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).

Implications

  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.

 

 

How to face temptation – Sage Counsel from Thomas Brooks

Thomas Brooks, a Puritan pastor, counsels believers to confront all temptations (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the boastful pride of life) with the words of the Psalmist: “The LORD is my portion” (16:5; 73:26; 119:57; 142:5). He exhorts:

Luther counsels every Christian to answer all temptations with the short saying, ‘I am a Christian’ and I would counsel every Christian to answer all temptations with this short saying, ‘The Lord is my portion.’

  • O Christian, when Satan or the world shall tempt thee with honors, answer, ‘the Lord is my portion,’
  • when they shall tempt thee with riches, answer, ‘the Lord is my portion;’
  • when they shall tempt thee with preferment, answer, ‘the Lord is my portion;’
  • and when they shall tempt thee with the favors of great ones, answer, ‘the Lord is my portion;’
  • yea and when this persecuting world shall threaten thee with the loss of thy estate, answer ‘the Lord is my portion;’
  • and when they shall threaten thee with the loss of thy liberty, answer, ‘the Lord is my portion;’
  • and when they shall threaten thee with the loss of friends, answer, ‘the Lord is my portion;’
  • and when they shall threaten thee with the loss of life, answer, ‘the Lord is my portion;.
  • O sirs! If Satan should come to you with an apple, as once he did to Eve, tell him the “the Lord is your portion;”
  • or with a grape, as once he did to Noah, tell him that “the Lord is your portion;
  • or with a change of raiment, as once he did to Gehazi, tell him that ‘the Lord is your portion;
  • or with a wedge of gold, as once he did to Achan, tell him that “the Lord is your portion;”
  • or with a bag of silver, as once he did with Judas, tell him that “the Lord is your portion.”[1]

[1] Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, vol 2, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh, Scotland: James Nichol, 1666), 114.

God’s Gift of Physical Intimacy in Marriage – Proverbs 5:15-21

Desire after forbidden enjoyments naturally springs from dissatisfaction with the blessings in possession. Where contentment is not found at home — drinking out of our own cistern — it will be sought for, however vainly, abroad. Marital love is chief among the earthly goods in mercy granted by God to his fallen and rebellious creatures. Enjoy then with thankfulness your own, and desire not your neighbor’s well.

— Charles Bridges, Anglican Pastor (1794-1869 AD)

Rejoice in the wife of your youth. Regard her as the special gift of your Father’s hand. Cherish her with gentleness and purity. Whatsoever interrupts the strictest harmony in this delicate relationship opens the door to imminent temptation. Tender, well-regulated, domestic affection is the best defense against the vagrant desires of unlawful passion.

—Bridges

It is highly important to see physical intimacy in marriage as God-given…for history confirms that when marriage is viewed chiefly as a business arrangement, not only is God’s bounty misunderstood, but human passion seeks other outlets (cf. Proverbs 5:20).

—Derek Kidner, Cambridge Professor (1913-2008)

Screwtape and “The Christ and …” Syndrome

You might have heard of the book the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. In it, a senior demon equips a junior demon on the wiles of tempting Christ-followers.

Screwtape writes Wormwood in the attempt to persuade Wormwood to undermine the faith by turning Jesus into a great hero and moralist:  We thus distract men’s minds from Who He is, and what He did. We first make Him solely a teacher, and then conceal the very substantial agreement between His teaching and those of other great moral teachers.  The devil’s strategy is not to remove Christ altogether from the scene, but to propagate a “Christ And…” religion:

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of “Christianity And.” You know–Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychic Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing (Letter XXV).

Michael Horton adds:

Today, we see this in terms of Christ and America; Christ and Self-Esteem; Christ and Prosperity; Christ and the Republican Party; Christ and End-Time Prophecy; Christ and Healing; Christ and Marketing and Church Growth; Christ and Traditional Values, and on we could go, until Christ himself becomes little more than an appendage to a religion that can, after all, get on quite well without him.

