MY DEARLY BELOVED, FLEE FROM IDOLATRY
By John C. Carpenter
The apostle Paul wrote the church in Corinth, Moreover, brethren,
I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all
baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink:
for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased:
for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things,
as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose
up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let
us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and
were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon
whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation
taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will
with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry (1
Cor 10:1-14). What is idolatry, and why did Paul instruct the believers in Corinth, and us, to flee from it?
WHAT IS IDOLATRY
verse 14 above, the word flee is translated from the Greek word pheuto, which means to run away from, to shun, or escape from. The
word idolatry is translated from the Greek word idololatreia, which means to worship an appearance, fashion, image, shape, or sight,
or heathen god. To flee idolatry means to reject making a god of anything in our lives, and then worshiping this false god in place
of the one and only God of creation.
In the Old Testament, there are three Hebrew words translated as idol: otseb, which meansidol, mental or physical pain, sorrow, or wicked, an earthen vessel, toil, grievous, labor, or sorrow; eliyl, which means good for
nothing, vain, vanity, no value, or thing of naught; and semel, which means to resemble, likeness, figure, image, or idol. In the
Old Testament, the word idolatry is translated from the Hebrew word teraphiym, which means a healer, a family idol, images, teraphim,
to mend, to cure, heal, repair, or make whole. In the Old Testament, God clearly warns believers that idolatry is a hook, a snare,
and a trap, which results only in death (Psalms 106:36).
In the New Testament, the English word idolatry is translated from the
Greek word idololatreia, which means image worship, literally or figuratively, idolatry. Idololatreia is translated from two root
words, eidolon, which means an image that is for worship, by implication a heathen god, or the worship of a heathen god, and latreia,which means ministration of God or a god, worship, divine service. Latreia is translated from the root word latreuo, which means a
hired menial worker, to minister, to render religious homage, serve, do the service, or worship. The Greek words for idolatry mean:to worship, minister unto, give service to, or serve any object which we consider to be divine, god-like by nature, or a god, but
which is not the true and only God of creation. Websters New Collegiate Dictionary defines idol as a representation or symbol of an
object of worship; a false god, and defines idolotry as the worship of a physical object as a god, or immoderate attachment or devotion
to something. Webster defines idolater as a person that admires or loves intensely and often blindly an object not usually an object
of worship. I like Webster's definition, and believe it is most applicable to our current times.
In Unger's Bible Dictionary,
Merrill F. Unger defines idolatry as the paying of divine honors to any created thing, or the ascription of divine power to natural
agencies, and may be classified as (a) the worship of inanimate objects, as stones, trees, rivers, etc.; (b) of animals; (c) of the
higher powers of nature, such as the sun, moon, stars, and the forces of nature, as air, fire, etc.; (d) hero-worship, or of deceased
ancestors; (e) idealism, or the worship of abstractions or mental qualities, as justice; (e) the worship of Jehovah under image or
symbol; (f) the worship of other gods under image or symbol; or (g) the worship of the image or symbol itself.
The entire world is full of idolatry, but, as a nation, the United States has become possibly the most idolatrous
nation on earth, ever. Although not understood or recognized by most Christian church members, the modern day Christian church is
absolutely full of idolatry. Many in the Christian church (and the world as well) idolize world leaders and dictators (admittedly
some pretend to idolize these leaders out of fear), politicians, actors and actresses, musicians, artists, athletes, church leaders
and pastors, television evangelists, civic leaders, beauty, nature, sex, sexual orientation, clothes, movies and television, being
entertained, education, attention, greed, intellect, narcissism, food and eating, exercise, drugs, power, money, success (however
you may define it), and fame, and a thousand others. Within the United States, idolatry has become epidemic, within and without the
Christian church; and worst of all, most of the Christian church does not even recognize that we have an illness, much less an epidemic.
Understanding idolatry is a challenge for most of us because most of us have not been taught to recognize its characteristics and
dangers, or to run from it. So what do the scriptures have to say about idolatry? Although I will cover several aspects of idolatry,
within this article we can never exhaust the topic. This is not my goal, nor do I think it necessary.
