This sermon is number 6 in a series of 23
1, 2 and 3 John - Part 6
"The Christian And The World"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2005 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
We're turning to 1 John again and chapter 2, our title for this evening's study - it is our sixth study - and the title is 'The Christian And The World', and we begin our reading at verse 12 of the second chapter.
"I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. 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".
William MacDonald in his Bible commentary has a very helpful outline of this little book, as he does of course with all the books, particularly those of the New Testament. He points out that in chapter 1 and verse 5, through to chapter 2 verse 2 that we studied in our second study in this series, we have the means of maintaining fellowship with God. It is through the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ that cleanseth all our sins that we can enter into fellowship with God. That blood is applied to us when we confess our sins, and then He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Our continual coming in fellowship to God is made possible by, as he says in chapter 2 verse 2, the fact that we have One in heaven who is not only the propitiation for our sins, but the sins of the whole world, and as verse one says: 'If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous'. So that is our means of fellowship, and maintaining fellowship with the Lord God. If sin comes in and interrupts, we ought not ever to say that we do not have sin, or that we have not sinned, but we must agree with God that our sin is as He has said, and bring it into the light and allow Him to, afresh, bring us into fellowship again.
Then after showing the means of maintaining fellowship, we have in chapter 2 and verses 3-11 the marks of those who are in the Christian fellowship. How do you know if you are indeed a Christian? How do you get that assurance? How do you recognise other Christians? We were given those two tests last week in verses 3 to 11, and they were: obedience to the Lord's commands, and love to the brethren and to those around us.
Now this week we're looking at verses 12 through to 14 first of all, as John personally addresses individual members within this church - and this, of course, is a circular letter going to other churches, but he is speaking now to the members, and members who are at different stages of growth in fellowship. Then we'll see a little bit later on in our meeting from verses 15 to 17, and later on next week, God willing, through to verse 28: he outlines two great dangers that threaten the fellowship that we have with God and with each other. We'll only have time this week to look at the first, and that is: the world. God willing, next week we'll look at the false teachers which he writes about in verse 18 following.
So let's look first of all at verses 12 to 14, and he addresses the members in the fellowship. Really, those whom he addresses, if you look at it, it embraces the whole family of God with this one expression in verse 12: 'Little children' - 'I write unto you, little children'. Now you will note, if you look down at verse 13, that he addresses 'little children' again just at the end of that verse. Now, in the Greek language there are two different words that are used for 'little children', and that isn't shown really in our English translations - it can't be. But the word that is used in verse 12 that we're looking at first of all literally means 'offspring of any age'. So, when it speaks of children, it doesn't mean 'little infants', or even adolescents, but it's not speaking about age or experience, rather it is talking about, in a generic sense, how we are the offspring of God no matter what age we are. In other words, it's speaking of those who have been regenerated by the Spirit, those who have been partakers of the new nature through the new birth.
You might say, 'Well, so what, what does that really matter?'. Well, it matters a great deal, because there are those in our world today, even in religious circles, who believe in the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. I'm sure you've heard this, that God is everyone's Father, and that we are everyone's brother and sister in humanity because we all own God as our Father. It becomes very popular, especially in the ecumenical movement and in syncretistic religion - trying to say that all roads lead to God because God is everyone's Father, and so we're all brothers and sisters in humanity. But this word right away tells us that John is addressing those who are the offspring of God, and the inference is that there are those who are not the offspring of God. Right away he is setting down a demarcation line that we find right throughout the whole of Scripture, and particularly in the New Testament: that God sees in this world not one great humanity with Him at the head, but two families that exist. There are, as the Lord Jesus Christ put it, those who are the children of Satan - remember He said to the scribes and Pharisees: 'Ye are of your father the devil' - then there are those who are the children of God.
Now the great question is posed: how do you get into God's family? Well, if God is to be your Father, then you must be His son; and if you are to be His son, then He must have given birth to you at some time - you must be born of God. That is simply what the doctrine, biblically speaking, the evangelical doctrine of the new birth teaches. It's not about simply making a decision, although that may be part of it in your own volition, but this is something that comes from heaven itself. A man or a woman who comes to faith in Christ does not essentially come to the Saviour in conversion just on the earth at some kind of evangelistic crusade, but there is actually some transaction that has taken place in heaven, that has caused them to give birth to the very life of God in their soul. Let's never forget that! Christianity is not just 'deciding to follow Jesus', although it is that - but there is a supernatural element whereby God's very life, by His Spirit, is breathed into us...and that's how you become a son or a daughter of God. That's why the Lord Jesus was at great pains in John chapter 3 to tell Nicodemus several times: 'Nicodemus, you must be born again'.
