Love for God and His people and the fear of God demand that we flee from idolatry. Paul sums up everything that went before in this discussion about food offered to idols with this one principle: “Do all to the glory of God” (v.10:31). Commitment to God’s glory above my own desires will lead me to follow Paul’s example and lay aside my rights for others. Paul simply followed the example of his Lord, the Suffering Servant, Jesus, and so must we.
Of the billions of people today who worship literal idols, spirits, the dead, and other spiritual powers, many will come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. When they do, they will need to know how to navigate the Christian life as an extreme minority believer under the threat of persecution. Disciples of Jesus need to know how to relate to idolatrous practices all around them.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul taught us that the love of Christ for other believers should motivate us to have nothing to do with idolatry and food offered to idols. In chapter 9, Paul uses himself as an example of love in laying aside our rights and preferences for the sake of the Gospel. He showed us that it takes focused purpose and self-discipline to maintain the servant love required to influence people for Christ.
Now in chapter 10, Paul continues his explanation of how believers are to relate to idolatry all around them.
The Danger of Idolatry
Israel was not careful about idolatry and thus fell away from God. When we read the Old Testament, we see that most of the people of Israel in the wilderness (and nearly every generation thereafter) fell into idolatry and demon worship. Even with seeing numerous miracles that illustrated plainly that Jehovah was the One True God, experiencing supernatural acts of judgment against their sin, and hearing the many strong warnings from God about idolatry and its consequences, they still turned to idolatry.
Paul urges us to take Israel’s failure seriously and “not desire evil as they did” (v.6). Idolatry proved to be Israel’s downfall. Idolatry and spirit worship usually encourage sexual immorality, so we see the connection between the two in both the Old and New Testaments. This was true of idolatry in Corinth as well. False worship elevates ritual and religiosity and degrades God’s true standard of righteousness. Worship degenerates into obtaining our goals and desires and avoiding tragedy.
Following this warning, God gives us a promise through Paul that He will never allow us to be tempted above what we can endure by His grace. We always have a way to escape temptation:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (v.13).
Remember, this promise is given specifically to believers who have come out of idolatry and demon worship, encouraging them that they can stay true to Christ.
An accurate understanding about idolatry’s futility does not make us invulnerable to it.