First of all, within the
scriptures, idolatry is considered a matter of the heart, and often associated with pride, narcissism, greed, and gluttony (Phil 3:19).
Idolatry is not only considered by God to be a sin (1 Cor 6:9-10, Eph 5:5, Col 3:5, Rev 21:8), but is also considered to be a departure
from the only true God (Romans Chapter 1). The scriptures also describe idolaters as deceived (Isa 44:17-20) and declares that their
lack of understanding shall result in their shame. Isaiah wrote, They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable
things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed (Isa 44:9). Those who
participate in idolatry also place themselves in a position which denies God the Father the opportunity to show His mercy toward them,
resulting in their own judgment and destruction. For example, while in the midst of his own tribulations, Jonah responded, When my
soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. They that observe [regard,
attend to, utilize] lying vanities [idols] forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD. And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry
land (Jon 2:7-10). In his wisdom, Jonah knew and understood that his deliverance and salvation from his traumatic circumstances would
be found in the Lord and His mercy, and not in idols.
Scriptures teach us that idols are man made, and totally worthless. Idols
cannot see, hear, smell, walk, or talk. They have no life within them. Through Moses, God warned Israel, the LORD shall scatter you
among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the LORD shall lead you. And there ye shall serve
gods [false gods, idols], the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But if from thence
thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul (Deu 4:27-29). The
psalmist tells us that idols are nothing more than man-made objects, and exhorts us to trust in and depend upon God alone: idols are
silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears,
but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither
speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them. O Israel, trust thou
in the LORD: he is their help and their shield. (Psa 115:5-9). Isaiah teaches us that idols are impotent to bring salvation, and that
only God can save: Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that
set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save. Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel
together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else
beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God,
and there is none else (Isa 45:20-22).
Scriptures also instruct us that idols are false and lifeless. Jeremiah said, Every man
is brutish by his knowledge; every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath
in them. They are vanity, the work of errors: in the time of their visitation they shall perish (Jer 51:17-18), while the psalmist
adds, They joined themselves also unto Baalpeor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead [lifeless] (Psa 106:28). We also know that God
is a jealous God, and will not tolerate any competition in the form of idolatry. Through Moses, God instructed Israel, Observe thou
that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite,
and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest,
lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: Forthou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants
of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;
And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring
after their gods. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods (Exo 34:11-17). Regarding our inclinations to be idolatrous, as well as our
refusal to worship God the Father, God even describes our own stubbornness as idolatry: For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry... (1 Sam 15:23).
Idolatry in these modern times is not only an individual and national
problem, but a worldwide problem as well. We should ask, though, where does idolatry come from. What is it that makes us idolatrous?
The answer is relatively simple. The root of all idolatry is found within us. It is found within our members, our bodily parts, including
our mind; and these members lead us to into sinful idolatry. As Paul explains to the Colossian believers, Mortify [subdue, deaden] therefore
your members [limbs, parts] which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness,which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience (Col 3:5-6). Paul describes for
us how he personally resisted idolatry when he wrote, I keep under [buffet, subdue, disable] my body, and bring it into subjection [slavery]:
lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (1 Cor 9:27). Rather than allowing himself to
be a slave to his bodily parts, the apostle Paul made his bodily parts a slave to himself. The prophet Habakkuk also warns us about
how unprofitable idols are when he says, What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image,
and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake;
to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst
of it. But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him (Hab 2:18-20). Most importantly, idolatry robs
God of the glory and honor that is His alone: I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my
praise to graven images (Isa 42:8).