Now do you remember that the theme of this epistle not only is fellowship but assurance? Some of them were starting to doubt whether or not they were the sons and daughters of God. You might say: 'Well, how do I know if I am one of these people that are the offspring of God, whatever age I may come into?'. Well, he tells us in verse 12: 'I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake'. People who are born-again and know God are people who know that their sins are forgiven. Now that doesn't mean if you're doubting that your sins are forgiven, you're not saved, but if you want to get assurance: well, you need to know that the sins and the debt that you have toward God in transgressing His law has been wiped clean by the blood of Christ. Now I wonder could it be that there's someone in the meeting tonight, and you're not sure about that? It could very well be that you're not sure because it hasn't happened! You may be religious, you may even consider yourself evangelical, but you've never had that new birth experience. You might have had a simulation of it, you might have been pushed into some kind of decision on a human level by another Christian or even an evangelist. You might have put your hand up, you may have prayed a prayer, but the great question is: do you know the new birth in your heart? Do you know that your sins are forgiven you?
Here's one clue as to how you do know: it will always be 'for His name's sake'. Verse 12, at the end, our sins: 'are forgiven for His name's sake' - that is the ground of our forgiveness, that is the ground upon which God can bring us into new life through the new birth. We are born-again! Are you born-again? We are forgiven of our sins! Have you been forgiven of your sins? Well, if you have on both of those counts, it will simply be because you're resting on Calvary's work. Do you understand? You see, you can't earn forgiveness of sins in your own right, but you must be able to say with the hymn writer:
"I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me".
I'm resting on His work, His completed atonement at the cross. Isn't it wonderful to have that assurance tonight? Isn't it? But if we were to ask specifically: who are these members in the fellowship that John is addressing? Who are these people that he refers to in verse 13 as 'fathers', as 'young men', and then again as 'little children'? Well, there's divergence of opinion - which should never surprise you in biblical matters! - on this particular interpretation, and there are some who say: 'Well, these three designations are just different words for the whole family. He's trying in a literary scheme to encompass everyone in this particular church because, let's face it, some of the traits that are in each of these people that he commends them for are traits that should be in us all as believers'. There is a point here - one author says: 'All believers should be children in innocence, and dependent on their Heavenly Father. Young men we should be in our strength, and we all should be fathers in our experience with God'. Whilst that may well be the ideal what we should all be, it is far from the reality, I'm sure you'll agree. So I don't think that John is addressing everyone when he designates these three types of people.
Then there are others who say, secondly: 'Well, he's talking to three different age groups, and that's self evident by the fact that he talks about elderly people, or older people, in fathers; then he talks about young men; and then he talks about little children or infants'. People push this interpretation to say that what he's actually getting at in speaking to fathers, he's talking to those who are experienced in the things of God. When he talks to these young men, because he commends them for their strength, that's what he's trying to highlight - strength, courage in the things of God. When he talks to these little children, he's speaking to folk who are immature in the faith, they've come to Christ recently and they haven't grown like these other two types of people. Now that may well be the case in part, but it would be wrong to say that these characteristics, whilst common to fathers and young men and to little children, are exclusive.
What do I mean? Let me explain myself: just because you're a father in an age sense, it does not necessarily follow that you're experienced in the things of God. Just because you're a young man does not mean necessarily that you're strong, courageous in the things of God, and that you're overcoming the evil one. Neither does it necessarily mean that if you're young in the faith and only come to Christ recently, that you're naive or even a babe in Christ up to now. Some of these things overlap, so I think that in these three groups of people that John is addressing he is outlining specific stages of spiritual growth in God's family. Now the fathers may well be older people, and the young men may well be young men, and the little children may well be infants, but I believe he's talking about stages in fellowship that we can have in the things of God - and I don't believe, sisters, that he's excluding the females just because he talks in the male gender.
