|Vol. 16 No. 12 December 2014||
In the World, But Not of the World
I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. (John 17:9-19)
A paraphrase for these verses is, “As Christians we must live in the world, but not be a part of the world.” The world to which Jesus referred is not the earthly planet upon which we live, but rather, He was talking about the inhabitants and the influence these people have upon Christians. The Greek word for world is kosmos, meaning, “the world (in a wide or narrow sense, including its inhabitants, literally or figuratively [morally])” (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s).
Notice Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:1-2. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Now, compare that with Jesus’ words in John 17. We clearly see the importance of not allowing the world to influence our behavior and attitude.
Unfortunately, some Christians look at these passages and draw the conclusion that Jesus and Paul are instructing us to avoid those actively participating in sinful behavior. If we have narrowed our understanding of these verses to include only sinful behavior, we may well miss the full scope of the teachings of our Lord and the apostle Paul.
There are many morally good, wholesome activities in which Christians may participate and not commit sin, if done with proper attitude and motivation. However, these same activities may become sin in our lives when we allow them to move our devotion away from God. Please consider these scenarios:
A man or a woman has a job that prohibits him or her from gathering with the saints on Sundays and Wednesday to worship God and to be edified by His Word. I am not referring to the occasional requirement to work on a Sunday or Wednesday, but rather circumstances where one misses most if not all Sundays and Wednesdays. Yes, Christians must work to support their families and themselves. Second Thessalonians 3:10 states, “…If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Further, 1 Timothy 5:8 instructs that those who refuse to care for their own are worse than an unbeliever. The Bible clearly teaches that we are to work and provide for our needs and the care of our families. However, if our employment prevents us from worshipping God, we have allowed our jobs to overshadow our proper relationship with God. In that scenario, God is no longer first and foremost in our lives. One in this situation would do well to find another job quickly where he or she can regularly worship God.
“It is Wednesday evening. I have worked hard today, and I am tired. I am not up to going to Bible class tonight.” Hebrews 10:25 states, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” The Scriptures clearly teach that we are to gather with the saints at the times appointed by the leaders of the congregation. Again, if our job is interfering with this command, we need to reevaluate our job and our heart.
“I am too sick to go to worship today. I have a headache, stuffy nose and a cough.” These are certainly legitimate reasons for missing worship, but will you go to work in the morning with these same symptoms? If so, where are your priorities? What is more important to you – your job or God?
“We are not going to Bible class tonight. Johnnie has a big test tomorrow for which he needs to study. Getting a good education and doing well in school is important. It will help him obtain a good job to care for his family later in life.” However, what appears to be more important – a secular education or a spiritual education? We need to teach our children better time management skills so that homework and studying are done before time to leave for Bible class. If they are not done, then you will still go to Bible class and get a good spiritual education for it is far more important than a secular education.
Johnnie comes to Bible class and worship dressed in his ball uniform. During worship, the family sits in the back, and they quietly leave before the end of services in order to get to the ball field in time for Johnnie to play. I commend this family for making the effort to be there for Bible class and part of the worship services. Playing ball is not a sinful activity. However, I am concerned what we are teaching Johnnie and those who watch us leave early. Are we not saying that Johnnie’s ballgame is more important than focusing our attention on worshipping and serving God?
Two months ago, the youth planned a day of service. They will gather at the building, divide in groups and visit the widows – assisting them with yardwork, cleaning, and getting to know the older members. Susie will miss this opportunity to serve others, as she is overly involved in extracurricular activities at school. None of these activities is sinful, and they may serve a good purpose, but what are we teaching Susie? Are we not saying that school activities take precedence over serving God?
The scenarios listed above are not fictional. You will find this happening in most congregations. Is it any wonder that we are losing a large number of our young people to the world? Many are not involved in sinful behaviors, but there is sin in their lives – the sin of failing to place God as the top priority in their lives.
Let us wake up and live in the world but do not be a part of the world. Let us be a godly influence on the world around us instead allowing the world to influence us and to pull us away from God.
Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 2006.
The Bible’s Plea for Unity
The word unity is used often in the religious world, but what does it really mean? Dictionary.com lists multiple parts to the definition of this word.
