Overwhelmed By the World or Overcoming the World?


By Ong Eng Boon

The book of Deuteronomy is an adaptation and expansion of much of the original law given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Besides pronouncing the law, it also details the love of God. God expected the Israelites to listen to and obey His laws and also reciprocate His love. 

Deuteronomy 6:4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

In the New Testament, the Gospels which recorded the life of Christ detailed the account of  Jesus Christ who had on many occasions emphasized that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and great commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38). I believe this is a very important message for us. When Christ wants us to put something first in our lives, this inenvitably demands our utmost attention. But the question is have you done what is required of you? Probably most of us, including myself, must admit that we have not done what the Lord wants us to do.

John, the apostle of love wrote more than any other New Testament author about the importance of love; the theme of love flows through his writings.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is loveIn this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we lovedGod, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in loveabides in God, and God in him.17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love19 We love Him[a] because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can[b] helove God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.  (1 Jn.4:7-21)

Apostle John is said to have lived to an old age, dying in Ephesus sometime after AD 98. The aged apostle in his epistle in 1 John 2:15 wrote that the barrier for Christians to love God is “the world.”

We all live in a very challenging world. Christians especially find it tough as “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). So you can see that the world is really a difficult challenge for Christians. Apostle John encourages all Christians to neither love the world nor the things that are in the world (1 Jn.2:15). That means Christians are to be different from those who do not follow Christ.

Again the scriptural plea to not love the world is put in very graphic, unmistakeable language in James 4:4: “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  This verse clearly makes a separation between the world and God. 

The word “world” has a number of connotations in the Bible.

1. “World” is used to mean the universe, God’s creation.

John 1:10: “Jesus was in the world.” Again in John 17:15 Jesus said, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” Both of these references evidently refer to the created world, or specifically the earth where we live in.

2. “World”  refers to life or the state of living on earth, the totality of the human race which stands in need of redemption. John 3:17: “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him.”

1 John 2:2: “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

3. “World” refers to the unbelieving society whose influence is hostile to God (1 John 2:15; Jas 1:27; 4:4). Contextually, the expression “the world” refers to the influences of society which strive to draw Christians away from God (Rom. 12:2; Phil. 3:17-19, Col.3:1-2). The original term that is translated “world” is used here by John to identify those people whose thoughts and actions are opposed to God, those whose lives are not guided by God’s word.

The price of many essential goods haveskyrocketed in the last two years, life is getting much tougher and burdens are heavier. Many of us are so caught up in the challenge of making a living that we lose sight of the real meaning of life. Jesus came not only to gives us a home after death but He came that we “might have life, and might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Christian life is much more than looking for a home for eternity; it involves learning to live in this present existence. As Christians, we are called to a balanced life. We are called to cleave to what is good while at the same time abhorring what is evil. To find an example of a balanced life, we can look to Jesus: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2:52). Jesus grew from childhood with balanced attention to four areas of His life – the physical (stature), the intellectual (wisdom), favor with man (social), and spirituality (favor with God).

But what does it mean to “love the world”? It sounds very abstract but John, to better equip Christians in our struggle with the world, identifies three major challenges that we must perpetually combat. They are :

Lust of the flesh

Often we picture in our minds those “terrible” sins of murder, adultery,  drunkenness and the like. But much more is involved than this. Certainly these acts are wrong, but John is referring to all that will tie us to the satisfaction of the flesh only. It includes gluttony, self-above-God and also encompasses those desires that are centered on man’s physical nature and are exercised without regard to God’s will. “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom.8:8).

And please don’t forget, Satan uses our desire to trap us in sin.

Most of the times, because of the improper desires in us that seduce the will, we are tempted to cross boundaries and submit to wrongful or impure conduct. Our decision to commit wrongful acts is motivated by our lustful desires.

If you have such ideas assaulting your mind, then you need to be careful. Because you will be enticed and once you cannot resist, it will soon be followed by action and the indulgence in improper acts which give birth to sin eventually.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, “ I am tempted of God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then when desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).

James wrote about the various stages of temptation:

First improper desire or lust, then enticement, followed by temptation and action, resulting in sin and death ultimately.

Even though the book of James through inspiration by the Holy Spirit was written 2,000 years ago, it vividly describes our struggle against sin today.

