I have here some catalogs. They fill my mailbox (and my garbage can) on a regular basis. There are catalogs for clothes, computer stuff, toys, home furnishings, church supplies, office equipment and a host of other things. Each of the catalogs has the same purpose: to help me realize that something I didn’t realize need is now available for a price that is too good to pass up.
Reminds me of the old story of the family who had the minister over for dinner. As is often the case, the parents were trying to impress the Pastor with their spiritual depth. They talked about how much they loved reading the Bible. They were talking about their family Bible and said to their little three-year old girl, “Please go get that book that mommy and daddy are always reading from”. The little girl returned with the Penney’s catalog (could just have easily been the TV Guide). Children see what we sometimes cannot.
This morning we look at a text that says something very difficult.
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
If you do really want to follow the Lord then we must wrestle with what this passage means and try to apply it to our lives. We need to answer some questions.
What does “world” mean?
John tells us not to love the world. OK. But what does the term world mean? Is John telling us that we are to hate all things material? No, that’s not what John is saying. The heresy of John’s day (Gnosticism . . .which is making a bold comeback today) taught this kind of dualism, not John. The Gnostics taught that everything physical and material was bad and only the spiritual was good. They went so far as to say God could not have become man because the body is evil. However, the Bible tells us that after God created the world He said, “It is good”. There are many places where the Bible tells us to enjoy various parts of God’s creation. The physical world is not evil.
John is also not telling us that we need to withdraw from society as some monks have done in the past. The gospel tells us “God loved the world so much that he gave us His Son.” Jesus also told the disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Matt. 28:20). He did not tell us to withdraw.
So what is this “world” that John talks about? John is talking about a way of thinking or an approach to life. If you will, John is talking about world-li-ness, or living our lives by the values of the world rather than the values of God.
What are the characteristics of worldliness?
John describes worldliness with three phrases, “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does.” Let’s try to get a little handle on what they mean.
The Cravings of sinful man This phrase refers to out of control desires. In other words it is to be possess by our desires, appetites and passions (rather than what is true) There are many illustrations of such a drive.
- There is skyrocketing consumer debt (I have to have this and I have to have it now!)
- The rising divorce rate (if things get difficult, get someone else)
- Increase in violent crime (evidence of a lack of restraint)
- Rampant perversion and immorality (if it feels good, it is good)
- An expanding drug culture (I want to “feel good”)
- Even a Christianity that minimizes prayer and Bible reading (communication with God) to emphasize things that will be more attractive to the “consumer”.
All of these things result from being controlled by our desires rather than God’s directives.
The lust of the eyes. In some respects this sounds very much like the first category. However this phrase reminds us that we could look spiritual and appropriate on the outside and still have a real problem on the inside. We are told, “man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Jesus underscored the fact that sin begins in our heart. He said lust is the precursor to adultery and hatred is the precursor to murder. Where we focus our mind is where we will tend to go in our behavior.
If you were driving down the road and your eye caught something and you fixated on this object even after you had driven past it, your car would eventually veer off the road or crash into another vehicle. This illustrates that what we focus on will determine where we go.
The advertising world understands this. If they can convince you that a certain kind of shoe will make you jump higher, a certain car will tell people you are more successful, a particular scent will draw the opposite sex like flies to honey, or a particular supplement will cause you to lose weight, add hair or increase your virility, people will rush out to buy your product.
Boasting of what we have and do. This last phrase seems to convey the idea of a person who is always trying to impress others by the things they possess. When we are ensnared by worldliness we can reach that point that we are quite proud of our worldliness. The reason for this is that we don’t really care what God has to say. We aren’t seeking God’s approval but the approval of the world.
John then seems to be talking about is the passion of our lives. We can be passionate for the things of this world, or passionate for the things of God. Let me give you three general indicators of a secular worldview,
- Lack of absolute truth (every truth is adhered to or rejected based on how we feel about it). We say we believe in the Bible but feel free to ignore parts we don’t like. We dismiss God’s direction about the Sabbath by saying we have other things to do: family events, we need to rest, it is our day to catch up around the house. We dismiss God’s commands of purity by saying, “but we really love each other . . . we plan to get married.” We dismiss commands about stealing by saying, “I’m just making a copy of this for my friend” or “no one reports all their income”. We sidestep the command to tell the truth saying, “I was only kidding” or “I didn’t mean anything by it”. The truth we say we believe is watered down by our justifications.
- A rampant materialism. There is a belief that more is better and happiness comes from what you have. There is the belief that we would be happy if we had more.
- A Hybrid Spirituality. By this I mean we live in a society that seems to pick and choose the parts they like from various religions. Imagine a buffet table. Many today talk about being “spiritual” they have actually fashioned a religion of their own imagination.
Max Lucado draws us a picture of worldliness.
Not long ago I boarded a plane. I walked down the aisle, found my seat, and sat down next to a strange sight.
The man seated next to me was in a robe and slippers. He was dressed for the living room, not for a journey. His seat was odd, too. Whereas my seat was the cloth type you normally see, his was fine leather.
“Imported,” he said, when he noticed I was looking. “Bought it in Argentina and put it on myself.”
Before I could speak he pointed to some inlaid stones in the armrest. “The rubies I purchased in Africa. They cost me a fortune.”
That was only the beginning. His fold-down table was of mahogany. There was a portable TV installed next to the window. A tiny ceiling fan and globed light hung above us.
