At the Last Supper, Jesus warns his disciples that there will be constant conflict between those who are his and those who are of “the world”. He reminds them through his prayer that “the world has hated them because they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:15).
There are two groups of people locked in a struggle: Christ’s and the world’s. When the people of the ‘world’ believe the apostolic message, they cease to be of the world and become Christ’s people. However, Christians are warned that the reverse must not take place. The Bible warns us not to “1ove the world”, and “if anyone loves the world, love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15, 16).
I was converted more than 40 years ago, and in the early days of my Christian journey, I regularly heard sermons warning me of worldliness and about the danger of thinking and behaving like the world. I hardly ever hear these sorts of sermons any more. (It could be because I hear my sermons more than anyone else’s!) The issues that were labelled as worldly in those days are so commonplace among Christians now that it would be a distraction to mention them here. However, whether I hear sermons on the subject or not, the possibility of worldliness still exists.
Where has the world made its inroads into our thinking? Where are we reflecting the view of society around us rather than that of the Bible? Let me suggest one area to you for your thinking.
One of the few advantages of growing older is seeing the way in which the thinking and moral norms of our society have changed. During my lifetime, there has been a massive change in our attitude to truth, error and tolerance. In the past, people believed that truth existed in an absolute sense. Today, it is partial and relative. People can easily believe that something is true for me and false for them.
In the past, tolerance meant that I would insist on your right to express your point of view. Now it means that I have to allow that your point of view is as much ‘truth’ as mine. I think today that if I said, “That idea is wrong” or even, “You are mistaken about that matter”, I would be thought of as intolerant. Unless I am mistaken, I think that the world will tolerate any and every view except the one that believes that truth is absolute. In fact, the only absolute that the world will allow is the absolute that there is no absolute.
In this matter, the world hates Christians, and cannot tolerate the idea that truth is absolute and has been revealed in Christ. Illustrations of this are so numerous, they do not need to be mentioned here.
However, what does need to be mentioned is this: is it possible that we have become like the world? Is it possible that we as Christians are so worldly in our thinking, we no longer confront the world? Instead of being scandalized by error and false teaching, we tend to look for ways to accommodate it. “After all”, we say, “they will have something to teach us. Sure, they might be mistaken on some things; then so are we all.” Can you recall anywhere in the Bible where this attitude is encouraged?
I have been studying 2 Peter and Jude during this last week, and was shaken to read their denunciation of the false teachers of their day. It came as a shock to my 20th-century ear. See if it is to yours:
“There will be false teachers among you who will secretly bring in destructive heresies … bringing upon themselves destruction” (2 Pet 2:2). “These are waterless springs and mists driven by the storm; for them the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved” (2 Pet 2:17). Jude warns his readers of false teachers: “… admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were destined for destruction” (Jude 4).
We can hardly believe that anyone could speak like that of another. It somehow doesn’t seem to be Christian! I had to remind myself that it was God who was speaking about people who would have called themselves Christians. He was speaking through the apostles. God thinks like that about false teachers, and I should too, rather than being conformed to the thinking patterns of this world.
So this brings me to my question, “Where have all the false teachers gone?” It is possible that they don’t exist any more. However, it is more likely in our present climate that we tolerate them and do not see the need to contend for “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
I was speaking to a friend about an article that we had both read, in which the views of another person were criticized. He told me that he was scandalized by the attack on Mr X. I went back and re-read the article. Mr X as a person was not attacked at all, but what he said most certainly was. I wonder if we are ‘edgy’ when views are attacked because we are worldly in our thinking.