So let's look first of all at the 'fathers', and we'll group together everything he says about each group even though they're scattered over these two verses. First of all he speaks to the fathers in verse 13: 'I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning'. Now it may well be that these fathers were elders, very seldom are elders called 'fathers', but the likelihood is that at least some of them, if not all of them, were elders in the church. They were the most mature, not in age now, but in their spiritual experience of God. When you look at this verse he commends them because they have 'known him', probably referring to the Lord Jesus, 'that is from the beginning' - because in the first couple of verses of this epistle, that's who he talks about when he speaks of having fellowship with Him who was from the beginning. He commends these fathers for their experience in the things of God. Now, that doesn't come with age - it often does carry with age - but because you're older doesn't necessarily mean that you've been experienced in the things of God, but these men had.
Let me say this, and this is to those who are elders in this church and other churches, and those who are fathers even in a chronological sense of how many years you've totted up: the pinnacle of spiritual maturity is to know God experientially. Do you understand that? Whilst it is commendable to have a great knowledge of the Scriptures, and whilst it is good to have experience of life, the fact of the matter is: to be a father in the faith you need to know God through your own personal experience - to know God in all His fullness! Isn't that what Paul said in Philippians and chapter 3 verse 10: 'That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death'. Now I ask you the question: is that how we accredit elders in the church? Often the reason we qualify them is because they have a knowledge of Scripture, or they even are apt to teach, they can preach a little bit: but these fathers needed to know God! Fathers in the faith! Now how many of those are around? We've got men who can turn you to the verses, but how many have we that have experienced the reality of those spiritual verses in their own experience, and can point you to have the right experiences in Christ also? It also entails that they need to be a good example to the flock, they need to discipline the flock as a father, they need to have also tender compassion. 'Fathers, I write unto you because ye have known him that is from the beginning'. Elder, you could say a lot about yourself tonight, but can you say, can I say: 'I know him'?
Then secondly, he addresses this group who are called 'young men'. Whilst they may not have been fathers in the experience that they had of Him who was from the beginning, like the first group, one thing is for sure: they are strong against sin and against doctrinal error. 'I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one', and then if you look at verse 14 in the middle, 'I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one'. They have the word of God in them, and that is the key! These young men, whilst they may not have the experiential knowledge of the word, they know the word and they know the doctrine - they know how to recognise error. They are vehemently opposed against every form of sin and iniquity!
Now, young people who are in our meeting tonight, is that not extremely encouraging to you in this particular day? So often when we read the word of God, and we read the biographies of great giants of the faith in church history, and then we look at our own environment in which we live and which we are growing up in and finding our feet, we can often despair thinking: 'It is impossible to live a life of godliness and purity in such a wicked world as this' - but, praise God, it is not impossible! John's world was not a stone's throw from our world this very evening, and yet he was able to commend young men in the faith because they had overcome the wicked one, because God's word abided in them. Isn't that wonderful? Not only fathers in the faith can be exemplars in the faith, but so can young men and young women - they can be examples in godliness, just as Timothy himself was. These young people had overcome the wiles of the devil himself morally, because the word of God dwelt in them, they believed it, they lived it out, and they faced false doctrine and sin and error - they overcame the devil himself. Morally, they had the victory; morally, they were triumphant; morally, they were overcoming - is that you today, young person?
The Psalmist asked the question that young people of every age asked, Psalm 119 and verse 9: 'Wherewithal shall a young man', or a young woman, 'cleanse his way?'. Then in verse 11 he tells us: '...by taking heed thereto according to thy word', verse 11, 'thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee'. That is the secret of these young men who overcame the devil in their age, and it'll be the secret of all young people who overcome this wicked world today: the word of God in your heart, and using it in your life! Morally they overcame, doctrinally they overcame all the false doctrine that was round about. You see, this is the mark of the difference between a young man in the faith, and a child or someone who is still an infant or a babe in Christ. Indeed, when we turn to Ephesians chapter 4 Paul, in another context in verse 14, says: 'Henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive'. Sometimes you meet young people, and this week they believe one doctrine, the next week they believe another doctrine, and they're just blown to and fro depending on who the popular teacher of the moment is. That's not the way we are to be: morally we're to stand fast with the word of God in us, living it out; but we're to have the word of God in our head, knowing doctrine that is true and false.
