1 John 2:15-17 – Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Ephesians 2:1-3, 1 Peter 2:11, Colossians 2:8, 1 John 4:5, John 15:18-19, James 4:4, Colossians 3:2, Romans 12:2, John 17:14-16 are a few other passages that speak to this subject as well.
Living IN the world but not OF the world is an unusual concept but one that is frequently talked about in the Bible and seems to be a core concept or even foundation of the Christian faith although it’s not often discussed or examined in our ‘Christian’ culture and rarely seems to be a consideration in many Christian lives or groups.
There are a lot of references to this phenomenon in the New Testament (I mentioned a few already) but also the entire Old Testament seems to be a prime example of this calling.
You have the nation of Israel that God calls ‘out’ from the other nations and sets them ‘apart’ as it were, differentiating them with very different governing laws and ways of life compared to the cultures of their time. Over the course of the New Testament we then are shown how the Jewish people slowly became more and more like the cultures around them that they permitted to dwell in the land God had given the nation of Israel, despite God’s warning to them against doing so.
Eventually you see Israel demand a king to ‘be like the other nations’ and God allows this request but 1 Samuel 8:6-9 details how God told Samuel “…it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods…” Further in the Old Testament we see the culmination of Israel becoming like the cultures around them and intermarrying/intermingling, taking on the false gods of those cultures and ultimately causing God to remove his hand of blessing from them and leading them into captivity and very difficult times.
So I think it’s obvious as to why God instructs us to live ‘not OF’ the world, as “…friendship with the world is enmity with God…” (James 4:4), and the history of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament is a clear example of that.
One of the key differences of living IN the world but not OF the world which I think is also a core part of a heart genuinely following Christ, is the way a Christian is called to treat and serve others despite having various (worldy) excuses/reasons not to. And this is especially relevant to me because it’s what God used to change/save my life and brought me to my knees as it were, out of a time when I was walking in darkness and bitterness.
God used a simple act of kindness/love towards me by some Christian people to transform me. It was underserved; by all standards I was quite rude to this group of people and if they followed ‘worldly’ protocol they would have just been offended and ignored me and thought, “hope I never see that jerk again.”, or something along those lines, but instead they reached out and invited me into their lives. It wasn’t a disingenuous, I need to check my ‘Christian’ boxes here so I’m sanctified/justified to shun this person after this type thing, it was just a sincere gesture. It wasn’t a ‘grand’ gesture by any standard but as simple as it sounds God spoke to me though it and used it as a catalyst that changed my life.
These type of actions – kindness and love towards others whom the ‘world’ claims (and also many ‘Christian’ people it seems) we are excused/justified in ignoring/avoiding/ridiculing, etc. – are powerful and stand out from our culture and one of the big things that set us apart as followers of Christ.
I believe that this worldly mentality of offense/division/strife/etc. stems from (as most other issues do) pride and selfishness; although people do of course try to justify such actions by claiming they are following moral principles of some kind of another, or even spiritual ones.
We seem to SEEK ways to alienate ourselves and others and cause division and strife between one another, and a lot of the time it’s not even spiritual related issues we choose to take offense over…
A few examples come to mind of things we have heard people say in the past, such as: “You can’t call yourself a Christian if you support this political figurehead or party…” or things like that involving the ‘hot topics’ of our time such as vaccines, politics, firearms, etc. Things that aren’t spiritual at all.
Not that we don’t also use ‘spiritual’ related things to divide ourselves as we certainly do; arguments about baptisms, salvation, etc. The writer of Hebrews talks in chapter 6 verse 1-2 about these things being the ELEMENTARY things of Christ, and yet these basic things are what essentially all ‘denominations’ within God’s people use to further divide themselves and segregate themselves from one another and become points of pride and contention between the various groups… This certainly at least to me seems like the ‘way of the world’, and not how God calls us to live.
God has shown us endless mercy and grace and patience in our lives, how can we deny mercy and grace and not be patient with others even if they don’t agree with us on certain things, ESPECIALLY things not spiritual. There is of course a point on the spiritual side where God instructs us to disassociate from people who refuse to acknowledge sound doctrine, but that’s a different topic altogether.
If our focus is on SERVING others instead of serving ourselves-like the world claims we should (always look out for # 1!), it becomes VERY difficult to be offended by worldly issues or personal slights/insults and elementary theological differences become more or less irrelevant (at least in my view) in favor of unity in Christ and being a part of one-another’s lives.
A more subtle issue I think we have to be aware of as Christians is in our personal circles of family/friends where we often develop expectations for one another and get offended or hurt if the other person(s) fails to meet our expectations (which is inevitably going to occur). We start expecting certain amounts of time and/or attention and/or ‘respect’ from various people and take offense and hold grudges if we feel we aren’t ‘given our due’ as it were.
We’ve got to (or at least I have to it seems) continually renew that focus on ‘serving’ others or our vision becomes easily dimmed and changed to other things and those areas of pride and selfishness and entitlement and offense start to rise up again.
If we approach our spouse/children/parents/siblings/brothers & sisters in Christ with the same attitude of serving THEM rather than having expectations on how they should treat US, then anything they DO for us is a blessing we are thankful for, rather than them meeting (or in most cases failing to meet) an expectation or obligation.
The other (worldly) danger we fall into I think if we aren’t being careful is that we start to expect things in return for ‘serving’. And I think if that becomes part of our mentality that’s certainly also being ‘OF the world’
Luke 17:7-10 speaks directly to that issue –
But who is there among you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say, when he comes in from the field, “Come immediately and sit down at the table,” and will not rather tell him, “Prepare my supper, clothe yourself properly, and serve me, while I eat and drink. Afterward you shall eat and drink”? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded? I think not. Even so you also, when you have done all the things that are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy servants. We have done our duty.”
