Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone love the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and its lust; but the one who does the will of God abides forever, 1 John 2:15-17.
This passage links John’s words to “children”, “fathers”, and “young men” with his warning concerning the antichrist. The world and the antichrist are linked again in 1 John 4:1-6; then in 5:4-5 we read: For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? As John concludes his letter he writes: We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (5:19).
The only time in my life I have ever heard preaching on the subject of the “world” has been in legalistic contexts. By legalistic I mean that a relationship with God was based on how one acted, on what one did or didn’t do, on how one looked; matters of hair and dress and outward appearance were important and others were often judged by whether or not they looked the same, talked the same, and abstained from smoking and alcohol. This was my early experience of church, early in the sense of being a believer, not early in the sense of experiencing nominal Christianity. The folks of whom I’m speaking would have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ was essential to salvation, but beyond that life was more about works than grace.
The above is a simplistic view of the world, simplistic in that the issue of the world is an issue of the heart, of the inner man or woman or child, and a heart can be just as worldly not taking a drink of Chardonnay as it can be worldly while enjoying a glass of good wine, or just as worldly in drab conservative dress as in ostentatious in-your-face provocative attire. A poor man can be caught up in the world, a rich man may be overcoming the world – though let us not deceive ourselves on who has the greater challenge.
I’m not sure why I haven’t heard the “world” preached on in other Christian contexts, is it because we are afraid of offending people, afraid that they might leave the congregation? Of all the marketplace ministry material I’ve read I can’t recall reading anything about the Biblical view of the world, let alone any direct warnings about the evil of the world-system. Is that because we are afraid of offending others, of being seen as impractical and out of touch? Is it because we fear losing our constituency? Is it because it’s not professionally smart to challenge much of what drives business and careers?
The church is quick to make those who enjoy worldly success poster boys and girls – this is hardly a Biblical view of the church and the family of God. This practice hurts those on the poster and it warps our view of God’s desire for His people if we equate that desire with things that are passing away. This isn’t to say that we don’t rejoice with our brothers and sisters who do well in business and career; it is to say that we view all things in light of the Cross and not the dollar. When a victorious Roman general was accorded a triumphal parade a slave rode in the chariot with him, reminding him of his mortality – we can learn from that – whether we have millions of dollars or are on food stamps we will all end up in the grave…the world would have us think there is a difference between the rich and the poor, that we should give one our attention and ignore the other…this is poison.
Then there are those perverse teachers who come under the category of “name it and claim it”, who teach that God wants us to be materially prosperous and that we can have whatever we want – God is one great big candy store. Where is the Cross? Where is self-denial? There is no tension between the Cross and the world with these so-called teachers; they pervert the Gospel of Christ in the name of Christ – amazing.
But then we have the respectable materialists; they are not the blatant crude out-of-control televangelists with their local clones picking the pockets of their viewers and Sunday morning attendees, they are the tried and true safe churches where good sound materialism is welcomed and honored – worldliness with propriety – how can one argue with that? There is no tension with the Cross here, Jesus Christ comes dressed to impress and to bless the ideal of American success.
Pastors are now expected to be professional rather than prophetic. I’m reminded of John Piper’s book, Brothers We Are Not Professionals. Yes we should be intellectually vigorous, yes we should understand how to communicate, yes we should use sound thinking in approaching the Biblical text; but to adopt advertising techniques? To use manipulative advertising that dumbs-down the Gospel? To shy from a prophetic voice? To attempt to “create” a Sunday morning experience as if our people were out for a day at Disney World? To hold what amounts to group-therapy sessions?
To bring things down to an individual level: does it matter what people think of the car I drive, the neighborhood I live in, the job I have, my level of education, whether I own a boat, whether I belong to a club, whether I’m good at this or that…where am I seeking approbation? Where is my identity? What is it that feeds my soul? And this, I think, can easily be a life-long tension; for most of us, I don’t say all of us, but for most of us we need this tension or else we will fall into the abyss of the world…and may I gently, and I do mean gently, say that we are fools not to think so.
This thing about the world also has to do with the ideas and philosophies that we espouse, when we are known more for our political or economic views than our love for Jesus we have a problem. When our souls are fed by any other sustenance than the sustenance of the Gospel then we have a problem – we are not of the world even as Jesus Christ is not of the world (John Chapter 17). We are not called to integrate other ideas and philosophies and issues with the Gospel; we are called to subordinate other issues and philosophies and ideas to the Gospel.
John’s words are words of warning and of promise – do we take them seriously?