A sermon based on 1 John 2:15-17 that was preached at Toronto Chinese Baptist Church.
Flee from the things of the world! Avoid worldly influences! What does that even mean?
When I was a new Christian, I attended a church that put a lot of emphasis on the difference between what was Christian and what was worldly. This usually came up in conversations about music. Christians were to listen to Christian music and not secular music. Now I understand that there are songs with some brutal lyrics. In fact the pop songs that are coming out today are far worse than the heavy metal music I listened to as a teenager. But I have also found that many songs in the mainstream have very thoughtful lyrics, often with hints of seeking and are able to articulate life struggles in a very powerful way. So I asked one of the people in my young adults group why it was a sin to listen to that type of music. He said that unless it is explicitly glorifying Jesus, it is sinful. I pointed him to the television screen that we were both watching and asked him if that baseball game was glorifying Jesus. He gave me a look that told me that my question was not appreciated.
I will tell you that I since have encountered a person believes that all watching of sports is sinful. He strongly believed that the only leisure activities we are permitted are Bible study and evangelism.
At one point, I had a job working for a distributor of Christian music. They also sold other things, including Christian gifts and clothing. What I saw was that there was an entire industry trying to invent Christian versions of things in society since Christians are to avoid all things secular. Except those people did not drive Christian cars, no matter how many bumper stickers they covered it with.
This type of thinking about the world is part of the Amish community as well. They dress and work and talk a certain way to keep themselves separate from the world. However, if you go back in time you will get to a point where all people were using the technology that the Amish use today. There are always problems with these attempts.
It is easy to see where others have gone wrong but we are still left with John telling us not to love the world. It has to mean something.
Here is the first thing that you need to understand when it comes to the Bible and the world. There was no ancient division between religion and secular. You couldn’t look at something and try to figure out if it was religious or secular. They were completely blended. In fact the ideas of religion and secular are fairly modern, arising out of the enlightenment. So forget the idea of testing something by seeing if there is a Jesus fish on it.
To make things more complicated, what does the Bible say about the world? John tells us in this passage that we are not to love the world. But in John 3:16, we are told, “For God so loved the world.” What is going on here? Is it a sin for us to love the world but not for God?
What we need to know is that the Bible speaks about the world in three ways. The world is this planet, this creation. God said this creation was good. In fact, at the resurrection, God will transform this world as he will transform our bodies.
The world is also the people on this planet. The planet is good, but there is something special about humanity. God desires to be in relationship with the people of this planet. This is the world mention in John 3:16.
We are then left with the world described in 1 John. John gives specific examples, which we will look at, but the best summary is that the world is the value system of humanity separated from God.
The world is the exact opposite of the kingdom of God. Jesus preached the Gospel of the coming kingdom. The kingdom of God is not a place, it is the experience of people submitting to God and conforming to God. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. The world is the opposite of that. Let us go deeper.
Desires of the Flesh
The desires of the flesh is the belief that all our wants should be immediately satisfied. By wants, I do not mean godly desires such as the end of poverty or a cure for cancer. It is rather those inner cravings for pleasure. We automatically think of sex when we hear about flesh, but that is not the only thing. It could be that unquenchable desire for more power or more money or more fame. Our culture encourages this. We should have what we want and we should have it now.
The kingdom of God says that we should want what God wants and when he wants it. What we will soon learn is that our comfort and pleasure are not God’s number one priority. Not that God intends us to suffer, but he has higher goals for our life, ones that will have lasting satisfaction.
Desires of the Eyes
The desire of the yes could be summed up with, “I see it, I want it.” This is a normal stage of childhood. Something looks fun and you try to take it. But it is a stage that we are supposed to grow out of. This includes things like envy and lust. The online porn industry is evidence of this. Did you know that porn receives more internet traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined? But it is not just porn. How much of our times is spent looking at that bigger house, that faster car, that better computer?
The kingdom of God says we are to be content with what we have. That does not mean that we can never get a new house or new car. It means that we can enjoy what we have right at the moment and not have that joy destroyed by the desire to have something better.
Pride of Life
The pride of life is about worship of self. We look at our education, our job, our contacts, our bank account and see that as the god who will take care of us. We do not need the Bible to tell us that trust in our own power and resources is not safe. We have heard time and again of people who were at the top of their game, business people, politicians and yes, even pastors, who fell hard and lost everything. The things that we have are not wrong and God can use them, but we need to put our worship in the right place.
The kingdom of God says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5–6 ESV) The Bible is full of stories of people who thought they could make it work with their own strength, only to see everything fall apart. Trust God, not just because the Bible tells us, but because that is the only way that works.
Do not love the world! That does not mean that everything you own has a Jesus fish on it. In fact, many things with a Jesus fish are worldly. Just watch a few minutes of the televangelists. When John tells us to not love the world, he means specifically to separate yourself from the value system of humanity separated by God. Reject materialism, greed, selfishness and so on. Do not focus on your own pleasure. Do not look for that next great toy that might make you happy (but probably won’t). Do not put your trust in your own accomplishments. Rather seek first the kingdom of God. Let God’s values rule in your life.