sermon: Sin (Part 4)
Sin and Warfare
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 14-Sep-96; Sermon #256; 78 minutes
Contrary to the syrupy, unctious Protestant teaching of Christianity as a warm fuzzy feeling- a cakewalk into eternal life, true Christianity is a life and death struggle- spiritual warfare against our flesh (Romans 8:7, Galatians 5:17), the world (1John 2:16-17) and a most formidable intelligent spirit being (I Peter 5:8). Using the abundant military metaphors of Paul and Christ, we must prepare ourselves for rigorous, continuous battle (Ephesians 6:11-17) waging a war against these three enemies, enabling us to eat of the tree of (eternal) life (Revelation 2:7).
Alert Battle Bear cross Cakewalk Carnal mind Competition Counting the cost Enduring Enduring hardship Enemies Eternal life Falling asleep Fishing Flesh Foolishness Gates, Bill Good fight Guard duty Hardship Microsoft Military metaphors Nation's Bank Netscape Prayer Reasonings Satan Self-control Sin Soldier metaphor Spiritual warfare Trumpet Vigilance Warfare Warm fuzzy feelings Watch Watching Weakness of flesh Wisdom of world World
We're going to begin the sermon this afternoon in Amos 3:6. We'll just use this as a launching pad to start getting a certain thought in our minds as we begin this sermon—something that is relative to the Feast of Trumpets; something that, I think, we often (generally) think about in relation to the Day of Trumpets and its fulfillment, down the road a little bit. But I want to show you, during this sermon, that this (that we are going to cover) is actually something that we are involved in (and should be involved in) every day of our life.
Amos 3:6 - Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil [or, calamity] in a city, and the LORD has not done it?
Now, I think that you can see very clearly that, in this verse, God associates Himself with warfare. He associates Himself, in His position as the Sovereign Ruler of this earth, as being responsible for (or passing on) the calamity that comes upon a city. In other words, He is (in that sense, at least) participating. He may have directly brought it; and, if He didn't bring it, He certainly passed on it. So, therefore, there is an involvement there—in terms of war—with Him.
The trumpet was blown by the ancient Israelites in order to warn people of the approach of an enemy, to let them know that open warfare was about to begin, and that they were not to be caught unprepared for the hardships of war that would surely come upon them. This is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament; and it's picked up again in the New Testament (I mean, this connection between Trumpets and warfare). In I Corinthians 15, we find the reference to a trumpet being blown whenever Christ returns. Again, in I Thessalonians 4, the great trumpet is also made in relationship to Christ's return. The book of Revelation, in chapters 8 and 9, draws our attention to trumpets by associating them with the sobering and exciting (exhilarating, dangerous) plagues that are going to be coming on the earth—some of them actual warfare. That 200 million-man army is one of those trumpets. And so we find trumpets associated with warfare, destruction, hardship, pain, sacrifice, suffering, fear—but also the joys of rescue, heroism, and victory.
Other epistles (other than the ones that I just mentioned), written by the apostles, pick up on this in relation to the Christian life. The warfare/soldier metaphor is frequently employed to describe a reality of our life—not something that happened in the past, not something that is going to happen in the future; but something that is taking place right now. Whether or not we are acutely aware of this, we are involved in a war—a spiritual war. It's a war being fought without the visual and auditory trappings of physical war. We don't hear bombs going off. Men aren't screaming in agony. Bullets aren't whistling around. Shells aren't crackling through the air. Men aren't crouching in dugouts. They aren't manning machine guns. They aren't manning radio equipment. Tanks aren't grinding forward, and planes aren't strafing and diving.
But God's word is nonetheless true. We are still in a war. Our lives may not be immediately threatened by an exploding shell. Or, we're not going through suffering as a result of seeing a friend die in the blink of an eye. We're not faced with the almost constant and nagging fear about "When is our time going to come?" and "When it does come, will it be quick—or will it be a slow, agonizing, painful death?" Or, "Will I be taken prisoner?" But we're still in a war; and it behooves us to be aware (keenly aware) of its reality.
I Timothy 1:18 - This charge I commit unto you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on you, that you by them might war a good warfare.
So there's an exhortation, from one of the great apostles to the man he considered to be most like-minded with him and one in whom he could commit a trust. But he knew that Timothy needed to be reminded (like we all do): "Timothy, you're in a war; and I want you to be able to fight a good war." And so, he exhorted him along those lines.