(1) First, improper desires filling up our mind. Desires will then turn into lust which  can be very attractive.

(2) Then we allow lust to draw us away and we begin to give life to our thoughts. The seed of the act is present in our minds and growing. Temptation sets in and you know that action in carrying out the acts will give you pleasure. Sin can give you pleasure, but it is only temporary.

“By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb.11:23-24).

(3) In fact, once you reach this stage, when desire is conceived, most of the time             the act is inevitable.

(4) Once conceived and acted out, it gives birth to sin. Once you commit sin,             you enjoy the pleasures of sin. Physically, every part of your body is             stimulated and emotionally you are at a new high. Oh! It feels so good, it cannot be wrong! Be careful, brethren and friends, as it will eventually result in death. But if your conscience hurts you, you may feel ashamed and feel painful for the sinful act you have carried out. 

Every time we sin, we are losing grip on our defenses against sin. If we continue to sin willfully and live our lives without any restraint, our conscience will be seared with a hot iron. When we allow improper desires to fill our lives, sin would reign as master in our lives and we would then become addicted to sin, become slaves of sin and be overwhelmed by the world.

I have seen many fine young Christians who despite spending so many years in church, but when they leave to study in a foreign land or when they go into the world to earn a living, they are easily overwhelmed by the world instead of overcoming the world with their faith.  

Lust of the eyes

The eyes have been called the gateway to the soul, hence the point of entry for many temptations. So the “lust of the eyes” means we desire what we see. In the scriptures, the eyes are the primary organ of perception and often the principal means from which temptation arise. We see that in the case of David who saw Bathsheba, lusted after her, and later committed adultery with her (2 Sam. 11:2-4). 

In Matthew 6:22, Jesus asserts that the eye is the lamp of the body. “If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness, how great is the darkness.” Therefore let us heed our Savior’s admonition and do whatever is necessary to guard against the lust of the eye.

The Pride of life

John refers to this as the “boasting of what he has and does.” In many ways this is the most dangerous of the three. This includes the over-concern we may have with our own selves. It includes such people as the rich fool who was storing up much goods for himself. A cursory study of that parable (Lk. 12:13-21) reveals his self-centered attitude. 

“Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. “And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” “So he said, ‘ I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I store all my crops and mygoods. ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘ You fool! This night your soul shall be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.” 

You can see he was overtaken by the pride of life with an arrogant attitude and display of self-sufficiency. We ought to take heed that we can become so dependent upon ourselves that we lose the sense of need for God. In a world that is so caught up with self and self-image, we need to exercise special care that we do not become overconcerned with pleasing ourselves to the point of excluding God.

The purpose behind the command of “Do Not Love the World”

First, John reminds us that God and the world are not compatible saying “For all that is in the world….is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 Jn.2:16). Later, John affirms that the world does not know God (1 Jn. 3:1) and consequently hates his children (1 Jn. 3:13).

Second, John exhorts us to remember that the world is transitory (not permanent): “And the world is passing away and the lust of it” (1 Jn.2:17).

Third, John encourages us to remember our eternal destiny saying “He who does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn. 2:17). 

Conclusion

We cannot have one foot in the world and one foot in God’s camp; it has to be one or the other.  Jesus Himself reinforces such a thought in Matthew 12:30“He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” 

So many people want a third choice, an area of non-commitment where they are neither serving God nor the world.  But Jesus said this is impossible; we are either for Him or against Him.  In other words, if we are not serving God, we are serving the devil, even if we don’t realize it.

Paul had this to say in Romans 12:2“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  For the Christian, conformity with the world is unacceptable.  In fact, we are to be completely different from the world so that others can see what it looks like to be a follower of God.  James 1:27 gives us another insight as to how a Christian should be living above the world: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  For every one of us seeking to live as a Christian, we are not to allow the practices and thoughts of this world to invade our lives.

Is it possible to escape this physical world that surrounds us?  Certainly not.  But even though we are living in the world, Christians should not be living as the world.  We are to be different; the non-Christians we encounter should be able to see Christ living in us (Galatians 2:20).  Paul put it very well in Philippians 2:15“Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”  That is a terrific goal all Christians should embrace as we seek not to love the world.

Share This: