I Corinthians 10:1-13
Guidance through the Wilderness
Emmanuel Anglican Church, Sunday March 7, 2010
A Warning against Idolatry
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to a very young church that he himself had planted. But the new Christians at Corinth were confused about what is ok for a Christian to do. So throughout the letter Paul offers practical instructions about how they must behave as Christians. In ch. 8, he begins to give instructions about idolatry, and how the Corinthian Christians must act. In ch. 8, he gives specific instructions about idol meat: it was a practice in ancient world to sacrifice an animal to idols and then cut it up and sell it in the market place. This was a difficult dilemma for Christians since most of the meat that they could buy had been sacrificed. Could they eat such meat? Paul also instructs these new converts, men and women who used to be pagans, that they must shun idol worship. This was a hard lesson for these early Christians, because so much of life in the ancient world revolved around religion; in some cases, in order to belong to a certain profession, you had to worship in a pagan temple. Some of the Corinthians had a pretty lax attitude: they believed that they could partake in the feasts in the pagan temples, visit the prostitutes there, and none of this would harm them. They were fooling themselves saying something like, “Food is for the stomach, sex is for the body, but my knowledge of God remains intact. The whole world belongs to God and I can go into the temple eat and visit prostitutes and it will not harm me.” But Paul is horrified and warns them not to visit the temple: Even though there were no other gods besides the One God, they would be eating at the table of demons. Then he recalls what happened to the Israelites, who were brought out of the land of Egypt; While in the desert they feared that Moses would not return from the mountain. So they had his brother Aaron fashion a calf out of gold and Aaron said to them about this golden calf , “This is Yahweh, who brought you out of the land of Egypt”; they began a feast with dancing, and they began to commit sexual immorality too.
After many long centuries of Christianity in Western culture, we no longer practice idolatry. So it is nearly impossible for us to relate to these passages. What was the motivation of the Corinthians to return to the pagan temples? Why did the Israelites have Aaron create an idol? My African friends who are first or second generation Christian may understand better than us. Dr. Abel Ndjerareou, who once preached here at Emmanuel, said that he practiced idolatry at his grandparents house before becoming a Christian. They are much closer to idolatry than we are. Perhaps, a little story can explain what motivates idolaters:
Barthelemy Kombo, a Bayaka pygmy of Central African Republic, was afraid to become a Christian because he did not know how he would hunt without practicing fetishism—certain pagan rituals must be done to placate the spirits and make it possible to have a successful hunt. The evangelist told him however that, while he could no longer practice his pagan rites, he could pray to God. So Barthelemy decided to become a Christian but he was still worried that without the fetishist practice which made him a powerful hunter, he would be unsuccessful. Not only that, but all the other Bayaka believed that he would become an ineffective hunter and that his family would starve.