The Tabernacle Scroll

Issue 94

“Do not love the world or anything in the world” [1 John 2:15]

Can the Christian legitimately enjoy the things of this world? The answer to this very practical issue lies in our understanding of ‘worldliness’. Some have interpreted it to mean contact with other people and with material things, and in seeking to be ‘not-worldly’ have separated themselves physically, living in isolation as ascetics or collectively in institutions like monasteries. In trying to not be of the world, they forget that they are nonetheless in the world. But ‘the world’ does not mean the world of people (Jn. 3:16) or the created world (Jn.17: 24). It means the realm of sin.

Many Christians identify ‘worldliness’ by the presence of vices such as drinking, smoking, playing cards, dancing, going to the movies etc. Those who argue against smoking, for example, do so on the basis that it defiles the body, which is God’s temple. They do not see that one could avoid smoking and drinking and still defile ‘the temple’ by harbouring bitterness & jealousy, or by engaging in idle talk, gossip and slander, or by working oneself to the bone in the endless pursuit of money, or even by lacking integrity in one’s business dealings and taxation returns!

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe it makes good sense (for example), not to smoke when all of the evidence points to ill health as a result! But to use smoking as a measure of spiritual character is to miss the whole point of the admonition on ‘worldliness’. Remember how Paul chastised the Judaizers of his time who tried to pervert his gospel of freedom with their rules of “do not taste, do not touch”? (Col 2:21 et al). Such people are around even today!

Now, since God warns against ‘worldliness’, whilst at the same time He wishes that we enjoy our lives, it makes sense that we try to understand what He means by the term. Until we do, we will continue to live in confusion - which is not God’s way. Jesus said “the truth shall set you free.

Scripture describes worldliness as ‘the lust of the flesh (that is, a real passion for sensual indulgence), the lust of the eyes (an excessive desire for the things that look good) and the pride of life’ (self elevation because of our status, our wealth and our achievements, rather than a quiet enjoyment of them). This is the Biblical standard by which we judge whether we are worldly or not!

All enjoyments are legitimate when they pass the ‘worldliness’ tests just described. However, if we refuse to apply these tests, then we convert ‘liberty to enjoy’ into ‘license to indulge’ and we have entered into sin!



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