These young men - God give us more of them! - were overcomers doctrinally as well as morally. I can't put it any better than John Bunyan did when he said: 'This book will keep you from sin, and sin will keep you from this book'. That's the bottom line, and the sooner young people and older people realise this, that this is the secret to Christian success, the better your experience of the Christian life will be. Now I have a great concern about young people in our age, and sometimes from the pulpit young people are hammered and hammered again and again, and I don't think it's always fair because what's often hammered in young people could well be hammered in older people - and this is one particular aspect. It's this: that they don't seem to have, as used to be, an appetite for the word of God. Praise God for you that are here that are young people, and I'm not hammering the ones that are faithful and have come tonight! But the fact of the matter is: there is a decreasing knowledge among young people of the Scriptures. No matter how you want to measure it, I believe it's a fact. You don't seem to get young men that will sit down any more, flick through the pages and even argue over the Scriptures - which isn't always a bad thing, sharpening one another's sword. There is this laissez-faire attitude that: 'Well, it doesn't really matter, as long as you love the Lord' - but I'll tell you this: if you don't know the word of God, you'll never overcome the wicked one! You'll not do it!
Ephesians chapter 6 tells us that this book is the sword of the Spirit, it's the only offensive weapon that we have against the forces of evil. It doesn't matter whether you're a father in the age sense, or a young man, the fact of the matter is: whether you have the adolescent youth within you or the strength of young manhood, Isaiah says in Isaiah 40 that even the youths shall faint and grow weary, but it is them that wait on the Lord who shall renew their strength. Old or young, it's around this book, it's on your knees, it's before your God - only then can you overcome the wicked one!
Fathers, young men, young women, then thirdly he addresses the little children again. Now, as I pointed out earlier the 'little children' here in this particular verse 13, is a different 'little children' than verse 12, and it basically speaks of those in a young sense of the faith, those who are babes in Christ, those who have recently come to awareness of God and who need to do a bit of growing. Now that's natural, that's not something to be looked down on. In fact, Peter tells us that we are to desire the pure milk of the word as newborn babes desire their mother's milk. You don't set a wee baby down to a T-bone steak, you give them a bottle; and gradually it grows. Everything's new when you first come to faith in Christ or come back to the Lord again, as the hymn says, even the heaven above is softer blue, the earth around is sweeter green, something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen. But if that wee baby, after one year of life on this earth, didn't grow - well, I think you'd be taking it to the doctor, wouldn't you, with a heart breaking with great anxiety for the welfare and the future of your child. It is a tragedy. You know, it is a tragedy when one of God's newborn babes does not grow - and Paul had to come to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3:1, and say to them: 'Ye are still babes! I want to feed you with meat, but I have to feed you with milk. You're carnal, you think you know everything, but you know nothing!'.
Basically, babes need to grow up, all of them do. But I wonder is there someone here tonight, and you have stunted growth? You should have grown up a long time ago. Or is this starting to test your faith, even as we speak, it's starting to rock your assurance because maybe the signs of life are not even there! When the baby is born, often what the physician will do is move its hand across its face to see if there's any reactions, tap its bones at certain reflex points, and if there's no signs of life what other conclusion can they come to but that they are dead? If there's no development in your Christian experience, what other conclusion can you come to?
Well, the good news about why John, I believe, addresses these three groups - fathers, young men, little children - is because John had time for everybody in the family of God. I think that's beautiful. Here's why it's beautiful: because these false teachers and heretics, these Docetists and the forerunners of the Gnostics who claimed some kind of elite knowledge of God that only came through a special revelation to certain highbrow individuals, they were saying: 'Well, you have to be top-notch, you have to be one of the elite, you have to get up there, there's no room for the babes, there's no room for the young men, it's only the elite who can know God'. John says: 'No, I write to the fathers, I write to the young men, I even right to the little children' - isn't that wonderful? There's no ageism with God. Sometimes I'm concerned - and I don't wish to criticise other churches, I've no place to do that - but there are churches that are 'Young people's churches', then there's churches that are 'Old people's churches' - and we're glad we have a bit of a 'dolly mixture' here in this church. There are churches that are 'black churches' and churches that are 'white churches', but the beauty of what God wanted when He was thinking out the plan of salvation and the miracle of the mystery of the church was that there be no divisions, and all ages, and all classes, and all races, and all peoples would be able to be together!
Sometimes the old folk can look down at the young ones. Some of you want them to be old folk and won't allow them to be young folk, when the old folk, when you were young folk, allowed you to be young folk - are you following me? Some of the young folk want to take the whole thing by the reins and run away, and they want to sing hymns all the time that none of the old folk know - and that's not on either! Why can't we live together, as God meant us to live together? But John's point is this: no matter what age these people were, no matter what stage they were at as members in the church, every single one of them from the fathers right down to the little children manifested something of Christ's character somewhere. The question is: do you?
