Fame and fortune, designer clothes, fast cars and big houses. Gizmos and gadgets to make your life more fulfilling. Jay Till shows what we should really be striving for.
Popular culture today is centred on our own ambitions and success. The media explodes with messages suggesting what “stuff” should be most important to you. The stuff of this world is ever consuming, there is always the next hottest trend and fashion or the latest gadget to make our life easier and to keep up with the “Joneses.”
We're constantly fed the message of financial security and beauty. We are told: “Set yourself up; get your houses, cars, stocks and investments. Be thin, tall and tanned. Take care of number one—your family will love you for this, your friends will envy you, and you will find peace and happiness.”
Can one be caught up in this race for more and still be focused on others as Jesus modelled? Where is the Christian message of love and kindness? Where have the qualities of selflessness, compassion and forgiveness gone? When was the last time you saw a TV advertisement portraying wholesome, selfless love? When was the last TV advertisement or magazine article produced that encouraged young people to put others first and give generously with their time and money? How does the media affect our perception of what's important for our lives and for our futures? And how will we be remembered by the next generation?
Not only does the advertising media and the bulk of mass media not promote “God first,” it doesn't even promote “others first.” We live in a world that suggests our needs and wants must be met first. This ideology is a long way from how Jesus lived. He set an example of the way for us to live and love.
Let's take a look at a model for outward-focused living, one we know is possible through the example Jesus set for us. John was a disciple of Jesus and one of His closest friends. In 1 John, he writes about what Jesus wants for us in eternity and how we should live now. First John 2:15-17 is one of the most up-front and concise messages we have for how to live in today's world.
In The Message paraphrase this passage reads: “Don't love the world's ways. Don't love the world's goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.”
Living a life that avoids “worldliness” means having the desire to live a life for the glory of God and not for the glory of ourselves. The world we live in is not simply a passive entity; the momentum of society is geared toward satisfying our want for success, money, power and fame. All the “wanting, wanting, wanting” acts as a rival for our allegiance—our worship—by taking our focus and ambitions away from God.
What makes the world “worldly” is its rejection of Jesus' example in favour of its own values and desires. It constantly puts down, rejects and makes light of Christianity, its values and its history. The media constantly provides images of fame, fortune and success that often moulds the aspirations of today's young people: “You've got to hang with the right crowd, drink the right drink, wear the best clothes and take care of number one.” The world around us often makes it seem very uncool to be a Christian.
In a more literal Bible translation, the same powerful scripture paraphrased above reads as follows: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
In this passage, John refers to “the cravings of sinful man” as desires and wants that come from the flesh, or from selfish human ambition. These desires and wants are shaped by our own impulses and not by the will of God. Had John given some examples relevant to today's society, he may have included our culture's consuming addiction to materialism, our workaholic ways and our driving desire for success, fame and prosperity. Any attitude or action that makes the individual—and not God—the centre and measure of the universe serves to define “worldliness.” When we become focused on ourselves, we tend to forget how big God—and the universe He created—is, and what His purpose is for our lives.
In the phrase “desire that comes from what the eyes see,” John refers to desires that do not come from the insight that God gives us, but the impulses shaped by the world in its direct opposition to God. These lustful longings and aspirations may include greed, materialism and envy.
Those held by the grip of the world desire what they can see. Examples of this could be their neighbour's expensive new car, extension on their house, fashionable attire, unrestricted lifestyle or even their wife or husband. The desire for these earthly things is understandable as they are what we see with our eyes in the life of our neighbour. But God wants us to look deeper—at the heart stuff. He wants us to seek qualities rather than quantities—such as kindness, love, compassion, forgiveness and humility.
When John wrote, “boasting of what he has and does,” he was referring to our prideful nature that can drive us to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. This egocentric lifestyle leads to bragging about what I have achieved “all by myself.” People either trust and place value in themselves, or they derive their values, assurance and life from God. Inevitably this mindset of self-sufficiency will lead to seeing things in our own wisdom and not by the wisdom of God. This is what John speaks of as “worldliness.” Those who live this way can often experience a futile existence, dedicated to things that are short-lived and offer little lasting satisfaction, for—as John concludes—“the world and its desires pass away.”
The book of Proverbs says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) and “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe” (Proverbs 28:26).
This theme of pride and selfish ambition goes right back to the dawn of time when Lucifer—now more commonly known as Satan, or the devil—was an angel of heaven. In the Bible he is described as once being the highest of all the angels, beautiful beyond compare. In Ezekiel 28, God says: “You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.
You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned."
“So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendour. So I threw you to the earth” (Ezekiel 28:12-17).
"In the experience of this heavenly angel-gone-wrong, pride truly did precede a fall.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
This theme—that one loves either God or the world—is echoed throughout Scripture. The first of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). It is written in the Old Testament book of Joshua, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warned, “No-one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). Jesus wants us to be very clear that there can be only one allegiance, one loyalty, that shapes all that we are and do, not just for this lifetime but also for the next.
Our task today is to think about and reflect on the values we demonstrate in our own lives and what we hold important for our future and the future of our loved ones. We must be strong in our decision-making day by day, because it's the everyday decisions that bring us into the truth that is Jesus Christ, and that truth promises us an eternity with the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
The ultimate challenge is taking the step of giving our life in a new way to Jesus Christ. We must make the commitment to love and serve other people and lead friends and family to salvation for eternity by offering Jesus and His ways as the ultimate—and only—path to the good life.