We must think sometimes that idolatry is difficult. That we would immediately recognize it and run. That we — as good Christ-followers — have other problems to deal with than idolatry.
After all, idolatry is so, well, Old Testament.
We don’t sit around carving totems, or carry talismans, or genuflect before paintings or statutes. Do we?
Paul tells the believers at Corinth that their ancestors had plenty of spiritual priveleges as they wandered in the desert, yet still managed to commit idolatry at every turn. We have even more in the way of gospel privilege, but Paul warns us to avoid idolatry: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters…” and he concludes the passage with the command “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:6-7, 14).
Paul gives four examples from Old Testament Israel (yes, Old Testament):
1. the golden calf. Just as soon as Israel was delivered by God from Egypt, they grew impatient with Moses’ delay on the mountain and built a calf of gold. They even described the calf as the god who led them from Egypt. They were impatient, not with Moses, but the true God, and preferred a god that they could control. In effect, they did not want a God at all, certainly not one that would make them wait and not serve their pleasure.
2. sexual immorality. In this episode a soldier runs a fornicating couple through with a spear. God had accused Israel of “yoking himself to Baal of Peor,” blatant idolatry comprised of worshiping a false god. But later we are told that an Israelite took a Midianite woman into his family, and the plague on Israel stopped when the soldier killed them both.
3. testing Christ. The Israelites complained of the food they had in the desert (manna) and that they had no water. God sent serpents to bite them, and had Moses put a bronze serpent on a pole for the people’s healing.
4. grumbling. On the doorstep of the promised land, Israel complained that it would have been better for them to die in Egypt, to die in the desert, anything but die at the hands of the ‘giants’ in the land.
What, then, does Paul admonish his readers (us) to flee from?
Impatience (is idolatry). Really? If we think our time so valuable that we cannot wait — whether for God, for God’s servant, or anything requiring us to stand in line — then there might be an idol in our heart.
Dissatisfaction with God’s provision (is idolatry). Huh? Rejecting the good things God has provided — because it isn’t what we want, or what someone else has — is setting up other gods.
Grumbling (is idolatry). Wait a minute, now… Just grumbling? When we long for the “good ol’ days” rather than what God proposes for us, revising our history and imagining that a task is too difficult, too dangerous, or too hard, we are setting up an idol.
It is no coincidence that most of these incidents mentioned by Paul related to personal comfort and security…pleasing the self over serving God.
How easy is idolatry? That easy.