Dt. 8:3 π Psa. 8:3-4 π Psa. 42:7 π Psa. 131:1 π Eccl. 1:2 π Eccl. 12:13-14 π Mt. 11:25 π Mk. 4:11 π Jn. 10:27 π Jn. 17:15-16 π Acts 20:30 π Rom. 6:15 π Rom. 14:4 π 1 Cor. 2:6 π 1 Cor. 7:29-31 π 1 Cor. 11:3 π Gal. 5:13 π Eph. 3:5-6 π Heb. 12:16 π Jas. 1:27 π Jas. 3:17 π 1 Jn. 2:15-17 π 1 Jn. 2:16 π 1 Jn. 2:27 π 1 Jn. 3:4 π 1 Jn. 5:19 π 3 Jn. 9
“So heavenly minded he’s of no earthly good” is an age-old adage in Christian circles. It is the colloquial summation of the tension between the so-called “mystical saint” and the personality types who can only be rightly called high-“church” or “nuts and bolts” “bean counters.” That is, the person who seeks to live by the mysteries of God is always going to be at odds with the man who worships God by way of liturgies and rituals as well as those whose feet are too firmly planted in and attached to this world.
Before we pronounce judgments on any of these three categories of men, though, let us consider the terms which come to bear upon the questions this comparison raises:
The Psalmist wrote,
In the New Testament, a mystery is not an unsolved riddle to be brilliantly deduced by specially gifted or trained experts. Rather it is simply a spiritual reality that has to be revealed and explained by God in order for men to grasp, understand (to whatever degree is possible) and walk in. ( Mk. 4:11 , etc.) For example, it was not revealed to previous generations (though now it can be found clearly spoken of in the Old Testament) that the Gentiles would be “fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.” ( Eph. 3:5-6 ) It is also true in this sense that many things that make up spiritual maturity are a mystery to the babe and child in Christ Jesus. This does not constitute a “mystery religion” or cabalistic cult as spiritual knowledge is only a revelation away for them and God often gives a “new” revelation to the spiritual babes to test the elder believer’s humility and relationship to the Head Christ Jesus. ( Mt. 11:25 ) There is indeed a wisdom that is spoken only among the spiritually mature ( 1 Cor. 2:6 ) but, if this wisdom is truly from God, it must be “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield [or open to persuasion], full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical.” ( Jas. 3:17; top )
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” declared Solomon ( Eccl. 1:2 ), using a Hebrew word that can also be rendered “absurdity, frustration, futility or nonsense.” This is certainly consistent with the modern definitions and feelings of meaninglessness that plague so many as civilization declines into the darkness that attends rejecting and abandoning Christ. Yet Solomon concludes that there is only one thing in life that is not meaningless, empty and vain: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil.” ( Eccl. 12:13-14; top ) Whole philosophies are devoted to and lives are spent in search of an elusive “meaning of life” yet this simple and only way is rejected or missed because self insists on being enthroned in the center of life. This actually prevents one from discovering the true and deepest meaning of his existence as it is only when God is given His proper place as King and Lord that a human being can become fully that special unique individual which God created him to become.
