The Urgent Warning

John adds a warning and an incentive. The warning is: “and the world passeth away and the lust thereof” (v. 17). The things of the world are temporary, fleeting, and have no lasting value. The world offers pleasure, power, and the fulfillment of the lusts of the flesh, but one day these things will come to an end. There will come a time when you will not be able to enjoy them. However, it is almost impossible to convince a person infatuated with the world that this is the case. A worldly person lives for the moment, especially for the weekend, and it takes a miracle of grace to wrest his heart away from the world.

But by “passeth away” John means more than to underline the world’s temporary nature. These things pass away because they will be destroyed in the judgment. The worldly person will stand before God. The music will be silent, the sensual pleasure will be over, worldly friends will be gone and he will be sober. Then he must give an account to the Almighty: “I exchanged my Creator for the fleeting pleasures of creation. I had no love for God in my heart. The world was my god.” And if the worldly person has only his love for the world he will stand naked before God, stripped of everything except his sins, and will be condemned.

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The Forbidden Love

John says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” The meaning of this commandment is not, “Do not start loving the world,” but “stop loving the world.” The saints to whom the apostle writes had already begun to love the world.

There is much confusion here.

Love for the world is not the same as merely living “in” the world. Since this is the case, it is impossible to avoid worldliness by leaving the world or by abstaining from modern society. Some have tried that: the monks of the Middle Ages sought to escape worldliness by asceticism, an extreme form of self-denial, but a monk has worldliness in his heart which he cannot escape in a monastery. The Amish have tried to escape worldliness by avoiding the use of modern conveniences, by a simple unindustrialized farming lifestyle, and by not having electricity, but that is not the answer to worldliness. Electricity or the lack thereof has nothing to do with worldliness! Electricity can be used to the glory of God or it can be used in the service of sin. Jesus prayed, “I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:14–15). The solution, therefore, is not to depart from the world.

Love for the world is not the same as using or even enjoying the good gifts of God’s creation. There are some Christians who feel almost guilty if they enjoy pleasure. They seem to think that it is a Christian’s duty to be miserable and to make others miserable. Christians, for example, may enjoy food and drink, art, culture, and leisure with a clear conscience. There is nothing sinful in pleasure itself. Pleasure only becomes sinful when it satisfies the lusts of our flesh, the lusts of our eyes, and the pride of life. We must not love pleasure rather than God (2 Tim. 4:4), but God has given us all things richly to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). If one forgets that principle, one can become self-righteous and legalistic, proud that one is holier than the Christian who uses a TV or computer, or who reads certain books, or ___________ (the reader should fill in the blank).

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Worldliness: A Perennial Danger

There are two passages in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit explicitly warns us against the world. The first is James 4:4 where James calls Christians and church members “adulterers and adulteresses” because of their friendship with the world, adding that the one who will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Earlier in that same epistle James says that “pure religion and undefiled” is (among other things) “to keep [oneself] unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

The other passage is 1 John 2:15, where John commands Christians not to love the world. The force of the Greek grammar is: “Stop loving the world.” The reason John gives is similar to James: “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

I believe that we all know instinctively what worldliness is. We can sense it; we know it; and we are very quick to see it in others and to excuse it in ourselves. Worldliness is one of the greatest dangers to the church. The Christian has three main enemies: the flesh, the devil, and the world.

 

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