Heed the Fatal Idolatry of Others

Day 8, New Testament Reading Plan: 1 Corinthians 1-16 and 2 Corinthians 1-2

Devotional: "Heed the Fatal Idolatry of Others"

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:11-12

Have you ever driven along a highway or the corner of a dangerous intersection and encountered the harrowing three foot cross planted in the ground, adorned with flowers and the picture of someone’s loved one? Someone is left perpetually grieving the loss of the one whom they so dearly loved and will clearly love forever. When I encounter these memorials, I find a desire to look away quickly, lest that death and sorrow present deposit something into my own soul that I do not wish to carry. Even as I write this, I feel the grief at even the thought of losing my husband or a child I so dearly love such that I would have to find some solace in memorializing the very spot of their death. If you are like me, you may not want to linger, ponder, or feel anything when driving past these crosses; you just want to look away and keep moving. 

In this passage in 1 Corinthians 10, God, through Paul, is intentionally laying out crosses - death memorials - in our paths, such that we cannot miss them. He urges the readers to be warned, to take heed for ourselves that “these things took place as examples for us (v. 6),” and “For I do not want you to be unaware”( v. 1). Most clearly in verse 11 Paul tells us “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.” Paul enumerates the many deaths and losses of the beloveds of God Himself, intentionally driving home the warnings against the idolatry, sexual sin, and testing God that cost Him His children/His spouse, and consequently the substitutionary life of His very own begotten Son. Our God has borne far too many crosses and is forewarning you and me that we are not immune from these same perils.

See the cross-peppered path in 1 Corinthians 10. Like a memorial cross to our right on the side of a highway, Paul here heralds the sorrow of the glory-cloud-carried Israelites displeasing God and being overthrown in the wilderness. A stake he puts in the ground that we take heed, beloved of God, lest you and I fall into the same idolatry! Do not look away, but feel the sting of the pain of death that you may spare your own life! Perhaps next is a memorial cross near a ravine; Paul tells of “those who sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” Another warning brought to the fore by Paul as an example to us that we too could slip into idolatry and fall into a spiritual ravine. Beneath a bridge another memorial cross placed in our path by Paul for the 24,000 presumably in Numbers 25 for whom Phinehas turned back the wrath of God so that 23,000 of them died in that single day, coupled with the others who lost their lives for worshiping Baal at Peor. God grieved their losses, as does an earthly parent or spouse when the loved one missed the sharp curve in the road and snuffed out his life prematurely. 

The Scriptures were written for our instruction, to keep us from sin. Glory to God! His law is not burdensome, but our delight and our safe-guard. As a mother of four teenagers, three of them fairly new drivers, every time they leave home I say, “be careful!” or “drive safely!” because I desperately love them and could not fathom any tragedy for their lack of vigilance or someone else’s. God forbid. God, through inspiration to Paul, is shouting at us that these things are written, these epitaphs in the ground, so that we would not look away, casually avoiding the sting of the death and sorrow of other beloved children whom He loved as He loves us, assuming we could not fall  into that same idolatry ourselves. Paul breathes out the word of God to anyone who has ears to hear, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” None of us is immune to temptation or from the lure of our flesh. Let us guard our hearts and cherish His instructions as the sweet last words of a parent as the child is heading out the door, the sweet last words that just may bring us all safely home to our Good Father. Let us look and linger long at His instruction and these memorials in God’s Word, long enough to feel the sting and sorrow of death, that the only cross memorializing our lives is the one we choose to take up daily as we follow Him.

Oh Lord, we need the help of Your Spirit! Thank You, Father, for Your kindness in illuminating the perils of idolatry alongside the road of our lives and the commensurate death it earns. Your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths. We cherish the sound of Your voice, and Your instruction is our life and our delight. How kind You are to warn us in your Word, lest we fall to the same old temptations common to man. Just as a grieving parent who lost their loved one by the side of the road will love them forever despite the loss, Your faithfulness and love endure forever. Bathe us in Your word and help us to be doers and not just hearers, that we keep ourselves pure of idolatry and on the path of life!  

Karen S. Hetzler
Associate Director, Christian Union New York

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