Those are the members in the fellowship, but then secondly he talks to them about a danger to the fellowship. As I said, in verse 18 following, God willing, next week we'll look at the second one of these, the false teachers. But first of all he deals with the first danger to church fellowship and our fellowship with God individually in verse 15, he says: 'Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world'. Now you will know that all of John's epistles have the great theme of love right throughout them, none less than 1 John itself, and we have already looked at that in great detail in recent weeks. But here we have John showing that there is a negative aspect to love. You don't often hear this in the day and age in which we live, everything seems to be positive even in Christian circles, but here is a negative side to love. Of course, this stands to reason when you think about it for a moment, because a Christian at the one and the same time cannot love God and love the devil, that would be ridiculous. A Christian cannot love righteousness and sin, indeed the Lord Jesus articulated it in the Sermon on the Mount when He said: 'You cannot serve two masters, ye cannot serve God and mammon'. The Psalmist put it in Psalm 97: 'Ye that love the Lord, hate evil' - that is the other side of love for God, it is a hate for evil things. Paul said in Romans 12: 'Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good'. Good and evil, God and Satan, holiness and worldliness, are mutually incompatible - do you understand that? James articulated it, perhaps in a very forthright manner, when he said in James 4:4: 'Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God'.
Now some people right away say: 'Well, here is one of the contradictions of the Bible. I always knew they were there, and preachers said to me, 'Where are they? Show us the contradictions', well here's one because I know John 3:16 which says 'For God so loved the world', and the word he uses for 'world', 'cosmos', is the same word that you have 23 times in this first epistle of John. How can God love the world and then tell His own followers not to love the world?'. Well, let's find out what this word 'world' actually means. Of course, it means different things in different contexts, and the word 'cosmos' is used with different meanings at times throughout the New Testament. First of all it can mean 'the material world', the actual soil of the earth, the whole of creation. We see that clearly, and right throughout scripture there is an agreement that God created all things good, God does not hate this world as a material entity - though we live in a fallen creation, He still glories in the wonder of the sky and the hills and the trees and all of nature. Then secondly this word is used in a racial sense, and I believe that's how it's used in John 3:16 - for God so loved the whole world, all peoples. Then thirdly, the way it's used here is that it speaks of the world system, 'Love not the world system'.
What is the world system? Well, the world system is the system which man has built up in an effort to make himself happy, satisfied, fulfilled apart from God. One person has defined it like this: 'Human society is the world system in so far as it is organised in wrong principles, characterised by base desires, false values and egoism'. In short, the world system is any sphere where the Lord Jesus is not loved, and the Lord Jesus is not welcomed. Does that define it for you? Well, worldliness, the ideal, poses another question for us which is a very contemporary one, particularly among young people today - simply this: 'What is it?'. It's bandied about in prayer meetings and from pulpits. In conversations people, sometimes older people, are saying: 'Oh, the church is getting so worldly' - but many people are at pains to define what worldliness means. What is it in practical terms? There's a great dispute regarding it.
Now let me say what worldliness, and to hate the world, is not. To hate the world, and to live a non-worldly life, is not first of all: Pharisaism. Pharisaism was what was around in our Lord's day: those who were religious and tried to be non-worldly by adhering to particular religious rules and rituals. Now the problem with legalism was that, though they had many right rules, they had not the life of God in their breast to live up to the rules. They hadn't the new birth, and the outcome of that was that it led to hypocrisy, because when you have rules but don't have the power to obey the rules, you portray the facade that you are obeying it, when with the heart and even in actions secretly you're transgressing your own rules. To hate the world, to love not the world as John says, is not Pharisaism - and there is quite a lot of Pharisaism in evangelical Christianity, particularly in Ulster.
Secondly, it is not asceticism. What is asceticism? Well, the ascetics were people who denied the fleshly appetites - sexually, with food, with drink, with rest, with any form of physical sensual pleasure. Now, what was the problem with that? This is how they decided they would become non-worldly - well, the problem is that these things are not necessarily wrong. Sensual pleasure is natural in certain areas. God, in fact, created some of these things, they were instituted before the fall of man, and God put His blessing on it - because of that, asceticism leads to frustration, because you're trying to dull certain things that God has given you which are good. It doesn't work either.
