What We Believe about God and Idols (1 Corinthians 8:4–6)


What we know influences how we live.

For example, I know that my father’s side of the family has a history of heart disease. I also know that my weight, diet, and exercise regime will either exacerbate whatever genetic predisposition I have toward heart disease or alleviate it. So, I choose to lose weight, eat healthy, and exercise regularly.

What I know influences how I live.

The interplay between knowledge and behavior takes center stage in 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1, where Paul argues with the Corinthians about food sacrificed to idols. To a significant degree, Paul agrees with the Corinthians’ theology—what they believe about God. He disagrees with their ethics—how they live based on their theology.

We’ll look at theology today and leave ethics for later installments in this series of devotionals.

In 1 Corinthians 8:4–6, Paul writes:

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

These verses make three claims that are foundational to Christianity.

First, God exists. He possesses an objective reality that idols lack. He is the origin of the world (“from whom”), the purpose of the world (“for whom”), and the redemption of the world—the means by which the world achieves its purpose (“through whom”).

Second, idolatry is delusional, yet prevalent and powerful. From a Christian perspective, “an idol is nothing at all in the world.” It is objectively unreal. It is merely a subjective reality, a figment of the imagination. Not surprisingly, then, there are as many idols as there are people with imaginations. Unfortunately, however, these people deify and serve their own imaginations.

Third, whether you believe in God or idols matters. Imagine two men dying of thirst in the desert. The first man sees a stand of trees in the west and urges the second man to move in that direction. The second man sees a shining lake in the east and urges his friend to move in that direction. If they have only enough strength to go one way or another, surely it is important for them to know whether they are moving toward an oasis or a mirage.

In recent years, so-called “New Atheists” have criticized religion generally and Christianity particularly. I’m not particularly disturbed by their arguments. After all, as a Christian, I don’t believe in many of the same gods they don’t believe in. Then again, if idolatry is the deification and service of the self and its imaginations, then atheism is simply another form of idolatry. And I don’t believe in that god either.

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