Fifth and last in a series
In the Ten Commandments, God (who identified Himself as Yahweh or “I am”) commanded the Israelites not to worship any gods but Him. Yet the Israelites were tempted to worship the gods of the peoples around them.
In 1 Corinthians 1:22, Paul said that “Greeks look for wisdom.” The Greek word is sophia. Beginning with Socrates and Plato, the Greeks prided themselves on their expertise in philosophy. “Philo” means love, so philosophy means “love of wisdom.” The Greeks believed that they could discover truth by applying reason. They defined the rules of logic and are credited with laying the foundation for modern science.
The Greek goddess Athena (like the Roman goddess Minerva) was associated with wisdom. The city of Athens was named after her and was renowned as a center of philosophy. The people who lived there “spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21). The place might be compared to a modern university. Some philosophers invited (or summoned) the apostle Paul to the Areopagus (the ruling council of Athens) to explain his preaching about Jesus. Paul used logic in his response, and at least one member of the Areopagus became a Christian. However, Athens was not very open to the gospel, and Paul soon moved on to the nearby city of Corinth.
In Corinthians 1, Paul said that preaching about the crucified Jesus was “foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23), but that to believers Jesus is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” He added that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:24-25).
Ecclesiastes and Proverbs in the Old Testament praised the value of wisdom, in contrast to folly. Knowledge is surely better than ignorance, and wisdom better than foolishness.
Paul described part of the problem with the Greek approach (and part of the problem with modern universities) in 2 Timothy 3:7. Paul described some false teachers as “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” In other words, they loved the pursuit of knowledge and truth but never reached any conclusions. They were content to pursue the truth without ever finding it. (Perhaps there is a parallel among some modern church people who always seem to want to “dialogue” and have “conversations,” to “listen to one another,” often without paying any attention to what God has to say.)
Knowledge and science are wonderful human gifts. But we must be careful not to worship them, to raise human knowledge and wisdom and science to the level of an omnipotent authority, to see human knowledge (with all of its limitations and biases) as infallible, able to find truth without God. To do so is to put humans in the place of God, to worship human wisdom and knowledge without recognizing its limitations. God loves knowledge and put the love of knowledge into human hearts. He placed humans over creation and encouraged them to learn about it and manage it. But human knowledge can never replace God. After all, Paul said that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.” Jesus said that He is truth and the only way to find God (John 14:6). He also said that that the Holy Spirit would guide believers “into all the truth” (John 16:13, see also John 14:17, 15:26). Human reason, wisdom, and knowledge are limited and cannot lead us to know certain things. We cannot know them unless God reveals them to us. Jesus said that since people were having trouble believing Him when He spoke about earthly things (where human reason might provide some confirmation), they would have even more trouble believing Him when He spoke about heavenly things (John 3:12), which they could learn in no other way than divine revelation.
The worship of Athena is also a relic of history. But scientism (the worship of science) and human pride in human knowledge are widespread idolatrous philosophies in our modern world.
The True God
If we are to worship only the true God, then who is He? The answer is both simple and profound, straightforward but very complete and detailed. He is the one who revealed Himself in the Bible, the one who declared that He is the all-powerful I Am, the Creator and Ruler of the universe. He is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and wise. He is perfect and holy, just and truthful, loving and kind, forgiving, unselfish, patient, and extremely generous and giving. He values life and truth. He cares for the weak and vulnerable and needy. He is the God of order and creativity. And He is the one who sent Jesus to teach us more and to die on the cross to save us from our sins.