“It’s complicated.” Modern man, who has largely discarded God’s standards in all things, often describes his relationships in this manner. The Christian’s relationship with the world is not complicated, that is, it is not difficult to discern, but it does have several facets that deserve attention.
I. Destruction of the world
Christians must always remember that the physical, material world will be destroyed, when Christ comes again. If we are merely cursory Bible readers, chapter 3 of 2 Peter, among other passages, still reminds us powerfully.
Let us then translate that knowledge into our daily routine, our diverse activities, and our priority of life. Let us tell ourselves every single day that what we see around us and what we handle in our homes and garages will soon be dissolved. “[T]the perishable [cannot] inherit the imperishable” 1 Corinthians 15.50. This ought to make all the difference in the world.
Our Lord pointed out that, even in this life, possessions are subject to loss:
Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and devouring insect destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and devouring insect do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, Matthew 6.19-21.
How much more will the material life perish on that final day? It is ironic that pagans often have a greater sense of the destruction of the world (however wrongly they may imagine it) than the saints of God.
The Lord Christ, again: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” Luke 21.33.
Does that not tell us where to invest our time and energies and where to invest our treasures?
II. Love for the world
For the Christian, the combination of the word “world” and the word “love” carries two contrasting meanings. First, we flee from the world in the sense of the fallen, rebellious, sinful realm of Satan. John wraps it up in chapter 2 of 1 John:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever, vv. 15-17.
This is the world we want to get away from.
Then again, the world we are sent to is the world of lost people, just as the Son of God was sent into the world in order to save it, John 3.16; 1 Peter 2.9; Mark 16.15. What Christ did, his people continue to do.
III. Opposition of the world
Because of the internet, most of us are keenly aware of political and social conflicts in our respective countries and regions, but these are not the sharpest ones. The true war being waged is spiritual. We cannot avoid it. Our Lord Jesus himself said,
If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you. John 15.13.
That hate is expressed spiritually every single day in the attempts of the devil to remove us from Christ, 1 Peter 5.8-9. Often, he uses people to accomplish it. It is not something that should surprise us, 1 John 3.13; 1 Peter 4.12, but it seems to shock some Christians when opposition manifests itself, as if they were supposed to be exempt from it.
The kingdom of the world
The Christian daily looks and prays for “[t]he kingdom of the world [to] become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, [when] he will reign for ever and ever” Revelation 11.15. He feels and observes all around him that “the world is passing away with all its desires,” knowing that “the person who does the will of God remains forever” 1 John 2.17. So he strives to “keep [himself] unstained by the world” James 1.27. He therefore rejects “worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth [that] choke the word” Matthew 13.22. He uses “worldly wealth” ever so carefully, Luke 16.9. He submits himself to God’s grace in order to “reject godless ways and worldly desires” Titus 2.12. The saint recoils from earning the badge of being “worldly” Jude 19.
It’s not complicated. The lines are clear. The contrast is stark. The Christian has chosen sides. He is “in” the world and has been sent “into” the world, but refuses to be “of” (or “belong to”) the world, John 17.13-19. Rather, he belongs to God, Acts 27.23, and to Jesus Christ, Romans 1.6, and to the body of Christ, Romans 12.5. Because of that, everything belongs to him, 1 Corinthians 3.22-23.