I went to Poland a number of times in the 1980s before the Berlin Wall came down, when Poland was still under communist rule. I stuck out in my cowboy boots and, of course, the moment I opened my mouth people knew I was an American. Americans were an unusual sight for the Polish people, and they were always gathering around me in curiosity. I wanted to blend in better and get a feel for what life was really like in Poland, so I borrowed some clothes from my interpreter. Then I went out into public wearing his clothes and stayed completely silent so that I could try to pass myself off as Polish.
The interpreter and I started walking down the street and within five minutes a crowd of young people had gathered around me saying, “American! American!” I was wearing Polish clothes and I hadn’t said a word, but they could still tell I was an American.
I said to my interpreter, “How do these people know I’m an American?”
“It’s your attitude,” he said.
“What do you mean my attitude?” I asked. “I haven’t said or done anything.”
“You don’t understand. We’ve lived under communist rule for over 70 years,” he said. He went on to explain how they had learned to be afraid under the oppression of communism. They never made eye contact with strangers when walking down the street because they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. They even took on submissive body language. They didn’t walk down the street with their heads up and their shoulders square; they stooped and looked at the ground. They didn’t start conversations with strangers, because the person might have been KGB. All of their mannerisms were aimed at being as inconspicuous as possible.
I wasn’t doing any of those things. I was standing on the street corner looking people in the eye and smiling. I was nodding my head at strangers to say hello. My positive attitude was coming through without speaking a word to anyone, and they could tell I was an American. My philosophy was evident—and so was theirs.
Everyone has a philosophy, whether they acknowledge it or not, and all philosophies produce fruit. Your philosophy is a filter that determines how you act. When Proverbs says that you will be as you think in your heart (Proverbs 23:7), I believe it’s talking about your philosophy. The system of thought that you hold in your heart determines the course of your life. As I’ve said, your life right now is a product of the way you have been thinking.
People don’t generally desire divorce, bankruptcy, or sickness, so experiencing those things doesn’t mean you desired them. It just means you had a philosophy that made you susceptible to those experiences. For instance, you could have been thinking, “Lord, I’m only human; I’m just a man,” instead of thinking about who you are in Christ and conforming your thoughts to the Word which says “…greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Forgetting that you are a child of God and thinking that you are a nobody makes you susceptible to attacks from the enemy.
The root word “philosophy” that Paul used in his admonition to the Colossians was used in only one other place in Scripture. It was when Paul was speaking to the Greeks, and it says,
Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
We are still encountering these philosophies today. Epicureans derived their teaching from the philosopher Epicurus who founded a school in Athens, Greece, around 300 B.C. Epicurus taught that the world is a random combination of atoms and that pleasure is the highest good. His followers soon devolved into a materialistic group; a lot like the materialistic and pleasure-seeking society that the modern philosophy of evolution is giving rise to. Having fun and seeking pleasure pretty much sums up most people’s philosophy today. In fact, the theory of evolution is simply a new presentation of the Epicurean belief that life is the result of the random collision of atoms.
A Christian philosophy puts relationship with God above pleasure. I have a philosophy that pleasing God is more important than pleasing myself. If seeking God means doing something that isn’t pleasurable, I’ll suffer the consequences because I don’t make my decisions based on what makes me feel good. The world promotes buying the biggest house you possibly can, the biggest car, and indulging every sense you have. The world’s philosophy is “Get all you can. Can all you get. And sit on your can.” But God teaches that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and Jesus said that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions (Luke 12:15). People are more important than possessions, and I want to make my life count; that means I need to be serving others, not gathering stuff together for myself.
The second part of Epicurus’ philosophy was to avoid pain at all costs. Unfortunately, pain is sometimes necessary to accomplish good. Freedom, for example, has a cost. Millions of people have died in battle for freedom. A lot of pain was endured during World War II to provide the freedom that we enjoy today. A self-seeking philosophy doesn’t allow for sacrifice like that; it leads people to put their heads in the sand and hope that problems will just go away.
