SERMON: Living in Two Worlds (1 John 2:15-17)
1. A History of Being Wowsers?
Over the years Christians have had the reputation of being people of religious conviction, and people who live (or should live) by higher standards to the rest of the world. And, as a consequence, I have often experienced non-Christians who have modified their behaviour around me so as not to offend.
Having said that, however, there have been (and still are) some groups of Christians that appear to have gone to extremes—people who have been very puritanical in the expression of their faith. So, for example, some churches have had problems with holding dances in their halls, some have insisted that women cover their heads and arms during worship, and some, even today, still struggle with the ownership of TVs.
Is it any wonder, then, that there is a great gulf between Christian and non-Christians—between the churched and the non-churched—where the outside world looks at the church and has no real idea what the church is about. Conversely, when the church tries to reach out, it finds all sorts of barriers that have been raised preventing it from getting its message across.
2. The Need to Review our Thinking?
And as consequence of that, what I’d like to do is to consider briefly the dilemma the modern church faces in getting its message out to the people. And I want to do that by taking into account two ideas. The first is about being people of God who are required to live according to God’s standards. And the second is about acknowledging that, despite that, we still need to live in what can sometimes seem a very hostile world.
And I’d like to use the words of the evangelist as base: “Do not love the world or the things of this world, for if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. For all that is the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the boasting in life—is not from the Father, but from the world. The world is passing away—so too the desires—but anyone who does the will of God will live forever.”
B. DESIRING THE WORLD
1. Background – To Whom the Message was Directed
Now the first thing we need to note about John’s message is to whom it was addressed. It was a letter written as an instruction to loyal members of the church.
Now their loyalty and their spiritual status was not in question. Indeed, John was writing to people who enjoyed rich fellowship with God, and who loved their fellow Christians. However, this group were not exempt from the dangers that all Christians face in their walk with God. And consequently, he wanted to give them a warning. A warning that is fitting for us too.
2. The Believer’s Predicament – One Foot in Either Camp (15)
And the second thing we need to note is that John quite clearly outlined the predicament that every believer should find themselves in. Yes, they may be people of faith—they may be loyal to their God and Saviour—but until their death or the Second Coming of Jesus with the arrival of judgement day itself, they were still required to live and participate in God’s created, but corrupted, world.
In other words, John was saying that Christians need to live, having a foot in both camps. One foot well and truly anchored in God’s world, whilst at the same time still living, breathing and needing to survive in this one. Nevertheless, John’s message comes with a warning: Christians should not get themselves so wrapped up in the ways of this world that it is to the detriment of their relationship with God.
Now, it’s important to note here what John wasn’t saying. He wasn’t saying that Christians shouldn’t involve themselves in the physical world which God created. And he wasn’t saying that Christians shouldn’t involve themselves with the rest of the inhabitants of the world. Indeed, all mankind needs bread, the structures of society, and the pleasures given by the world. After all, God did not intend life to be “miserable” but to be “very good.”
No! But what John was saying was that Christians should not get to love the world that has been changed, twisted and corrupted by man’s sin. Why? Because it has become the source of opposition to God, and therefore will provide everyone, Christians included, temptations to stray from God.
John’s warning therefore was not for Christians to dispense with what God’s creation has to offer, but rather for Christians to reject the corruption within it.
After all, to be attracted by something, wanting to enjoy it, and to seek pleasure, are not necessarily selfish and wrong. We are created by God to have appetites and desires that need to be satisfied. However, there are times where the satisfaction of those desires may be sinful. And that is where we have to be most careful.
So according to John, we may need to have a foot in both camps—in God’s world and this—but we do need to be careful. We cannot love this world as it is whilst at the same time love God. The two are just not compatible.
3. Why Love for the World and God is Incompatible (16)
And why are they incompatible? Well the third thing we need to note is that not only is the corruption of this world not part of God’s original design, but that corruption is a system organised in opposition to God. Indeed, the way it works is to actually replace God.
In John’s thinking, he is talking about the world that has become fallen and rebellious. And the desires are those that stand in opposition to the love of God. That is why the two are incompatible. And as a consequence, he spells out what he means in terms of three things: The desires of the flesh; the desires of the eyes; and pride in riches. Three things that are in opposition to God.
Now again, John is not saying that desires or riches are wrong. But only those which would cause some sort of separation between us and God.
