The Early Outreach of Jesus Christ
Quarter 1, Lesson 7

Lesson Seven

The Idol Worshippers

With this lesson, the focus changes. Consider people who were not Jews. These people did not accept Judaism's concepts or teachings. The resurrected Jesus reached out to these people.

Jesus' ministry was confined to Israelites [only in rare situations and circumstances did Jesus' teachings or miracles benefit people who were not Jews]. The earthly ministry of the man Jesus was restricted to Israelites (see Matthew 10:5,6 and 15:21). Jesus Christ's resurrected ministry reached out to all people everywhere (see Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 1:16; and Acts 10:34,35).

Since this and the next two groups were not in New Testament Israel, they are seen in the resurrected Jesus' outreach. While idolatry was a common problem in the Israel of the Old Testament, it was not a problem in first century Israel. After the Babylonian captivity of Judah, idolatry disappeared as a problem in Israel.

Most first century people worshipped idols. Most "world religions" in the first century Roman world utilized an idol. The majority of the known world worshipped many gods. Commonly, sacrificial worship of the gods was inclusive. Worshipping one of the gods did not prohibit worshippers from worshipping other gods. Worshipping multiple gods was expected. As an example, see Acts 17:16,22,23 [in fear that they might overlook and offend a god not known to them, the people of Athens maintained an altar for honoring the unknown god].

Idolatry existed in many forms. While some forms appealed to base human desires and motivations, other forms challenged worshippers to high ethical standards.

Judaism stood in contrast to idolatry for many reasons. A primary reason is seen in the fact that Judaism worshipped one God to the exclusion of all other gods. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God ..." (Exodus 20:2-5).

Jesus Christ reached out to Israelites and to idol worshippers. People with strong backgrounds in Judaism became Christians. Also, people with strong backgrounds in idolatry became Christians.

One enormous challenge was the formation of a single, accepting, cohesive community of believers from people with such diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Just as idolatry was condemned and rejected in Judaism, idolatry was condemned and rejected in Christianity (Romans 1:18-23).

Renouncing an idol for faith in Jesus Christ was not simple. That change involved much more than changing gods or rejecting the idol. The change involved something more basic than changing religions. Faith in Jesus Christ was more than "a new religion." Jesus Christ was and is life. He does not merely change what you worship and how you worship. He changes who you are.

It was difficult for Christians who had worshipped idols to understand their entire lives changed if they belonged to Jesus Christ. As an example, consider Ephesians 4:17-32. If these Christians who had been idol worshippers understood Christ, they became new people.

It was equally difficult for Christians who had been devoted to Judaism to understand that God could forgive and accept people who knew nothing about Jewish practices, traditions, and history.

Romans 14:1-12 revealed the seriousness and the depth of the struggle. Converted Jews struggled to accept the conversion of former idol worshippers. Converted idol worshippers struggled to accept the conversion of those formerly devoted to Judaism. Their differences were enormous.

  1. (Romans 14:1) What were they to do concerning the "weak in the faith"? What were they not to do?

  2. (Romans 14:2) What does one Christian have the faith to do? What does the weak Christian eat?

  3. (Romans 14:3,4) Some Jewish Christians feared angering God by eating the wrong meat. They became vegetarians (see Leviticus 11). Some converts [likely people who were not Jews] understood that nothing a person ate made the person unholy (see 1 Timothy 4:1-5).

    1. How was the meat-eating Christian not to regard the vegetarian Christian?

    2. What was the vegetarian Christian not to do in regard to the meat-eating Christian?

    3. Why?

    4. Who makes a Christian "stand"?

  4. (Romans 14:5,6) Christians from a background in Judaism believed special days existed that the living God considered holy. Christians whose background had no roots in Judaism believed all days were equal.

    1. Each Christian should be what?

    2. What should they understand about each other when they reached different conclusions in such matters?

  5. (Romans 14:7-9) Every Christian must understand that he or she did not become a Christian for selfish reasons to honor personal preferences and conclusions.

    1. For whom does the Christian live?

    2. Why?

  6. (Romans 14:10-12) What two things did God never commission any Christian to do? Why?

Christians expect the fact that they place their faith in Christ to change many things in their personal lives and existence. It is very difficult to accept the fact that faith in Christ is to change the way we look at Christians who are different. The challenge of accepting people the Lord forgives and cleanses is enormous. Faith in and obedience to Christ will not make us all identical.

Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 1, Lesson 7

Copyright © 2001
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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