In II Timothy 2:1, a little bit later, Paul comes back to this again:
II Timothy 2:1 - You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
II Timothy 2:3 - You therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
Again, he draws upon this metaphor that we've got to understand. So, it's not like we can just consider ourselves to be in the back lines, supplementary to the people who are really fighting the war. We're not on the front lines, firing a machine gun. But brethren, it looks to me like (regardless of who we are) we are in the war; and we are on the front line. We are not merely supplemental support to those who are fighting the battle. Everybody is fighting the battle! And nobody is merely in the back, as part of a delivery crew (or something of that nature).
II Timothy 3:1 - This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
He's indicating here that, as we get into the end, the battle is going to intensify and is really going to be perilous—more perilous that it has been in the past.
A little bit earlier (among the first letters that Paul wrote) in I Corinthians 9:7, Paul said:
I Corinthians 9:7 - Who goes a warfare [or, to war] any time at his own charges?
Again, he draws on that metaphor. Now, he was intending that the people to whom he wrote understand that (in this case) he was referring to himself. The Corinthian church should had been supporting him—because, as a soldier in that war (occupying that position that he did), he shouldn't have to pay his own way. And so he draws upon that metaphor to help us understand.
Here's one that everybody is familiar with:
Ephesians 6:11-17 - Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
"Onward, Christian soldiers, going on to war!" So, Paul drew heavily upon the war metaphor here—in referring to the instruments of war, the shields of protection, the things that a warrior (in that day and age) would have used while he was fighting a battle. Now, the way Paul worded it there is: this is not a battle that lies before us, [but] it's a battle that's going on right now. We're in the midst of it; and we need to have this equipment on us all the time. So, "Onward, Christian soldiers!"
I don't know how acutely aware of this you are (and whether you like it, or not); but, brethren, we are in a fight for our lives! We are fighting to glorify God. We are fighting to have the laws of God written in our hearts. We are fighting for the right to our inheritance. We are fighting in order that we may be able to help others share in this with us.
Now, the apostles were not alone in using military metaphors to illustrate Christian responsibility as being very similar to being at war. You will find (back in Luke 14) that Jesus also used them. So, they had a good Teacher. They had a good example to follow. We're just going to look at one verse here:
Luke 14:31 - Or what king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand?
That's kind of interesting; because the inference there is that we are going against enemies that are equipped, stronger, more numerous that we. And so, the admonition (in this wider context) is that we need to sit down and count the cost as to whether or not we really want to be a disciple of Christ. He is implying there that, if we do become a disciple of Christ, it's going to be a fight. Not a cakewalk through the park (not a stroll down a country lane), because there are those who don't want us to succeed. And 'thinking seventeen and a half nice thoughts', by us, isn't going to cut it. It's more than that.
So, Jesus said here, "Be prepared." He was about to be crucified and, thus, sacrifice His life in our behalf as part of that battle. As He was leading up to this (this crucifixion), one of the last words He left with us was "Watch!" That's a military term. It means, "Be alert." It means, "Be on guard" (because the enemy is out there is what He was implying). So we have to be alert of what is going on around us, lest we be caught unawares.
Now, let's go back to Timothy again. Again, Paul writes to his son-in-the-faith:
I Timothy 6:11-12 But you, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness, fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto you are also called, and have professed a good profession before many witnesses.
It wasn't real long after this (maybe a year or two) that Paul, according to legend, lost his head in this war and became a martyr. But here he is exhorting his son-in-the-faith to throw himself into this warfare.
Now, the verses also begin to show us some of the parameters involved in this fight. In verse 11: righteousness, faith, godliness, love, patience, meekness. And then in verse 12 he zeros in on its major focus: "Lay hold of eternal life!" Well, the unspoken warning is that, unless we really grab onto it, there are those who want to snatch it away from us (or, snatch us away from it).
This is more difficult than it appears on the surface, because there is a quality to fighting and warfare that fascinates human nature. I think that perhaps there is no better (clearer) illustration of this than that virtually every program on television (and virtually every movie) features fighting in some form or another. And, usually, the climax of the story is a final battle wherein the hero (or the heroine) emerges victorious. Intense competition—between the people on the screen and in real life—in some cases takes on the spirit of warfare. It is at the core of virtually every sport, every table game, and in business.
