Idolatry: Causes, Consequences and Cures (1 Corinthians 10)

Why do I lie? Why do I fail to love as I should? Why do I not keep my promises? Why am I selfish? There is something besides Jesus Christ that I feel I must have to be happy, something that is more important to me than God and enslaving me through inordinate desires.

My heart is an “idol-making factory”. What are the things that I find to be absolutely essential for life other than Jesus? Martin Lloyd-Jones: “An idol is anything in our lives that occupies the place that should be occupied by God alone. Anything that is central in my life, anything that seems to me essential. An idol is anything by which I live and on which I depend, anything that holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves, rouses and attracts too much of my time, attention, energy and money.”

It can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, or a hero.

  • What are the causes of idolatry? There are two causes…

All of our hearts are grasping and demanding. 

“Idolatry is the principle crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, procuring the judgment of God. All murder and adultery, for example are idolatry, for they arise because something is loved more than God–yet in turn, all idolatry is murder for it assaults God, and all idolatry is also adultery for it is unfaithfulness to God. Thus it comes to pass, that in idolatry all crimes are detected, and in all crimes idolatry.” — Tertullian, On Idolatry Chap. I

Paul explains, beginning in verse six, why these Israelites perished in the wilderness. He says there were two things that they did which we also do.

First of all, our idolatrous hearts crave evil things that God forbids. We read in verse six, “These things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things 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 should not commit sexual immorality as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died” (verses 6-8).

Paul says one of their problems was that they craved evil things that God had forbidden. They followed after idols, and they followed after sexual immorality. These are evil things they never should have longed for.

Secondly, our idolatrous hearts crave good and legitimate things that God chooses not to give us. Idols are not necessary sinful things, but good and basic things elevated to the status of ultimate in our lives. We look to them to give our lives meaning and worth and to cover our sense of insignificance.

Then they grumbled when they didn’t get what they wanted. Verse 9 tells us, “We should not test the Lord as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble as some of them did and . . .”

We all know that it’s not good to lust after evil things. But I wonder how often we remember that’s also a grievous thing in God’s sight to demand good things that God has not chosen to give to us, and then to murmur and grumble and whine and complain when we don’t get what we want.

The sin that destroyed the Children of Israel and kept them out of the Promised Land really came down to a single root, and it’s this sin of discontentment—wanting something God had not given them, that it was not God’s time to give them. They insisted on having things that they wanted that God had not provided, and the Scripture says God considered this a very serious sin. “Do not grumble as some of them did—and were destroyed in the wilderness” (verse 10).

  • What are the devastating consequences of idolatry? The text highlights three devastating consequences for those who persist in idolatry (v.5)

Idolatry arouses God’s displeasure. God is displeased. Idolatry is the most heinous injury and affront to the true God; it is transferring his worship and honour to a rival.

Idolatry brings physical ruin – Brokenness, pain, suffering, death, and judgment. Verse 5 – Paul sees the wilderness as strewn with bodies (their corpses littered the desert).

Idolatry brings spiritual destruction as we fall under God’s divine discipline (vv.8-10).

  • What is the cure for idolatry?

Take heed. The danger of falling into idolatry is always before us. Those who are self-assured and proud are the most susceptible. Those who have personally experienced God’s divine presence, guidance, and miraculous deliverance can become overconfident and complacent

  1. Take heed by fleeing from idolatry. “To seek safety in flight.” To avoid, shun, run away from… Keep on running away from idolatry. (When you are fleeing from something, you are running to safety. Where’s safety found?)
  2. Take heed by relishing and rejoicing in how God has rescued us in Jesus Christ (v.12) God acts decisively to rescue his idolatrous people.

Let’s reflect for a moment on the types of Christ in this story. Christ is the pillar of cloud that screens us from the heat of God’s wrath. Christ as “the light of the world.” He is our “pillar of fire” to guide us through the darkness of the world. The Rock was struck: As the rock when smitten sent forth the waters, so Christ, having been once for all smitten, sends forth the waters of the Spirit. The Serpent was lifted up. (John 3:14-15) Look up and live. A serpent set up on a pole. The bread of God came down from heaven and gives life to the world (John 6:31-34).


  1. Take heed by remembering the time in which we live (v.11). “At the end of the age.” “When the end is about to come.” All previous ages come to their appointed end in Christ.
  2. Take heed by remembering who God is. He is faithful.   He is wise as well as faithful, and will give us strength and resolve to bear up under our trials and testing. He knows what we can bear. We have full encouragement to flee from sin and to be faithful to God.
  3. God faithfully provides a means to endure times of testing and temptation – WAY OF ESCAPE.



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