The apostle Paul preached in many cities in Asia Minor and in Europe. When he visited the city of Athens, Greece, "his spirit was stirred within him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry" (Acts 17:16). The Greek word translated "stirred" means provoked, stimulated or irritated. And why would not the spirit of any reasonable man be provoked or irritated when he witnessed the proliferation of idols in the most intellectual city in the world? After all, Athens was the city of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Hypocrites, Demosthenes and many other brilliant scholars. Paul had to wonder how a city with such a rich intellectual heritage could be devoted to gods that men had made with their own hands. The philosophers in Athens were like the people in Rome. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things" (Rom. 1:22-23).


While Paul was in Athens, he encountered some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. Stoicism was a major school of Greek philosophy. Zeno of Citium was its founder. Stoicism derived its name from the Painted Porch (stoa) where Zeno taught. Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius were prominent Stoics. Seneca was one of Paul's contemporaries. One of the chief characteristics of Stoicism was freedom from emotion. Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines the word "stoic" as follows: "Not affected by passion or feeling: especially manifesting indifference to pleasure or pain." We sometimes say, "He faces his difficulties with a stoical attitude." The same dictionary defines "stoicism" as follows: "The principles or the philosophical system of the Stoics who based an austere ethics on a pantheistic cosmology holding that the world is governed by and is the embodiment of logos (or reason), that it is man's duty to conform freely to natural law and his destiny, that virtue is the highest good, and the wise man should be free of passion equally, unperturbed by joy or grief (p. 2248). The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), edited by Walter A. Elwell, says concerning Stoicism: "Christians...differed with stoics on suicide and found certain other Stoic teachings objectionable, including materialism, fatalism, doctrine of endless world cycles, and belief in total divine immanence" (p. 1056).


What about the Epicureans whom Paul encountered on Mars Hill in Athens? Who were they and what did they believe? Epicurus lived between 341 and 270 B. C. According to Epicureanism, the good life is one that brings the most happiness and joy now. Contrary to what many have surmised, the Epicureans were not necessarily devoted to sensual pleasure, although there were probably many who were. The late Dr. Carl F. H. Henry's book, Christian Personal Ethics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957), says concerning Epicureanism: "The happy life accepts the limits fixed by nature, and avoids extremes; it observes the systematic restraints, and is not overly-given to the pleasures of eating, drinking, sex, or anything else. Hence there is little of crass hedonism in Epicureanism" (pp. 32-33). Epicurus was deeply concerned about avoiding pain. His philosophy did not obligate anyone to perform any duty.


When I was first introduced to Epicureanism—whether in high school or college, I do not remember—we were told that the motto of the Epicureans was: "Eat, drink and be merry; for tomorrow you die." If Epicurus used that expression, I have not been able to find it in any of the materials I have read on Epicureanism. He did want to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, but he did not endorse the sensual life that some people have imagined. I have never met anyone who claimed to be an Epicurean, but I have known many people who accepted the philosophy of Epicurus.


Luke mentions a man who requested that Christ tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Our Lord asked the man, "Who made me a judge or a divider over you?" He then exhorted him: "Take heed and beware of covetousness: for a man's life does not consist of the things that he possesses." Christ then spoke a parable with which all Bible students are familiar. A rich man prospered greatly. His crops were so abundant he had no place to store his fruits. He said to himself, "This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater, and there will I bestow all my fruits and goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry." Our Lord did not add: "For tomorrow we shall die." Jesus called the man a fool and said his soul would be required of him that very night. "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Lk. 12:13-21).


Epicurus or one of his followers may have invented the expression, "Eat, drink and be merry." It probably was a saying that was well known in the first century of the Christian era. But whatever the case, the philosophy behind the term has been around for a very long time. There have always been people who lived for the moment. They do not have and never have had any long-range plans. All one has to do to confirm that observation is to study the history of ancient cities like Rome and Corinth. Paul explains: When the Romans "knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they-became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even the women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lusts one toward another; men with men, working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was appropriate" (Rom. 1:21-27). In the words of one popular country song, "They were living just for the day." A final judgment apparently did not enter their wicked minds, or if it did, they were not overly concerned about it.


In his great chapter on the resurrection, Paul emphatically taught that Christ's resurrection guarantees our resurrection. He wrote: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins. Then they also who are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Cor. 15:17-19). Later in the same chapter, Paul asked: "If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me, if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die" (1 Cor. 15:32). We are not told who or what the beasts at Ephesus were, but most likely they were vicious and bitter enemies of the cross of Christ—not wild beasts such as lions or tigers. But why would Paul or any other man risk his life for the cause of Christ if there will be no resurrection of the dead?


When Paul used the expression—"Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die"— he was not referring to Epicurus or to any other Greek philosopher. He was quoting the words of Isaiah, the great 8th century B. C. Hebrew prophet. Isaiah wrote: "And in that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: and behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die" (Isa. 22:12-13). The Lord wanted his people to repent and turn to him for forgiveness. But instead of weeping, mourning and girding with sackcloth, the people were devoted to joy and gladness. In his Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950, a reprint), Dr. Franz Delitzsch, affirmed: These verses "do not imply that they feel any pleasure in the thought of death, but indicates a love of life which scoffs at death" (volume 1, p. 396).


