The people of God in the Old Testament had several problems, but one major problem was that they allowed themselves to be influenced by the surrounding nations. The failure to continue to trust in God and walk in the law given to them by God caused them to look around and want what other nations had. God had provided judges for his people, but they were not satisfied and said to Samuel, “Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). The key part of their request, or demand, was in order that they would be “like all the nations”. God gave his people what they wanted and said to Samuel, “for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me” (1 Samuel 8:7). That same attitude prevailed even after they received their kings and throughout their history.
Some years later after God’s people had suffered through having many wicked kings and the unity of the nation was destroyed the prophet Jeremiah communicated to the people saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Do not learn the way of the Gentiles…For the custom of the peoples are futile…a wooden idol is a worthless doctrine…” (Jeremiah 10:2,3,8). Judah was learning the way of the Gentiles and specifically in the making of false gods and bowing down to them. The way of the Gentiles was futile in that they invented their gods, worshiped them, and then lived in immorality because that was the way of man. Later in the same chapter Jeremiah would write, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself. It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Jeremiah was angry that the people of God were listening to the Gentiles and imitating their ways and wrote begging God, “Pour out your fury on the Gentiles…for they have eaten up Jacob…” (Jeremiah 10:25). God did pour out his fury on the Gentiles, but he also poured it out and Jerusalem was captured, and the people of God taken into captivity for 70 years.
The words of Jeremiah, “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles” not only applied to the people of God in the Old Testament, but in principle apply to the Lord’s people today, the church. It is so easy for Christians to “learn the way of the Gentiles” that is the way of the world. The influences of the world through various forms of entertainment, news programing, sports, etc. The “way of the Gentiles” is seen in the messages promoted through these avenues and as Christians we must be very careful to not “learn the way of the Gentiles”. As Christians we like the people of God in the Old Testament learn to discern between the way of God and the way of the world. Obviously, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, a Christian will not be able to avoid every influence or contact with evil because we live in the world. “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people, yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world…since then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). However, there is a way for the Christian to live in the world without being a part of the world and controlled by the “way of the Gentile”.
The answer is found in Paul’s pen once again as he wrote to the Colossians, “Set your mind on things that are above, not things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). The way to set our mind on things that are above is to make things that are of God available to the mind. Having the mind present with other Christians in worship to God (Hebrews 10:24-25), having the mind present as one prays without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), thinking on “whatever things are true, pure, lovely, and of good report” (Philippians 4:8). As members of the Lord’s church we must distinguish between the way of God and the way of the Gentiles.