The World Vs. God
The preacher begins his sermon by announcing his text:
1 Jn 2:15 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 the next hour and a half, he thunders condemnation of all the things in the world we must not love. He covers a lot of territory: music, movies, TV, hemlines and necklines, smoking, drinking, chewing, drugs, sex, dancing, card-playing, gambling, mixed swimming, and cheating on your spouse. The older folks cheer him, on, the younger folks get nervous, and the teens sit in shocked silence. He’s disappointed when people don’t flood the altar at the end, but he figures they’re just a bunch of worldly people who didn’t want to give up their meanness.
Any of this sound familiar? It sounds like the last revival I hosted.
In some circles, worldliness is not a popular subject, while in others it seems to be almost too popular. Some preachers thrive on denouncing the evils of the world, while others either ignore the issue altogether or downplay the danger of conforming to the world.
Tonight I want us to try and put aside all our preconceptions about worldliness and look at what the Bible says in James 4:1-10 about the war between the world and God.
For clarity’s sake, I want to approach these verses a little differently. Instead of verse by verse analysis, I want to ask 3 questions which I think James answers here:
1) What is worldliness?
2) Why is worldliness so dangerous?
3) How do we combat worldliness?
1) What is worldliness?
James defines worldliness in vs. 4 as …friendship with the world…the Greek word for
Friendship= φιλία= the love between friends. The word world= κόσμος = the order of things. The world is not the people of the world, nor is it the physical things of the world. The world is the way of thinking, feeling, and living which characterizes people who do not love God. It is the anti-God way of life.
James also gives us some clues which clarify what worldliness is in vs. 1-3. It is worldliness that’s causing conflict among the Christians James writes to. He gives us some characteristics of this problem, which I summarize in 3 ways:
Worldliness is being in love with our pleasure. (v.1) Worldly people are in love with feeling good. The bottom line for almost everything they do is how does this make me feel? If it feels good, then they’ll do almost anything to get it; if it doesn’t feel good they’ll do almost anything to avoid it.
In one sense that only makes sense. There is nothing wrong with pleasure, nothing wrong with avoiding pain. The problem comes when pleasure becomes the goal of your life.
It is the love of pleasure that urges us to give in to our every craving, from overeating to alcohol and drugs, to sexual sins. Whatever it takes to make us feel good, or feel better, that’s what you do.
And the κόσμος tells us this is what life is all about. Enjoy yourself, if it feels good do it, treat yourself! The advertising industry plays on our desire for pleasure to sell us everything from cars to soap to vacations. But there is more to life that pleasure. Not pleasure, but the love of pleasure, is worldliness.
Worldliness is being in love with our possessions. (v. 2) Worldly people measure their happiness by how much they have. They’re never satisfied; they always want more.
Not that there’s anything wrong with having things, or enjoying them. It’s not sinful to buy things, or enjoy the things you have. It’s not wrong to want something you don’t have. The problem comes when getting what you want and holding on to what you have becomes the priority in your life.
Property Laws of a Toddler
1. If I like it, it’s mine.
2. If it’s in my hand, it’s mine.
3. If I can take it from you, it’s mine.
4. If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
5. If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
6. If I’m doing or building something, all the pieces are mine.
7. If it looks just like mine, it’s mine.
8. If I saw it first, it’s mine.
9. If you are playing with something and you put it down, it automatically becomes mine.
10. If it’s broken, it’s yours. [i]
A worldly person never grows out of this stage.
It’s love of our possessions that makes us covetous, wanting more of what we have enough of already. Whatever it takes to get what we want—whether it be arguing, conniving, or even murder—we’ll do it. People will get over their heads in debt, will work themselves to an early grave, will do almost anything to get more possessions than they can ever really enjoy. This is how the κόσμος tells us we can find happiness. But there is more to life than possessions. Not possessions, but love of possessions is worldliness.
Worldliness is being in love with our pride.(v. 3) Worldly people are in love with themselves. They come first—even when they pray. They ask God for what they want, and they expect Him to give it to them because they deserve it. After all, He loves me, and if He loves me, He must want me happy!
You once lived that way. When you were a baby, you learned to expect instant gratification. When you were hungry you cried, and you got your milk. When you were wet, you cried and you got your diaper changed. Some of you cried, and you got held or rocked.
At some point you had to learn the world didn’t revolve around your pleasure. But then you grow up and pull into the drive thru and get this message from the κόσμος : You deserve a break today…Have it your way… and you say Aha! I knew it!
Worldly people are in love with getting what they want, in love with getting their own way, in love with being first in every line because in their minds they think I deserve it!
Not loving yourself, but love of your own pride is worldliness.
Now let’s be honest: every one of us is depraved enough to struggle with worldliness. The temptation to make life about your own comfort and pleasure, to make life about the things you possess, to focus on yourself--this is not some sin only other people face—it’s one you and I face. When we’re honest enough to realize that, then we are ready to look at the danger of worldliness, which James outlines in vs. 1 and vs. 4.
2. Why is worldliness so dangerous? James outlines 2 perils of worldliness:
The first danger is: Worldliness puts you at war with your neighbor. (v. 1) James writes to Christians who at war with one another. What’s all the feuding about? Why can’t we all just get along? Because of worldliness.
