Idol Worship Hasn’t Changed

November 19, 2023

Series: Gospel Living

Idol Worship Hasn't Changed

This week we are diving into 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, where Paul continues on his pleas for the church or Corinth to learn from Israel’s past so as not to repeat it themselves.

The Corinthians, like much of the Roman Empire, had no lack of things to worship. Corinth alone had dozens of temples representing several different greek gods and goddesses, but there were three specifically that for this city held the spotlight pretty clearly.

Poseidon – God of the sea, Poseidon was the patron god of Corinth. Remember the city was strategically located so that it was a major sea port, ushering in economic growth, new cultures, and droves of people from its harbors. For the Corinthian people, worshipping Poseidon could lead to favorable seas that would continue to lead to waves of prosperity(pun intended).

Apollo – God of…basically everything. Apollo was a catch all god, under his authority fell: medicine/healing, music, drama, arts, prophecy, truth, light, etc. Essentially, if you wanted to “cover your bases”, Apollo was a great option to offer a sacrifice to.

Aphrodite – Goddess of beauty and love. Aphrodite had THE temple in Corinth, in fact she had three. The largest of which was the largest temple found in/around the area by far. Some would argue that she was the patron goddess of Corinth and her worshippers impact on the city is undeniable. At this temple alone, there were as many as 1000+ cult prostitutes that would offer their bodies to worshippers as a form of dedication to this goddess. Anyone not feeling loved or wanting to feed the desires of the flesh knew exactly where to go in Corinth to have themselves taken care of.

These temples weren’t new either. Many of them had been around several generations before Paul set foot in Corinth. When Paul speaks on idolatry, he isn’t just speaking to an idea the Corinthians are somewhat familiar with; he’s speaking to something that has most likely been practiced for generations within their families.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of Israel’s failure in Exodus 32, where a golden calf was made to worship. If we read Exodus 32 though there are some interesting things to take note of:

  1. The Israelites didn’t panic because God had left them, they panicked because Moses left them.(vs 1)
  2. They didn’t identify the golden calf as A god, but as THE God(Elohim)…the one who delivered them from Egypt. (vs 4)
  3. Aaron built an altar in front of this golden calf dedicated to the Lord(Yahweh) for the people to make sacrifices on. (vs 5)

Did you catch that? The people weren’t ordered to worship, they wanted to. In fact they even seem to loosely have an understanding about worshipping God, or at least Aaron tried to stretch their actions so that it would seem to still please God. They wanted to sacrifice on the altar of “Yahweh”, and they did so with great joy and “fellowship”.

The problem? They weren’t worshipping God. They were worshipping the calf and their own image of “God”.

Which brings us to our first question…

  • When you worship, what or who are you worshipping?
    • Is it the God represented in scripture? Or the god you heard about once?
    • Is it the God who died to save you from your sin? Or the god who doesn’t see your sin as a big deal?
    • Is it the God that has called you to die to yourself and live in Him? Or the god who wants you to remain as you are forever?
    • Or is it the god of self, world, pleasure…perhaps you are worshipping religion itself?

Wrinkle your nose at that last question? The reality is our churches are have more than a few people filling the seats that aren’t there to worship God, they are there to simply worship with no direction. Think of the young man smitten with love, who is writing out the most thoughtful, heartfelt love letter he has ever created. There is nothing fake about it, nothing hurtful, and surely nothing false. Yet, if the recipient of the letter is not made clear…its purpose is still unfilled. If no where on the envelope or within the letter is the person’s name for whom all this affection is directed then no matter how sweet the words it has still failed in its purpose.

No matter how dedicated, sincere, or energetic your worship is…if you aren’t directing it towards God it has failed in its purpose.

BE WARNED! You can still feel good with this unfulfilled worship. You can still play merrily and benefit from blessings God has provided. This is made clear in Exodus 32:6.

In verse 14 of our passage this morning Paul wrote to his dear friends, “flee from idolatry”. We must remember that in fleeing from idolatry we must flee towards God. Too often I fear we simply flee from one idol to the next thinking “Whew, that was close,” as we are still not connecting with the God worthy of our worship.

  • When you flee from idolatry, do you clearly run towards God? Or do you simply run?
    • Fleeing from the idol of gluttony is good! But simply running towards a healthy body could end in the same result, a more fit body that isn’t filled with the Holy Spirit.
    • Fleeing from lust is good! But simply running towards “honorable love” could end in the same result, a marriage that is void of Christ like love or singleness that prioritizes marriage to a spouse above the love of a Savior.
  • So think about idols you need to, or are currently, running from and ask yourself…am I running TOWARDS God.

For the Corinthians, Paul is trying to make clear. Worship in and of itself is not anything special, everyone worships something after all. It is the center of the worship that matters, and the center of their worship and the center of our worship must be Jesus. We can’t split our worship(1 Cor 10:21).

  • Almost done. When you worship, is it God you worship?
    • There is not pitstop between us and Him like the Israelites tried to make with the golden calf. Our worship should have a straight, unaltered path directly to God.
      • Not self. Not emotions. Not leadership. Not family. Not love. Not ________. God alone.

For the church at Corinth, Paul is trying to guide them not just away from idol worship but towards a clear and dedicated worship of God alone. Not just away from pagan altars to a table with food and non-pagan people, but to the person represented by the bread and wine on the table…Christ.

Take time to reflect on your focus of worship.

  • Is it clearly and unmistakably directed to God?
  • Is it taking you away from idols towards God?
  • Is it without pitstops or caveats?
  • Is it the only worship in your life?