HOW GOD THE FATHER WOULD HAVE US RESPOND TO IDOLATRY
With God the Father, idolatry has
only one outcome: God's anger and judgment, followed eventually by our own destruction; and therefore, all idolatry should be acknowledged,
forbidden, and forsaken. We should do whatever it takes to eliminate idolatry from our own lives, because God the Father will in His
hour judge all idolatrous practices and individuals. My fellow believer in Christ, I don't know about how you feel, but I look forward
to the day that God the Father, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, destroys our idols of money, power, politicians, celebrities,
athletes, actors, and the like. To believers in Philippi, Paul explained the truth behind our idolatry when he wrote, For all seek
their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's (Phil 2:21). In His mercy, God the Father sternly warns believers about making
for ourselves molten and false gods, or any other kind of idol, god, or item or person of worship: Turn ye not unto idols, nor make
to yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God (Lev 19:4), because, as Paul taught in our subject verses, For which things sakethe wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience... (Col 3:6). Through Moses and Aaron, God clearly judged the idols of Egypt:For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; andagainst all the gods of Egypt I will execute [perform, accomplish] judgment [inflict a legal or moral sentence]: I am the LORD (Exo
Through Moses, again and again God warned Israel about idolatry, instructing them, Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to
yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God (Lev 19:4). Scriptures consistently command us not to construct any images of gods
or idols (Exo 20:23), and even mentioning names of idolatrous gods was forbidden (Exo 23:13). The nation of Israel was not to even
swear in the name of another god (1 Kings 19:2, 20:10) because by doing so the people would be personally and spiritually connecting
themselves to an idol (John 23:7). Additionally, God the Father commanded Israel to destroy the people of Canaan because of their
idolatry (Deut 7:16), as well as destroy their idols (Deut 7:25) and all Canaanite items associated with the idolatry (Deut 12:2).
When, at God's instructions, Israel killed all idol worshipers, God also ordered them to scatter the bones of the dead idolaters.
God hated idolatry to the degree that He commanded Israel to eliminate even the names and memories of gods and idols at all cult sites
(Deut 12:3). Although it seems rather extreme, God even forbid Israel from experimenting with any aspects of pagan worship because
it led them into evil practices (Deut 12:30-31).
After we come to to a saving knowledge of God, we are clearly warned not to
return to any form of idolatry. Paul wrote the Galatian believers, Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which
by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly
elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? (Gal 4:8-9). God's soul was grieved because of Israel's idolatry, and He sarcastically
told Israel, Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation. And the children
of Israel said unto the LORD, We have sinned: do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee; deliver us only, we pray thee, this
day. And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the LORD: and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel (Jdg
In his prayer, the psalmist David also instructs us that there will be consequences to our idolatry: O my soul, thou
hast said unto the LORD, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee; But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the
excellent, in whom is all my delight. Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood
will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips (Psa 16:2-4).
God warns us that any idolatry on our part shall result
in the multiplication of our pain, grief, wounding, and sorrow. God uses the examples of Israel's idolatry to warn us against all
idolatry. Paul wrote, But with many of them [Israel] God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these
things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were
some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some
of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were
destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things
happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come (1 Cor 10:5-11).
These bible stories were written and recorded by God to serve as examples to us, and for our admonition, that is, warning.
idolatry, the apostle John also warns us, Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21), while the apostle Paul warns
us, Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and
covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience (Col 3:5-6). In His
time, not only will God the Father destroy all idolatry, but will lead all men and women, believers and unbelievers alike, to eventually
worship only God: The LORD will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every
one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen (Zep 2:11). The prophet Isaiah also tells us that, eventually, all of mankind
shall forsake idolatry: thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right
hand, and when ye turn to the left. Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornament of thy molten
images of gold: thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence (Isa 30:21-22).
of the teaching about idolatry is that the scriptures exhort us to serve God, and no other. We are to remember the LORD thy God: for
it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.
And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify
against you this day that ye shall surely perish. As the nations which the LORD destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because
ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the LORD your God (Deu 8:18-20). Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived,
and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them (Deu 11:16). God was, and is, so against idolatry, that He even commanded
Israel (and now us) to have no other gods. God said, Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven
image, or any likeness of any thing 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 the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers
upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; (Exo 20:3-5). We must make a choice who we will serve:No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the
other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (Mat 6:24).
The modern day believer in Christ should not be focused on idolatrous, worldly
things, but Godly, heavenly things. We should place God, and our relationship with Him, above all else. Paul wrote the Colossian church,If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection
on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God (Col 3:1-3). Christ lovingly
exhorts us to lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break
through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Mat 6:20-21). With tender, loving words, the apostle
Paul exhorts us, Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. AMEN.