Jesus tells us the 2nd greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. When you focus on your own pleasure, your own possessions, your own pride, you don’t have time to think much about other people, much less love them. They become either a means to an end, or an obstacle to overcome. Get together a bunch of worldly people and you are setting the board for an all out war.
I wonder how many of the conflicts we experience can be traced back to worldliness?
How many husbands and wives argue because they both expect their partners to make them happy? I want you to make me feel good.
How many feuds explode over covetousness? I want what you have, and I won’t be happy until I get it.
How many friendships self-destruct over pride? I want my way because my way is best, and if you can’t see that, then hit the road!
How many divorces, church splits, even wars between nations can be traced back to worldliness? Worldliness puts you at war with your neighbor. A more serious danger:
Worldliness puts you are war with God. (v. 4-5) Wow! James forgets to call them my brothers and calls them adulterers and adulteresses! No pulling punches!
James accuses them of being unfaithful to God. He challenges them to choose: you can either be a friend of the world, or a friend of God, but not both! You can either be worldly or godly, but you cannot sit on the fence!
It’s not hard to see why, is it? If you focus on your pleasure, your possessions, your pride, then your heart is focused on yourself. But the great commandment is You shall love the Lord with all your heart and mind and soul and strength!
You cannot put you and God first in your life. There is room on the throne of your heart for only one. If you put yourself on that throne, you follow the world’s ways, and you betray the Lord. You are a spiritual adulterer/adulteress.
It’s an either/or proposition. But it’s also a paradox, because the truth is, you get the better deal when you put God on the throne.
The pleasures you enjoy in this world are nothing compared to the pleasures of knowing and loving God.
Ps 16:11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
The possessions you have on earth are worthless compared to the treasures of heaven.
Mt 6:20 …lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
The pride that fills you here will bring you down to the depths, but when you put God first, He lifts you up.
1 Pe 5:6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,
The key difference between worldliness and godliness is that one is focused on yourself, while the other is focused on God. Find your pleasure in God, seek whatever God wants you to have, put Him first in your life, and you will experience the blessing of being a friend of God. Pursue worldliness, and you make yourself an enemy of God.
Historian Shelby Foote tells of a soldier who wounded at the battle of Shiloh during the Civil War and was ordered to go to the rear.
He headed straight back and found soldiers battling it out. He went to the right and found another heavy battle, then to the left and found the same. He quickly ran back to his commanding officer. “Captain, give me a gun!” he shouted. “This fight ain’t got any rear!” [ii]
The war between the world vs. God doesn’t have any rear either. But there is way out.
3. How do we combat worldliness?
James offers us the answer in vs. 7-10. Let’s look at these in reverse order:
First, you must repent of your worldly attitudes. (v. 7b-8b) You have to realize how truly evil your worldliness is. (resist the devil, and he will flee from you) You’ve got to realize how worldliness soils your heart (cleanse your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts). You’ve got to be truly sorry for betraying the Lord with your worldly attitude (lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.) You have to forsake the attitude of worldliness in your heart.
That will never happen until you realize how serious the sin of worldliness truly is. Unless and until you and I realize how offensive and dishonoring to the Lord our worldliness is we will not truly repent of it. Perhaps the first prayer to pray is Lord, help me see my sin as You do, so I will hate it like You do.
Second, you must submit to the Lord. Invite the Lord back on the throne of your heart.
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. He is more than willing to forgive you and restore your fellowship with Him. Like the father of the prodigal son, He will come running a thousand steps after you take that first step of repentance.
Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord…Surrender your possessions, your pleasures and your pride to His authority. Ask Him to help you keep Him first in your heart. Rededicate yourself to Him, commit to making Him first in every area of your life.
…and He will lift you up. He will give you His best for your life.
Ro 12:1-2 1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
This is how you win the war with worldliness: surrender to God.
In every Christian's heart there is a cross and a throne, and the
Christian is on the throne till he puts himself on the cross; if he refuses the cross, he remains on the throne. Perhaps this is at the bottom of the backsliding and worldliness among…believers today. We want to be saved, but we insist that Christ do all the dying. No cross for us, no dethronement, no dying. We remain king…and wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of a Caesar; but we doom ourselves to shadows and weakness and spiritual sterility.-A. W. Tozer
We need to remember this because worldliness is not a condition which is forever gone with one treatment. It is easy, much too easy, to let worldly attitudes invade your heart and mind.
Every so often, we need to invite the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts, to put His finger on worldly attitudes that are creeping in on us, and help us to repent and resubmit ourselves to the Lord.
One of the greatest leaders of the 4th century church was named Athanasius. During his lifetime a false teacher by the name of Arius spread the heresy that Jesus was not really God in the flesh. Athanasius was one of the few who challenged this heresy and for his stand he spent 20 years in exile. Finally, he was brought back before the emperor Theodosius, who demanded that he recant his views. Athanasius bravely refused, to which the emperor said, “Don’t you realize that all the world is against you?” Athanasius answered, “Then I am against all the world. [iii]
It takes courage to take sides in this war of the world vs. God. Are you and I be brave enough to ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and show us whose side we’re really on?
Ps 139:23-24 23Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; 24And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.
[i]Deb Lawrence, Missionary to the Philippines with SEND International, quoted in Prokope,
[ii]Daily Walk, July 10, 1993 10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2000).
[iii]10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2000).