I just read this (and I wish I had the exact quote). But I just read, in the latest NEWSWEEK magazine, an article about Microsoft and Netscape coming head-to-head against one another in war over who is going to give the public access to the Internet. Right now, Netscape is ahead; but Bill Gates and Microsoft have taken up the challenge. And they have gone to war against Netscape. That's the central focus of this article in NEWSWEEK. At the very beginning of the article, they quote von Clausewitz, who is very famous for having written a manual on how to fight war. In that manual, he said business has all the elements of war except people aren't shooting at one another. But it's war.
Any of you who are following what's going on in business, you realize that the bigger fish are gobbling up the smaller fish all over the place. We've got one of the biggest banks in the United States in Charlotte (Nation's Bank), and they just gobbled up another very large bank in Saint Louis. They have gobbled up banks in Texas, and several of them in Georgia, in Florida, and up in Virginia. Their aim is to be coast-to-coast nationwide—that you will be able to access Nation's Bank everywhere. And they are gobbling up other banks left and right. They would like to become a monopoly. So, warfare, in the form of intense competition, is taking place in business all over the place.
Fighting and competition is so engrained in Americans that we take it for granted. We generally feel that competition is greatly responsible for the accomplishments of the American economics system and for our technological greatness. We know (and we love) to compete and be victorious—whatever the cost.
But the warfare that God has us involved in will eventually involve every man, woman, and child on earth. Its energy is not focused on other people. In a military battle, the consequences are usually temporary. A nation may be defeated; but, over a period of decades, they usually recover. They rebuild. The economy gets going again; and the fighting (warfare) gradually becomes a little more vague in their minds. So nations eventually do recover. But, in this spiritual warfare, the consequences (when the fight is over) are unchangeable. They are eternal.
II Corinthians 10:3 - For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh. (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
Let's read that again. We do not war after the flesh. But verse 5 tells us what the warfare is against imaginations (or, reasonings) that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. And, our warfare is to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
I want to dispel this concept that has come into the thinking of many, here in Protestant America that true Christianity is a warm fuzzy feeling that we enjoy while we comfortably bathe in a sea of tranquillity. Now, this warm feeling usually comes from the knowledge of being miraculously forgiven (by and through the death of a syrupy Jesus); and, then, guilt evaporates and people have been led to believe that they then have a ticket into the Kingdom of God (or, to heaven—they might say).
Well, if that is so, [then] why all of these verses about Christianity being a war? You see, something doesn't "connect"— especially when we consider the fact that Jesus, so many times, warned people that Christianity (being His disciple) was not going to be easy. It's narrow (meaning difficult). It's straight. And now we find that the reason it's difficult is because a war is involved. The nature (human nature) is pulling in one direction and the divine nature is pulling (encouraging, exhorting, instructing) in another [direction]. The two don't mesh. And we're caught in the middle. The warfare involves choosing. It seems so simple to say that. ("Casting down reasonings" in order to make a choice. "Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.") No. Christianity is war. It's not a warm fuzzy feeling. It doesn't mean that we can't feel good about things from time to time; but we had better be reminded (and aware) that there is a war going on!
II Timothy 2:3 - You therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
So, we're at war. And war is anything but tranquillity. It is turmoil. It is fear and privation.
We've had the opportunity to count the cost. And I am sure that when we counted the cost none of us had any idea that it would be this hard. Well, that's understandable—because we don't have the ability to see the end from the beginning. Our minds simply cannot comprehend it. It's very likely that, if they could've comprehended it, we probably would have turned Christ down and said, "No thanks, I'll wait till a better time." That's the way human nature is. But He does expect us to count the cost on the basis of what we do understand and on the basis of the warning (even if it's very broad) that He gives to us there in Luke 14. He expects us to count the cost on the basis of what we do understand.
Now, Jesus told us that the way into the Kingdom of God is narrow and difficult. He also said that violent men take it by force. And yet there are people in the greater Church of God who are telling us now that we don't even have to submit to commands. Do you realize how important 'submitting to commands' is during a war? Responding quickly to the commands of your sergeant (or your lieutenant, or your captain, or your colonel, or your general) is often the difference between life and death—the difference between victory and failure.
Here in II Timothy 2:3, we are exhorted to endure hardship. So, that tells me that Paul was telling us that true Christianity is not a cakewalk into the Kingdom. We are not meant to have a life of religious ease, indolence, and security—merely attending services on the Sabbath, having nice pleasant conversations, and making plans for next week's activities.
