I would like to begin this article by looking at Acts 17: 30, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent…”
Paul was in the great city of Athens, Greece. Being stirred in his spirit by the deluge of idolatry that had consumed this place, he sets out to challenge the religious mindsets in that region of the world. The influence of the Greek culture had brought much human learning but things pertaining to God, they were grossly ignorant. Ignorance will consistently open the door to idolatry. Up until the time of Cornelius in Acts 10, “God overlooked this time of ignorance…” (Acts 17: 30) Matthew Henry gives two thoughts for this time: (a) As an act of divine justice. God despised or neglected these times of ignorance, and did not send them his gospel, as now he does. It was very provoking to him to see his glory thus given to another; and he detested and hated these times. Or rather, (b) As an act of divine patience and forbearance, He winked at these times; he did not restrain them from these idolatries by sending prophets to them, as he did to Israel; he did not punish them in their idolatries, as he did Israel; but gave them the gifts of his providence, Act_14:16, Act_14:17. These things thou hast done, and I kept silence, Psa_50:21. He did not give them such calls and motives to repentance as he does now. He let them alone. Because they did not improve the light they had, but were willingly ignorant, he did not send them greater lights. Or, he was not quick and severe with them, but was long-suffering towards them, because they did it ignorantly, 1Ti_1:13.
Through Simon Peter in Acts 10 the door had opened for the Gentile nations. They were now without excuse. The requirement for repentance was for all the world. The apostles had preached to the Jews and Proselytized Gentiles that had been worshipping the true and living God. The apostles message was presented and preached simply as: “Jesus is the Christ” (Messiah). Now to these pagans, who worshipped false gods and were without the true God in the world, the apostle was to lead them by common works of providence to the knowledge of the Creator, and the worship of Him.
Beginning his assault on the city, Paul has to challenge the prevailing philosophies. He begins by starting with the philosophy that he was the most familiar and then progressing from there to other mindsets. In verses 17 and 18, we learn of five particular philosophies that he encountered.
1. Philosophy of the Jews. The Jewish philosophy is designed around a set of legalistic laws and ceremonies. In other words they are religious. Religion has it’s own philosophy. This is normally a ‘DO’ & ‘DON’T’ concept. Legalism is a system of laws imposed on man for strict adherence. Any breaking of these manmade laws result in much condemnation, guilt and rejection. The foremost sign of legalism in our life is: the CHILDREN REBEL. Usually in hard core things. (Pornography, sexual sins, alcohol, drugs, etc.)
The message of the Legalist is “THE CHURCH COMES FIRST, NAMELY THIS CHURCH”. There must be a signed in blood, give all your time, don’t question, be here, allegiance to the church. Jesus is mentioned in association with the church.
2. Philosophy of God-Fearing Gentiles. These are your wild – eyed, shouting, dancing, set free fanatics. They believe in vibrant, hilarious, and reverent praise and worship. They lay hands on the sick, cast out devils, speak with tongues, prophesy, etc. Spontaneity is their format. “Whatever God wants to do is fine with me!” They have a: “I am FREE!!!!” mentality. Even though they are FREE, they have no concept of God’s word, despise authority, not planted for a long period of time, tossed about by every wind of doctrine. [shall I go on] You get the idea.
This group lives a life of wandering. Wandering people cannot have dominion or come into the promises of God. God punished the children of Israel by making them wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until that generation of disobedient people was wiped out. (Numbers 14: 26-35)
3. Philosophy of the Market-Place. This mindset is shaped at the morning coffee shop. You know the setting. The good-old-boys gathering at the local coffee shop around 7:30 AM and discussing everything from politics to farming. Million dollar deals have been exchanged over a cup of coffee.
For many years this philosophy has been absent in the church. Today the market place is becoming a place of power. Scripture reveals many moves of God that began in a market place setting. Many that Jesus called to follow Him came out of the market place and became the initial leaders of the early church.
Many who are anointed for business are frustrated in their anointing because of a lack and freedom to operate completely in the market place. This is changing and churches need to adapt an appropriate philosophy for the market place.
Without a proper understanding of the market place mindset; business, corporate, manufacturing institutions will receive their direction from secularism, humanism, and fables.
4. Philosophy of Epicureans. Holman’s Dictionary describes the Epicurean philosophy as centered on the search for happiness. Pleasure is the beginning and fulfillment of a happy life. These followers of Epicurus’ (a philosopher, who died in Athens in 270 B.C.) ideas are distorted. Many think he proposed a life of sensual pleasure and gluttony. This concept is far from his philosophy and his own life-style. To Epicurus happiness could only be achieved through tranquility and a life of contemplation. The goal of Epicureanism was to acquire a trouble-free state of mind, to avoid the pains of the body, and especially mental anguish. Epicureans sought seclusion from worldly temptations. Epicurus taught that a man should not become involved in politics or affairs of the state. These activities simply served to distract one from the life of contemplation.
He believed in gods, but he thought that they were totally unconcerned with the lives or troubles of mortals. Still, according to Epicurus, it was appropriate to worship the gods because it leads to happiness.
Even though Epicurean thought focused on the search for happiness and advocated withdrawal from the world’s affairs, it was by no means an egoistic philosophy. Friendship was a very important aspect of the philosophy. Indeed, friendship was seen as the best attribute of society. A true Epicurean was willing to give one’s own life for a friend. The ideal society was a group of like minds living together. Epicureans believed in equality. Both slaves and women were received as equals at the school.
The Epicurean quest for happiness left little time for concern for afterlife. Epicureans believed in living happy and dying happy. Death did not concern them. They believed that death should be met with a serene mind. In death, the soul is asleep and can no longer be disturbed.
In today’s ‘seeker-sensitive’, ‘cultural compatible’ church we see many of the Epicurean philosophies in place. In an article from The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 30, 2003 the following was given. “Gone are traditional religious dogmas, rituals, and symbols, replaced by uplifting songs and sermons. Congregants are taught that – through God—they are victors, not victims. The messages are encouraging and easy to swallow, and no one is called a sinner. It’s, ‘Jesus meets the power of positive thinking’…There’s none of that old-time religion; none of that hell and damnation, fire and brimstone preaching… The idea is to be inclusive and inoffensive… Pastor Joel Osteen’s sermon was given like a motivational speech… There’s NO talk of controversial subjects, such as abortion or homosexuality…”
5. The Philosophy of the Stoics Holman’s Dictionary states; The logos was the rational principle that gave order to the world. The idea of God as Creator and the world as God’s creation was foreign to the Greeks. The world was an extension of the logos that gave it order. Plato considered that a demiurge formed the world in a manner consistent with perfect being. Even for Plato, however, neither was the demiurge fully God nor was the world a creation. It was an extension or emanation of the demiurge.
The Stoics were a sect of Greek philosophers at Athens, so called from the Greek word stoa i.e., a “porch” or “portico,” where they have been called “the Pharisees of Greek paganism.” The founder of the Stoics was Zeno, who flourished about 300 B.C.. He taught his disciples that a man’s happiness consisted in bringing himself into harmony with the course of the universe. They were trained to bear evils with indifference, and so to be independent of externals. Materialism, pantheism, fatalism, and pride were the leading features of this philosophy.
These five philosophies stirred the Apostle Paul to action. Today, we see many of these same philosophies in our churches, schools and communities. Yet many feel powerless against such a mindset. So we do nothing, hoping that things will change, but feeling nothing will. Paul gives us some powerful insight to what we can do. Next time we will examine some Paul’s steps to overcome some of these philosophies.