1 Corinthians 9:24-10:22 by Pastor Dan Walker
What is an idol? What idols are people serving in America? Learn the answers to these questions. Discover how to identify and reject the temptations of cultural idols by relying on God's Word.
Duration:33 mins 52 secs

Today, my message is entitled “Reject Cultural Idols”. So, what is an idol? An idol is anything that is worshipped or served other than God. Therefore, an idol is something that has been created, whereas God is the Creator.

We tend to think of idols as some type of carved image worshipped in primitive societies. Yet, an idol can be anything that has been created by God or man. The sun, moon, stars or the earth can be idols that are worshipped. People, money, pleasure, power are things that can be idols.

Idols do not have to be intrinsically bad things, they can even be good things. Someone can make their job an idol or even their family. So what makes something an idol that is worshipped? An idol is anything in your life that is more important than God for you. Whatever is the most important thing in your life, that is what your worship.

Everyone worships something or someone. God commands us to worship Him alone. When we worship or give something a higher priority than Him, that becomes an idol for us. 

Therefore, in the world today, there are two kinds of people. There are believers who worship Jesus and there are unbelievers who worship idols.

Romans 1:25 (NIV2011) They [unbelievers] exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Why would people choose to worship and serve idols rather than God? First of all, they believe the lie that worshipping idols is better than worshipping God. Or perhaps they believe that are indeed worshipping God when they are worshipping idols. You see, every religion, except biblical Christianity, worships idols that they believe are God. Secondly, the reason that people worship idols is that there is demonic power behind idols.

Psalm 106:35-38 (ESV)  but they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did.  They served their idols, which became a snare to them.  They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons;  they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood.

These verses refer to the nation of Israel which turned from worshiping the Lord God alone and began to worship the idols of other religions. The worship of those idols led them to sacrifice their own children to these idols and the demons behind them. When innocent blood is shed in the worship of demons, the land is defiled.

The same thing is happening in America today. People worship the idols of money, career, pleasure and choose to serve those idols by sacrificing their unborn children through abortion. America has been polluted with the blood of the sacrificed unborn.

Romans 12:2 (ESV)  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The world seeks to pressure us as believers to worship their idols of all kinds. We must resist that pressure, speak out against it and learn to follow God’s perfect will. Every sin that anyone ever commits is a result of worshipping an idol and believing it’s lie. Today, we’re going to learn more about rejecting cultural idols and worshipping God alone from the book of 1 Corinthians.

Run the race to win

1 Corinthians 9:24 (ESV)  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.

As a believer, each of us is in a race, the race of life that has a beginning and an end. In an ordinary race, only one runner will receive the first-place prize. We are encouraged by this verse to run in such a way that we receive our prize. As believers, if we finish the race, we all will receive the prize, which we’ll talk about in the next verse.

What would keep us from finishing the race and receiving the prize? Thinking about an ordinary race, a runner could simply stop running or they may be disqualified, both of which would prevent them from finishing the race. Unbelievers are not in this race for a prize at all. You start this race when you believe in Jesus. So, how can we run this race to sin the prize?

1 Corinthians 9:25 (ESV)  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

In an ordinary race, the athlete or runner has to exercise self-control, both in training and in running the race. The prize that we as believers are aiming for is imperishable or eternal, speaking of eternal life. So, how do we exercise self-control?

1 Corinthians 9:26-27 (ESV)  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Paul writes that he runs with purpose, with self-discipline, keeping the goal in mind. The opposite would be to run with no aim in mind, without any discipline. As we’ll see as we go on with the next chapter, we must run so that we do not give in to temptation. Even the great apostle Paul had to guard against sin that would disqualify him from finishing the race and receiving the prize.

If you are disqualified, you are removed from the race and won’t receive the prize of eternal life. So, the warnings in Scripture against falling away from the faith are very real, as Paul acknowledged personally in this verse. So we must run the race to win.

So, let’s talk some more about the self-control that we need to finish the race and receive the prize. Self-control is one of the fruit of the Spirit, that grows as we walk with God. There are two aspects of self-control.

The first aspect is to keep your focus on the end goal, eternal life with Christ. Engage in the training that will build your relationship with God. The second aspect is to resist anything that could impede you running the race or disqualify you. This has to do with resisting temptation from idols, which we’ll talk about next.

So, for now, let’s come back to focusing on the goal at the end of the race. The goal is really Jesus, He is standing at the end of the course. He is there to tell us Well done good and faithful servant at the end of our lives when we finish the race. We must keep our eyes on Jesus throughout life, even though many things will seek to distract us from Him. Run the race to win and receive eternal life with Jesus.

Recognize the danger of temptation

Beginning the next chapter, 1 Corinthians 10, Paul begins to write about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. God was with them and provided for them, both physically and spiritually.  However, in verse 5, it says that with most of them, God was not pleased, and they died in the desert. They did not enter the promised land.

1 Corinthians 10:6-7 (ESV)  Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil 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.”

The quotation in this verse is taken from the incident of the golden calf. When Moses was on top of Mount Sinai, receiving the ten commandments, the people built an idol, a golden calf, and worshipped it. Many were killed by the Levites and by a plague from the Lord. They did not finish the race and receive their prize.