Let's begin to delineate more specifically whom it is that the Christian soldier is meant to fight. Judging what is taking place in the greater Church of God, there are quite a number of people who never seem satisfied unless they are engaged in some constant controversy—between church and church, over doctrines, policies, or over some offense (real or imagined) that they believe that somebody has committed against them. Now, doctrine is not "unimportant". But all of this controversy is wasting peoples' energy! The focus of their attention is each other (their brother) rather than the ones that the Bible delineates are the real enemies. And, do you know what happens? When we turn our guns (as it were) against each other, the cause of sin—the cause of the enemy—is advanced; and we are weakened. And, our brother is weakened. The Bible makes it very clear that our fight is against our flesh, against the world out there, and the Devil. Not each other! Not some other group that may be just as confused as we are (just as hurt by what is going on)—maybe worse than we are.
Now, these three foes are ever continuing (never dying). And, unless we gain victories over these, all the other controversies (even if they end, we think, in victory) are useless and vain. If we fight against these three, there is A VERY GREAT CHANCE we are going to be in the Kingdom of God. We are going to grow.
The remainder of this sermon I'm going to spend showing you how the Bible draws our attention to these three areas of warfare. First of all:
1) THE FLESH
Matthew 26:40-41 - And he came unto the disciples, and found them asleep, and said unto Peter. What, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Verse 40 is an expression of pained surprise by Jesus that these three, able-bodied, fishermen (who spent many sleepless hours in the deep of night fishing on the sea of Galilee) couldn't keep themselves alertly awake in prayer—even for one hour. They couldn't—even for one hour—maintain steadfast loyalty, helping Him (through comfort and encouragement of prayer) to bear His burden. What makes this even more interesting is that, just a few hours previous to this, they had all expressed their fervent and undying desire to aid Him in whatever His cause was. Notice the strong warning that is given to them (and to us): "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." This is in no way intended to be an excuse (a justification) that we can use whenever we want to justify a sin: "Oh, it's just because I'm weak." Jesus didn't expect them to be weak! And it was in pained surprise that He found them asleep and admonished them.
Yes, the weakness of the flesh is a reality. Now "flesh" here means "the whole man." Sometimes we get to narrow it in just on, let's say, sexual sin. But that's not what He's talking about here. He's talking about the whole personality. And it's a warning to these men (and to you and me) that we are to take steps in order to keep from sinning through the flesh weakness—because "the flesh" will draw us into the temptation to sin. But we don't have to sin. That's the point! We don't have to sin! And we won't sin, IF we are both alert and praying. That was the advice from our Boss—the Captain of our salvation, the Warrior who goes on before us. He said to "be alert" and "pray", because the temptation is going to come. And "the flesh" is weak.
Now, it's the word "watch" that sets the military (warfare) approach. We are to watch in order to avoid the temptation to sin. What was 'sin' in this context here? It was to fall asleep. Did you even stop to think that falling asleep would be sin? Why is it sin in this case? What is sin? Usually what leaps into our mind is that "sin is the transgression of the law." But forget about that. Let's think of another definition of sin. Sin is "to fall short of the glory of God." The reason that it was sin, in this case, is that they fell short of what God would do if He were in a similar situation. Their falling asleep fell short of perfection. In other words, Jesus was saying, "if God were in your situation, He would not have fallen asleep." So, they were tempted to sleep, and they did. They fell short of the glory of God.
What about the word "watch"? It was a commonly used military term, of the time, for when a soldier did guard duty. (It's still used today—"So-and-so's on watch.") It means "to be vigilant, to be alert against the enemy". What was the enemy? The enemy here was their mind and body. We're warned that "the flesh" is not passive concerning sin, but [it] eagerly and aggressively wants to sin. It wants to fall short of the glory of God. "The flesh" is enmity against God. So, we've got to watch out for it. It will attack at a weak point (when it is least expected) even though a person may sincerely and eagerly want to obey God—as these disciples had expressed just a few hours earlier that this. They had pledged that they would never leave Him nor forsake Him. Two hours later, they're sinning—going to sleep. So here they are. Even though sincerely wanting to support Him in every way, they're forsaking Him.