Thirdly, to love not the world does not mean monasticism. What is that? Well, you've heard of monks, hermits, they withdrew themselves from the world. They thought: 'If we get away from all the externalities that are tempting us, and hide ourselves and be alone with God, well, we'll be free from the world'. John Stott calls it 'Rabbit-hole religiosity'. There are a lot of 'rabbit hole' Christians about, they only put their head above the parapet when they go out to the Sunday meeting, and then they come back in. They only hang around with Christians and they only talk with Christians. You see, there's a danger in this ghetto mentality, because it actually prevents us loving the lost the way that God Himself describes in John 3:16. The great problem with monasticism regarding hating the world and becoming non-worldly, is that the greater problem is not so much external factors in the world, but the fact that the external things in the world find an echo with my old wicked evil heart - and that's what you take with you when you go into a monastery or a convent, and inevitably it leads to failure.
So, what is it to hate the world? People want specifics: 'Go on, tell them what's right, tell them what's wrong'. If you want to ask me privately about things, I will do that, but you know I don't need to say that from the pulpit. I'll tell you why: because the principles are clearly defined within the Scriptures of what is worldly and what is not, and it would be impossible for God to define specifics in a book that is timeless. He does better than that, He shows us, no matter how cultures change and trends change, the principles whereby we may know what is worldliness and what is holiness. Where are they? Well, they're in verse 16: 'All that is in the world', first of all, here's the first sign of worldliness, 'the lust of the flesh'. That's a definition of worldliness. What is the lust of the flesh? Well, it is gratifying sensual bodily appetites and desires of our evil nature. Now, bodily appetites are natural, they are God-given; but because of the fall of humanity they have been perverted, and by our own fallen nature inside they have been perverted also. The problem comes when the world tempts us to fulfil normal appetites and desires in abnormal ways, that's when the lust of the flesh comes on the field.
What am I talking about? Well, when the world tries to take hunger and turn it into gluttony, that is the lust of the flesh. When the world tries to take thirst and turns it into drunkenness, when it takes sleep and turns it into sloth and laziness, when it takes sex and turns it into fornication and adultery and immorality and sodomy - that is the lust of the flesh. Now if you're involved in any of those things in any shape or form, that is a sign whether or not you are worldly, that is worldliness! He goes on to define it a little bit more: 'the lust of the eyes', evil desires that arise from what we see. A prime example is David eyeing up Bathsheba, and that was the primary sin that led to the actual physical sin of adultery. Have you ever said to anybody - maybe when you were serving them a meal - 'Feast your eyes upon that'? That is the lust of the eyes, not in a true sense, but that's the idea that you're feasting your eyes on something that is ungodly and sinful. Sometimes you get up from the table and you say: 'My eyes were bigger than my belly' - don't you? That's the same idea: you're feeding on things that are unhelpful.
We live in a media dominated world, and the world's axis seems to spin today on the lust of the eyes, and TV adverts appeal to the eye: 'Drink this beer, and you'll get the best looking girl in the bunch', 'Drive this car, and you'll get the best job, you'll be a hero and all the rest'. We have a 'must have' mentality, a preoccupation with the lust of the eyes which is superficial, a preoccupation with that which is superficial skin deep morality. Whether it's pornography or possessions, it's the same lust that's behind it, the lust of the eyes. Can I address a very sensitive subject, because I believe Internet pornography is one of the greatest scourges of the church of Jesus Christ today, yet it's the silent sin - and the likelihood is that there are a number of folk here tonight and you're committing that sin. Possessions are fuelled by the lust of the eyes, what you see you want to have, and all of it could be summed up as covetousness - that's why people are head over heels in debt. Why is it? Do you ever wonder? Will Rogers said: 'Simply because we spend money that we do not have, to buy things that we do not need, to impress people that we do not like' - the lust of the eyes.
Then there's the pride of life, thirdly. Literally it means 'the boasting of what a person has or does'. An unholy ambition of self display, self glory, pride. What you have in these three things are unholy appetites, unholy avarice, and unholy ambitions. They are all illustrated in Eve in the Garden of Eden, and Satan said: 'Hath God said ye shall not eat?', and she saw that the tree was good for food - the lust of the flesh, it could feed her; and it was pleasant to the eyes, the lust of the eyes, she saw its beauty and attractiveness; and she saw that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, the lust of pride. You see in Matthew 4 the temptation of the Lord Himself. Satan came and said: 'Turn those stones to bread', praise God He didn't have a lust in Him, but He was tempted in all points as we are. On that very point Satan did tempt Him - the lust of the flesh - to feed Himself at Satan's demand; to cast Himself off the pinnacle of the temple to make a show, for the lust of the eyes; Satan offered Him the kingdoms of the world, the pride of life!
John says the first reason why you ought to hate the world is that it's incompatible with your love for the Father. You can't love the Father and love the world, you can't love the Father and lust the flesh, lust with the eyes, and have pride in your life. As Billy Sunday said, it makes as much sense to talk about a worldly Christian as it does to talk about a heavenly devil. They're mutually incompatible. Someone has defined worldliness as 'anything that keeps me from loving God as I ought to love Him, and from doing the will of God as I ought to do it'. Now, you put your little question into that definition, and realise that the world is not benign, the world is not innocent - no matter what trendy evangelicals are saying today! It is a treacherous place for the child of God!
The second reason, whilst the first is incompatibility with love to the Father, the second reason why we should hate the world in verse 17 is the fact that it is transient. Verse 17 says: 'The world passeth away, and the lust thereof'. When a company or a business falls into financial straits, sensible people don't invest in it. When a builder sees that the ground is like a peat bog, if he's wise he doesn't lay a foundation on it. But to live for the transient things of the world is absolute foolishness, it's like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic - the boat is going down, so what is the point? You wouldn't go out and buy a car if you knew it was going to break down in a couple of weeks, so why then do we invest our lives in things that do not and will not last? This world passeth away. Why won't you give your heart - and I'm challenging you tonight - to something that will last? Beauty does not last, it has an expiry date. It maybe lasts a couple of decades, it maybe lasts shorter than that when you wake up beside her in the morning - I don't know! Fame is fickle, even political power passes - you see Tony Blair, the darling of New Labour when he was elected, and now they could hang him! It all passes, and the bottom line of it all is simply this: whatever way you want to define the world and worldliness, none of it satisfies! None of it!
A shop notice on one occasion put up the words in its window: 'If you need it, we have it'. Their competitor across the road put up a sign the day after: 'If we don't have it, you don't need it' - but folks, that's the bottom line where the Lord Jesus Christ is concerned. If it's in the world and He doesn't offer you it, you don't need it! All you need is Him! There's such a great deal of confusion about worldliness, and there is such a great deal of worldliness in Christianity - to such an extent that I am deeply troubled at times. Maybe it's because the church, when it's set alongside the world looks like a pale black-and-white photograph, when the world is a multimedia presentation. We look old, we look dated, and the more worldly the world becomes the more outdated we feel - but the bottom line is: whatever the world's perception of us is, and whatever modernity's perception of us may be, the world cannot give us what Jesus can give us! For what Jesus gives never passes away, it lasts! The amazing thing that has thrilled my heart today about the end of verse 17 is that God's word says that: 'he that doeth the will of God' lasts also! He will abide forever!
Let me throw out that challenge to you today: fathers, elders, young men, little children - why don't you work for something that is permanent for a change? Why don't you work for something that will last! This was the verse that D. L. Moody took as his motto verse right throughout his life and ministry. When he died it was inscribed upon his tombstone: 'He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever'. Do you know something? Moody was called 'Mad Moody' by the world, but now he has no regrets, whereas Henry VIII took Hampton Court away from Cardinal Woolsey, who actually built Hampton Court, and poor old Cardinal Woolsey before he died said something like this: 'If I had only served my God like I served my King, I wouldn't be here today'. But 'He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever':
'The stars shine over the land,
The stars shine over the sea,
The stars look up to God above,
The stars look down on me.
The stars will live for a million years,
For a million years and a day,
But God and I shall live and live
When the stars have passed away'.
Hallelujah, he that doeth the will of God, and loves not the world, neither the things of the world shall abide forever.
Father, help us not to love the world. Lord, we confess that there are things that we do love, and Lord there's times that we put those things before the Saviour. Lord, maybe our whole life at this moment is for the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life - those could even be legitimate things like careers, and businesses, and family. Yet they could be taking Your place. Lord, help us all to say tonight: 'Take the world, but give me Jesus, all its joys are but in name, but His love abideth ever through eternal years the same'. Lord, help us to give You all, that we may be those who do the will of God, that we may abide forever as overcomers in time and throughout all eternity. Lord, we're all weak, but help us to be strong as we wait upon the Lord. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the sixth recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "The Christian And The World" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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