“Worldly.” Preachers warn against worldliness somehow sneaking undetected into Christian churches and into Christian lives until it pops up like a spiritual jack-in-the-box too late. Some say it is in the music. Others assert it is in how people dress or that it is a matter of style. Still others claim love for the world is about wanting to stay on earth instead of wanting to be with Jesus; it is being earthly minded and having affection for things temporal instead of eternal. But, try to get Christians to agree on a practical definition of worldly, and you might as well nail jello to a tree.
Much like the topic of “holy” or “holiness” [addressed in an earlier post], the definition of the world, biblically speaking, is often misunderstood. For that reason, judgmental believers often pass their judgments without knowledge as well as without mercy. Worldliness cannot be defined by externalities alone. It may manifest itself in things done or said, but I think all would agree that worldliness is a spiritual matter first of all. Since I like good short cuts, then let us run with this matter of the biblical adage, “love not the world…” (1 John 2:15). When the Bible presents that phrase, are we to understand that God forbids us from having affection for fellow humans or vegetation and rocks and waters and all animals? No, no. That is obviously absurd. Besides, if it were the case, then God would have been breaking his own rule with regard to mankind when he…”… so loved the world that he gave his only darling Son, so that whoever might believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The rest of 1 John 2:15 & 16 indicate clearly that God is not talking about things physical when he speaks on believers’ not loving the world. Indeed, the verses explain what this metaphoric usage of “world” contains. If believers are to be unloving, they are not to love the world [with special regard to] “all that is in the world …;” and those ingredients are:
- The desires of the flesh (or, desires associated with one’s body being given over to bodily temptations of excesses or the forbidden — that is, not saying “no” or “enough” to bodily urges when God would say “no” or “enough”)
- The desires of the eyes (or, God-forbidden desires associated with one’s seeing something and thinking, “I have to have it, because it is / it will … ;” covetousness, greed, envy, excessive emphasis on visible beauty — for ex. Eve thought the forbidden fruit was “pleasant to the eyes”[lust of the eyes] as well as “good for food” [lust of the flesh]; and these desires were categorically wrong, because God had said “no.”)
- The pride of life (or, that drive which urges you to “do it your way,” promote yourself, make a name for yourself, or better / fulfill yourself… and all at the expense of relationship with God and others — not selfless, not loving, not respecting; for ex. Eve thought the forbidden fruit was “from a tree that would make one desirably wise,” even though God had said “no.”)
So, if one wants to define the world, then he has to start with the above elements. If these desires and attitudes are appealing to someone; or if one functions by use of these motivators, then according to 1 John, he doesn’t love God. Rather, God’s love isn’t in him. [Notice then that the counteraction to loving the world is God’s love, not a set of “standards”]. The one who does not have God’s love is considered worldly by God’s measure. These are what the world runs on. This triad is what makes things go in a fallen world.
And, the phrase “fallen world,” so commonly used in everyday life, explains more than one could hope in accurately defining the subject at hand. Stop trying to nail the jello! You don’t need to. When mankind “fell” into sinfulness from an original state of sinlessness and bliss, things went awry. Mankind became selfish, proud, vengeful, envious, hateful, murderous, etc. Mankind knew death (physical and spiritual). As went mankind, so went creation–death, disease, decay, pestilence, infertility, etc. How life works on this planet fell into ruin with mankind. No longer was it “in God we trust” for everything. It became, “dog eat dog” and “the blame game” and “look out for #1.” In fact, living in a fallen world with a fallen nature means you and everybody around you has an inordinate “self-concept” and cannot love God and others properly all the time. It is dysfunction of the soul. Staple that all together, and you’ve got “the world” that Christians are not supposed to love.
Satan was the one who tricked us and got Adam and Eve to give in to their desires for the forbidden. Nevertheless, they both could have said no… just as you and I could have said no so many times within our own lives. Adam and Eve chose the wrong, despite God’s goodness and plan for mankind to order and maintain the earth properly under himself.
Ever since the garden of Eden, our Adversary, the Devil has implemented a principle. It is not a good one; but, it is clever. Appeal to their fallen desires: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. ‘Appeal to their desires, make God look bad, and watch the world burn.’ That is Satan’s master plan; and for some part, it works. Babies don’t cry if they have the pacifier. Bulls cause the most damage in a china shop. But, sooner or later, people slow down their hectic pace; they think on their wrongs to others; they find themselves unfulfilled despite their desires and scrapping for “the top.” The pacifier no longer works, and the bull is tired of wrecking. We need the milk and balm of God’s Word, which is able to wise us up to salvation and heal our souls.
The only reason the world isn’t totally consumed with evil is God is Good, and he holds back unknown amounts of evil every day. He is giving people the chance to change their minds about him–to believe on Jesus as the Savior of Mankind. He is the only Rescuer from inner sinfulness and from a fallen world.
Churches don’t need to fear worldliness sneaking in by some form of external difference in music or dress or what-have-you. As long as choir members and Bible teachers still fight about who is best or have unwritten rules about who shouldn’t _____; as long as ushers and deacons get disgruntled about being “head of ___” or posture for position and concern themselves with who is better liked by the clergy; as long as ministers don’t care who they hurt in order to either keep or gain influence/control and approval, run their program, play church politics or hide their faults; and while church members cut each other with their words, and are filled with judgmental and unforgiving and unwelcoming or uber-righteous attitudes…. As long as these sorts of things are true of a church, worldliness is already there (Gal. 5:13-26; James 4:1-12). These characteristics are how a fallen world works, not the body of Christ.