I had never seen anything like it.
My question was the obvious one, “Why did you spend so much time and expense on an airline seat?”
“I live here,” he explained. “I make my home on the plane.”
“You never get off?”
“Never! How could I deboard and leave such comfort?”
Incredible. The man made a home out of a mode of transportation. He made a residence out of a journey. Hard to believe? You think I’m stretching the truth? Well, maybe I haven’t seen such foolishness in a plane, but I have in life. And so have you.
You’ve seen people treat this world like it was a permanent home. It’s not. You’ve seen people pour time and energy into life like it will last forever. It won’t. You’ve seen people so proud of what they have done, that they hope they will never have to leave—they will.
We all will. We are in transit. Someday the plane will stop and the deboarding will begin.
Wise are those who are ready when the pilot says to get off.
I don’t know much, but I do know how to travel. Carry little. Eat light. Take a nap. And get off when you reach the city.
Why is worldliness so bad?
John gives us some reasons why we should avoid worldliness. First, he says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (v.15) Worldliness is incompatible with godliness. They are opposites. You can’t be pursuing the things of the world and also pursuing the things of God. It is one or the other. Paul echoes John’s words,
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. [Galatians 5:16-21]
Second, worldliness is a waste of time. John says, “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (17) Worldliness focuses on the superficial things of life. It is like trying to hold water in your hand. You scoop it up and it disappears. It won’t last.
What does this mean for the way we live our daily lives. I see four implications.
First, we learn that we have some responsibility for our own spiritual growth. John tells us not to love the world. He sees this as a decision that we have to make.
Think about children. They are brought into the world not by their decision but the decision of their parents. The parents provide everything for their child in those first years. As the child gets older they are given more and more freedom and responsibility so that they can learn to function on their own. The older you are, the more responsibility you will (or should) have for the direction of your life.
It is the same way in the faith. We are saved by a work of God’s grace apart from our efforts. In the early days of our walk with Christ, God makes things as easy as possible. However, as we grow God gives us more and more responsibility for our spiritual health. It’s because He wants us to develop faith, trust, and endurance.
AW Tozer has written,
It is disheartening to those who care, and surely a great grief to the Spirit, to see how many Christians are content to settle for less than the best. Personally I have for years carried a burden of sorrow as I have moved among evangelical Christians who somewhere in their past have managed to strike a base compromise with their heart’s holier longings and have settled down to a lukewarm, mediocre kind of Christianity utterly unworthy of themselves and of the Lord they claim to serve. And such are found everywhere….
Every man is as close to God as he wants to be; he is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wills to be….
Yet we must distinguish wanting from wishing. By “want” I mean wholehearted desire. Certainly there are many who wish they were holy or victorious or joyful but are not willing to meet God’s conditions to obtain. [That Incredible Christian, 64.]
Second, growth in godliness is determined in the little things of life. Think again about he words of Tozer, “Every man is as close to God as he wants to be; he is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wills to be.” Many of us recoil at such words. We say, “That is not true! I want to be much closer to God.” Indeed there is a part of us that goes want to be closer to God, however there are other things more important to us.
I can say, “I want (even need) to lose 20 pounds.” I actually would like to lose that much weight. However, if I am going to lose that weight I have to want to lose the weight more than I want to eat candy, pie, ice cream and other sundry snacks. I have to want to lose the weight more than I want that second helping of food. I have to want to lose that weight enough to get out of bed and exercise.
It’s the same thing here. If we are going to pursue godliness rather than worldliness, it will have to start with the everyday decisions. If you want to be a dynamic follower of Christ you must be willing to make time for Prayer, Bible Study, and worship. You must be willing to go where God wants you to go and live by God’s Word.
It is the same for the church. If we really want to be a church that makes an impact we must be a church that prays, that sacrifices, that reaches beyond ourselves and that serves others. We will not be a vital community for Christ unless we want it enough to DO something about it. We are as close to God as we truly want to be.
Third, most sin is a perversion of something that is good. Any good thing, taken to an extreme becomes a snare. Extreme truth telling can result in blasting away at others. Love for food taken to an extreme is gluttony. Even religious devotion taken to an extreme becomes fanaticism. You can be so tolerant that you no longer stand for anything. You can be so bold that you lack compassion. You can be so tuned in to experience that you sacrifice doctrine. So tuned into doctrine that you become cold and academic. True discipleship is maintaining a Biblical balance.
Fourth, the best way to keep from loving the world is to love God more completely. We could put all our focus on weeding out bad stuff in our lives. We can focus on not boasting, not craving things, and not thinking bad thoughts. However, when we focus what we aren’t supposed to do we end up focusing our minds on the very things we are trying to avoid.
It is like telling someone not to think about pink elephants. When you say such things you end up thinking about pink elephants! If you tell yourself not to think about apple pie or even not to think about how hungry you are, such thoughts will only focus on the very thing you are trying to get away from.
How much better to put your energy on loving God more completely? We would be better served to pursue Him diligently. This means working to live our out faith in our everyday lives. It means doing what He says and seeking His guidance in every endeavor. It means giving Him priority in our calendar, our checkbook, and our priorities.
So, as you get those new catalogs in the mail I encourage you to use them to remind yourself that we must make a choice between the things of this world or the things of Heaven. We can live by the catalog or the Bible. One will lead us to focus on the means of travel; the other will put the focus on our destination.