I was reading 1 Corinthians 10 and Paul starts talking about idolatry – to a church! Well, that’s pretty strange right three. But what is even stranger is that he weaves all this talk about running away from idolatry with a doctrinal discussion of the Lord’s Supper.
Now what is going on here? Throughout the history of Yahweh-followers, there has always been a problem with ‘worship distraction.’ Sometimes it happens when leaders thought that God was just not around anymore (Exodus 32), or that worship of God was too inconvenient and sought to provide more convenient (and politically expedient) options (1Kings 12:25ff), or no longer believed that Yahweh was as powerful as the alternatives (1Kings 14ff). And, periodically, Yahweh would confront these delusions by sending prophets and displaying mighty acts to show the reality of the situation. One of the most scathing denunciations was spoken by the prophet Isaiah who mercilessly ridiculed those who would seriously worship their own creation.
But after Jesus came, surely (you ask) wasn’t idolatry a thing of the ancient past? Well, no. There were still people very actively worshiping other gods and expressing veneration to statues and images of those gods. All that’s fine, you might say, but we live in the 21st century where we just don’t do such silly things.
Again, no – our society is full of worship and especially of idols.
Now it would be too easy to suggest that the current popularity of “American Idol” feeds into actual idolatry. But to properly understand idolatry you must read what the Bible says about it. Idolatry is not only the worship of other gods than Yahweh in the form of statues and images – it is the worship of any thing or person other than Yahweh. That is, when you make a thing into a god, that’s when it become idolatry. And you know that you’ve made the thing into a god when you start engaging in functional worship of it. Worship is “veneration” and “sacrifice;” or – to put it another way: attention-dedication and money-time.
Paul says, in 1Corinthians 10 that people in the past worshipped feasting and sexual gratification. That is, they made food and sex into gods by giving food and sex the kind of attention and resources that rightly belongs to God.
And that’s how idolatry can get into a church. Paul, in other places, also tells us that covetousness (wanting what we shouldn’t have), evil thoughts, and even grumbling can all be idolatrous. In the 21st century we can easily see that materialism, pornography, addictions, celebrities, and even dysfunctional relationships can be sources of idolatry. Watch the average American Male on Sunday afternoons and you’ll see idolatry while they worship Rams, Tigers, Bears, Colts, Bengals, Cubs, Bulls, Bucks, Grizzlies, Orioles, Ravens, Blue Jays, Eagles, Seahawks, Giants, Pistons, Cardinals, Mariners, Marlins, Broncos, Texans, Lakers, Pirates, Vikings, Saints, and Kings - but (regional joke here) not Lions.
And that’s what Paul is warning the church about: when people who spend their week in functional worship of other ‘gods’ come in to church on a Sunday and then participate in the Lord’s Supper, they are doing a bad thing. Paul says that the Lord’s Supper is, in some way still not fully understood by Christian theologians, a union with Jesus as God. To engage in such a significant event while also worshipping other gods is disloyal, disrespectful, insulting, and delusional.
I’m now ministering in a movement that – rightly – takes the Lord’s Supper seriously. We weekly practice this reminder of Christ’s atoning death for our sin – a HUGE part of The Good News that we Christians should be talking about and acting out. This section of the Bible reminds us that we, even as “Jesus People,” can be distracted from true worship of God. And this reminds us that we must be especially attentive to the other ‘gods’ in our lives that attempt to worm there way into the place where only God should be.