Resisting the Urge to Complain

Mark 15:4-5 – So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.”

Let us learn a practical lesson from our Savior’s example. Let us learn to suffer patiently, and not to complain, whatever God may think fit to lay upon us. Let us take heed to our ways that we offend not in our tongues in the hour of testing and temptation.

Certainly Psalm 39:1 served as guidance for our Savior during this unjust trial: “I said, ‘I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence…'”

Let us beware of giving way to irritation and ill temper, however provoking and undeserved our trials may seem to be. Nothing in the Christian character glorifies God so much as patient suffering.

“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps…” (1 Peter 2:20, 21.)

– Adapted from J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels

Living Wisely by Loving the Right Woman Well

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about “Loving the Right Woman Well.”

Honestly, why should we listen to a man like Solomon who, in spite of his incredible wisdom, couldn’t seem to bring order to his own love life?

Here’s the best answer I can offer: All truth is God’s truth and God used King Solomon in spite of himself and his relational blunders. From a man who was a total failure at marriage, we learn how to navigate marriage well with God’s wisdom.

There are three important questions our texts from Proverbs address: Whom are you to love? How are you to love her? Why are you to love her? 

Selected verses from Proverbs 5:15-23
Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs
overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of
your youth. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress?
For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a
wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led
astray by his own great folly.
Proverbs 11:22—Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.
Proverbs 12:4 – A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.
Proverbs 14:1 – The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.
Proverbs 18:22—He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.
Proverbs 19:13—A foolish son is his father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like a constant
dripping.
Proverbs 19:14—Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the
LORD.
Proverbs 21:9—Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.
Proverbs 21:19—Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.
Proverbs 23:27—A prostitute is a deep pit and a wayward wife is a narrow well.
Proverbs 25:24—Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.
Proverbs 27:15 — A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day…
Proverbs 31:10—A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.

  • Whom are you to love?

The Temptation of Loving Strange Women. The counsel of wisdom is simply to avoid and stay clear of promiscuous women. “As the father instructs his son in the first nine chapters, there is really one teaching that prevails: avoid immoral women. In fact, the entirety of Proverbs 5 and 7 are occupied with this theme. Proverbs 2:16-17 – It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God.

God has so ordered the world in such a way that promiscuity is self-destructive. The metaphor that the wisdom writer uses for infidelity in marriage is that of building a fire in your lap. Proverbs 6:27 – Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?

Application: Avoid this disaster for some of you might mean a change in jobs, a change in your magazine subscriptions, and a change in your set of friends.

Love one woman – your wife – until death parts you. How do we know that God’s Word mandates this?

What does the text say? He who finds a wife (18:22). A prudent wife is from the LORD (19:14). A man’s energy and focus is to be exclusively on one woman and one woman only – his wife. The first line of defense against temptation is a healthy, intimate relationship with your own wife.

Malachi 2:15 – “Guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.” What if you are here today and you have broken faith and have become an adulterer? You don’t have to be condemned to walk around with the letter A on your conscience for the rest of your life. Be encouraged. We are all spiritual adulterers here.

1 Corinthians 6:11 – Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

  • How do you love her well?

Rejoice in her and be captivated/intoxicated with her love (Proverbs 5). Rejoice in the wife of your youth. How do you do this? What you rejoice in is the thing that is your central sweetness and comfort in life.  To rejoice in the wife of your youth is to treasure her, to reflect on her beauty and importance until your heart tastes the sweetness of the gift of your bride. Acknowledge that she is a special gift of your heavenly Father’s hand. Cherish her with gentleness and purity. Show her tender affection.

Dan Fogelberg: “Longer than there’ve been fishes in the ocean, higher than any bird ever flew, longer than there’ve been stars up in the heavens, I’ve been in love with you…”

Bear with her infirmities and cover her sins. That is why, love covers a multitude of sins… Proverbs 10:12 says, “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs. Whatever interrupts the harmony in your marriage relationship opens the door to imminent temptation. Proverbs 17:9 reiterates that “he who covers over an offense promotes love.”

