Wednesday, October 9, 2019
I have a hard time imagining life back in the days of the early church. There’s no way we can really relate to what it must have been like almost 2,000 years ago. At least from a lifestyle argument this is true. But it is not true from a faith or philosophical view. The same beliefs that exist today in people’s hearts and minds were prominent back then. People’s thinking has not changed. Culture may have changed, and technology has certainly changed, but the heart of man has not.
Around the year 90 A.D., when the apostle John was exiled to the Island of Patmos, Greek philosophers abounded throughout the Roman Empire. They attempted to do what philosophers and scientists attempt to do today – explain life without recognizing the existence of God. One such philosopher was named Epictetus.
To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control, so we should accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. As individuals, however, we are responsible for our own actions, which we must examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power.
This philosophy is not much different than the humanistic philosophy of today. Man has not changed his thinking. Under the power of sin, man still thinks he can control his actions so that they produce good. People still believe that through self-discipline and self-affirmation they can produce their own happiness. How wrong they are!
Epictetus was convinced that attitude and perspective were the keys to managing the problems of life. He wrote, “It isn’t your problems that are bothering you. It is the way you are looking at them.” He was partially right. His problem was that he taught that we needed to look at our problems through the eyes of fate and human ability, rather than through the eyes of God and His Sovereign control of all things.
That’s what God was trying to tell the people of the world through the mouth of Isaiah the prophet. Chapter after chapter come warnings to nations and people about the consequences of not looking at life through from God’s perspective. In chapter 17, the people of Damascus are told about what will happen to all their hard work that has been done only by looking to man’s ability – it will be obliterated. When it is, then they will finally turn their eyes back to the Lord.
Isaiah 17:7-8 In that day men will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made.
Look carefully at these verses. In the past, the people of Damascus had their eyes wrongly focused on three things – religion (the altars), work, and pleasure (Asherah poles, representing the sexual focus of their culture under the false worship of the goddess Asherah). Everything they did in life was motivated by the pursuit of one of these things. They sought to find some kind of peace through a religious experience; they sought to find some kind of worth through the work they accomplished; and they sought to find an escape from the troubles of life through pleasure.
Man has not changed. We still look to these three things to fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts. It is only after we suffer the consequences of looking to these things four our value, that we finally turn and look to our Maker who knows how to satisfy our every need from the inside out.
So what are you looking at? Is it the things of the earth, or the things of God? But even looking at the things of God is not sufficient. Look to God Himself. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, and look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.