While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplaces day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean." (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) (Acts 17:16-21)
A few weeks ago I haphazardly got involved in a philosophical discourse with a young gentleman. I didn't mean for it to happen, it just did. I had commented on a FaceBook friend's link and had augmented my point by using scripture. Before I knew it, I was being challenged by a student of philosophy! By all regards, I was shocked that I had even gotten baited into this discussion because most certainly, that was not my intention. Further, I was never interested in philosophy and at at 51, have no desire, not even the slightest bend to engage in that field of academia. In light of my philosophical disinterest, I had to wonder if perhaps I had come across as someone who wanted a good argument. I now realize that was not the case.
My young "rival" was quite upset that I had quoted scripture and commented to me that I had come across as narrow-minded by stating that Jesus Christ was (is) the ONLY Way, the ONLY Truth, and the ONLY Life. He further pointed out that by quoting scripture, I had diminished my argument, as if I had been attempting to prove something. (I had not.) Though well-spoken, full of ideas that unfortunately seemed non-ending and leading nowhere, and a passionate zeal against any hint of Christianity, it soon became readily apparent that this young philosopher was a nonbeliever. For him, the mere thought that there was (is) only one path, one answer, and one truth to the mysteries of life was abhorrent.
After about a day and a half of debate with this young man, the Holy Spirit brought deep conviction to my heart by reminding me of what the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: "Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly." (II Timothy 2:15) I, as gracefully as possible, bowed out of the discussion and thankfully, learned a lesson in godliness and holiness. But however, I pray that somehow, someway this young man with whom I crossed paths in the electronic arena of communication will come to know Jesus Christ as his personal Savior perhaps by way of a nugget of truth I or someone else wrote, before he enters the realm of eternity. All of his brilliant ideas, as well as his effulgent aptitude for reasoning and discourse will not save him on the judgment day unless he permits Christ to be his Advocate in this life. (I John 2:1)
Upon arriving in Athens, the Apostle Paul was greatly distressed in his spirit from seeing all the vain and useless idols in the city (Wow, how would he have felt if he could have seen futuristically into the hearts of modern day man?), which more than likely played a significant role in him frequenting the synagogue to speak with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as spending time at the market places to speak with anyone who would listen to his message. Somewhere between these locations, the apostle had the opportunity to engage in discussion with two philosophical groups: the Epicureans and the Stoics.
In short, the Epicureans essentially believed that life was to be lived for luxury and indulgence in sensual pleasures while the Stoics postulated a quite different stance. They taught that life was to be free of passions whereby the individual was unmoved by any emotions such as grief or joy, for example. Polemically, 180 degrees apart on the spectrum of beliefs, examination of the scriptures reveals that neither of these systems of thought is correct. Indulgence of sensual pleasures, the forethought of the Epicureans, is a fruit of the flesh which is condemned in Galatians 5:19-21. (Specifically, sexual immorality, selfish ambition, drunkenness, orgies, to name a few...)
Regarding Stoicism, even the Lord Jesus showed emotion when He cried at the tomb of Lazarus. (John 11:35) He most certainly showed anger upon entering the temple in Jerusalem only to find that the religious leaders were cheating the poor people out of money! (Please read Matthew 21:12-13!) All in all, the Apostle Paul had his work cut out for him while debating with these intellects!
It shouldn't surprise anyone that the two groups of philosophers were amenable to at least listen to Paul. The Bible says, "All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas." (Acts 17:21) Evidently, many Athenian citizens had an abundance of free time and had nothing better to do. (This sure seems to give creedance to the old saying, "An idle mind is the devil's workshop.") And so Paul began preaching to the people, introducing them to the only true God. (Please take some time and read his forceful sermon given at Mars Hill in Athens as recorded in Acts 17:22-31.)
Toward the end of Paul's discourse, he climaxes the sermon by mentioning the resurrection from the dead, which undoubtedly caught the ear of all the intellects. The Bible says, "When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, 'We want to hear you again on this subject.' At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed....." (Acts 17:32-34) The crowd's response is notworthy, yet more typical. Paul left the Council seemingly in an abrupt fashion, so we have to wonder what he was thinking and feeling.