When Hitler began his rise to power, as he first started implementing his racist policies, a lot of people thought he would just go away. Many governments had come and gone in Germany since they lost the First World War, and people thought Hitler would be another passing fad. Everyone wanted to avoid conflict and so they ignored Hitler and hoped he would fade away. Obviously he didn’t, and his plans for a “master race” and the genocide he employed in that pursuit plunged the world into a war in which over 50 million people died.
Today, people are hoping our problems will go away just like Europe hoped Hitler would. People are putting their heads in the sand and ignoring attacks upon our society such as abortion and the promotion of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and trans-sexual agenda, in the hopes that it will all go away. But those attacks aren’t going away unless individuals in society make a stand for morality. Ignoring these warning signs is a recipe for disaster. It’s a wrong philosophy.
The reference to stoics in the above scripture refers to the Greek philosopher Zeno who founded a competing school of thought at the same time as Epicurus. The stoics believed that virtue was sufficient for happiness, and that the ultimate goal in life was to become free from the fluctuations of emotion—pleasure or pain. They sought to calmly accept all circumstances as the unavoidable result of divine will or the natural order.
A lot of Christians today are stoic in their philosophy. The extreme sovereignty of God doctrine is a perversion of Scripture in that it falsely teaches that everything that happens in life is preordained by God. It’s nothing more than a stoical worldview. People who teach that doctrine think absolutely everything that happens in life is God’s will—even evil things such as murder, rape, and sickness. Those people believe that even if God didn’t cause the event directly, He must have allowed it to happen because He is all-powerful and He could have stopped it if it was against His will.
It’s true that God is all-powerful, but His Word teaches that He has no part in evil (James 1:13-17). It is the devil who comes into our lives to steal, kill, and destroy. God only comes to give us life, and to give us life abundantly (John 10:10). Everything that happens in life is not the result of God’s will. Some things are just attacks from the devil. Thankfully, God has given us the authority to rebuke and resist those attacks. God’s Word says,
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Any teaching that doesn’t conform to the Word of God is false, no matter how popular it may be. You have to evaluate your philosophy and make sure it is based on the Word of God, and not on the philosophies of this world or the traditions of men. Everything that God has shown me has helped to form my philosophy. It is all woven together into one dominant way of thinking. The Word of God has dictated my philosophy, and my response to life is, in turn, dictated by my philosophy. So the blessings in my life are simply a result of filtering life through God’s perspective.
But Stoicism and Epicureanism aren’t the only philosophies out there. The philosophy that your parents had when they raised you also has an impact on your belief system. Not merely their worldview, but the philosophy they instilled in you by the things they said, by the way they treated you, and through the behavior you witnessed.
I have a very close friend whose father was a good man in many ways, but he also had a mean streak. When my friend was a boy, his father used to browbeat him constantly. He was always scolding him for doing things incorrectly. Those negative statements became part of the way my friend looked at life. He saw himself as the man his father told him he was.
They lived on a farm, so the father was always fixing cars and other equipment and my friend would help. One of the things my friend's father used to tell him was that he couldn’t put a nut on a bolt without crossing the threads. I remember working on a car with him one time and I watched him start to shake as he put a nut on a bolt. After he got the nut on, he was afraid it wasn’t on right, so he kept taking it off and putting it back on until he actually cross threaded the bolt. The things his father spoke over him became a curse because my friend took those words to heart and made them a part of his philosophy.
All of us have been influenced by the philosophies we were raised with or that we picked up through experiences. Racism is an example of a philosophy that is handed down from one generation to the next; it’s a kind of tradition. If a child raised in a racist environment doesn’t replace those lies with the truth, he or she will incorporate prejudice into their worldview and it will affect their experience of life.
America had a tradition of racism that was hard to overcome. Martin Luther King, Jr. made a stand for morality and led our country through some difficult times. He didn’t stick his head in the sand and hope that the problem of racism would go away. He stood up for a Christian philosophy that says all men are created equal, and he helped to change a nation. Today, society often fails to recognize that Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t merely a civil rights leader, he was a Christian leader.
In the same way that society persecuted Martin Luther King, Jr. for his stand against racism, I can guarantee you that Christians are not going to be universally loved for making a stand against current wrongs in our society. Abortion is a heinous crime, but the majority of society supports it and there are elements that promote it aggressively. Still, we shouldn’t be focused on how other people are going to respond. Our goal should be to do the will of God and to stand for what is right—that’s a Christian philosophy. Proverbs says,
Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.
