". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Jesus: Accept No Substitutes

February 12, 2024

Using technology unknown until a few years ago, researchers have used artificial intelligence to read part of a carbonized scroll found in what is believed to be the home of Julius Caesar’s father-in-law.

One of hundreds of scrolls discovered in Herculaneum, the Roman city destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the charred and stone-like document has been found to record the teachings of an early first century philosopher named Philodemus. Philodemus was a follower of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who believed that material reality was all there is (even the gods had physical bodies, but even so, they didn’t care about us) and that the pursuit of pleasure through great meals, mental passivity, and avoiding politics is the key to a flourishing life.

Oh, how little has changed.

We are a society sated in the sensual. Our greatest celebrations involve the athletic and the sexually provocative (Super Bowl and Taylor Swift, anyone?). Our obsession with food is unending. From the multitude of recipe books at your local Barnes & Noble to the culinary shows on TV, our palates crave constant novelty. To raise political issues in mixed company is a risky gamble; civility seems possible in at least some interpersonal conversations but in the public sphere, disparagement has displaced dialog and rage has replaced reason.

So, we avoid hard things in favor of the enjoyments we share in common. This is human nature, of course; who likes an argument when you can watch a movie? And to be clear: I enjoy a good football game and a great meal probably more than I should. The issue, then, is twofold — one of perspective and priority.

Eternity is right around the corner for all of us. Living healthy lives is honoring to the God Who created us, but even if we die at 110 with our minds acute and our bodies relatively sound, we still die. We can only dodge demise for so long, and while we can fill our lives with all kinds of activities — even wholesome ones — the blunt finality of death stands athwart our imagined immortality.

This perspective should motivate followers of Jesus to live for Him. We have been left on earth to win people to Christ and make disciples for Him (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). In our crumbling society, we must stand for the things He cherishes — the dignity and sanctity of life, the beauty of natural marriage, the well-being of family life, and the foundational right of religious liberty. In a broken world, we can bring the Lord’s presence into the lives of the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the helpless.

This does not mean we cannot have hobbies, cook fabulous meals, have family game nights, or, for that matter, watch the Super Bowl. But bearing in mind that these things bring no enduring peace and purpose helps us enjoy them without seeing them as ends in themselves, as substitutes for the things that truly matter. A family can play games around the kitchen table and enjoy them; the games end, but the warmth of the family’s time together does not. And how the games are played — with good cheer, laughter, and a not too great concern with who wins — reminds us that love matters far more than who gets the most points.

This is where priority comes in. Are we spending too much time on our entertainments? Do we rationalize “minor” sins — the profanity in a favorite movie, the lewdness of a performance, the horrid violence of a “good guy wins in the end” novel? Is talking about Christ and His work more an annoyance, an awkward intrusion into a “happy” conversation, than the wellspring of our lives?

Even our times of leisure should have a purpose: To restore us emotionally, rest us intellectually, and revive us spiritually. They should not be means of shutting God out but allowing Him to recreate our minds and hearts. Are they?

This question invites no one-time answer. It must be re-asked regularly by all who know the Risen One. Throughout Scripture, growing maturity in our Creator and Redeemer is stressed hundreds of times and in many ways. In the book of Jude, the last letter in the New Testament, Jude tells his readers that as they “build themselves in their most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit,” they need to “keep themselves in the love of God” (Jude 21-22).

Philodemus has lots of disciples and imitators today, some even in the church. But those who come to the One Who alone offers water that “will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14) know a refreshment the finest Epicurean wine can never provide.

Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.