Now, let's take this advice from Jesus: that watchfulness and prayer are indispensable against temptation. Watchfulness will discern the danger; and prayer gives us the strength against it (you see) for fighting the battle. If we're truly watching, it will keep us praying. If we are praying, it will keep us watching. But to watch without praying is presumption, because it's an assumption that we have enough strength to resist on our own. To pray without watching is also a presumption. In addition to that, it's hypocrisy and it's irresponsible, because it assumes that God will take care of us. God does not appreciate being taken for granted! He wants us to do our part—even trying to avoid sin and to defend ourselves against its onslaughts. So, if we are fortified with these two elements and we encounter temptation, we can do so without entering into it (and emerge victorious).
Now, tell me something. If a person has a problem with alcohol, do you think that he is really "watching" if he tempts himself by going into a bar? He should be alert enough to know better. Do you get the point? If we're going to avoid sin, we're going to have to be a Joseph; and, when we see the temptation, we flee it! That's being "watchful". And, IF you're praying, you'll have the strength to flee—to make the sacrifice that (your body, your mind) "the flesh" is crying out to satiate. You have fought the battle, in such a case, and you were a victor—IF you were watching and praying. So, if we're really watching and praying, the outward trial will still be there. We'll see the danger. But the power 'to turn us away' will be there—because God, by His spirit, will be feeding us the strength that we need (and so that we can pass through it). Doesn't He promise He will always give us a way to escape? Unless we're tempting Him! And that's what we do if we go into the bar when we have the problem. Why should He help us when we're flagrantly disobeying His instruction?
If we are doing this [watching and praying], then it is this which will tend toward unity with God, because then we won't sin. It is sin that separates us from God. Let's make this even more specific using this example: Why were these men able to 'keep themselves awake' fishing, but they couldn't 'keep themselves awake' in helping Jesus? It's the matter of where their heart resided. "Fish" meant money and the material means-to-live. "Fishing" is a physical activity, and it's very easy for the natural mind to relate to. But "helping Jesus"—that was a spiritual thing. It was 'distant' and 'vague' at this time. So, it simply wasn't important to them. Now, what should they have done? What they should have done was to never allow themselves to get into a position to sleep—by sitting, or leaning on a rock, lying on the ground, or propped up against a tree. They should have gotten up, walked around in circles, and prayed (while they were walking around in circles) in order to keep themselves awake. I guarantee you [that] they would have had a much better chance of winning that battle. They should have done something in order to insure the making of the sacrifice of denying themselves 'sleep' in order to keep their minds focused (and stirred) on God's purpose—in that case, Jesus' trial and their vow never to forsake Him.
Now turn with me to Galatians 5:17:
Galatians 5:17 - For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things that you would.
Galatians 5:24 - And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
That word "cannot" in verse 17 means "must not." You cannot allow such a thing to occur. It's not that we are not capable of it (because we certainly are capable of sin); but, rather, that we cannot allow such a thing to occur.
The word "crucified" in verse 24 refers to having denied ourselves, sacrificed, gone through privation (whatever the self-control might be) in order to exercise ourselves in the fight against the flesh.
Now, let's close off this section by turning back to Luke 14 again. This time we're going to look at verses 26 and 27.
Luke 14:26-27 - If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
What does it mean to "bear our cross"? In this context, the cross is normally viewed as being whatever we must bear, or be burdened with, in order to be (and to remain as) Jesus' disciple. That's not wrong, because it fits the context. It might apply to such things as losing our employment because of keeping the Sabbath. It might mean that we keep our job because of the Sabbath but lose it over the Holy Days. Maybe giving tithes would be considered a burden—because, when we're baptized, we're heavily in debt; and a considerable sacrifice has to be made in order to maintain being faithful with God (being a disciple). So, the real burden is not the tithing. The real burden is the indebtedness that we allowed ourselves to get into. Nonetheless, now it has become a burden that maybe we might think is greater than we can bear. Actually, it's the burden of sin that is right there. Another burden might be that we are cast out, as it were, of our family (our physical family) because they don't like it that we're no longer with them in things that they hold dear to them in regard to family functions. So, that application is not in any way wrong.
I want to give you another application that I think is more pertinent to this sermon. That is that the cross was the instrument of Christ's death, when He voluntarily took sin upon Himself. Death is what He earned, as it were, when He took our sin. So He had to bear it; and He bore, then, that death. But you also recall in the story that He actually had to bear His cross—the instrument of His death—for a while (until He was given some assistance). And then He was hung upon that cross.
