Most of you have probably heard of “Gateway” drugs. These are drugs that first time users often get involved with and then progress on to more serious drugs. In studying 1 Corinthians 10, I noticed a similar concept in regard to idolatry and what Paul says it leads to.
In this chapter Paul continues his thoughts on eating meat sacrificed to idols and the dangers of turning to idolatry. In order to make his point he turns their attention to a previous generation of God’s people – the Exodus generation. He starts out by mentioning the blessings God bestowed upon them:
1) Having been “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”
2) Eating spiritual food
3) Drinking spiritual drink
Paul says that even though the received all that they still died in the wilderness. Paul is using this as a warning against thinking just because you are God’s people and have received tremendous blessings that you still shouldn’t think too highly of yourself. If that isn’t enough Paul further connects them with the exodus generation by mentioning the water from the rock (Numbers 20:11) and connects the rock with Christ (“and that rock was Christ”). Just as Christ is in your midst he was there as well.
Paul is saying you have everything in common with that generation – spiritual blessings, a baptism of sorts, and even Christ! 1 Cor. 10:6ff – “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did…” What is the example for? Paul mentions four instances of sin in that generation:
1) Idolatry (1 Cor 10:7) – p.s. “indulging in reverlry” alludes to sexual immorality which bridges vs. 7 & 8.
2) Sexual immorality (1 Cor 10:8)
3) Testing the Lord (1 Cor 10:9)
4) Grumbling against God (1 Cor 10:10)
Three of these are easily pinpointed in that generation
1) Idolatry – Paul makes reference to the Golden calf episode (Exodus 32:6)
2) Sexual immorality – Paul makes reference to Israel at Baal Peor (Numbers 25) where 24,000 died by a plague from God. Uncertain why Paul’s numbers are off here.
3) Testing the Lord – Paul references the the Bronze snake episode (Numbers 21:4ff)
The fourth one is harder to pinpoint. Some think he makes reference to Numbers 14:27, 36
Then notice what Paul says – these things are warnings to us! Because we are so connected with that generation, we could also be like them – not just in our blessings but in our defeat! Do not be proud – you might fall. Paul gives them the warning – “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.” What about the other three sins? What about sexual immorality that he told them to flee from in 1 Cor 6:18? What about grumbling and testing God? Why doesn’t Paul also warn them to flee from those?
I think Paul is viewing idolatry much like we view “gateway” drugs today. Idolatry is what opens our hearts up to a variety of other sins. When we look at the story of the golden calf we see that the people first opened up to receiving a God other than Yahweh God. Then what happened? Everything broke down, became permissible, and sexual immorality ensued. The reason Paul doesn’t tell them to flee from these other three things is because if they keep giving their heart solely to God these other three things won’t be a temptation.
Idolatry is not something that only happens in other countries. It is just as much a threat to us as it was to them or to pagan nations today. Idolatry doesn’t always look the same every time. Some are blatantly obvious – we see someone bowing down to a statue and say to ourselves – “I would never do that. Look how silly that is! Bowing down to something other than God. How crazy can you be to devote your life to a piece of stone!?!” But we do it too don’t we? I mean if we are really honest with ourselves and look inside most of us have had in the past or currently have things that we put in the place of God that are not blatantly obvious like a man bowing to a block of wood. But it is just as deadly to our soul.
While “gateway” drugs lead to “more serious” drugs. Idolatry as a “gateway” sin is actually the most serious as we give our heart and identity to something that is not God, which leads to all sorts of other problems. Maybe if we understand idoltatry for what it really is and become aware of how Satan uses it in our own lives we wouldn’t have to worry about these other three things. What is the biggest idol today? Not statues of Buddah or shrines in some far off land. It seems to me the biggest idol today is self. We put ourselves even before God. Then what happens? We get so focused on filling ourselves up and satisfying our desires that we indulge in things we would not have permitted if we had kept God, God. I think this is really a Lordship issue. When Jesus is our Lord he calls the shots and we take a backseat to his will for our lives. Only when we take Paul’s advice and “flee from idolatry” will God/Christ be able to take the throne and make our lives all that he wants us to be!
I like this idea – idolatry as a gateway sin. That’s cool. Idolatry occurs when we give control of our life to someone or something other than God. As you said, anything becomes permissible once we do that. Consider King David. Once he turned control over to self or lust he was able to commit adultery with Bathsheba and then murder Uriah. These two sins would not have been possible while under control to God. Considering how easily sin sometimes enters our lives, maybe we are more susceptible to idolatry than we realize.