Thoughts of death and eternity should be uppermost in our minds. That was precisely what Paul meant when he exhorted the Colossian Christians: "If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4). The verbs "seek" and "set your affection" are present tense. The Holy Spirit demands that we keep on seeking those things that are above and keep on setting our affection on things that are above.


The Epicureans would probably be called "secular humanists" in our day. If they believed in God or gods, they apparently were not overtly influenced by their belief. Dr. Bernard Ramm's book, The Right, the Good, and the Happy (Waco: Word Books, 1971), says concerning humanism: It maintains "that the only life is this life, the only values are now values, and the only goods are this life's goods" (p. 78). Dr. Charles Hartshorne's book, Beyond Humanism: Essays in the Philosophy of Nature (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, Press, 1937), affirms: "Humanism... amounts to two claims. First, it implies that….man is evidently alone in the universe, dependent for friendship with his own kind. Second, it maintains that the recognition of this loneliness will aid rather than hinder the good life on earth" (pp. 2-3). If people accept that philosophy, why would they not "eat, drink and be merry?”


If this life is all there is—as atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and other unbelievers argue—what possible motive could they invent or discover that would lead them to think about the good, the beautiful and the right? I know there are honorable atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and other unbelievers. Some of these people are conservative morally and politically. They are devoted to what they believe are their duties. They encourage others to do good for their families and for the nation. They would die for their families and for their country. But why would any unbeliever do anything he does not want to do? Since there will be no final judgment, according to his beliefs, he will not have to give an account for doing wrong or for failing to do right. He may do good without believing in God and in life after death, but he cannot give a logical reason for his behavior. He may be good and do good because he wants to—not because he has a sacred obligation to do so. That is not a very solid foundation for a person's conduct.


We live in an entertainment-saturated society. Many Americans claim to believe in God, but do not act as if he has any claim on their lives or as if they have any obligations to serve him. They spend more money on having a good time than in helping to spread the gospel of Christ. I have known members of the body of Christ who take cruises, purchase the very latest entertainment technology, go to all the football and basketball games, but give little time and effort to the cause of Christ. The author of Hebrews had such people in mind when he wrote: "Let us hold fast the profession of faith without wavering; (for he is faithful who promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as we see the day approaching" (Heb. 10:23-25).


I am not arguing that it is wrong to take cruises or to play golf or to go fishing. But we must not allow any activity to keep us from our duties to God and to our families. My father was an avid hunter. In fact, he probably enjoyed hunting more than any person I have ever known. But he never allowed his devotion to hunting to interfere with the work and worship of the church or with his responsibilities to our family. He set a wonderful example for his children and for others who knew him. He did not subscribe to the Epicurean philosophy.


Both John and James were concerned that the Christians who read their epistles would be devoted to pleasure. John charged his readers: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17). God does not forbid Christians from being happy and joyful. In fact, the Christian's life is the most joyful of any life. A careful reading of Paul's letter to the Philippians will prove my point. Paul exhorted the Philippians: "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice" (Phil. 4:4). Incidentally, at the time Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was in a Roman prison. If a Christian can rejoice in a prison, he ought to be able to rejoice anywhere.


James asked his readers: "You adulterers and adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (Jas. 4:4). The word "world" in the epistles of John and of James does not refer to our physical universe. We are not to make a god of the creation, but we love it because it is God's creation. The word "world" does not apply to the people in the world. We know we are to love all people, even our enemies. Both inspired writers use the word to mean worldliness, that is, a life of sin and degradation. We are worldly in a biblical sense when we leave God out of our lives.


The American entertainment industry seems to want to do all within its power to get us to focus on having a good time. When was the last time you saw a movie in the theater or on television that encouraged young people or older ones to be pure in thought and in conduct? Virtually all the movies and all television programs paint an alluring picture of all kinds of sexual immorality. But they fail to discuss any of the consequences of such behavior. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, broken hearts and broken lives are conspicuous by their absence. The producers do not want to focus on such negative aspects of sexual immorality. If they discussed these negative aspects of sexual misconduct, their ratings would plunge. They would not be able to make as much money as their desire. In almost all cases, the movies in the theater and on television intend to deceive the viewers into accepting the philosophy: "Eat, drink and be merry: for tomorrow you die."


But dying does not have to be a tragic event. If you have given your life to the Lord, dying will be the step that ushers you into the eternal kingdom of God. You will no longer have to be persecuted for your beliefs; you will not have to suffer physical ailments. John records the Lord's comforting message to his faithful children. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, neither crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:1-4).


You and I both know we shall die, unless we happen to be living when the Lord returns to claim his own. But you have a choice as to whether you die with hope or without hope. You can have the hope of eternal life if you believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God, confess his name before men, repent of your alien sins, are baptized into Christ for the remission of sins and remain faithful unto the end. But if you do not obey the gospel, you will die without hope. And what could be sadder than dying without hope? Before the Gentiles in Ephesus had obeyed their Lord in baptism, they "were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). If your goal in life is to eat, drink and be merry, you have no promise of eternal life.


Paul told the Thessalonians that those who do not love God and do not obey the gospel will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of God and from the glory of his power (2 Thess. 1:8-9). You and I will spend eternity somewhere. The choice is ours. The Lord wants you to be saved, but you will be saved only if you believe in Christ and obey his Gospel. If you are not a Christian or not a faithful Christian, will you obey our Lord this very day?


Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334


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