What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
— 1 Corinthians 10:19,20
It cannot be overstated just how important idol worship was to the pagans of the ancient world. People were intoxicated with the worship of their gods and goddesses. Pagan temples were built in vast numbers in cities everywhere, and idol worship permeated every facet of life.
For believers at the time, it was unavoidable to live in that world and not occasionally walk by an idol, since they were positioned in homes, on streets, and in key locations throughout every city. These environments were spiritually dangerous, and Paul strictly forbade any believer from setting foot on their premises.
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However, shunning temples posed a challenge for certain believers in New Testament times because the best meat in town was sold on temple grounds. After meat had been offered as a burnt sacrifice to an idol, temple workers removed it from the altar and placed it in the temple meat market where it was sold for public consumption. So to purchase the best meat in town, one had to physically go inside a pagan temple and look over the meat selection. As a result of this exposure, some began to fall back under the old influences from which they had been delivered.
Paul knew that being so physically close to those spiritually dark environments was too great a risk for these believers. So he urged them to stay away from those sites, lest they fall back under the influence of the demonic powers from which Christ had delivered them. He wrote, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry…” (1 Corinthians 10:14).
The word “flee” in this verse is the Greek word pheugete, which means to run as fast as possible or to take flight. Furthermore, the tense Paul used for this word conveys that his readers were to constantly flee from idolatry with no exception. He was emphatically stating that idolatry should never be tolerated under any circumstances — not then, not now, not ever. These environments were simply too detrimental for believers who had already been delivered from a life of idolatrous practices.
As an analogy, consider a person who has been delivered from alcohol. Once Christ set him free, it would be foolish for him to meet people in a bar because that environment might lure him back into the habit of drinking again. A bar is simply a dangerous environment for an individual who has been set free from an alcoholic addiction. Common sense says he shouldn’t go there.
Another example would be someone who has recently quit smoking. Hanging out with smokers would create a temptation to light up a cigarette and start smoking again; therefore, common sense dictates that it is better for someone who formerly smoked cigarettes to stay away from those who still smoke so he or she can remain free. That may mean choosing a new set of friends, but severing these ties from the past is a far better option than slipping back into bondage with cigarettes.
When Paul addressed the subject of idolatry in First Corinthians, he made it clear that an idol in and of itself is nothing. Rather, it was the environment in which idolatry was practiced that was so dangerous because demonic activity permeated it. In the dark, spiritually charged environment of these pagan temples, the spirit realm was stirred up under the guidance of the priests and priestesses, and demon spirits were drawn to these grounds like moths to a flame.
It is a biblical command to flee from the presence of evil because it is foolish to blatantly put ourselves at risk in a detrimental environment. We may not fall off the edge of a cliff simply by standing near it, but playing around the cliff’s edge greatly increases the danger of slipping. Keeping a safe distance from the edge assures us that we will not slip and fall. Therefore, although we rejoice in the truth that declares, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4), we must also remember the same epistle likewise commands us, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
There is great potential spiritual damage and harm that you can subject yourself to by simply being in a wrong spiritual environment where there is an evil influence.
Christ required that believers live a life of holiness and use spiritual common sense to stay away from the crumbling edge of a spiritually dangerous cliff. He had called them out of darkness into His marvelous light (see 1 Peter 2:9), and He knew that skirting around the edges of darkness was not the way for His children to flourish. Thus, the Holy Spirit pleaded with New Testament readers through the apostle Peter: “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
Living far from the edge of darkness, evil, and worldliness is what Christ demands. By adhering to this command, those early believers who were once bound by a lifestyle of darkness and sin could continue enjoying the freedom that Christ had purchased for them on the Cross with His own blood.
The same is true for us today. We need to use common sense about where we go and with whom we choose to spend our time. Christ has set us free, but just because we’re free doesn’t mean we can play around the edge of the cliff!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I ask You to help me use common sense to know the places that I need to avoid to maintain my spiritual freedom. I know that I am free. I know that Christ’s power in me is greater than any force around me. But Your Word clearly teaches me to avoid those detrimental environments that once held sway in my life. So in obedience to Your Word, I deliberately choose to change my way of doing things, lest I place myself in spiritual jeopardy. Holy Spirit, I ask You to help me be sensitive to discern when I am in a wrong place or with a wrong group — and to show me how to graciously leave when I know it’s time for me to be going!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I will no longer intentionally place myself in positions that are too close to the edge of the cliff. Christ has set me free, but I don’t need to play around or fellowship in the sinful places from which Jesus liberated me. I admit that I’ve made this mistake in the past, but I will not make it any longer. The Holy Spirit within gives me wisdom and common sense to recognize when I’m in a detrimental environment, and He gives me the courage to exit these situations so I can keep moving forward.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Since most of us do not live in places where actual idolatry is practiced today, what is the application of these truths for you and me?
- Can you name environments or places that you need to avoid because they would tempt you to fall back into old patterns or habits from which Christ has already delivered you?
- Do you know anyone who was freed from sin, but fell back into it as a result of hanging out at the wrong places with the wrong people?