Righteousness is conforming your character and conduct to a right standard. It’s conforming to the Word of God, not to philosophies of this world and the traditions of men. What the majority of society says is, or is not, right is irrelevant. The majority is often wrong. The Word has to be the standard upon which we build our philosophy.
Too many Christians aren’t building their philosophy on the Word. Some of them might not truly be born again, but some sincere Christians just haven’t become disciples of the Lord Jesus. They haven’t learned what the Word says, and they aren’t following Him. They haven’t made an effort to conform their heart and actions to a godly standard of righteousness. All they have done is accept Jesus to avoid going to hell. They often have philosophies that are completely contrary to the Word of God, but they don’t see any problem with that. Obviously, if you have a philosophy that is contrary to the Word of God, you don’t have a Christian philosophy.
Some of this is the fault of the church. We have been preaching salvation in order to go to heaven when we die, but we haven’t been making disciples as the Lord commanded us. Because of this, some people are truly ignorant of God’s values, but others are willfully ignorant. Those people are choosing not to subscribe to God’s viewpoint because it doesn’t fit with their lifestyle. Either way, ignorance isn’t good for you. God loves you no matter what because He doesn’t relate to us based on our performance, but ignorance isn’t going to excuse you from the devil’s attacks. The world’s philosophy says that “what you don’t know won’t hurt you,” but the truth is that ignorance kills (Hosea 4:6).
You can see the influences of Epicurean philosophy in those who aim to please themselves no matter the consequences. The overwhelming majority of abortions are performed on women who aren’t married. They are having sexual relations outside of marriage and using abortion as a form of birth control. God’s command restricting sex to a marriage relationship is given to protect us emotionally, and to protect children. Sadly, 70% of women getting an abortion in the United States identify themselves as Christians at the time of the abortion. This shows the degree to which men and women who have a philosophy putting pleasure first are doing what they want to and not worrying about the consequences—even when it means killing an unborn baby.
Christians should not be getting abortions. I’m not saying God is mad at you or that He won’t love you anymore if you’ve ever had an abortion. God dealt with sin when He poured out His wrath on Jesus on the cross, and He isn’t dealing with sin anymore. God is a good God who is full of mercy and unfailing love. So I’m not condemning women who have had an abortion. God’s grace is more than enough to cover all of our sins. I’m simply saying that abortion is wrong. Abortion kills innocent children, and there is no room in a Christian philosophy for the tolerance of abortion.
We can’t just entertain the information that suits us. A ragbag collection of truths and half-truths will never add up to unified worldview that is godly and righteous. We need to get our philosophy from the Word of God. Filtering our lives through Scripture and basing our decisions on the philosophy that comes from the Word will keep us on the right path and prevent us from falling into hypocrisy. The reason there is such a wide variance in convictions among Christians is that not everyone is getting their philosophy from the Word.
Our citizenship in heaven can have more influence over us than our upbringing or the worldly ideas that surround us. As the apostle Paul said, “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). Even the religious instruction we received should be tossed aside if it doesn’t conform to the Word of God. You might have been taught that God is angry and that He is just waiting to punish you the moment you step out of line, or that He uses sickness to correct people. Those are wrong doctrines, and they will allow the enemy to steal from you. Our beliefs need to be established upon what the Word says, not upon someone else’s interpretation of it.
The Bible isn’t just another book. It is a supernatural book through which God speaks to us. The Word of God is true. Once you get into the true Word of God and let the Holy Spirit instruct you, you’ll see that it is the greatest revelation the world has ever been given. The Bible is a tremendous gift from God that contains the greatest philosophy known, and if you base your life upon the Word, you’ll get supernatural results.
3Definition from Princeton’s WordNet, online at http://wordnet.princeton.edu/
4Andrew Wommack, Living Commentary Bible software, note for Acts 17:18.
5From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy online at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/stoicism/
6The American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd Edition, “stoic.”
7RK Jones, LB Finer, S Singh, Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients, 2008, (New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2010).