They stand as an example for us, to warn us about the danger of giving in to temptation. Where did temptation come in this story? From an idol. The same place that temptations come to us today. The next verses go on to cite further examples of the Israelites giving in to temptation and suffering God’s judgment.

1 Corinthians 10:12 (ESV)  Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

To stand is to stand by faith in the grace of God as a believer. Yet, we as believers must be alert to keep standing in faith, being careful that we do not fall away. God then gives us a wonderful promise on how we can escape the temptations that each of us encounters in life. Temptations that are designed to focus our aim on worshipping and serving the idols that are around us in our society.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Let’s look at this important promise in more detail. First of all, your temptations are no stronger than those other people face. The lie of the enemy is that your temptations are stronger than what other people face, so you can’t help but give in. Not true, everybody faces similar kinds of temptations.

God then says that He will protect you from any temptation that is too strong for you to resist. With every temptation that God allows in your life, He will provide you with an escape hatch. All you have to do is find it and stand firm against that temptation.

So, let’s think about two different ways that we can be especially vulnerable to the temptations of the enemy. The first way that we can be vulnerable to temptations is when we are isolated from other believers. When we are not regularly around other believers in prayer and worship, we become prime targets for temptation. Being around other believers on a regular basis serves as a protection as we pray with and for one another.

This pandemic has isolated many believers from their church families for extended periods of time. While we do need to be careful during the pandemic, we should not keep ourselves isolated from our church family. The second way that we can be vulnerable to temptations is really the opposite situation. We are vulnerable to temptation when we are around a lot of negative peer pressure. Either from people we know or from cultural pressure through various forms of media.

Of course, if we also are not regularly being strengthened by positive peer pressure in the church, the cultural pressure is harder to resist. So, we must be stand firm in our church family and not succumb to the negative peer pressure of our society. The good news is that no matter the temptation, God will always provide the way of escape.

Flee from idolatry

1 Corinthians 10:14 (ESV)  Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Since we seen what happened to the Israelites who gave into idolatry, we must flee from idolatry. This command is written to believers in the church at Corinth. You flee from something dangerous, like a poisonous snake. So, we mustn’t play around with idols, we must get as far away from them as possible.

1 Corinthians 10:15-16 (ESV)  I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

These verses are speaking about taking communion with your church family. The Greek word for participation is koinonia, the word for fellowship. As we take the Lord’s supper together we are in fellowship both with Christ and our fellow believers in the church family. Maintaining your fellowship both with God and the church is key to fleeing from idols.

1 Corinthians 10:20-21 (ESV)  No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

In these verses, we see that when pagans or unbelievers worship or serve idols they are being participants or having fellowship with demons. These verses make it clear that you can’t have fellowship with the Lord and the demons behind idols at the same time. Quite frankly, that is what the Israelites tried to do throughout their history. They tried to worship God and idols at the same time, having the best of both worlds.

God was not impressed. He made it clear that if you’re serving idols, you can’t be serving Him. So, the second aspect of fleeing idols is to eliminate all fellowship with idols and the demonic powers behind them.

Every time I have a message on idols, I realize that I have to fight the concept that in America none of us has anything to do with idols. I have to renew my thinking that an idol is not just a stone statue worshipped in primitive societies.

Let’s put it this way, so that it applies to everyone of us, including myself on a daily basis. Every time we sin, we are serving and worshipping an idol. When we sin, that idol is more important to us than serving God.

The first key to victory is recognizing the idols we are battling with and they are different for each one of us. Think about any sin that you struggle with on a regular basis. Behind that sin is an idol that need to win the victory over.

If you have an addiction of any kind, it is an idol in your life with demonic power behind it. Idols can also be in the form of what we might call little sins, although any sin persisted in can become an addiction. 

One of the besetting sins and idol of our times is fear and worry. In particular, fear and worry concerning Covid. Now, Covid can be a serious illness and we need to use wisdom in taking appropriate precautions. However, when fear and worry consume our lives, something is wrong. When fear prevents us from having relationship with our church family and even drawing us away from our relationship with God, an idol is at work.

What idols call us to do is always contrary to what God’s Word says. Jesus told us not to worry or fear, He would take care of us. In countries around the world, Christians are being persecuted for their faith. Meeting together with other believers could result in fines, imprisonment or even death, yet the believers keep on meeting. We can learn from their example.

Identify the sins that you battle regularly and the idols behind them. Ask for God’s help to build your relationship with Him in that area and to flee from the influence of the idols. God has promised that He will provide the way of escape from every temptation of idols.

If you’re a believer, then God wants you to run the race of life to win. Winning is being welcomed by Jesus into eternal life. But winning isn’t automatic. We must recognize the danger of temptation all around us. Giving in to temptation will sidetrack us from keeping our eyes on Jesus.

So, we must be alert to the idols all around us in our culture. God desires for us to grow in fellowship with Him and His church. In that way, we have protection against the peer pressure of our society. As we keep our eyes on Jesus and flee from idolatry, God promises to help us find His way of escape. As we run this race of life for Jesus, God wants to use us to get others in the race as well.