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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fleeing Idolatry, Fearing God

Fleeing Idolatry, Fearing God

"I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, 'The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.' We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 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. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry." 1 Corinthians 5:1-14

Being chosen by God, whether for a special relationship with Him, or for a special purpose, does not equate to unconditional acceptance or approval of disobedient, rebellious hearts and sinful behavior.

The people of Israel were chosen by God for an intimate, unique relationship with Himself, demonstrated by miraculous delivery from slavery and by abundant providence in the wilderness.

However, despite the intimate relationship with God, most of the people of Israel died from disease.

In the same way, Christians are not shielded from God's severe chastening when we express rebellion by our sinful behavior.

In this passage of Scripture, Paul uses the idolatry of the Israelites as a somber warning for Christians.

Idolatry in Hebrew means "image-worship", which is substituting the Almighty God for an image or object made by humans. The image does not only represent God...it IS a god.

When the people of Israel feared that God Almighty had forsaken them in the wilderness, they created a golden likeness of an animal and worshipped it as their god, praying and praising it, desperate for a feeling of being protected and provided for.

Paul called this idolatry a spiritual form of prostitution. There is probably no better illustration of how a human heart rebels against God, than by describing a woman who stands willingly along the road, baring her breasts, touching herself alluringly, asking for others to use her body sexually in exchange for money in which she places all her longing for protection and providence. She expects her intense desire for happiness to be sated by things money can buy. All the while, her husband, or one who desires to be her husband, is ignored, regarded as worthless or non-existent.

She has sold her body and forsaken her true Lover.

Rebellion and sin are compared to prostitution, but the people of Israel were chastened by God for sinful behavior that appears to be unrelated to sexual immorality.

The golden calf motivated the people of Israel to immediately proclaim a holy day of celebration and worship. They ate and drank and played games. Nothing in the language indicates prostitution or sexual immorality. (Exodus 32)

The Israelites joined whole-heartedly in worship of an idol, Baal of Peor. Although the religion may have encouraged sexual immorality, and the account in Scripture called it whoredom, the specific acts described were limited to simple worship: the people offered sacrifices to Baal, ate in his honor, and bowed down in submission and dependency...to an image! (Numbers 25)

Paul refers to an instance in which the people of Israel put Christ to the test, and God chanstened them with deadly serpents. The Old Testament account describes this testing of Christ as speaking against God, accusing Him of evil and neglect. (Numbers 21)

The Israelites again were found grumbling, despising God as being without power to protect them. God responded angrily, killing them. (Numbers 14)

Paul says that he's describing these instances of rebellion as a warning for us. He's attempting to draw our attention to how similar to Israel's rebellion can be our own Christian hearts.

God was willing to severely chasten the idolatry and rebelliousness of the Israelites, and He is willing to do the same to Christians.

Paul ends with practical advice on dealing with temptation, temptation which all humans feel. Relating this advice to all that he's described so far, his emphasis is not on temptation to sin sexually, but the temptation to rebel against God, to substitute an imaginary or earthly object in place of the Almighty God.

Sexual immorality is but one of many manifestations of rebellion against God.

And God chastens rebellion, Christian rebellion as well as pagan rebellion.

I'm not saying that disease always means God is chastening sinful behavior. I'm not saying that sickness or death means the loss of God as Eternal Father and Savior. I'm not saying that the Israelites who died lost God as Eternal Father and Savior.

I'm saying what Paul said: Christians, be afraid of losing your earthly life prematurely if you worship any thing or any one other than God Almighty and His Son Jesus Christ.

That's called "fearing God".

Image courtesy of Lars Sundström and modified by Milt Reynolds using GIMP.