Worldliness

“’I have crucified the world,’ says Paul.

That word, the world, is used in Scripture with varying meanings. Sometimes it stands simply for the numbers of our fellow men and women round about us. And, in that sense, God loves the world—the foolish, ailing, blundering, kindly, human, stumbling world—loves it well enough to give His Son for it. And we must learn to love it too.

But often the world means that vague, dim, ever-present, threatening mass of things inimical to the soul; the currents that sweep one away from what is high and true and unselfish; the pressure of the crowd about us tending to carry us along with it into the customary, the mean, the earthy; the throng of interests that crowd our minds and leave no room for Christ.

Whatever robs God of our allegiance, whatever cheats us out of our inheritance in Him, whatever drags us down and back, that is the world; not necessarily anything evil in itself—that is more the flesh and the devil—but just the fullness of life, the rush of things, the babble of affairs, our dreams and hopes and ambitions and desires. Matters quite harmless, even true and beautiful in themselves, can grow into one’s world.

A man’s home, says Christ, can become his world—even the wonderful gift of human love! For he may sink back luxuriously into that, grow soft and flabby and self-indulgent, and forget that those about him need his help.

Or a man’s business, it seems, can become his world; though surely we are given our talents to use and not to let them rust. Yet we can grow so one-idead, so absorbed in it, that ‘getting and spending we lay waste our powers’; and the soul forgotten, left untended, sinks and flickers, and goes out.

Our success can become our world, and we intemperate for more and more and more of it. If anything is crowding God out of your life, if anything is making you throw aside the dreams and hopes and high purposes with which you started as quite obviously impracticable, if anything is convincing you that of course Jesus’ teaching is mere poetry that can’t be taken seriously, and is not meant for literal obedience, that is the world for you. And it is through things like that that souls are mostly lost. The flesh and the devil are open enemies. But the world is far more subtle and insidious and deadly….

You, too, will have to pass through Vanity Fair; and at every booth eager hucksters will thrust their tawdry nothings into your face, and plead and press for custom. You also must meet Madam Bubble with her many-colored wares, how beautiful, and yet a touch, and they have vanished. You can’t evade the ordeal. ‘I pray,’ said Christ, ‘not that Thou shouldest take then out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.’

We must live in the world, must do our part to keep the great earth spinning round and round. But we must not be of it, must not drift into adopting its aims, its ends, its standards, its ambitions, its methods and ways.

And not to do so is so hard.”

—Arthur John Gossip, The Galilean Accent (T&T Clark, 1926), 144—146.

4 thoughts on “Worldliness

  1. It seems the “the babble of affairs” is getting louder and the “tawdry nothings” are rising before my eyes more frequently these days.

    No time for a “drift into adopting its aims, its ends, its standards, its ambitions, its methods and ways”!

    And though “not to do so is so hard,” to do so would be, in the end, harder still.

  2. Thanks Tony. Nice to see this.

    Gossip is so right. Isn’t it the case, that the great danger of worldliness, in all of its forms, is that it cools our affections for Jesus Christ? Worldliness is just the “dread asbestos of ‘other things'”. And light without heat, as Goodwin says, makes “but a faint, cold and dull testimony”.

    Keep pressing on brother.

    TB

  3. Spot on, Tom.

    Too often we focus our attention on determining what “is worldly” and what “is not worldly”, rather than coming at a true definition of worldliness that is defined in more personal terms through an evaluation of how things (oftentimes good things) have a worldly-ing influence upon our souls. I was especially convicted of his line about hibernating at home, this is a temptation for me, and a form of worldliness in my life, despite my home being a place of theological study and reflective solitude. Good things each, but not when the time I protect for this causes me to be closed to hospitality and cold towards my neighbors and my brothers and sisters in Christ.

    But I think you’ve hit on the vital distinction. Whatever chills our affections for Christ is our worldliness.

    What all this means, is that to speak concretely of worldliness is to speak from the intimate acquaintance with our own personal struggles with it. If we don’t have the humility to be familiar with our personal temptations to worldliness, I think we are apt to pull out a label-maker and begin categorizing the experiences of the world into two categories: worldly and not worldly.

    Blessings, brother!

    Tony

  4. From The Glory of the Redeemer by Octavius Winslow:

    “Set not your affection on things on the earth.” The prohibition includes creatures, riches, honors, pleasures, yes, every earthly object that would be a substitute for Christ- everything that would render Him less glorious to the eye, less precious to the soul, less an object of the heart’s holiest, fondest, and supreme affection.

    Sorry for beating the OW drum, but every other paragraph in this book speaks to something I have come across in the past week.

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