Actively look for evidences of God’s grace in her life and compliment her frequently (31:28 – Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her). Actively look for ways that God is at work in the lives of other people. Make it a practice to become a student of your wife. How is the Holy Spirit revealing His fruit and His gifts in her life? Have you taken time for prayer and reflection on this crucial method for loving your wife well? What is she more aware of – evidences of grace that you’ve noticed or your persistent pressure on her to change? 

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, one of the protagonists, Mr. Darcy, is described as a man “who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish.” How about your wife? What evidence of God’s grace have you seen lately in your wife?  Tell her.

In age of infidelity, intentionally pursue marital intimacy and fidelity  (5:18-23). Frankly, this passage is intensely erotic. So much so that I’ve had to mark my words very carefully. Fidelity in marriage always leads to God’s blessing (vv.15-17). We live in a low-commitment culture that values intimacy without attachment… relationships without rings…

Wives, in Proverbs 5, you are compared to a cistern and fountain because you, like water, satisfy desires.

Husbands, ensure that your wife is the sole object of your stimulation, satisfaction and delight! Confine all acts of physical intimacy to the marriage bed. (Hebrews 13:4 – Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.) Husbands are advised to spend their energy at home. Physically delighting in one another is not only a gift from the Lord, he sanctions and blesses it.

  • Why should you love her well?

Loving her well leads to life. A relationship with strange women leads to death. 5:23 – He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.

18:22 – Finding what is good. The word “good” describes that which is pleasing to God, beneficial to life, and abundantly enjoyable.

Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” was recorded in 1966 at Muscle Shoals, AL. It was listed 54th in the List of Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest songs of all time. When a man loves a woman; Can’t keep his mind on nothing else. He’ll trade the world; For the good thing he’s found!Loving her well ensures that you cherish and value a most precious gift of God.

Proverbs 18:22 – He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD. Proverbs 19:14 – Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the LORD. She is a tangible evidence of God’s favor. Finding a prudent wife is a more valuable gift than house and riches. She contributes more to the comfort and credit of a man’s life and the welfare of his family.Thus, you do well to appreciate her as a precious gift from the Lord (18:22; 19:14).

Loving her well serves as a protection against the immoralities and idolatries of this world. 1 Corinthians 7:2 (But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.)

Thomas Watson – It is not having a wife, but loving a wife, that makes a man live chastely (purely)… He who loves his wife, whom Solomon calls his fountain, will not go elsewhere to drink of muddy, poisoned waters. Pure marital love is a gift of God, and comes from heaven; but like the vestal fire, it must be cherished, that it go not out. He who loves not his wife is the likeliest person to embrace the bosom of a stranger.  (1620-1686 AD)

Solomon’s wives (1 Kings 11 – turned his heart to idols).

Loving her well unleashes her to become a source of great blessing and joy to you and the generations coming behind you. Proverbs 31:12 – She does him good and not harm. The wife who is blessed by God becomes a source of joy for her husband. Proverbs 12:4 – A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones. Do people recognize your husband as eminently honored and blessed because he has you as his wife?

Wives, you have incredible power. You can do your husbands great good or great harm. You can build up your house or tear it down. You can bless your family or curse them. Are you making it easier for your husband to love you well? Are you tearing your family apart by a contentious, quarrelsome, critical spirit and manner? Do you continually find fault with those around you? How many men whose wings have been clipped by a critical, contentious wife! Designed to soar… they are earthbound. Will you be a crown to your husband, or one who brings him shame? Will you serve in the manner in which God designed – as a helpmate? Or will you serve Satan’s purpose as a tempter and thorn in the side of your husband? (Genesis 3:6. 1 Kings 21:25. Job, 2:9.) Soul searching…

Ephesians 5 – Without embracing and appropriating on a daily basis how the perfect bridegroom has loved you by sacrificing himself for you, there is no way that you will ever love your wife well.