Do Not Love The World

Since I became a Christian in 1987, I've constantly heard the phrase "Culture Wars" thrown around.  It usually refers to the clash of two perspectives in America: a more traditional worldview based on a Biblical understanding of how a society should function and a more liberal view of culture where old perspectives are challenged and replaced with new viewpoints and ideas on everything from marriage to education to economics to the power of government.

Christians today find themselves in a tough spot.  As the culture shifts further away from the long assumed Christian ethos of American history, we as followers of Christ remain firmly planted in our convictions on essential values and beliefs.  But the cultural shift means that as society moves farther from the way things used to be, evangelicals look more and more odd to outsiders.  We haven't moved, but it seems as if we have to "the world" because they find us to be so far outside the mainstream which is rapidly re-defining major issues; marriage, drug use, the value of human life, and religious liberty, just to name a few.

Christians must rightly understand what "the world" really is if we are going to obey the mandate of the Apostle John found in scripture. 

1 John 2:15-17 says, Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

Remember that the man writing these words was not only one of the 12 disciples.  He was also Jesus' closest friend, who remained with Him through the crucifixion, and was given the task by Jesus to care for Mary, His mother, after the resurrection.  John is an old man writing this letter in exile on a desert Island off the coast of Greece.  When he speaks of "the world" he knows what he's talking about.  It's a system that elevates self above all things.  It's a worldview that honors power, money, control, and influence over service, humility, and sacrifice.  John lived under the shadow of the Roman Empire.  He suffered under the hand of a Roman Caesar.  He warned followers of Jesus Christ to avoid a love affair with a worldly system that promised temporary pleasure but that would ultimately pass away.

Tradition says that John refused to stop proclaiming the gospel, and Rome took this as a threat to their power.  He was boiled in oil but miraculously survived.  He dared to stand against "the world" and refused to bow to the cultural pressure to go along with the way things were.  We must learn to do the same.  It is naieve for us to assume that the culture we live in, or any culture for that matter, will always reflect the Kingdom of God.  Instead, we must live like subversive agents on a mission to be a witness to people in this world that we belong to another world while living in this one.  Our witness to the world is not how loud we shout in protest or how well we argue a point on Facebook.  It's how we respond to suffering, the way we care for the poor, and how we proclaim the gospel even among a hostile society.

Historian Rodney Stark, in his masterpiece, The Rise Of Christianity, reveals the reasons why the followers of Jesus were able to thrive in the darkest seasons of human history.  They loved and served their neighbors even in the face of certain death, caring for the sick and dying during events like the Black Plague.  They lived out a Biblical ethic of marriage and family where women and children were valued and sex was a gift only shared in the marriage covenant.  And they stood firm in their convictions even in the face of persecution.  

We are not at war with a culture.  We are at war with Satan, sin, evil, and death.  We are at war with our own selfishness, greed, and pride.  Ephesians 6: 12 says, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms. 

When "the world" sees us live with strong conviction as well as humble sacrifice, they will be drawn to the gospel.  Our responsibility is to resist the temptation to love and pursue worldly pleasures while chasing hard after the eternal treasure of knowing Jesus Christ.