[Sept 25]—Worldliness

            This isn’t a word that we use much anymore, but it was pretty common in the semi-traditional church in which I grew up. In particular I remember my youth minister warning against “worldliness” several times.
            What does the term mean? I guess the best definition of a “worldly” Christian is one who’s (overly) concerned about the “things of the world.” The problem is that a lot of well-meaning believers have disagreements over what “overly” and “things of the world” are. Let’s look at those two aspects separately and try to think about them biblically.
            Some Christians—especially those of an earlier generation—basically translated this into “It’s wrong for a Christian to indulge in any ‘worldly’ entertainment.” Two of my favorite Bible teachers, Charles Spurgeon and A.W. Tozer, thought and taught that it’s sinful for a child of God to attend any theater plays (Spurgeon) or attend any movies (Tozer). To put it mildly, I disagree with them, although I’d probably place this sort of issue under the “disputable matters” category we studied a few days ago.
            Others, at least before the present day, used the word disparagingly to refer to Christians who’re too involved in the world’s affairs. If someone gets too caught up in politics, for example. Or if they’re too attracted to physical pleasures that the world offers.
            You might make the case that it’s wrong to watch any “R”-rated movie (no matter the cause of the rating), and I can certainly see a case for avoiding most if not all TV shows for moral reasons. We might disagree on what’s appropriate for a Christian to watch, but we can have a discussion on that.
            But words mean things. A Christian who watches certain movies and listens to popular music might be doing something wrong, but he’s not “worldly” in the biblical sense. The James passage above warns against "friendship with the world," and presents said friendship as being completely incompatible with friendship with God. The other times in Scripture which talk about this subject use the term A) Being “worldly,” or B) “Loving the world” (in a bad sense, not in a John 3:16 sense). Those are the passages I cite in today’s reading.
            Please read them again. Do you see anything about seeing R-rated movies there? Anything about what type of music a believer needs to listen to? What about how much he’s supposed to be involved in politics?
            If you see them, you’re seeing something I’m not. Let’s take a closer look at them.
            James, as usual, is rather blunt. He accuses any alleged believer who's a friend of the world of spiritual adultery, much in the same way that God condemned Israel through the prophets like Hosea. But a potential problem rests in the fact that James nowhere defines what he means by the term. We'll get to what he means by the "world" in a moment. 
            In the 1 Corinthian passage, Paul condemns them for being “worldly.” Here he means it in the same sense as “immature,” since he contrasts their character/behavior with “people who live by the Spirit.” By their behavior, they’re betraying themselves as “mere infants in Christ.” He’d love to talk to them of “deeper” matters, more “solid food,” but he couldn’t. He has to talk to them about issues that should've been resolved a long time ago. Instead of going into deeper theological lessons like in Romans, he has to tell them things like “Get along with each other! Stop acting like toddlers banging your spoons on a high chair!” When one of them declares that they’re more spiritual than someone else because they follow Leader X instead of Leader Y, then they’re acting like the world does. People of the world are always on the lookout for ways to one-up one another. That’s the sense in which they’re acting “worldly.”
            John's passage is a little trickier. John tells us not to love the world. Remember, he uses the world in at least three different senses: A) The physical world, B) The world of people in general, and C) “the invisible spiritual system of evil dominated by Satan and all that it offers in opposition to God, His Word, and His people” (MacArthur). This third sense is the one to which John is referring here. I'm also convinced, based on the context, that this is what James means as well. 
            John says what characterizes “the world” is “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The “flesh” is not your physical body but your sinful nature (which is why the older version of the NIV translated it as “sinful nature” to make this point clear). It’s not talking about watching a movie as such or enjoying physical pleasures.
            Yes, if you’re watching a pornographic movie and lusting after the women treated as objects there, yes, you’re giving into the “lust of the flesh,” and “the lust of the eyes.” Satan likes to use our eyes as an inroad for sinful desires (like he did with Eve). That’s wrong.
            But the issue that these verses are addressing isn’t so much the media you consume as it is the heart attitudes that you indulge in. A man over a hundred years ago would never see a movie, but he could be in danger of falling afoul of this verse just as easily as anyone today. That’s where I part company with people whom I really respect (both today and from the past) who focused on the media or physical pleasures. I think they were focusing on the wrong things and pulling these passages out of its intended context.
            For “Pride of life,” once again MacArthur puts it much better than I can: “The phrase has the idea of arrogance over one's circumstances, which produced haughtiness or exaggeration, parading what one possessed to impress other people.” This crystallizes the world pretty well, don’t you think? “He who dies with the most toys wins.” No, as someone once quipped in rejoinder, he who dies with the most toys. . . still dies.
            Yes we have to be careful of what media we consume, especially if it's putting thoughts which conflict with Scripture into our heads. But the ultimate issue isn't the media itself. That's not my main enemy. My main enemy is me. I might need to stay away from certain media which feeds my sinful nature, but I have to keep my focus on the disease, not the symptoms. 
            This is the worldliness that I have to fight. My sinful desires. Letting my eyes and my mind set themselves on sinful things that draw me away from the Savior. Indulging in pride about things I possess or my accomplishments. And worst of all, acting like a spoiled child in my relationships with my brothers in Christ.
            Let’s fight this together, shall we?

Lord Jesus, I let the “world” get into my eyes, into my mind, and into my heart waaaaay too much. Whatever it takes, please clean house. 

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