In Acts 17 Paul ran into a group of philosophers in Athens known as the Epicureans. They were followers of Epicurus who lived 341-270 BC and taught happiness was to be found in freedom from fear of God and death and practicing what brings one the most pleasure in this life. Does this sound familiar? The popular approach to life by the masses today is similar to Epicureanism. Stumpf said Epicureanism, “was a new direction in moral philosophy, for it focused upon the individual and his immediate desires for bodily and mental pleasures instead of upon abstract principles of right conduct or considerations of God’s commands.”
Acts 17:16 describes Athens as a “city wholly given to idolatry.” The idol among the Epicureans who resided in Athens was man himself. Romans 1:25 says that the Gentiles, “worshipped and served the creature more than the creator,” which is exactly what Epicurus did and what many have done today. The focus has been shifted from what God wants to what man wants.
Whenever man is put in the place of God, moral degradation occurs. This is because there remains no objective standard for right and wrong in the minds of those who reject God as the standard for goodness. Epicurus taught against excess, claiming that it did not lead to the greatest happiness, but if man’s pleasure is the barometer for goodness, then who is to say that any self-restraint is more pleasurable than excess? The entire issue of good and evil becomes subjective and what each individual regards as the most pleasurable wins out. With God removed and man placed on the throne, every man does that which is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).
Jeremiah 10:23 says, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” Whether it is the Epicurus himself, the Epicureans Paul challenged a couple centuries later, or people today, man, left to himself, is too self-centered and sinful to do what is right. Paul concluded his sermon in Acts 17:30-31 by appealing to them to repent and follow the ways of the true God so that they will be prepared for the judgment of Jesus Christ that awaits all mankind. Instead of turning a blind eye to death and God’s commands, true happiness is found in preparing for death by following God’s commands. God knows what is good and right for us. He rightfully belongs on the throne; He is the righteous judge (Acts 17:30). When we sin we pull God off the throne of our hearts and sit on the throne ourselves, worshipping our own desires. Let us set the Lord alone on the throne of our hearts and make His ways our ways (1 Peter 3:15).