Regarding the desire of the flesh, that doesn’t mean Christians should be deprived of all sensual or sexual pleasures or desires. After all, that is part of who we are—it’s part and parcel of who God created us to be. But to pursue improper relationships or to chase after things with our own self-gratification in mind . . . well that’s another thing altogether.
Regarding the desires of the eyes, that doesn’t mean that Christians should be excluded from looking and watching things either. We were given eyesight for that very reason. However looking at things to get sinful pleasure, and the greed and desire aroused by seeing them is something we need to avoid.
And regarding pride in riches, that doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t own things. We all need clothes and possession to some extent. And we should feel free to accept the things that God gives us too. But pride in possessions, with the boasting and arrogance that go with it, or holding on to things whilst others go hungry . . . Well, if that’s how we see the things that we own, we really have lost sight of what life under God is all about.
The Christian dilemma is that being a Christian we have already been reconciled to God, and we should be living Godly lives. On the other hand the world in which we live—the world that mankind has manipulated to suit itself—can only take us away from God. We can’t have both.
4. The Pointlessness of Pursuing the World (17)
And that brings us neatly to John’s fourth point. And that is to follow the ways of the world is a pointless exercise anyway. Because it is foolish to get so wrapped in something, which has such a limited lifespan.
If we are eternal creatures whose life goes on beyond the grave (and at the second coming of Jesus, the world and its desires will pass away), why then would we pursue a worldly life and face the same destruction that the world faces? Why would we do that when we can have such a meaningful and continuing relationship with God now, which will continue on beyond the grave?
Now many people are tempted to live for the moment and to conform to the ways of this material world. But to hope that this corrupted world will not just be temporary, but a permanent arrangement, or to hope that in the end there will be no judgement, from a Christian point of view, seems to be a very dubious exercise.
Of course, it may be a natural tendency to make oneself comfortable here in the present world, rather than deny oneself here in hope of a better life hereafter. But, as John says, judgement is taking place already. Even now the world is in process of dissolution. And men are blind if they don’t realise what is going on before their eyes.
So where does all this lead us? Well it seems to me that the church has periodically not just tried to eliminate the desires of the sinful nature, but has, periodically, tried to put a lid on all other natural desires and instincts as well.
In the terms of an old expression, it has been guilty of “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” As a result, it has often taught people to feel guilty about things we are supposed to enjoy and the things we were naturally created to do. And as a consequence, is it any wonder that historically (as well as today) there is a great confusion about what Christians, and the Christian church, really stands for.
But John didn’t say we were to be wowsers. And he didn’t say that we shouldn’t enjoy the sensual and sexual desires that we were intended to enjoy. What he did say, however, was that Christians should not get so tangled up in the ways and the desires of our corrupted world, that we end up replacing God with a series of man-made desires.
In today’s world, then, we should enjoy and encourage the desires of the flesh, as far as they are wholesome, and the way God intended. We should enjoy and encourage the desires of the eyes. Indeed all the sensations that we have been created with—touch, sight, taste, smell, and hearing. We should experience life as we were intended to do, without allowing temptation to get between us and God. And we should enjoy the riches we have, without boasting, and through sharing them with others who are less fortunate than ourselves.
As Christians we are supposed to be the people of God who enjoy life, taking into account every aspect of what God has provided. It is for this reason we were created, and it is this kind of life we are meant to portray. Rather than creating misunderstandings or putting wedges between the church and the world, our behaviour, our joy, should be the very thing that attracts people to the faith. It should not be lack of joy that pushes them away.
Now it’s funny how, over the years, some people have taken certain things and twisted their meaning. And yet the situation the church faces today is exactly a result of that. People looking in from the outside, generally have no real idea what the church is or what it stands for. And when the church tries to reach out it faces all sorts of barriers too.
Now obviously, there will always be some misunderstanding, and there will always be some barriers. That is the nature of human life, particularly when people don’t want to listen or when people simply don’t care. But at least, from the church’s point of view, we can and should do something about it. Because far from taking all the joy out of life, Christians are supposed to put the joy back in.
Christians should be showing the world how to live with joy, and hope, and meaning, using all the senses that God created us with. Christians should be full of the excitement of life. For sure that will still mean that we don’t do certain worldly things. But if we exude the excitement of life, and the excitement of our relationship with God, then think of the difference that will make not only in our own lives, but to the many people on the outside looking in as well.
Posted 11th July 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis