Worldliness puts hooks into our very souls. Once we give worldliness a room in which to live, it will soon dominate our existence. Worldliness comes with numerous names upon it, but every form it takes brings its captive into addiction. Worldliness is another name for idolatry. Worldliness is idolatry without the visible idol of clay, stone, or silver. Nonetheless, the person who heeds not the warnings of God about worldliness will find himself kissing that idol’s feet and sacrificing everything valuable in his life to his own formation of the idol of worldliness. People think they use forms of worldliness for their own satisfactions in momentary pleasures. That is not true. Worldliness uses those that worship it. Worldliness uses them up and spits out what is left leaving little more than an emaciated carcass as the semblance of a living being. How often does this scenario need to be repeated in the lives of those around us before we awake to see the horrors of the destruction of lives that worldliness produces? Perhaps this is the most unheeded warning in the Word of God. Worldliness is the devil’s shiny toys offering something he never can and never will deliver. Worldliness is an I.O.U promise from the devil that you will pay for with incremental installments of your life.
“12 I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. 13 I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. 14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. 15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:12-17).
Clearly, John addresses these warnings about worldliness intending a warning to all ages. “Little children,” “young men,” and “fathers” are all susceptible to the dangers of worldliness. The intent of the warning is that worldliness is not a matter to be taken lightly. Worldliness is an under the sun perspective of life. Under the sun is a phrase used twenty-seven different times in the book of Ecclesiastes to describe a worldly way of thinking and existing. Therefore, to understand what John warns about in the words “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” we can hear a cacophony of warning sounds in Solomon’s numerous life pursuits for personal fulfillment. These twenty-seven uses of the phrase “under the sun” define worldliness. Each use of the phrase gives us another area of worldliness that resulted in “vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
1. “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3)? Life ends and we take nothing temporal into eternity. Therefore, invest in eternal things by producing eternal fruit and profits.
2. “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). You cannot discover some new way or new avenue of self-fulfillment. Everything has already been tried and proven unfulfilling.
3. “13 And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. 14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit (Ecclesiastes 1:13-14). Intellectualism and philosophical knowledge will not fulfill you as a person and these pursuits provide little in terms of any eternal merit.
4. “1 I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. 2 I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? 3 I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. 4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: 5 I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: 6 I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: 7 I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: 8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. 9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). We are given a monumental listing of accomplishments in this few verses. Building monuments of remembrance to testify to one’s greatness to future generations is unfulfilling in that you are not there to experience the praise. Such ventures are foolish and have no eternal benefits. In these eleven verses of Scripture, Solomon uses forty-four personal pronouns revealing that all of these accomplishments were about HIM – his ego! Whatever we seek in life to fulfill ourselves will prove to be “vanity and vexation of spirit.”
5. “17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. 18 Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. 19 And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity. 20 Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. 21 For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? 23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity. 24 There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I? 26 For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 2:17-26). The phrase “under the sun” is used five times in these ten verses. Each use describes a different venue sought for self-fulfillment. Each venue for self-fulfillment ends with the similar outcomes –“vanity” or emptiness. The paradox is that man consumes his life pursuing fullness and satisfaction through worldly mediums and the results are always EMPTYNESS! God wants us to now this before our lives are wasted. Learn to give yourselves away in self-sacrificing ministry to others.
6. And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there” (Ecclesiastes 3:16). Injustice, graft, and greed are common failures within humanity. Although we should seek justice, fairness, and generosity in our lives, these pursuits will not change the destiny of a soul. Social reform is a pursuit of moral governance apart from faith and the change of heart. Injustice, graft, and greed exist because of the innate evil that lays within the hearts of fallen beings.
7. “1 So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. 2 Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. 3 Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3). Providing comfort to the oppressed without showing them the way to eternal life is a futile waste of time. To fail to give a vision of existence beyond this “under the sun” existence is greater than all the oppressive evils the world has ever known.
We can get the general idea of the inclusiveness of what falls into the temporal practices that defines worldliness and consumes lifetimes on wasted pursuits that generating no eternal benefits. This latter factor is the ultimate criterion for what defines worldliness.
Addressing this warning to “little children,” “young men,” and “fathers” refers to three stages of both physical and spiritual life. Each stage of life poses its own types of worldliness that need to be identified and dealt with in order to be successful at the next stage of life and the increased worldly temptations of that stage of life. “Little children” refers to infants and toddlers. “Young men” refers to preteen and teen age children. “Fathers” refers to adults or those that should know better. Parents often program their children in infancy for failures in worldliness. Parents often teach their children worldliness because the parents are worldly. All ages of people are susceptible to the temptations of worldliness.
The statements of I John 2:13 are different than the statements of I John 2:14. In I John 2:13, the verb tenses are present tense. I John 2:14, the verb tenses are aorist tense. In other words, these warnings regarding worldliness are continuous from the past and into the present. Every generation of all three stages of life is continually susceptible to worldliness. We must constantly be aware of the inroads worldliness might be making in the influence of a person’s motivations in life at any age. Colossians 3:1-3 gives us other admonitions to carefully guard against worldliness.
“1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-3).
Worldliness is a perspective of life diabolically opposed to what God wants for us. Worldliness focuses our attention and consumes our time on ventures that provide no lasting, eternal benefit other than fluffing our egos and puffing ourselves up. Worldliness need not involve a person in issues of moral turpitude. In most cases, worldliness involves appearances and practices readily acceptable by most cultures and societies while being completely unacceptable to God. The worldly person is more concerned about what his peers think than what God thinks. Although he may talk about his concerns about God’s thinking, such talk is really hypocrisy. He will walk as close to the world as his peers allow and that will still give him a façade of acceptability with God.
“15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:15-17).
Worldliness is being defined subjectively and narrowly within Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in present day Christianity. When John says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” what exactly does he mean? It is an important question to answer because to “love the world” reveals that God’s love “is not in” that person. There is godly love and worldly love. Worldly love is any emotion that is fed by the corruption of the “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16).
“The world” that we are commanded not to love is a very broad and encompassing term. The word “world” is translated from the Greek word kosmos (kos’-mos). The context defines the meaning as all of the satanic influences within the corruptions of religion, politics, and economics. These influences have varied through the millennia while maintaining certain consistencies within the variations. Religions have evolved and thousands of false religions have developed over the millennia. Within all of these false religions there is a commonality in varying degrees of paganism, syncretism, and idolatry.
1. Paganism is the corruption of human sexuality in numerous ways and in varying degrees. Modern day paganism has corrupted human sexuality in degrees equal to the worst that has ever been known in the world through the corruption of our children and the inculcation of a culture that is practically given over to the pornographic. Inculcation is the constant barrage and instruction that corrupts children regarding human sexuality at the earliest ages possible.
2. Syncretism is the merging, blending, and integrating of false beliefs about God into religious practices. Syncretism is the corruption of Bible doctrine by degree through integrating false notions about God and what is acceptable and unacceptable to Him. Syncretism begins with the corruption of the Gospel and what defines a biblical faith response to the Gospel to be saved. The span of this corruption has extended to degrees one would have thought impossible. Yet, the span of corruption continues to expand daily. Syncretism results in Ecumenicism and Pluralism. Toleration is the banner under which Syncretism thrives and growths like a field of weeds strangling truth with its very contact.
3. Idolatry is exalting anything above the one true God in worship or in worship practices. Idolatry does not need the presence of a stone, wood, or metal god to exist in the hearts of humans. Idolatry is actually any form of corruption of the sanctity of worship. Idolatry steals worship from God to put it upon man. Idolatry puts other things than God as the focus of ministry. Idolatry accepts any form of worship and thereby extricates God from worship because God’s presence is always in the midst of holiness. This world and all that is in it is corrupted by sin and cursed of God. Therefore, God accepts only that which is purified of worldliness to be used in worshiping Him.
What are some of the “things” that the world offers that promise us fulfillment in our lives? These “things” are diverse and all encompassing. We certainly find three main categories of “things” that the world offers to entice our pursuits in the temptation of our Lord Jesus.
“1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. 3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 5 Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6 And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. 11 Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him” (Matthew 4:1-11).
Satan is but one being. He is neither omnipresent nor omniscient. Although he is a being much more powerful than are human beings, he comes nowhere near to the power of God. Satan rules and influences through millions of minions. These minions are deceived people promoted to positions of power and influence in world politics, world religions, and world economics. They are at every level of cultures and societies all over the world. These minions are antichrist in all of their objectives while promoting their ideas and philosophies as the solutions to all the world’s problems. However, Satan himself came to meet with Jesus to tempt Him.
“The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16 are the three central avenues through which we allow worldliness to enter into our lives. These three avenues must be carefully and meticulously guarded.
The world “tempted” in Matthew 4:1 is from the Greek word peirazo (pi-rad’-zo). The word means to test, try, or prove through enticements. Jesus, like all men, was tested or tried in three main arenas of life. Every believer is susceptible to Paganism in the form of Hedonism. These tempt us through the “lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes.” Secondly, all people want to be lord of their own lives in varying degrees. This temptation comes to us in the form of the “pride of life.” This happens when we rebel against God’s divinely appointed chain-of-command (Ephesians 5:21-6:9).
1. Satan tempts regarding what sustains us (Matthew 4:3-4). The objective of the testing is to discover to where we first turn regarding the material needs of life. The failure is being preoccupied with what sustains us rather than with Who sustains us. At the point of starvation, Jesus turns the sinner’s attention to the Word of God and the God of the Word for his sustenance. When we become preoccupied with what sustains us, this is “the lust of the flesh” (I John 2:15).
2. Satan tempts regarding the contradiction of faith in testing or proving God (Matthew 5:5-6). Faith does not seek to prove God’s faithfulness. Faith trusts in and rests in God’s faithfulness. Although God does on occasion tell the disobedient to prove Him (Malachi 3:10), and God tolerated Gideon’s putting out the fleece (Judges 6:37), true faith should not need to test God. Testing God certainly should not be needed once God has proven Himself over many occasions. We have many such occasions revealed through the Scripture. To reject those proofs and ask for your own experiential proofs is in fact unbelief. This is an act of the “lust of the eyes” for it walks by sight, not by faith.
3. Satan tempts regarding what fulfills us (Matthew 5:7-10). There is within every human being an innate desire to be both loved and appreciated. These things fulfill us as human beings. We can live through all types of difficulties if we understand we have a God Who loves us and appreciates our willingness to endure life as we serve Him. A very large part of life is the curse and living our lives through the difficulties of the curse. Sickness and death ought to be expected aspects of our lives. It helps us endure life’s trials and difficulties when we know we have others willing to encourage us and walk with us through the fires. However, there is also a temptation to seek our own gratification through wrong motivations. To do well for the praise of others is to steal the glory that belongs only to God. Dr. Harold B. Sightler once said, “Many a man has not given in to the lust of the flesh, and has passed up the lust of the eye with flying colors; only to give in to the pride of life.” “The pride of life” is the worship of one’s self for one’s successes. Self-righteousness is a major manifestation of “the pride of life.”
One cannot even imagine the many facets of worldliness. Most pastors recognize worldliness as easily as one might see a painted red face in the midst of a crowd. Worldliness is apparent in one’s mannerisms. Worldliness is apparent in conversations, occupations, and even one’s recreation. Worldliness is apparent in the way we dress and even in our countenance. Worldliness is apparent by what we love and what we do not love. Worldliness is apparent by what we do and what we do not do. In most cases, there is very little difference between professing Christians and the lost in all of these things. A Christian cannot love the world and love God at the same time. Yet many worldly Christians have deceived themselves about their worldliness and about their love of God.
Over the years, it has been my responsibility to speak to many parents about the warning signs of worldliness apparent in the lives of their children. In many cases, parents took offense when approached them about apparent signs of worldliness in their children. In almost every case, when warnings went unheeded, those children later abandoned church attendance, went off into the world, married unbelievers, and evidenced a reality completely foreign to that of a “born again” individual. What are some of the signs of worldliness in the lives of the children of believing parents?
1. They constantly bicker with their siblings.
2. They come to church, but do not listen or hear what is being said.
3. They have no burden for holiness in their own lives and they have no burden for the lost with which they come in contact. They have no real ministry in life that is motivated by their love for God.
4. They love what the world loves and have secret, hidden lives known only by them. Their friends know nothing of their professed Christianity. They do not want their friends to know because they are ashamed of Christ.
5. They have no real interest in spiritual things, in building a relationship with Christ, and no thoughts of ministering to anyone. They have no fear of God (Romans 3:18).
The lack of parental concern about worldliness in children troubles me greatly as a pastor. Worldly children grow to be worldly adults. Sadly, many Christian homes are fertile greenhouses seemingly intent upon nurturing worldliness. Our local churches and godly homes must focus attention upon the abrogation of worldliness. Pagan and materialistic cultures cultivate worldliness. We are bombarded with worldliness at every turn in life. Our Hedonistic cultures inculcate (to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions) worldliness. The answer is not isolation, but education. We must warn of the subtle influences of worldliness. We must teach that the only solution to worldliness is complete repentance that then seeks to live in fellowship with Jesus.
It is important that we understand that worldliness must be replaced with the kind of spirituality that expresses itself through ministry. Worldliness expresses itself through carnality and selfishness. Spirituality always expresses itself through compassion, self-sacrifice, and ministering the truths of the Word of God to others. Replacing worldliness with spirituality is difficult in that spirituality can come forth in an artificial form of worldliness known as self-righteousness. This expresses itself through contempt towards those that do not measure up. All these artificial means for self-fulfillment must be replaced with genuine, compassionate ministry. This is the known as the Replacement Phenomena.
“17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, 18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: 19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. 20 But ye have not so learned Christ; 21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. 25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil. 28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. 29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. 30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:17-32).
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Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist.
He has served the Lord for over 40 years.