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Pastoral 2012

Unmasking Worldliness


Christians are strongly warned against worldliness in the Scriptures. 1 John 2:15-17 is one of the passages that cautions them not to be lovers of the world – “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

This warning from the apostle John is very needful for Christians of our time because a great number of them have brazenly embraced worldliness. Most Christians of our time do not even seem to recognise the spiritual dangers that surround them because of their worldly conduct. This warning from John the Apostle is thus for the modern Christians who are increasingly embracing worldliness.

What is worldliness?

In the light of today’s text, worldliness can be explained as one’s love for the world and the things in the world, for we are warned, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” The term “world” here refers to the ungodly or wicked systems of the world. It refers to the worldly philosophies, ideologies, fashion, attitude, behaviour, activities, etc.

1 John 5:19 tells us that “the whole world lieth in wickedness”. In the apostle Peter’s language, worldliness is the “pollutions of the world” (2 Peter 2:20). Paul taught clearly that to walk after the ways of the world is to be under the direction of the god (or prince) of this world, the devil, and his demonic forces (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 6:12).

So we can say that “worldliness” is one’s devotion or dedication to this world’s ideologies, passions, fashions, pleasures, wealth, etc. which are governed by Satan and therefore inherently wicked before the Lord.

What constitutes worldliness?

1 John 2:16 says, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”

Worldliness, first of all consists of “the lust of the flesh” which is the sinful craving of our fallen body. God has created our body with certain desires such as hunger, thirst and sex. These desires are good, and are not at all evil in themselves. These natural urges should always be controlled and used according to God’s intended design and plans.

However, the world, which is under the control of the devil, urges us to satisfy those bodily desires through all forms of distorted ways which are forbidden by God. When those bodily desires are stirred up contrary to God’s design and purpose, they become sinful lusts.

As mentioned, thirst is not evil but drunkenness is a sin. Hunger is not sinful but gluttony is evil. Money is needful but love for money is covetous, a form of idolatry. Sleep is a gift of God but laziness is condemnable. Sex is God’s gift to have a joyous wedded life for a man and woman, and to beget children, but when used wrongly, it becomes immorality.

The world appeals to the natural appetites and tempts us to satisfy them in forbidden ways. All the allurements of this world are designed to stir our fleshly desires to go against God’s specific plan and purpose.

Secondly, worldliness consists of “the lust of the eye”, which is the craving of our corrupt intellect. The fleshly craving also expresses itself through the lust of the eye (e.g. pornography). Man’s eye is after women. Jesus warned against this sin in Matthew 5:28 – “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” So Job said, “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1). So the Psalmist prayed in Psalm 119:37, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.”

The lust of the eye also seduces man to do evil in many other areas of life as well. It is the lust of the eye that caused the fall of Achan (Joshua 7:21) and David (2 Samuel 11:2). Through the eye, our corrupt minds also seek satisfaction, glory and all that would excites its pride. This would include costly raiment and ornaments, gold and silver, diamonds and jewels, huge and splendid houses, expensive cars, gorgeous furniture and appliances, etc.

As Ecclesiastes 4:8 observes, “...neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.” Through our eye, the world exerts its pressure to follow after its glory. Thus we engage in intellectual pursuits that are contrary to God’s will. Let not our passion for the world’s glory and prowess push God out of our mind.

Thirdly, worldliness consists of “the pride of life”, which is the boasting of life’s possessions. The Greek word for “life” is bios and it refers to means or possessions of life. So the phrase “pride of life” means pride in what one possesses. Generally, man feels great about flaunting the things he possesses. They want others to know that they are clever, strong, wealthy and even holier than the rest. Because of the pride of life, some fall into many foolish and hurtful situations.

Now we can see how the three descriptions of the world relate to each other. Have you ever wondered why generally, people would like to buy bigger houses and cars or new appliances and wardrobes, even though they cannot afford them? Why do they succumb to the “travel now, pay later” or “drive first, pay later” advertising and get themselves into hopeless debt paying endeavours? It is largely because they want to impress other people—because of their “pride of life”. They may want folks to notice how affluent or successful they are.

The first two - lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes - refer to desires for what we do not have. And the third - the pride of life - refers to the pride in what we do have. The world is driven by these two things: passion for pleasure and pride in possessions.

Sadly, there is much worldliness among the saints!

There is worldliness in their motives and actions. There is worldliness in their domestic life and in their interaction with society; there is worldliness in the education of their family members; there is worldliness in their business and employment; there is worldliness in their expenditure - so much being laid out for self-pleasure and self-glory, and so little for God; there is worldliness in their religious schemes and activities; there is worldliness in their reading, and in their conversations; there is worldliness in their sports and entertainment. There is, in short, too much of the spirit of fervent worldliness in the life of a great number of saints.

Are you, my reader, concerned more about your worldly advancement than spiritual advancement? Do you sacrifice your spiritual nourishment for worldly gain? Have you been too occupied with material and sensual matters rather than the Lord, His church and His truth? If your answers to these questions are “yes”, then you are being gripped by worldliness. Repent and turn to the Lord now.


Pastoral Exhortation