Jan 24, 2011

Weak Brethren XII

"Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them..." (I Cor. 10: 7)

"Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry." (II Cor. 5: 17)

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen." (I John 5: 21)

These verses indicate that even Christians who have come to know that "the idol is nothing" (I Cor. 8: 4) may nevertheless be guilty of practicing idolatry. There are, however, both overt and covert forms of idolatry. No true Christian practices overt idolatry for he has accepted the creed that avows that "there is no God but one." (I Cor. 8: 6) However, he often can be guilty of covert or subtle idolatry and it is this form of idolatry that is warned against in the above verses. Some sins are blatant or flagrant while other sins are concealed or camouflaged. These verses speak of sins that wear "clokes."

"For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness." (I Thess. 2: 5)

"As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God." (I Peter 2: 16)

Not only are the sins of "covetousness" and "maliciousness" often cloaked or masked, but so is the sin of idolatry. In fact, "covetousness" (greed) is specifically identified as a form of covert idolatry among Christians. (Colossians 3: 5; Eph. 5: 5) Covetousness is a cloaked form of idolatry.

The kind of idolatry that Christians have trouble with is not a belief in "gods many and lords many," the overt kind, but with the covert kind. Christians possess "that knowledge" (I Cor. 8: 7) which knows "that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one" (I Cor. 8: 4), and have therefore "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." (II Thess. 1: 9). But, they sometimes do make gods out of things when they put inordinate emphasis upon them, allowing those things to have precedence over their serving of God. When they, for instance, put too much importance upon making money, and let it keep them from serving God, they have made an idol of it.

In the King James Version of the Bible, there are three different words translated as "idolatry." Each one (teraphiym, kateidolos and eidololatria) has at its core the concept of serving or worshipping something other than the one true God. Base idolatry connects "powers" with "gods." Thus there was a "god" or "goddess" for war, love, earth, sun, moon, oceans, etc. Idolatry among Christians and other monotheists, however, though not connecting a deity with such powers and created things, nevertheless "deify" these powers, making a kind of "god" out of them. Thus, though Christians would never think that there was a god of covetousness, neverthelss can make a kind of god out of it.

So idolatry is not just venerating a statue, icon, carving or painting. Idolatry involves "worshipping the creature more than the Creator." (Rom. 1: 25) Anything that usurps God's place as number one in the heart becomes an idol. Thus Paul speaks of those who make the "belly" into a "god." (Phil. 3: 19) Idols and gods may be "mental images."

The destiny of idolaters is frankly and clearly stated in scripture.

"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." (I Cor. 6: 9, 10)

"...idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Rev. 21: 8)

Heaven is reserved for those who worship and serve the one God, the Father, and the one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Christian is therefore to always be on guard against all the forms of idolatry. They are not to associate with idolaters in any way that condones idolatry.

"But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat." (I Cor. 5: 11)

Christians should separate themselves from idolaters as much as is possible.

"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." (II Cor. 6: 14-18)

Though Christians should show brotherly love and kindness to idolaters, and to receive them as neighbors and friends, they are nevertheless to keep free of their idolatries. There is "no agreement" between Christians and polytheism.

"I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world." (I Cor. 5: 9, 10)

Paul does not expect Christians to become hermits and attempt to completely divorce themselves from all dealings with idolaters. But, such association with idolaters should be at a minimum and only where necessary, as in secular dealings.

The Jerusalem decrees (Acts 15), addressed to the Gentile Christian congregations, concerned idolatry. Those decrees are given in these passages:

"Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood." (Acts 15: 19, 20)

"For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well." (vs. 28, 29)

"As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication." (Acts 21: 25)

In light of Paul's teachings about Gentile Christians dining in heathen temples, this mandated "abstinence" did not prevent all association with idol worshippers, nor forbid all attendance in heathen temples, nor the eating of food sacrificed to idols. What Paul and the Jerusalem decrees urged was that they make sure that they stay completely separated from paganism, from giving it any credance.

"Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led." (I Cor. 12: 2)

These words help identify the culture of the Corinthian membership. If there were Jewish Christians who were members, Paul does not mention them. He says "you all were Gentiles," pagans who believed in "gods many," and "lords, many." He puts their deliverance from belief in idols in the past, what has already occurred, once for all. It is like the words of Paul to the Thessalonians, where he said - "ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God..." (II Thess. 1: 9) "You turned," a completed action in the past, and not "you are turning from idols." This speaks of the Christian's turning away from the faith of polytheism, the overt kind of idolatry, for the covert kind is continuously being "turned away from."

If the Corinthian church had many members who were "weak," members who had not fully abandoned heathen polytheistic beliefs, then how could he speak of this turning away from idols as a finished experience of the past? Likewise, the apostle Peter, when addressing Christians who had once been pagan Gentiles, said:

"For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries." (I Peter 4: 3)

Peter puts the belief in idols in the past life of every Christian who was once a pagan involved in "abominable idolatries." Again, overt idolatry is forever put away by a person when he becomes a Christian and confesses that there is only one God. But, the putting away of covert idolatry is a lifelong activity.

“Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” (Gal. 4:8-11)

Notice how Paul says that it is people who do not know God who do "service" to those idols "which by nature are no gods." People who know God do not overtly serve idols and heathen gods and goddesses. Paul connects idolatry with what is "weak" and "beggarly," in the above words, and again shows how it is the "weak" or "impotent" unbelievers who overtly profess allegiance to gods and goddesses.

Dr. Nanos, in a sub-heading titled "Paul's Concern About Polytheists in 8:1—11:1, and Throughout the Letter," wrote (emphasis mine):

"That there were divisions among the Christ-believers in Corinth is not to be denied (cf. 1:11-12; 3:3-4; 6:6-8; 11:18-19). Paul is apparently responding to issues reported to him (1:11; 5:1), or more likely, that the recipients raised in correspondence to him (7:1; 8:1), which probably arose in response to his earlier letter, lost to us (cf. 5:9-11). But it is not clear whether Paul was specifically responding to a division between or among the addressees over idol food in 8:1—11:1,52 or instead addressing questions raised, or implications arising from the attitudes they expressed, perhaps in the way certain questions were posed, about how Christ-believers should behave "in the world." A concern with factionalism in this letter does not exclude a concern with how Christbelievers should think and live in view of their role among their polytheist families, friends, neighbors, and larger world. Learning to eliminate factionalism amongst themselves is an important aspect of how they are to stand out from the world, as in, but not of it. They are those who celebrate the dawning of the age to come in the midst of the present age in a spirit of oneness, who must uphold that ethos on behalf of the service of their brother/sister of the world."

In commenting on the words - "however, there is not in everyone this knowledge" (8:7), Dr. Nanos wrote:

"Are not the "we" and "us" Christ-believers, versus the "them" who believe in idols, who do not realize that God is One, or believe in Jesus Christ? It cannot be proven that the impaired "for whom Christ died" in 8:11 is intended to describe polytheist idolaters, or that to sin against polytheists is "to sin against Christ" (v. 12), but how can it be dismissed as if not within the conceptual range of such a statement? Did Christ not die for the unbeliever? Would not living in such a way as to prevent polytheists turning to Christ be considered by Paul to be sinning against Christ? Are not polytheists also "brothers/sisters" of God's creation for whom Paul's addressees should be unselfishly concerned?

It is hard to imagine that the addressees did not perceive that Christ died for those who do not yet believe in him, or that they could read his comments in 15:3 to mean that it was only the sins of Christ-believers for which he died, or upon receipt of the comments later in 2 Cor 5:14-15, that the "all" for whom he died was only all Christbelievers. And although I do not wish to claim that the Corinthians anticipated Romans, Christ-believers should live in the world among idolaters, and bear witness to their faith; cf. Smit, 'About the Idol Offerings,' 29-46."


In concluding this part of this treatise it should be clear that those denominated as "weak brothers" in the Corinthian epistles refers to "unbelievers" (I Cor. 10: 27), to those who do not have "that knowledge" that confesses on God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, and who will ultimately "perish" if they do not repent and "turn to God from idols." In the next several chapters a discussion of the "weak" in Romans chapter fourteen will be investigated.

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