1. the state of being one; oneness. 2. a whole or totality as combining all its parts into one. 3. the state or fact of being united or combined into one, as of the parts of a whole; unification. 4. absence of diversity; unvaried or uniform character. 5. oneness of mind, feeling, etc., as among a number of persons; concord, harmony, or agreement. 6. Mathematics. a. the number one; a quantity regarded as one. b. identity. 7. (in literature and art) a relation of all the parts or elements of a work constituting a harmonious whole and producing a single general effect.
Notice the recurring theme of “one.” Also interesting to note, while the Bible is not literature as the world views literature, the Bible is the perfect example of the last definition – “a harmonious whole and producing a single general effect.”
Now that we see what a dictionary says about “unity,” focus for a moment on the word as used in the New Testament. The word “unity” appears in Ephesians 4:13. Romans 12:16 uses the phrase “same mind” to express the concept of unity, which corresponds to the fifth definition from the dictionary. Acts 2:46 also reflects the fifth dictionary definition when the verse has “one accord.” Many other passages, from both the Old and New Testaments, use words or phrases that mean “unity” or “oneness.”
The concept of unity as addressed in the Bible is important. First, the Bible in general calls for unity. Psalm 133:1 states, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!” By contrast, recall two verses in Proverbs (21:9, 19) that refer to the sorry condition of living with someone who is contentious and angry. God, speaking to his rebellious people, asks, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). God expects oneness between Him and those who would follow Him. Paul indicates that the condition of unity among Christians requires effort. “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Second, while on earth, Jesus called for unity. Read John 17:11, 20-23.
Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are… I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
In these verses, Jesus compares the oneness He shared with the Father to the oneness He wanted among His disciples. Jesus desired unity among the apostles so the world would see a difference and come to understand the love of Jesus in coming to the Earth, sent by the Father. The unity of the disciples with each other and with Jesus shows Christ’s love and His glory. It also confirms Jesus and His disciples have God’s approval.
Third, the apostle Paul called for unity in many of his writings. In 1 Corinthians, Paul confronted the church for its division. Paul condemned this division and called them to be one (1:10). As already noted, Paul told the Ephesians (4:3) that they should strive to keep unity in the church. As Paul closed his second epistle to the church at Corinth, he stated, “Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11). In these last two passages, Paul connected unity and peace as something Christians should make every effort to attain. Christians today need to practice unity.
Christian unity should be practiced in multiple arenas. First, unity begins at home, in the local congregation. As noted above, Paul commanded unity in the church at Corinth. In Philippians 4:2, Paul begged two sisters in Christ “to be of the same mind.” Whatever the problem was, it was significant enough that Paul had heard about it and called these two ladies by name in his epistle. Members of a congregation demonstrate unity when they obey the elders as God instructed (Hebrews 13:17). The image of body parts working together illustrates the unity of the members of a local congregation (Ephesians 4:11-16) and reflects dictionary definition two. Christians in a congregation must work together to accomplish their God-given mission (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16).
In addition to showing unity within a congregation, area congregations must show unity. The churches in the region of Galatia received one epistle from the apostle Paul. As each congregation read the letter, it passed the letter to the next congregation. Paul expected the churches in Galatia to cooperate. Further, congregations worldwide cooperated with each other in the New Testament, providing a model for the church today. The church at Rome collected funds for poor Christians in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26). Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:1-7, 13-21; 11:8-9 about his efforts to collect funds from various congregations and distribute those funds to Christians in need. This sharing of resources promoted unity between Jewish and Gentile Christians and helped to quell prejudice. It allowed Christians from all walks of life to demonstrate acceptance of “you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28; note also dictionary definition four). Christians must show unity locally, regionally and worldwide.
Humans struggle to find unity. However, the Bible does not just require it of Christians, it tells Christians how to obtain unity. Summarized, the concepts of humility and agape love as described in 1 Corinthians 13 help develop unity. Philippians 2:1-4 provides valuable insight.
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Verse two depicts harmony, a unity in mind and purpose. Verse three shows an absence of selfishness and an attitude of working to benefit others before self. Verse four indicates one should diligently look for ways to help others and follow through with that help. Verses 5-9 provide Jesus as the perfect example of these qualities. Paul specifically stated in Philippians 3:15-17 that Christians should follow the pattern of Paul and other mature Christians in these matters. Romans 12:18 instructs Christians to live in peace with others, and as already noted, Paul connected peace and unity (2 Corinthians 13:11).
Unity is not just important, it is imperative for the Christian. Jesus pled for it. Paul condemned division and told us how to obtain unity – with humbleness, patience and endurance, combined with love (Ephesians 4:1-3).