“In the world but not of the world” is a formula you will commonly hear expressed that characterizes the Christian’s relationship to the world. The implication is that Christians are to live differently than those who do not profess Christ as Savior. To be in the world and of the world is to be worldly.
And yet many and varied are the opinions about what constitutes worldliness. Many religious groups and denominations forbid, either explicitly or implicitly, certain behaviors that they catagorize as worldly. In some Christian circles, smoking is still forbidden—it’s considered “worldly” and therefore sinful. (I once had a church member, who really liked his pipe, ask me with a grin and a wink, “Pastor, will smoking send me to hell?” I responded with a grin and a wink, “No, but it’ll sure make you smell like it.” He didn’t think that was funny at all). Some Christians believe that drinking alcoholic beverages, or dancing, or listening to rock music or attending movies or play cards are “worldly” pursuits to be abstained from. Just last week, one of our tweens asked me, “Why don’t Baptists dance?” I said, “Some do.”
Some Baptists will look at fellow Methodists and Catholics who imbibe adult beverages and consider that “worldliness”. But then again, most Pentecostals would consider the Baptist woman with her styled hair and who dresses in slacks as “worldly”. I once heard a Pentecostal preacher refer to lipstick as “devil’s grease”. He believed that using cosmetics was “worldly”.
And then there are the old-order Amish who are fighting the government’s demands that they place triangular warning reflectors on their buggies. They consider the bright orange reflectors as too “worldly”. In some Eastern European cultures, some Christians consider attending public sporting events as “worldly”.
My point is: The Church’s definition of worldliness is often relative to the culture in which the Christian is living.
Although the present passage does not give us rules and regulations, it does make plain the incompatibility of love for the world and love for God. John’s conception of worldliness goes far deeper than the idea of abstaining from certain behaviors that non-Christians tolerate. Which may be why he didn’t give us a list of rules and regulations. He calls his congregation to an active devotion to God that shapes all that they are and do.
The world is not simply a passive entity, but a rival for the allegiance of every person. So this morning, let’s try to unpack what worldliness is and the dangers it poses to the Christian life.
1 I. THE WARNING AGAINST THE WORLDLY SYSTEM
- “Do not love the world or anything in the world. ... ” (1 John 2:15, NIV84)
- the text begins with a command—it's the only command in the text and therefore probably the main point
- everything else in the text is an argument, or incentive, for why we should not love the world
- John issues an emphatic warning to his congregation—they are not to love the world
- the word love that John employs is the same term he uses in verse 10 where he speaks about the believer who loves his brother
- the love which he has in mind is that of firm attachment, or intimate fellowship, and loyal devotion
- he is not talking about a single incident but about a lifestyle
- the early Christians believed that there had to be a dis-connectedness of the believer from the world
- listen to the Apostle James: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4, NIV84)
- listen to the Apostle Paul: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2, NIV84)
- listen to the Apostle Peter: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” (1 Peter 1:14, NIV84)
- most importantly, listen to the Lord Jesus: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28–33, NIV84)
- ILLUS. This dis-connectedness is illustrated by an old gospel hymn written by Albert Brumley in 1965 entitled This World is Not My Home. Brumley reminds us that this physical world is temporary—that “we’re just pass’n through it". Our real home is “somewhere beyond the blue,” therefore we “can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
A. LOVE FOR THE WORLD PERVERTS OUR CHRIST-LIKENESS
- the word pervert has any number of meanings, one of which is: To change the inherent purpose or function of something
- our purpose as a Christian is to live as Christ lived in the world
- “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1–3, NIV84)
- he does not mean the natural world—the world of creation
- John would not have commanded his readers to hate something that God in Genesis 1:31 pronounced was originally “very good”
- even though creation itself is marred by the fall, nature’s physical beauties still reflect God’s glory and demand praise
- “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1–3, NIV84)
- we are told that God so loved the world
- what world?
- the world of people, of human beings
- we are commanded to love God and to love our neighbor as our self
- when the Apostle refers to the world in verse 16, he is referring to what we call the world order—the structures of culture, society and civilization
- because we live in a fallen world, the world order is in rebellion against God and the things of God
- evil permeates every segment of our culture and civilization because men—who are sinners by choice—are in control of culture and civilization
- the things of the world are not evil in and of themselves, but they are never meant to serve as replacements to God—which in a fallen world they frequently do
- at it’s heart, this is what worldliness is
- what makes the world “worldly” is its persistent rejection of the claims of God in favor of its own values and desires
- ILLUS. We have seen in recent days with the mandates from the President concerning health care coverage how secularism increasingly demands conformity from Christians to the demands of the culture when the culture knowingly insists that we violate our conscience. We should not be surprised when the world demands our conformity to its ways. In response, we must absolutely practice non-conformity!
- rather, he says that a believer should keep himself from a love for the world
B. LOVE FOR THE WORLD PUSHES OUT LOVE FOR THE FATHER
- another reason you shouldn't love the world is that you can't love the world or the things of the world and God at the same time
- love for the world pushes out love for God, and love for God pushes out love for the world
- “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24, NIV84)
II. THE WORLDLINESS COMING FROM THE WORLDLY SYSTEM
- in verse 17, the Apostle John characterizes the attitudes of worldliness that we find within ourselves
- this characterization is threefold
- “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.” (1 John 2:16, NIV84)
- the lust of the flesh (a passion for sensual satisfaction)
- the lust of the eyes (an inordinate desire for the finer things of life)
- and the pride of life (self-satisfaction in who we are, what we have, and what we have done)
- it elevates creature comfort to the point of idolatry
- large salaries and comfortable life-styles become necessities of life
- too many people think that worldliness is something limited to external behavior
- others think worldliness is hanging out with the wrong kinds of people
- the external behaviors or the people we hang with are merely the symptoms of a deeper problem—a lack of a love for God and the things of God
A. CARNALITY—THE CRAVINGS OF THE FLESH (2:16a)
- our cravings of the flesh are, in and of themselves, neutral
- “Flesh” is one of those words that can have multiple meanings in the Scriptures
- it can be used to refer to our physical body, or ...
- it can refer to the sinful nature that all of mankind is born with
- our bodies have many needs or desires (food, sex, love, shelter) that in and of themselves are perfectly fine
- however, these same needs can become sins when they are taken to extremes or perverted
- for example, the need for food when taken to extremes becomes gluttony
- or again, the God-given desire for sex becomes adultery when it is perverted by being directed toward someone who is not your spouse
- in this passage, the Apostle refers to carnality of the flesh—fallen mankind’s self-seeking attitude
- this way of life is aptly described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians
- “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 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, NIV84)
- "All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:3–5, NIV84)
- the cravings of the flesh can be so strong that we feel like there is no hope of overcoming them
- the good news is that Jesus set an example for us when he was tempted in this same way
- ILLUS. His temptation came after he had been fasting in the wilderness for forty days. At that point Satan approached him and tempted him to turn stones into bread in order to satisfy his hunger. Jesus responded, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).
B. COVETOUSNESS—THE LUST OF THE EYES (2:16b)
- this is the desire to have everything that you set your eyes on
- advertisers understand this concept all too well
- they flash images on the TV screen of everything from cars to clothes to coke especially designed to make you covet what they are selling
- they understand our belief that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence and so you will do almost anything to get what the advertisers say is on the other side
- the Apostle James speaks of the extremes that people will go to in order to get the things that they desire
- “You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2, NIV84)
- the object of your desires never lives up to its billing and you are left feeling empty and unsatisfied and so you covet all the more
- the burger on the TV ad is never as big and juicy at the pick up window
- in fact, what’s on the other side often isn’t always as good as what you already have
- ILLUS. Most of us have witnessed the following scene: You’re driving down Hwy. 50 when you notice a group of cows near the barbed wire fence that keeps them in their pasture. That pasture contains plenty of tall green grass for their consumption. But what do you see? Three or four cows have stretched their necks through the barbed wire fence in an effort to get a bite of short, brown grass on the other side.
- and we call the cows dumb!
- ILLUS. Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered to give them to him if he would kneel before him and worship. Jesus responded, “Away from me Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10).
- Jesus recognized that to indulge ones self in materialism was to actually worship these things
- and to worship the things of the world is to worship the one to whom they belong
- so the essence of materialism is Satan worship
C. COCKINESS—THE PRIDE OF LIFE (2:16c)
- the NIV translates this as “the boasting of what he has and does”
- this “pride of life” essentially consists of two things:
- boasting about material possessions; and
- boasting about accomplishments
- if you are proud of either your position in life or your possessions in life you are exhibiting symptoms of worldliness and may be loving the world more than you love God
- pride causes you to put your faith in yourself rather than in God
- therefore, such pride will ultimately cut you off from the grace of God because his grace is received through faith alone
- the Bible clearly teaches that pride will lead to our downfall
- “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18, NIV84)
- ILLUS. Satan dared Jesus to show off by leaping from the top of the temple. Jesus responded, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7).
- if we have been blessed with positions and possessions we must be careful not to put our confidence in them because verse 17 tells us that they will not last
- that leads me to the last point of the passage
III. THE WORTHLESSNESS OF THE WORLDLY SYSTEM (2:17)
- “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:17, NIV84)
- the world, and everything in it, will all soon fade away
- nobody sinks a lot of money into a company that is sure to go bankrupt (unless, of course, you’re the Federal Government)
- nobody sets up house in a sinking ship
- no reasonable person would lay up treasure where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal
A. THE WORLD IS PASSING AWAY!
- to set your heart on it is only asking for heartache and misery in the end
B. IF YOU DO THE WILL OF THE FATHER, YOU WILL LIVE FOREVER
- the opposite of loving the world is not only loving the Father (verse 15), but also doing the will of the Father (verse 17)
- and that connection is not hard to understand
- Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15, NIV84)
- the Apostle John wrote, “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,” (1 John 5:3, NIV84)
- if you love God, you will love what he wills
- if being a Christian is burdensome to you, you may not actually be a Christian
- if prayer, and Bible study, and worship, and church attendance and living out your faith are burdensome to you, you may not be a person of faith
- it is empty talk to say “I love God but I don't love what God loves”
- it is our love for God that overcomes the obstacles of disobedience and makes the commandments of God a joy rather than a burden to us
- we’re not just saved by faith ... the believer is also to live by faith “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4, NIV84)
- so John is saying in verse 17, "If you love the world, you will perish with the world, but if you don't love the world but love God, you will do his will and live with him for ever."
CON. So how do you determine what is worldliness in your own life? Let me point you to the Apostle Paul and what he had to say about Christian liberty: “ Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake— the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?  So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way.  For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:23–33, NIV84). How do you determine if an activity or behavior is worldly?
1) Is it beneficial to you? Will it build you up spiritually? Will it help you to grow in your faith
or will it hinder your faith?
2) Is it glorifying of God? Can you participate in a certain behavior or activity and
conclude, “This activity or behavior is something I can do and bring glory to God by doing it.?
3) Is it hurtful to others? If another Christian sees you participating in a certain behavior or
activity, will it harm their conscience? Will it cause them to stumble in their spiritual life?
4) Is it detrimental to my Christian witness?