Supposing someone was to have complete access to your life: they were with you twenty-four hours a day to witness what you look at, watch how you treat people and hear how you speak. Supposing this person had access to your thoughts and could consider what motives you, understand what preoccupies you and see what gives you the most pleasure in life. Supposing this person could press rewind and compare your life now with your life before you became a Christian. What would that person observe? Would they perceive that your heart is being shaped by Jesus? Would they see that Jesus actually determines how we act towards people and how we think about life?
I have some good (or bad) news for you. You are being watched. You are being watched every day by the people you live with. You are being watched by those you work with. They can see what difference Jesus makes in your life! But, most importantly, you are being watched by the one person who knows your thoughts and motivations, who loves you and gave his life for you, and who wants you to reflect the beauty of his character.
- Be aware that the world is not neutral (15a)
‘Do not love the world or anything in the world.’
It goes without saying, that John is not telling us not to love the people of the world. For God loves the people of the world. He loves the people of this world (this world of people who actively resist his rule) so much that he has given his one and only Son to die that so whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Because we are to share this love of God for people we are to be involved with this world. We are to get to know people and love people. Our greatest desire for them is that they would know true life in Christ. This is to motivate us to pray (remember the list of five people we said we would pray for) and speak (ask God for opportunities to be able to bring the gospel into the conversation). It should be obvious to all that we belong to Jesus, for we are not to hide our light beneath a bushel.
‘We are not to love the world’ means that we are not to be shaped by the world. The world has a value system that opposes godliness. The world refers to everything that prevents people from loving and obeying their creator. We need to be clear that the world has many belief systems that are in opposition to God. Later in this letter, John will write, ‘We know that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one’ (5:19).
So apply this to what you watch on television or in the cinema. Do you give thought to what you are about to see? There are websites, like Christian Spotlight, that will give you a Christian assessment of movies. Maybe there are films you should not go to. But even those films that are not loaded with sex, revenge (which is the main plotline in many movies) or violence are presenting you with a worldview.
Myself and Caroline watched a movies a week or so ago. There was no violence, I was not aware of much bad language, and there were no sex scenes (although sex was one of the main topics). But the film made me feel uncomfortable. After it I asked Caroline, ‘what worldview were they trying to sell us?’ You see the makers of that film were selling us an idealised picture of a type of life lived without any reference to God.
Take your brain with you when you go to the movies, watch television or read books. Don’t leave your faith at the door. Don’t let your mind simply slip into neutral. Don’t simply seek to escape into a less stressful or painful world. Don’t simply identify with the characters, but relate to the characters (by this I mean don’t imagine they are you, but imagine that they are one of your friends and ask yourself how you would like to influence them). Always leave the cinema, or turn off the television, asking, ‘what view of the world are they trying to sell me?’
I have said that we are to love the people of the world because God loves the people of the world. However, sometimes our friends influence us more than we influence them. If we find out that the pressure of being their friends compromises our walk with Jesus then we need to take a sabbatical from their friendship. Similarly, it is obvious that you should not watch television or movies that are loaded with foul language, revenge motives, violence, or sex themes. But if you find that as you watch you want to live in the superficial, unspiritual world being portrayed (if you want to be Monica, Chandler or Joey in Friends) then the problem is that the world is shaping you too much and you need to take a break.2. Realise that you have to choose between love for God or love for the world (15b-16)
‘If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’
A number of years before her death, Princess Diana did a famous television interview with Martin Bashir. Bashir asked her about her marriage to Princess Charles. She made a not-to-subtle reference to the fact that Charles had been committing adultery with his now wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles. ‘There were three people in the relationship, and you can’t have a marriage when three people are involved.’ The same is true in our relationship with God. You can’t enjoy God when you are trying to share your love for him and the world. God is like a husband who will not put up with our adultery. He says to us, ‘you can’t love both me and the world; you have to choose me are the world.’
Imagine you walked into the room and found your wife/husband embraced in the arms of a rival! What righteous anger and hurt you would feel? What sorrow we bring to the heart of our heavenly Father when we let the world shape our passions!