Scripture does not mention that the apostle speaks with anyone there again. (Verse 34 is the last of chapter 17 of Acts.) The first verse of Acts 18 says, "After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth." Again, we see that some people did believe after listening to the apostle's address, but the impression left by scripture indicates that there were few followers. We are compelled to ask if any of these new converts were from the ranks of the Epicurean or Stoic philosophers? The Bible does not divulge any information. Paul hence moves on to Corinth.
The Apostle Paul makes some incredibly powerful statements in his first letter to the church in Corinth that lead me personally to believe that perhaps he viewed his evangelistic endeavors in Athens with some frustration, that conceivably he may have expected more fruit from his labors there. (I readily confess that this is not my thought. Regardless of the origin of the idea however, I most assuredly subscribe to the idea that the gospel of Jesus Christ will NOT spread successfully, with remaining fruit, by means of human wisdom mixed with the most astute debating skills. [I apologize that I cannot recall where I got the idea that Paul may have felt some defeat in Athens.]) I ask that the reader indulge me by reading Paul's words to the believers in Corinth in the following paragraph.
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.' Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." (I Corinthians 1:18-25) The apostle's vituperative outlook on philosophy and human wisdom cannot be denied!
Could it be that Paul came to realize during his journey from Athens to Corinth that he had relied too heavily on his own abilities of discourse to lead the intelligentsia of Athens to Christ? It's quite probable that he entertained this thought because later he writes in his epistle to Corinth the following, "And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power." (I Corinthians 2:1-5) It certainly seems reasonable that indeed, Paul was writing from a retrospective standpoint.
Beloved of God, whether or not you concur with my line of thought, truthfully the point becomes mute when we consider how a soul enters the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. I'm confident that you'll agree that the conversion experience from death to eternal life upon salvation is a supernatural, divine phenomena that is completely independent of the greatest wisdom and philosophies of this fallen world. Verily, no human being comes to God by way of worldly wisdom or great thought.
The Bible is abundantly clear that no one approaches God initially, but that He comes to us first! If God did not comes to us in our hopeless, godless state of sin, if He didn't engage us first, we'd be lost for all eternity! PERIOD! Consider carefully the following verses that allude to this truth. ".....and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit." (I Corinthians 12:3) "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." (Romans 5:6) "We love because he first loved us." (I John 4:19) "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you....." (John 15:16) There are of course more scriptures that that reinforce our dependence on God Almighty for His salvation. However, hopefully the point is already made.
So what of the philosophies of this world and their enlightenment for the human race? Are they capable of saving you in eternity? Absolutely not! They may in some way enhance your life in some small way while in this life, but even that's doubtful. Any thought that doesn't originate with God and His Word is arrogant, notwithstanding that it is supposed to ameliorate life today. In light of that, are believers, or nonbelievers for that matter, called to be philosophers?
God does not call anyone to be a philosopher. We certainly are not required to sit around and reason our lives away, nor should we! Moreover, the Lord is not interested in our brilliant cognitive abilities to the extent that they dictate our thought-life, which ultimately steers the course of our lives, outside of His boundaries that He has set forth in Christ. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6) Our lives on this side of existence mandate a life of faith for "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone that comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11:6)
We live according to the eternal unseen that exists concurrently with the natural realm and yet in this unseen, God is known by all of His who seek Him with all their hearts. He graciously reveals Himself and His Kingdom through the Word and the Spirit (Faith is NOT blind, contrary to the old adage!), and not by way of vain imaginations and reasonings of which we humans are more than capable of creating in our sinful, rebellious minds. The Apostle Paul warns another church of this danger when he writes, "See to it that no one carries you off as spoil or makes you yourselves captive by his so-called philosophy and intellectualism and vain deceit (idle fancies and plain nonsense), following human tradition (men's ideas of the material rather than the spiritual world), just crude notions following the rudimentary and elemental teachings of the universe and disregarding [the teachings of] Christ (the Messiah)." (Colossians 2:8, Amp.)
Saints of God, today, purpose in your heart that you are going to trust without question the Living, Breathing, All-Wise and All-Knowing God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as He desirously reveals Himself to you through His Christ by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the written Word. We do not need some vainglorious ideology that attempts to explain the meaning of our existence on planet earth, as well as how we should behave while here. Rather, what we need, and really crave when the rubber meets the road, is the glorious reality of Jesus Christ's Presence in our lives. He is the only WAY, the only TRUTH, the only LIFE! Amen and amen!!!