Do Not Love the World
- Wednesday, March 10, 2004
The bit players of the Bible fascinate me-those people who show up for a few verses and then disappear, never to be mentioned again. I think of Simeon and Anna waiting patiently for the coming of the Messiah. I think of Zacchaeus, the tree-climbing tax collector. What ever happened to this radical guy? Or Dorcas, the gracious woman whom Paul raised from the dead. How did that miracle change her life?
One of the most intriguing biblical bit players is Demas. Demas is mentioned briefly by Paul in three of his letters. He was evidently a Greek convert to Christianity and traveled with Paul on his journeys. He apparently stayed close to Paul during his first imprisonment; Paul's prison letters to Philemon and the Colossians both mention Demas by name.
We know that Paul considered Demas a "fellow worker" (Phm 24), among the highest tributes Paul could pay to those who served with him. Demas was apparently dear to Paul. He stayed with him in dark times, bringing him the refreshment of friendship. Demas worked and sacrificed for the cause.
But the last word on Demas is not a good one. In prison and awaiting death, Paul closes his last letter to Timothy lamenting that many had left him. He says of Demas, "because he loved this world, [he] has deserted me" (2Ti 4:10). Think about this for a second. A man who worked with Paul for almost Paul's entire ministry, who had labored in the founding of churches, and who made his stand at Paul's first arrest, suddenly turns his back on the dear old servant of God and walks away. After all the trials he must have endured at Paul's side, what could have been so powerful to harden the heart of the once-faithful Demas?
Paul's reason is cryptically succinct. Demas "loved this world." Persecution, hardship, and imprisonment had forged a friendship, but in the end Paul's "fellow worker" was undone by love of the world. Demas the good soldier became forever known as Demas the deserter. What is this "love of the world" that could so damage a person's spiritual destiny?
The Apostle John gives us a crystal-clear view of what it means to love the world. In addressing those who would find themselves in the valley of a Demas decision, John cautions: "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 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. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever" (1Jn 2:15-17).
The "world" John describes here is not the world that "God so loved" (Jn 3:16)-referring to people in need of the Savior. The "world" John warns us against has been described by one commentator as "the organized system of human civilization which is opposed to God and alienated from God." It is human existence without reference to God, existence as if eternity did not matter. This world-infested as it is with idolatry, cravings, and boastings, a world that captures hearts and destroys lives-is all anyone can know apart from Christ. It is the love of this world that brought down Demas.
For the Christian single in our day, the "world" and its temptations can take many forms. R.C. Sproul graphically describes the challenge of the Christian in the world: "We live in this world. We are part of the world. We are to a certain degree products of this world. And the world is our battlefield....The world is a seducer. It seeks to attract our attention and our devotion. It remains so close at hand, so visible, so enticing. It eclipses our view of heaven....It pleases us-much of the time anyway-and, alas, we often live our lives to please it. And that is where conflict ensues, for pleasing the world so seldom overlaps with pleasing God."
Consider, for example, the temptations found in advertisements. It is estimated that you and I are exposed to about 3,000 advertisements per day, on average roughly one every 20 seconds of our waking lives. Most of these ads seek to appeal to some basic desire-to possess, experience, control, consume, avoid-all of which beckon us to worldliness. Every day, we face the unrelenting assault of such enticements.
Out of millions of Internet sites to choose from, sites devoted to pornography consistently hold several of the top five slots-an alarming testimony to the insatiable sexual lusts and cravings in our culture. Religion itself can be worldly. Deepak Chopra, guru of the 1990s, once described his appeal this way: "They say you have to give up everything to be spiritual, get away from the world, all that junk. I satisfy a spiritual yearning without making [people] think they have to worry about God."
When we crave attention, lust after position, or boast of our achievements, we are demonstrating love of the world. In short, worldliness seeks to-and is fully able to-infect every level of our lives.
The Bible teaches that we live in a world that "hates" the things of God (Jn 15:18), that will give us much trouble (Jn 16:33), that is hollow and deceptive (Col 2:8), that will be like pollution to our souls (Jas 1:27), and that will eventually pass away (1Co 7:31). We are told not to be conformed to the world (Ro 12:2) and to flee from the world (1Ti 6:11). Yet Jesus prayed for us this way, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one....As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (Jn 17:15, 18).
Historically, Christians have had two basic tendencies when dealing with the world. One is to withdraw, avoiding worldly influences as much as possible. The other is to conform, trying to be as much like the world as possible. Perhaps you have found yourself caught up in one of these extremes. Early in this century Oswald Chambers wrote about the challenge of being "in the world but not of it." He addressed the need for Christians to avoid such extremes, neither living in fearful withdrawal from the world, nor being indistinguishable from it. Chambers was talking about how to live in a fallen world FOR Christ because you have been placed here BY Christ.
How do you relate to the world? Do you try to hide from it? Would people have trouble distinguishing in your life where the world ends and your faith begins? Do you long to find ways to bring the truth of liberty in Christ into collision with the enslaving ways of the world? Do you want to influence your corner of this fallen world for Christ with your singleness?
In the next column, we're going to take some time to explore some ways that you as a single adult can meet that challenge, and make a difference that will change the lives of others.
The Rich Single Life by Andrew Farmer: "The truths contained in The Rich Single Life could revolutionize your understanding of singleness. Andrew Farmer skillfully shows single Christian men and women what a rich and valuable opportunity they have. Just as importantly, he explains how to take full advantage of that opportunity. This book will help you live the single life in all the fullness of God." -Joshua Harris, author and pastor. Available from the Sovereign Grace Store.
Worldly Amusements by Wayne Wilson: Drawing heavily on Scripture, Worldly Amusements challenges believers in Jesus Christ to take seriously Hollywood's assault on moral purity. Pastor Wayne Wilson says the sacrifice of pure hearts and pure minds for the sake of entertainment must come to an end if the cause of Christ is to go forward. The Church must reclaim one of its most prized gifts: moral innocence.
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