What we love is to be determined and shaped by our love for God! If we are married we should love our spouse both for their sake but for God’s pleasure. We should always be asking how God wants us to use our possessions and time. I am not just to be a Munster supporter—I am a Christian Munster supporter (which reminds me that actually it doesn’t matter that much and that the best thing about going to a game is the opportunity it gives me to spend time with Ronan, Daire or Leo).
‘For everything in the world – the cravings of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world.’
The cravings of the sinful man—John is not thinking merely of our physical appetites, but the evil distortion of these appetites. Is our attitude towards food under control (gluttony is one of my besetting sins)? Is our attitude towards sex under the rule of God? Does our sense of humour glorify him? Do we realise that it is ungodly to be a shopaholic or a workaholic? Are we being ruled by the cravings of the sinful man or by the Spirit of the living God?
The lust of the eyes—one preacher says that the ‘temptation to sin has always used that route: deafening our ears to the verbal and heightening our awareness of the visual. Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was pleasing to the eye and she ate. Achan saw the gold and that beautiful robe, and he took them for himself. King David saw the lovely Bathsheba taking a bath … and lured her into his bed. So often the glance becomes a trance and then what we heard from God seems less persuasive than what we see with our eyes. We need to take note today where the world’s visual bombardment gets more powerful with every technological advance. Don’t be naïve about what you see. Our eyes have a particularly powerful influence on our fallen human nature’ (Simon Scott).
The boasting of what he has done and does—the appeal to our pride has a long history. Again we can look back at Eden: the serpent tempted Eve saying ‘eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and you will be like God.’ Pride throws off God’s rule and seeks our own glory rather than his. Behind boasting lies an attitude that is independent of God and self-sufficient. Our pride would suggest that we don’t need even God’s help. So have we examined what really motivates us? Have we questioned why we think we need that qualification or promotion? Are we seeking to promote ourselves or do we desire glory for God?3. Let eternal realities set your agenda (17)
The party-girl got all the attention. She had beauty and dressed it well. But then as she grew older those looks matured and younger girls stole the attention from her. We can think that being sexy is the be-all-and-end-all but our body is decaying and we are all heading towards the grave. The world and its desires are passing away.
He thought the new car would make him the envy of his neighbours. But it didn’t make him any more of a man. Indeed, after a few years an update of that model came out and suddenly his car looked dated. You could shop-till-you-drop and soon those clothes are out of fashion. The world and its desires are passing away.
She spent her whole life trying to impress. She gained degrees and qualifications. She worked her way right up the career ladder. She had the trappings that went with success including money and a big house. Then she died. Those achievements didn’t qualify her for anything in the afterlife. The world and all its desires are passing away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
One of the ways to beat worldliness is to remember that the world and its desires are passing away! Looking to the things of this world to satisfy our demand for happiness and meaning is like drinking sea-water to quench a thirst—the thirst doesn’t go away and we eventually die. Obsessing over the things of the world is like playing monopoly—we gather up all that toy-money which is useless once the game is over!
I hope that you find these words hard-hitting. We all battle with our loves. We have all allowed ourselves be shaped by the world. Remember, what we are seeing right throughout this series, ‘if we say that we are without sin the truth is not in us and we deceive ourselves.’ If you don’t see any trace of worldliness within you, then you simply don’t know how to examine yourself. The great nineteenth-century evangelical Bishop, J.C. Ryle, said, ‘a true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience but war within.’
Finally, the last thing I want you to be is a bunch of legalists. Legalism is an ugly thing. Legalism is adding rules where there should be no rules. Legalism makes people self-righteous, proud and judgemental. Legalism doesn’t know how to measure true spirituality. In a sense, legalism is very worldly. The answer to worldliness is a heart transformed by the beauty of the gospel. John Piper puts it this way: ‘the gospel makes all the difference between whether you are merely conservative or whether you are conquering the world in the power of the Spirit for the glory of Christ.’
So, remember grace and remember freedom. Remember that you are forgiven and secure--that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Ask God to shed his love abundantly in your heart. Seek the empowerment of the indwelling Spirit. Love much, because you have been forgiven much. Picture the Father racing through the village, with his robe in his hands and his knees exposed, running to embrace you. Know that you are held in the grip of his right hand, that your name is engraved on his hand and that you shelter under his wing. Be inspired by the beautiful character that you see in the person of Jesus. Then let that love enable you to relate in a godly way to a world that is opposed to the loving rule of God.