It’s important to keep in mind that God calls us to serve other’s if we are indeed being a servant of His.
The other verse that comes to mind is Matthew 5:46 – “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” It’s very easy to be kind and ‘loving’ to people who are kind and ‘loving’ to you. It’s very easy to ‘serve’ people who ‘serve’ you as well and it becomes a difficult thing not to have expectations and start feeling entitled to being ‘served’ by others.
Of course genuine love and unconditional serving of other’s goes against our human nature and isn’t something we can achieve through our own strength. As with all other issues of the spirit and heart we need to take these things to God in prayer and supplication and ask God to strip away our pride and selfishness and create a humble and contrite heart that seeks to serve Him and by extension other’s despite how they treat us, and to teach us patience and to forgive others when they do not treat us as God instructs them to, and request forgiveness for ourselves when we fail to love/serve others as Christ has loved/served us.
John 13:35 – By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The world seems to add to this: “unless the person disagrees with you about politics, laws, vaccines or anything else you decide to take offense too, or unless you just dislike them for whatever reason in general…”
The world also has it’s own definition of what ‘love’ is that differs quite drastically from what God’s definition is. According to worldly wisdom, love is ‘accepting’ other’s and making them ‘feel’ nice and comfortable… Anything that ‘offends’ or makes them uncomfortable is therefore not ‘loving’.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes love according to God – Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
People who choose to be offended are in fact not ‘loving’ as real love keeps no records of wrongs/offenses and will put aside any slights and insults in favor of the well-being of the other person.
The second thing that ties in with this is being intentional about the time we make to spend with God and with other believers.
I find when life gets really busy with work and whatnot and I’m not spending ‘quality’ time in prayer or in God’s Word and not getting together as much for fellowship with other Christiain’s my focus also starts to slowly move away from the things of God to worldly things.
I find myself getting angry or ‘offended’ about things that I know shouldn’t be bothering me and although subtle and ignorable at first, they eventually get to the point where I’m like… “Oh, something isn’t right in my heart I shouldn’t be like this.”
We live in a culture of busyness and ‘events’ and activities but very little actual ‘community’ if that makes sense. Typical ‘Church’ services are a prime (at least seem to be to me) example of this; they seem largely impersonal and more of a prepared event that you just ‘attend’ and exchange pleasantries with people and then leave.
I believe it is very important to make real time for God and for fellowship with believers, I think the Word backs up this statement as we see in Acts how the church operated and instructions like “Do not forsake meeting together…” etc. I don’t believe they were talking about forsaking ‘Synagogue service’ meeting once a week, I believe they were referring to spending time together in their daily lives as they demonstrate in accounts like “…And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart…”, etc.
Now again, I’m not saying lets all quit are jobs and just ‘hang out’ together. And I certainly appreciate we all have busy times in life which I feel like I personally am in currently for sure. What I am saying though is that we will ALWAYS ‘make’ time for things that are important to us regardless of how busy we are.
For example, someone who works 3 jobs, does a lot of activities outside of that, etc, etc. Arguably is VERY busy and has basically no ‘free’ time, if that person puts a HIGH importance on having a clean house, I guarantee you their house will practically always been clean.
Likewise, someone who works LESS, does LESS activities and arguably has a significantly higher amount of ‘free’ time but that puts a LOW importance on having a clean house, will practically never have a clean house EVEN though they will say the would ‘like’ to have a clean house. And the reason they will give will generally be ‘I just didn’t have the time this week or today or whatever’.
I think a more accurate statement would be ‘I just didn’t choose to MAKE the time this week or today.’
So the roundabout point I’m trying to make is that we will choose to ‘find’ or ‘make’ time for the things we decide are important in our lives. There are of course exceptions to the ‘rule’ and I’m not trying to discount anyone or any situation.
I do believe though that we are called to, and need to try to get into the habit of, ‘making time’ for God and for fellowship with other Christians.
First and foremost we need to be intentional about spending real time with God, to talk with Him and pray and to read His Word because that is necessary for a relationship to develop (communication with, and getting to know about, the other entity).
Secondly we need to be involved in fellowship with one another so that we can encourage and exhort and ‘sharpen’ each other in our Christian walks.
If we don’t make time for fellowship, not only are we starving ourselves of these important aspects but we are also denying others things that we may be able to encourage them on or exhort or sharpen. One brother or sister for example can see into things and speak into situations and minister in ways that I cannot. Likewise a different brother or sister can do the same in areas that the other nor I can, and so forth and so on.
You start reading about the diversity of the Spirit and the gifts that God has given His people and it is really hard to believe that we don’t need one another to function as Christ’s body or that we don’t have anything to offer or that “Ah, they don’t need me there or they don’t need me to be involved, etc.”
I think we have a responsibility to one another in Christ and it’s something that our culture seems to ignore a lot of the time.
I’ll finish (finally) with just a mention about the letters to the seven churches in Revalations. To each church God says “…To those that overcome…” It seems to me that this ‘overcoming’ is referring to stepping out of their particular cultural and societal practices and norms and pursuing God’s kingdom instead even and especially when it goes against what the culture/world around claims is true and correct and acceptable.
Let’s not lose sight of our call in Christ and be diligent to keep our focus on Him and His kingdom and on the things that really matter. Let’s remind ourselves we are called to live IN the world, but not OF the world, because without that focus/realization/perspective, I don’t think we will ever be able to walk in what God has called us to and has planned for us… And I want each and every one of us (myself especially) to walk in what God has planned for me, not what I ‘think’ God has planned for me or what the ‘world’ or our culture (even our ‘Christian’ culture) might suggest that God has planned for me.