Now, let's apply that to you and me. Christ said that we have to bear our cross. Sn" caused Him to have to bear that cross. Now where does our sin come from? The burden of it comes upon us when we voluntarily choose to sin, but it resides in our minds. And this burden is something that we are never entirely free of all the time we are following Christ. Overcoming its pull away from (against) being loyal to Christ is the major burden that we must struggle against all the while that we follow Him as a disciple. The burden, brethren, our cross, is our mind. It doesn't matter where we are, "the flesh" is always there with us—right up here [pointing to the head]. It's in our character. It's an intrinsic part of our personality. And it has to be fought—until we die, or the Kingdom of God comes. We always have to bear that burden.
Now let's look at the second area of warfare.
- THE WORLD
As a term, it is used in a number of ways in the Bible. At times (depending upon the context), it means "the universe, the earth and all of its people". But in the New Testament, especially when the Greek word cosmos is used, it has a unique connotation. Cosmos, as the Greeks used it, primarily denotes something...This seems rather odd, but it denotes "something that is well built, or artistically arranged". Thus, the Greek would use it in regard to the beauty of a horse, or of well-chosen words. The word "cosmetic" has its roots in this word, because a woman artistically arranged her hair, her clothing, the coloring of face, and perfume in order to enhance her natural beauty. In other words, she was decorated so that everything was arranged so that it would be pleasing (cosmos). Thus, to the Greeks, the word indicates "an ordered system with implications of beauty." So, it doesn't necessarily mean the thing is beautiful; but, at the very least, it is an ordered system. And to the Greeks, that was "beautiful"—for something to be systematically arranged.
Now, in the New Testament it very frequently means, "an ordered system opposed to God."
Hebrews 11:7 - By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house, by the which he condemned (the cosmos) the world and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
James 1:27 - Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from (the cosmos) the world.
It's obvious from these two verses that the world has qualities... Even though it's an organized system; and, therefore, has an intrinsic beauty to the Greek—the world has qualities a Christian must hold himself away from.
James 4:4 - You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
That's a very strong warning to hold the world at arms length. You can see that the apostles' use of the word cosmos very greatly differed from the common Greek usage. To the Greek, it indicated something clever or beautiful, but not necessarily a useful arrangement. To the apostles, it indicated an organized arrangement or system of evil, filth, and defilement. They weren't thinking of the physical world as created by God, or even of things manufactured by man. When the apostles used cosmos, they were thinking of mankind itself and all of the systems it developed and organized to support its culture: (meaning) its religions, governmental systems, educational systems, economic and business systems—which came out of the mind of men cut off from God and, in many cases, inspired by Satan. The world, as the apostles saw it, was a beautiful arrangement by God that had been turned into chaos by men.
Now notice more clearly the way [that] Paul perceived this, by turning with me to Romans 5:12:
Romans 5:12 - Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.
So Paul shows the world, as God created it, as being very good; and, then, sin entered in. But once in, brethren, it remained until this point in time. Sin is seen by Paul as having been a major factor in the development of all that this world is. Sin has made the world an enemy of God; and, thus, it is our enemy too.
I Corinthians 3:19-21 - For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He takes the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours.
I Corinthians 1:20-21 - Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
Do you see what Paul thinks of the world? At its very best, it is foolishness. At its very best, it is nothing compared to the wisdom of God—even though the wisdom of the world looks upon the wisdom of God as being simple, ignorant, dumb, stupid, for fools.
I Corinthians 2:7-8 - But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
I Corinthians 2:12 - Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
I think that ought to be sufficient to show you that Paul didn't think very much of the world. Now let's give it a cap, as it were. This time we're going to turn to I John 5—to the apostle who spoke more about the world than probably all the other apostles put together (and that's John).
I John 5:19 - And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness.
Or, probably a little bit more accurately translated, "...the whole world lies under the wicked one." Can you see why the apostles of God thought the world an enemy? And [that] the world is to be held at arm's length, to be avoided at every turn.
Now we can find (in John 8:23-24) that Jesus clearly separated Himself as being part of this world. He was not "of the world," He said. Now, what is it that separated Him? It was a matter of whom He chose to take instructions from—for the way that He was going to conduct His life. It was also a matter of the spirit that He had.
We find ourselves in a position where we can emulate what He did. He was not of the world—not only because He came from heaven, but also because, in making choices, He chose God (and His instruction and His wisdom) rather than what was so easily accessible by doing it according to the world's way.
In John 12, I think He really lays it on the line for you and me.
John 12:25 - He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
There's the choice. Side with the enemy, or side with God. Which choice will we make?
Now, where does the world's power against us lie? We can find this spoken of quite a number of times in the Apostle John's writings; but I don't think any more succinctly than in I John 2:15-17:
I John 2:15 - 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. 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. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides forever.
The world's power lies in its being attractive to human nature. That's logical. Since it was developed by man under sin, it therefore is attractive to the flesh. Since the flesh developed it, established it, and also maintains it—the flesh is drawn to it like a magnet (to go along with it). So, it influences us to continue living according to its attitudes and ways. It is a powerful distraction, because we feel so comfortable operating within it; and, at the same time, it is a constant prod to act (and react) according to its ways in our relationship.
Let's draw another illustration from the way the world uses television. Television could be a very strong influence for right education. Instead, every five to seven minutes, television is used as a vehicle urging us (in vivid color, with motivating music, and attractive influential people) to satiate our lust by running us out to buy something. Meanwhile, the story that we are being shown is very probably of a violent nature, with forays into some sort of illicit sexual involvement, planning to murder, steal and to deceive, using profane language—and all of this going on in an intense (passionate) attitude. Now, part of the problem is not that these are merely alluded to, but [that] television dwells on them. The Bible has sex and violence in it too. But, did you ever notice that it's only alluded to? It's mentioned; and the story goes on. It doesn't give you every specific gory, grisly, colorful detail. Television preys on the mind (of young and old alike) to accept this as the norm of behavior and of attitudes.
The world is operated on the basis of base desire, false values, and egoism. That's what the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are. The problem for us in this warfare is that these things are very attractive to human nature. Like a magnet, they seduce us downward toward operating our lives by them. It is a mighty struggle to keep from just letting go and letting these things take over. So, John gives us two reasons why we must fight it: because (#1) we cannot love the Father and the world at the same time. It's got to be one or the other. For a Christian, there can be no neutrality in this. You can't serve two masters. (It can't be made any simpler than that.) God and the world are enemies. Therefore, we have to be an enemy of the world and not let it capture us. (#2) The world has no future. It's going to pass away. It's already pre-ordained (predestined), because God is sovereign [and] He's only allowing it for our good to continue. And when it is no longer needed (puff!), it's going to disappear. And you with it, if you give into it. That's blunt, but that's what John wrote. It has no future.
So, a soldier's life is a life of sacrifice; and John teaches us that there is a sharp cleavage between God and the world. We cannot live without choosing between one or the other. One is the way of death. The other is the way of life. If we refuse to face this and choose not—that's our choice. You see, life requires devotion to something. And so, decisions have to be made about these things. And those decisions also have to be constantly reaffirmed. It's not a one-time thing. Constantly reaffirmed. I'm sorry, but that's the life of a soldier.
The third area of warfare is with Satan. And so, it should become clear (by now) that the flesh, the world, and the Devil are all related to each other. Between the three of them, we are facing a formidable, unholy trinity. And it is that Satan that we find the fount of all this resistance to God. He is the tie that binds all three in a unity against us. It's interesting that much of the common folk of this world are well aware. They believe in the fact that there is a Devil. But it seems as though when people become better educated (when they become a scholar, or an academic), they begin to fear him less and less, and don't even accept his existence, and say that he is nothing but a superstition. But do you know what, brethren? Jesus, who had no higher education (according to the people of His day), but who was the greatest One to ever trod this earth—He believed in Satan, the Devil. He said, "I saw Satan fall!" He witnessed it with His own eyes. Who knows better? Jesus, or the scholars? Jesus spoke of Satan frequently; and He warned us (urged us) not to take him for granted.
Now, the Duke of Wellington is perhaps (at least partly), because of his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, considered to be Britain's finest general. He said at one time, "In time of war, the worst mistake is to underestimate your enemy and try to make a little war." In the background of Luke 14 is a veiled reference to Satan (that he's the king who comes against us), and the message is be prepared for him coming. Know your enemy. Fight against him with all the resources available.
But first, let's consider some of the things that he has arrayed against you and me. Not only can we not see him, but none of the physical—even hydrogen bombs—that we might use (to inflict pain and injury and death) in order to overcome him and rid ourselves of him have any effect at all. And even if we were able to find his location at any given time, nothing (from poison, to casting him right in the midst of the sun) could cause him to do anything but give us a sarcastic snicker. In a way, that's scary.
We're not done yet with all the things he has arrayed against us; but in Job the first chapter, in verses 6 and 7:
Job 1:6-7 - Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence come you? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
Job 1:12 - And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself put not forth your hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.
Between this and the 2nd chapter, there is much we can learn. We can find that, not only is he not constrained by time (because he is immortal, he's not constrained as we are) but he is also not constrained by space either. Though he can only be in one place at a time (even as we), his mode of transporting himself is unlimited, by comparison to ours. And his ability to affect physical and spiritual things is immense and vast, compared to ours.
Now, these verses (and those in between the beginning of the story here in chapter 2) show us that he has visible and personal direct access to God in heaven. He has power over the forces of nature (in this case, the weather, which is far more powerful than any weapon yet devised by man), and he can inflict bodily illnesses upon humans. His capacity to destroy is apparently limited only by where God draws the line. He never slumbers or sleeps. He is described as being "a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour". He is intelligent—so far beyond our comprehension, that we would be stupid to begin to think that we can outwit him. That intelligence is maniacally twisted; but, nonetheless, he is able to conceive of goals he wants to accomplish far into the future—so far that it would stagger us. That intelligent and twisted mind is able to conceive of devious plans to trip the unwary into falling for his perverted (destructive) schemes. It is a daily battle. He is also described as being "a murderer" and "a liar" from the beginning [and] that he has "deceived the whole world". In addition, he has a large army of equally invisible assistants employed to do his bidding. He is a formidable enemy!
But, do you know what? Despite all that I have told you, he CANNOT MAKE US do anything—because God has drawn the line. He can persuade us. He can deceive us. He can puff us up. He can try to frighten and intimidate us. He can tempt us. He can trick us. He can confuse us into making sinful choices. And, he plays dirty. Why are we trying to learn to think like God? So that we can resist him [Satan]—because Peter tells us that, if we do, Satan must flee. Even this super being cannot make us sin. If we're alert and we're praying, even we simple, weak-of-the-earth sons of God can say "No." But we have to recognize—and we have to reject—his persuasions (his confusing stories) and refuse his devious and twisted reasonings. That's why Paul said that our battle is one of casting down reasons (reasoning against the knowledge of God) and bringing all our thoughts into subjection to Christ.
Christianity is a struggle. It's a fight. It's warfare, if we are willing to receive it. It is not shown, in God's Word, as merely a concept by which we passively yield to God; but, rather, Christianity (I'm talking about) is an active, aggressive, waging of war—to be victorious over sin, generated by the flesh.
Now, let's just look at one place here in Revelation 2, and in verse 7 where Christ says to the Ephesian church:
Revelation 2:7 - He that has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says unto the churches. To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
To him who is victorious: over the flesh, over the world, over the Devil. To him who conquers. To him who is victorious. Whether we have much knowledge of this aspect of Christianity (or, whether we like it or not), this warfare is a great reality; and it is a subject of vast importance. Sin and overcoming are at the crux of the issue between us and God. Where God has given grace, there will be conflict. And so, we cannot avoid this. The believer is a soldier. There is no holiness without warfare against these three enemies.
So, what we are facing is an absolute necessity. We can't remain neutral. We can't be at peace with the flesh, the world, or the Devil—because to do so is to be an enemy of God. But be encouraged. God has drawn the line. But, every one of us must fight in this battle. It doesn't matter whether we are an ordained apostle, or an elderly widow. We all have pride. We all live in a world full of snares. And all of us have a restless, malicious, Devil seeking to destroy us. In this war, there is precious little breathing time, because we have foes that keep no holidays. So, each of us is responsible to take of the purity that God, in His mercy, has bestowed on us in His grace. So, let us not be like Jesus said of those who were in the days of Noah, who were going about their daily routines (unmindful of the awesome events going on around them), because they were caught up in the routines of life rather than the purpose of God. And when that great trumpet sounds at Christ's return, it is going to be those who fought the good fight and overcame, who are going to receive the wonderful promises of Revelation 2 and 3.