This word derives from the Latin word mundus (“world”) and represents those things “of the world, especially, worldly, as distinguished from heavenly, spiritual, etc.” as well as to things and events that are “commonplace, everyday, ordinary, etc.” (Webster’s) Jesus prayed that, even as His followers remained in the world, they would not be of the world, that is, that they would be kept from coming under the control and power of the evil one. ( Jn. 17:15-16 , 1 Jn. 5:19 ) James wrote that a core, integral part of genuine religion acceptable, “pure and undefiled,” to God was to “keep oneself unspotted from the world.” ( Jas. 1:27 ) And John wrote, “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. For 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 of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the one who does the will of God remains forever.” ( 1 Jn. 2:15-17 ) “The focus is on people who operate purely on a human level and have no spiritual dimension to their existence. This is the person who loves the world, whose affections are all centered on the world, who has no love for God or spiritual things.” (New English Translation, footnote on 1 Jn. 2:16; top )
Paul wrote, “The time is short. So then those who have wives should be as those who have none, those with tears like those not weeping, those who rejoice like those not rejoicing, those who buy like those without possessions, those who use the world as though they were not using it to the full. For the present shape of this world is passing away.” ( 1 Cor. 7:29-31; top )
In one sense, we can examine these things at length and never compile a codified list of what constitutes “in the world” in contrast to “of the world.” The word that we must apply to all this is “balance” but we must take great care how we achieve that balance. If we make lists of those things we agree with that they are worldly or heavenly, right or wrong, good or evil, truth or deceit, light or dark, life or death, etc., then we are only practicing lawlessness, what is right in our own eyes, and we are not seeking first and only the will of God for our lives.
We cannot concoct any new “Christian” laws that condemn the overly spiritual man any more than we can promote the man who takes great care to attend to all the mundane details of life in this world. The Head of every man is Christ. ( 1 Cor. 11:3 ) He is quite able to sustain those servants who are truly His and we need not pass judgment on their every act. ( Rom. 14:4 ) We are called to liberty but we must not use our liberty to gratify our flesh ( Gal. 5:13 ) any more than we should use our liberty from law to indulge in sin and lawlessness. ( Rom. 6:15 , 1 Jn. 3:4; top ) If a man truly follows Christ, the Head will lead him into conformity with Christ and away from conformity with this world. There are no exceptions to this truth. Anyone whose life demonstrates a difference from this truth is a partaker of deception.
Though we cannot boil all this down to an exhaustive, all-inclusive list, we must certainly recognize that there are very specific, very concrete behaviors that should tell us that the one practicing these things (whether ourselves or others) have not yet achieved a well-balanced approach to the tension between “in” and “of” of the world.
- The man who spends all his time on his own interests (even religious or “spiritual” pursuits) and fails to have any regard for the needs of those around him has not achieved balance. This is also true of the man who spends most of his time away from his family at work as the others’ needs he has neglected are his family’s emotional and spiritual needs.
- The teacher who travels around spreading his own pet doctrines is way out of balance: 1) he robs his audience of direct interaction with God both by seating the people at his feet and by pumping forth his distorted version of the gospel so that he can have followers after himself. (see Acts 20:30 ); and 2) he is very likely robbing his family so as to be able to “minister” to “the body of Christ” who so desperately needs to hear what he has to say. Christ’s sheep still hear His voice ( Jn. 10:27 ) and still do not need a man to routinely speak down to them and teach them in their ignorance and stupidity. ( 1 Jn. 2:27; top )
- The man who will collect expensive gadgets (cars, guns, whatever) but who cannot relinquish one or all of this collection to sell and freely give to the poor at the Lord’s direction and command has not yet attained to either spiritual balance or maturity. Anyone who will not open their home or share their resources with those who are called to some work in the Lord has not achieved balance but is busy building his own kingdom, especially if he claims some spiritual leadership title or role. (see 3 Jn. 9; top )
- The man who blindly keeps working at some particular thing because that is the only thing he knows how to do to provide for his family, if the Lord has some other work for him to do, is exchanging his inheritance for a bowl of soup. ( Heb. 12:16; top ) So too is the man who is so wrapped up in his own understanding of the gospel that he cannot speak forth a pure word from the Lord.
There are certainly other examples that could be given but those who think the above examples are but rare exceptions have not yet learned to see beneath the surface of things. These are the things that pervade the body of Christ, even among those who have abandoned the Babylonian “church” and entered into their “wilderness journeys” to follow after Christ and God. These examples are much of the leftover baggage these lug around with them wherever they go.
“In” but not “of” this world is not an easy balance to find. Those who suppose themselves to have such a firm grasp on this balance that they confidently pass judgment on all who do not conform to their own standards are the most deceived in this matter.
Let he who has ears hear.
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