Monday, August 3, 2009

This Present Evil Age: Worldliness Part One

by Michael Durham (listen to all four parts of this blog entry by downloading it in MP3 format)

Galatians 1:4
Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father...

We all know worldliness is wrong, but if we know it’s wrong, why are we often so worldly? If you would allow us to examine your personal preferences by looking at your checkbook, your Internet surfing, your TV viewing, your MP3 player, your DVD collection, or your calendar, how would it compare to a nonbeliever’s preferences? Would there be a huge difference, a moderate difference, or little to no difference? It is a fact, brothers and sisters, that if it is anywhere from moderate to no difference, you have fallen into the snare of worldliness.

But there are other ways to fall into worldliness than the snares that I mentioned above. For years, churches have defined worldliness in basically three ways: immorality, entertainment and immodesty. Use of alcohol and tobacco are considered immoral. Entertainment like dancing, attending the theater, music or sporting events have been considered worldly. Growing up, I was taught by my grandmother that playing cards were evil and worldly, no matter the game. The way you were dressed could also be worldly: women not wearing dresses or skirts, or men not wearing long sleeves; yet even within this definition there is a great deal of variance – one church may teach it is alright for a hemline to come to the knee on a lady, while another teaches any hemline above the ankle is sinful and worldly.

My point is not that we get hung up on these things like outward behavior and appearance; on the contrary, if you judge worldliness strictly on behavior, you will overlook many other kinds of worldliness and fail to see the problem of your own heart. Worldliness is more than just behavior. It is possible to avoid all of these questionable things and still be worldly.

What is Worldliness?
How does worldliness affect you, and how can you be free from it? These questions are more serious than trying to recalibrate a list of dos and don’ts.

In our text, the Apostle Paul uses a different word than worldliness; he uses the phrase “present evil age.” In Titus 2:12 he does use worldly when he says, “…teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” The Apostle John says to us in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” These three texts together tell us what worldliness is; there is a harmony of the three even though they give us a slightly different perspective.

In John’s text above, he says clearly, “Don’t love the world.” The question I would like to ask John is, “What do you mean by the word world? Do you mean this globe we call home?” It could almost sound that way when he adds, “or the things in the world.” What could capture our love but things that are in this planet we call home? So, is this a warning about becoming a tree-hugger or an environmental wacko? No, this is not necessarily his meaning. We are to respect God’s creation and we have been given stewardship of this planet, therefore we should not abuse but care for it.

But John is dealing with something much more dynamic than the planet we inhabit. You know that because in verse 16, he goes on: “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.” He doesn’t mention trees, forests, flowers, or any of those things. The focus here is not on the earth, but on a spiritual dimension that inhabits this earth. He calls it “lust” or “desire.”

Your desires are a part of the spiritual dimension that exists. Desires come from the heart or soul and therefore are not physical but spiritual. There are bodily appetites or physical desires, but even these are controlled by the heart or they control the heart. Either way the spiritual dimension cannot be ignored.

Also, the word world in the Greek New Testament is the word kosmos. The word means, the arrangement and order of things. We get our English word cosmology from it, which deals with the study of the universe and its order. We also have the English words cosmetics and cosmetology, which deal with the order and arrangement of a person’s looks. So John is dealing with a system of order that is diametrically opposed to the order of God. In other words, “Don’t love the world’s system of order and arrangement or the things that comprise that system!”
In Titus 2:12, which I cited earlier, Paul says we are to deny worldly lusts. The two words, “worldly” and “lust,” are here linked. Therefore, we can continue on this train of thought that worldliness is something more akin to the spiritual than to our behavior or dress. Evidently there are desires that are in conjunction with this world and its order that we are to deny.
Back to the words present evil age in our text. And even though the word world is not used, clearly Paul is referring to it. If you have the Authorized Version, that is the King James, the word world is used. But the word here is not the word kosmos but aion from which we get our word eons or ages. The Apostle is saying that Jesus has died to deliver us from the present work of evil in our times. What is the present work of evil in our times? And the answer is the same as 1 John 2:15; it is the present system or arrangement of evil that exists. To call it culture is not enough because this thing is larger than culture. Culture is a part of it, but not all of it. You can’t call it society for the word society simply means, a collection of people living as members of a community. There is nothing necessarily evil in that. So what is it? Again, we are back to the word spiritual or spirit.

This present world is manipulated by a spirit that the Apostle Paul calls the “spirit of the world.” He says in 1 Corinthians 2:12, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” Here we see that this thing called the world is a supernatural and spiritual dynamic. Again the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:2, “you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”
It is interesting that the word course, “the course of this world,” is the same word in our text for the word age, aion. But it is also interesting that this age or course that the world is going in is also the same thing as “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.” That is why John says, “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19).

Worldliness has to do with a spiritual dimension, and it penetrates us at the level of spirit. Therefore, I think we can come to this definition that will help us to understand worldliness over this series of messages:

Worldliness: a spiritual principle that works contrary to God; an evil spirit; the power of Satan working in human order and arrangements. It is the pursuit of anything in this world, good or bad, by one’s own hand for one’s own satisfaction, rather than Christ.

Any institution, order, arrangement, such as philosophy, arts, government, religion – all can be infiltrated and manipulated by this spirit of this present age, a spirit that loves anything but God.
You see, worldliness is not just immorality. It can also be a morality that does good things. It can be very religious or very spiritual. Some do what they do to make God happy with them; that is worldliness. You could have entered into this service today having your own agenda or motives that didn’t include the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and if you did, you are right now being worldly. There is a spirit that loves things other than Christ. That is worldliness. It is a spirit that is part of the present course this world is on, and it motivates everything in this world, standing in contrast to the Spirit of Christ which we are to submit to.

Worldliness is a love for your own self, looking to the world and the things that it offers to satisfy you. We can be gripped by it and not even know it.

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