of some "whose god is the belly." Sometimes idolatry is spoken of in the sense of an inordinate desire for the temporal things of life. This is the sense in which the term is used by Paul when he said, "covetousness which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5).

The Bible has much to say about this sin. God has always hated it. Especially is this seen in His dealings with Israel. God had separated Israel from the other nations of the earth and had made them a holy nation. It was through Israel that Christ the saviour of the world was to come. God sometimes pictured the relationship between himself and Israel under the figures of a husband and wife. Consequently, idolatrous worship in Israel was looked upon as the infidelity of a wife to her husband.

When God thundered forth the decalogue from Mount Sinai, the first two commandments were prohibitive of idolatrous worship. Note the language. "I am Jehovah thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shah have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing loving-kindness unto the thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments" (Exodus 20:2-5).

Time after time such stern prohibitions were repeated. Leviticus 26:1 records Moses as saying, "Ye shall make you no idols, neither shall you rear you up a graven image, or a pillar, neither shall ye place any figured stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am Jehovah your God."

With memory of all God's goodness to them in delivering them from bondage of Egypt, and awe-striken by the voice of God as he spoke from Mount Sinai, we might reasonably expect that Israel would be ever faithful. But it is a sad characteristic of humanity that the lessons of life are soon forgotten and that gratitude often gives way to a feeling of independence. Scarcely had the echoes of Sinai died away than idolatry reared its ugly head. Impatient at the long delay while Moses was in the mount, the people went to Aaron and demanded of him that he make them a god that they could see. They brought unto Aaron the rings of gold from their ears and from this gold Aaron made a molten calf and built an altar before it, and so it was that when Moses came down from the mount he was greeted by the loathsome sight of Israel engaged in idolatrous worship around this calf of gold. In the heat of his anger Moses dashed the tables of stone to the ground where they were broken, an act that was symbolic of the law which Israel had so soon broken. So great was anger of God against Israel that had it not been for the intercession of Moses, it is probable that they would have been destroyed as a nation.

This was but the first of many occasions of idolatry in Israel. Time after time they began worshipping the gods of the nations about them, and time after time they were led back to the worship of Jehovah God by the faithful prophets and kings whom he raised up and sent to them. But God's Spirit will not always strive with wicked men and so when the spiritual life of Israel continued to decline under the rule of wicked kings, God finally allowed Israel to be taken into captivity in Babylon where they remained for seventy years.

With such a background showing Gods's uncompromising hatred of idolatry, it is not surprising that we find numerous admonitions in the New Testament, forbidding Christians to have any part in idolatrous practices and warning them of their inevitable fate if they do. It will be remembered that when Christianity was introduced into the world and while the New Testament was being written idolatry was firmly entrenched in, and woven into the religious life of the Gentiles, many of whom had been converted to Christ. When Paul visited the city of Athens, at that time the educational and cultural center of the world, his spirit was stirred within him as he beheld the city full of idols. Then, as now, religion was often commercialized, and the great riot in Ephesus, which almost cost Paul his life was incited by men who had been obtaining their living from the making and selling of images of the godess Diana whom Asia and all the world worshiped.

And so, one of Paul's first tasks, as he went out into heathen lands preaching the gospel of Christ, was to turn men from idolatrous worship and practices and teach them about the true God, "not like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man" (Acts 17:20). Some time after the establishment of the church in Thessalonica, Paul wrote to the Christians there, wherein he commended them for that when they heard the word of truth of the gospel, they "turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God" (I Thess. 1:9) .

The text used at the beginning of this lesson is only one of the many such admonitions directed to Christians, warning them against the sin of idolatry and telling them of its certain punishment. In writing to the Galatians, Paul classified idolatry as one of the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19,20).

In writing to the Corinthians Paul charged Christians to "be not unequally yoked with unbelievers." In the course of his argument he asks, "What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" (2 Cor. 6:14, 16). Again Paul said, "Wherefore my beloved, flee from idolatry". (1 Cor. 10:14) . To make the matter more clear, if possible, hear Paul again: "For this we know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man who is an idolator, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Eph. 5: 5) .

Certainly no one who respects God's word, would dispute the teaching of these passages as they applied to the people of that day, many of whom had been converted from heathenism. What many fail to realize is that they have a very direct application to us today. But I hear some one saying, What can this possibly have to do with us since none of us would think of bowing before a graven image or offering sacrifices to such. This attitude was clearly demonstrated a few years ago when Brother Joe Cannon returned from Japan where he has been preaching the gospel. He brought with him a collection of images that some of the Japanese brethren worshiped before they became Christians. Brother Cannon told of how some of the brethren over there expressed some concern about his taking those images to America. They feared lest Christians over here might be tempted to worship them. Of course we smiled with a smug sort of self-righteousness, and perhaps some of us just felt a little bit sorry for those brethren over there in Japan that they would think that we would worship images. Of course we don't!! But have we ever been guilty of idolatry in other ways? Remember that there are other things that the Bible classifies as idolatry.

Worship, whether it be that of God or that of an idol, is the reverence, homage and adoration that one renders to an object or being that he considers higher than himself, or that he believes to be the most important thing in life. Worship has always embodied the concept of sacrifice as a means of obtaining the favor of the object worshipped, or attaining some desired goal in life.

Man is a worshiping creature by nature. The instinct to reverence some object or creature that he considers higher and greater than himself, or that he considers as the most important thing in life is as natural as hunger and thirst. And so, whether it be in the steaming jungle, or in the frozen regions of the north, whether civilized or uncivilized, man worships something. It may be one God, or it may be many gods. It may range from the warm and reverent approach of the Christian to one "in whom we live and move and have our being," to the cold and often cruel rituals of heathen worship. But man worships. Idolatry is misplaced worship. It is putting some other god before Jehovah God.

Equally true is the fact that man cannot divide his affections between the God of heaven and another god. The words of Jesus are very much in order here. "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate one and love the other; or else he will hold to one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt 6:24). Yes, man is such that he can serve only one god at a time. It must be either God, or some idol that he has erected in the place of God. Again we hear Jesus say, "For where thy treasure is there will thy heart be also."

This is just as true when stated conversely, "Where thy heart is there is thy treasure also." In other words, it is what the affectiohs of the heart are set on that are in reality the things that we consider to be the most important thing in life and consequently what we actually worship. An object, a person, or a practice may be perfectly legitimate in their proper place, but when they displace God in our lives they become an idol, and the one to whom these things are so important is thus guilty of idolatry.

In an article to follow we shall point out some things which within themselves may be perfectly innocent and which may even be necessary to our physical well-being, but because of misplaced affections may be occasions of idolatry on the part of Christians.

Truth Magazine, V:7, pp. 4-6
April 1961