1 Thessalonians 1:9 (NIV) for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
“….you turned to God from idols..”
Does anyone notice something about this scene. Paul, the scripture tells us, preached in the Synagogue; Pagans would not have been allowed inside, therefore this had to have been a primarily Jewish audience.
To make the statement “you turned to God from idols” implies in-mass. What were Jews doing worshiping idols? A foolish question, for this had been a problem with the Jews for generations, and guess what, we followers of Christ do it too.
Leviticus 17:7 (NIV)
They must no longer offer any of their sacrifices to the goat idols to whom they prostitute themselves.
Leviticus 26:30 (NIV)
I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you.
Deuteronomy 32:21 (NIV)
They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.
Judges 17:5 (NIV)
Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some idols and installed one of his sons as his priest.
This last guy is a clear demonstration that they had attempted an integration of God with gods’. So, it is not a new phenomenon. The writer of Hebrews makes what I think is a peculiar statement in Hebrews 13:9 “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, NOT by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.”
We, today, use this passage to beat up the other denominations that disagree with us. Just listen to some of the radio programs on the “Christian” channels, and you will hear it. We are all in the same big boat, headed toward heaven, but we are shoving our paddles in the water trying to turn the boat every which way, at the same time. No wonder the world cannot handle religion, we can’t either. And the reality is we keep trying to take control from God instead of letting the Holy Spirit have its way, and do the teaching. This Christian life is not that difficult and yet it has taken me 56 years to find this out. Here is the formula. I am giving it to you for free.
Love the Lord, love on people, and live a quiet life.
Now, how hard can that be!
So the strange teaching, in this case above, has something to do with the preparation of food. Food is prepared everyday, in homes and places to eat. Now mind you with the prices you pay, and the whoopla that goes into preparation of the “food”, it is easier to see how this could be an idol, and for many it is. One pastor I sat under, had to tell us that he would not eat this common food served around here. He told us that he would take his wife into downtown LosAngeles to eat lunch at the Ritz whatever. I no longer go to that church and have no interest in doing so.
But there was definitely something being done or said over the food, being referred to in Hebrews, that, in the mind of the person eating it, had some benefit over just satisfying hunger, because there was something more being done to it other than cooking it. You can ascertain that because the writer has to make the statement “it is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.”
Clearly the writer of Hebrews is in agreement with strengthening the heart.That would be the mind and soul of a person, but the strengthening should be done by grace.
Done by grace?
The ISBE has much to say about the word Grace.
1. The Word Charis:
In the English New Testament the word “grace” is always a translation of (charis), a word that occurs in the Greek text something over 170 times (the reading is uncertain in places). In secular Greek of all periods it is also a very common word, and in both Biblical and secular Greek it is used with far more meanings than can be represented by any one term in English Primarily.
But the word has abundant use in secular Greek in the sense of unmerited favor, and Paul seized on this meaning of the word to express a fundamental characteristic of Christianity. The basic passage is Rom 11:5; Rom 11:6, where as a definition is given, “If it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” That the word is used in other senses could have caused no 1st-century reader to miss the meaning, which, indeed, is unmistakable. “Grace” in this sense is an attitude on God’s part that proceeds entirely from within Himself, and that is conditioned in no way by anything in the objects of His favor.
In Acts 15:40; 14:26 we see a special blessing of God (his grace) on a particular undertaking. I believe that the reference to the word in Hebrews has to do with God’s work in our lives, and not something that we have conjured up through some act of idolatry.
Look at 1 Cor 8:1-11
“Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that all possess knowledge. ..
vs 4 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
vs 7 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.
vs 8 But food does not bring us near to God
Again, clear evidence that these people believed in some god like quality, inherent in their idols, being able to transfer to their food. If their ceremonies to their gods involved some kind of food there had to be some perceived benefit from the eating, and thus we have the admonition of Hebrews 13:9.
3 sessions and their lives were changed forever.
Some people go to the psychiatrist for years and never change. These people turned almost instantly from their idols to worship God. If they were Jews alone why would that be such an incredible thing. This statement has such a western way of thinking embedded in it. In general we modern Americans do not think of idol worship in the same way. Our version does not come with so much fanfare, unless we are involved with Satanism or some other extreme. No, the worship of idols such as a car, food or money, is done quietly and with reserve.
Idol worship, that which takes the place of God, is subtle, and stealthily integrated into our lives. We are bombarded with it’s hooks by the messages on the television, on a daily basis. Oh yes, we have our fair share of idols too.
If you have read the New Testament to any degree then you might be aware that Paul was well capable of preaching long into the night. One young man could certainly attest to that, because the young man fell asleep while Paul was preaching, and fell out of the window. He was probably dead from snapping his neck on impact, but Paul prayed for him, he was healed, and Paul continued preaching.
The point is that Paul may have only taught on 3 consecutive Sabbaths, but they might have marathon sessions. Paul only preached there 3 times because the zealous, religious Jews ran him out. Paul was preaching these freedoms based upon scripture (the Torah), that these listeners knew, and he was doing it in the synagogue. Everything about this situation seems impossible, and yet there is it, and this, along with every stop Paul made, began the process of changing the world toward Christ.
I used to watch cartoons as a child, and they almost always ended with a moral to the story. If there is a moral to Paul’s story it is that he was willing. God took that willingness and changed a world.
Oh, by the way; get the idols out of your life and give God first place, as He should be.