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Thursday, September 17, 2015

The End of the World as We Know It

We are commanded in Scripture, "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." (1 John 2:15) Pretty harsh. Okay. Fine. And then we read, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Okay, now wait! On one hand we must not love the world, but on the other hand the Father loves the world. Now, how is this making any sense?

As it turns out, the term "world" is not as simple as you might think. The word is κόσμος -- kosmos. It means literally any orderly arrangement. There, now, see? We're in trouble. No, not real trouble, but surely you can see how the term can have a broad set of meanings. Biblically it has several different uses. In John 1:9, for instance, it references the physical world, the universe, creation, our plane of existence. This is not in mind when John says we shouldn't love the world or Jesus says that God loved the world. Another sense is the world of humans. That might include government (as an orderly arrangement, you see) or the inhabited parts of our physical world. That was in mind when Satan showed Jesus "the kingdoms of the world" (Luke 4:5). When Caesar Augustus took a census of "all the world" (Luke 2:1), it was a reference to the Roman world. In this sense, then, it could refer to the world (the system) of men. All humans. Or it could refer to a group of people within the whole of the human realm. We know, for instance, that the world hated Jesus (John 15:18-19), but that doesn't mean every single human being on the planet (since His disciples were not numbered among those who hated Him, but among those who were hated by them). There is the moral world. This is a very common meaning in Scripture. It refers to the world of sinners, the world hostile to God, the corrupt world (2 Peter 1:4). This is the world that is blinded by its god (2 Cor 4:4). This is the world you cannot love and love God at the same time (James 4:4). This is the world that must be overcome (1 John 5:4-5).

Now, of course, you have to learn to differentiate meanings. When you read, for instance, about "the wisdom of the world" (1 Cor 1:20-21), you can be relatively sure this is not talking about the physical realm. That is a reference to the world as a fallen system. Or when Jesus's brothers recommended He should "show yourself to the world" (John 7:4), you can be confident they weren't talking about creation. That is a reference to the realm of mankind (in fact, a limited component of that realm). So you need to pay attention to context to avoid mistakes here.

The one that struck me recently was in Galatians. "Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Gal 6:14) What a statement! Nothing to boast about but Christ crucified. (That flies in the face of many who would prefer to forget about Christ crucified.) But he says that, being crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20), "the world has been crucified to me and I to the world." What world? In what sense? Clearly this isn't the physical universe. He was still there. He was still alive. Nor did it reference the realm of humans. No, this was a reference to the moral world, the world hostile to God, the world we are commanded not to love (1 John 2:15). We've heard the phrase "dead to the world", but that normally just means fast asleep. This is not that.

To be crucified to the world and have the world crucified to you in this context means that the world's systems are of no consequence anymore. Paul specifically references legalism here (Gal 6:12-13), but it doesn't stop there. It is a life lived by the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) where "those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24). It stands in opposition to "the works of the flesh" (Gal 5:19-21). It is a different plane of existence altogether.

So how is it that so many of us are still muddling about in this world? You know, this moral world? We draw our values from it. We find our passions in it. We use it as our standard of success, of right and wrong, of pleasant and unpleasant. Remember the warning. "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15) If your primary input for values, standards, and even pleasure are provided by the world -- the fallen moral system around us, experiences, the world's teaching systems, all of that -- then it has monumental consequences in terms of your relationship with God. And they are not good consequences. For Christians, the cross is the end of the world as we know it.

1 comment:

Bob said...

i noted that in the Gospel of John it starts with " God so loved the World" but in the end when Jesus is in the Garden He says(John 17: 9) " father i am not praying for the world" this seems like a contradiction. John 3:16 is often used to say that God so loves everyone in the world,that He gave his only son. but skip the exclusive qualifier, " That whomsoever Believes"
what if i moved the words around. God loves those in the world "that believe", so much so, that he sent his SON into the world,to die for them. i realize the danger of doing this rendering but since both John 3:16 and John 17:9 cannot be in contradiction they must at some point be in harmony.