“Then I heard another voice calling from heaven, “Come away from her, my people. Do not take part in her sins, or you will be punished with her. For her sins are piled as high as heaven, and God remembers her evil deeds. Do to her as she has done to others. Double her penalty for all her evil deeds. She brewed a cup of terror for others, so brew twice as much for her.”
Revelation 18:4-6 NLT
In John’s vision, the frantic outpouring of plagues has been replaced by what is more like an overview. We’ve been through the trees, looking at the detail, but now we’re getting a drone shot, as it were, of the wood, providing a summary of the impact of what has happened. God’s people are warned to keep away from the world system. It is so corrupted by wickedness, that the sins are piled up to the point that they reach Heaven. This is a time of retribution for the disgraceful way God’s people have been treated, with the “voice calling from Heaven” proposing that the punishment should be double that committed by the world and its “evil deeds”.
Should we pilgrims separate ourselves from the world system around us, as the voice from Heaven implied? Should we all join a monastery or convent? Swapping our everyday clothes for those worn by monks or nuns? Spending our lives without TV, cars, and shops, instead growing our own food and spending our spare time in prayer within the monastery grounds? Although there is some merit in such a life style, I don’t believe it is for everyone, by a huge margin. In His wonderful prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed, “I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.” (John 17:14-16). The Apostle James, Jesus’ half-brother, expressed very strongly the dichotomy between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. He said, “You adulterers! Don’t you realise that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4).
But coming back to our verse today, where the voice from Heaven entreated God’s people not to get caught up in the world system and its sins. Jesus taught that there is a way to live in the world but not be a part of it. We can do so by putting our service to God at the highest priority. We extend God’s love and grace to the sinful world around us, sharing the Gospel through our acts of service, selflessly expending our lives and resources on those most in need. But in the process we make sure that we don’t become corrupted by those we serve. We must objectively discern where the dangers lie and keep well away.
Practically, we avoid anything that would corrupt our Godly way of life. So instead of walking through a red light district, we take the long way round. Instead of channel hopping the TV, we selectively choose the channels that will not offend. Instead of getting caught up in the office gossip we walk away. We stay away from all sorts of temptation. As someone once said, we cannot stop birds from flying over our heads, but we can stop them from nesting in our hair. We discern the dangers of temptation and act accordingly.
James didn’t imply that we should cut ourselves off from the world around us. He exhorted us not to become friends of the world, being sucked into the world systems and cultures, to the extent that we start to become absorbed into everything the world gets involved in, and particularly its sin. By taking a step back and discerning what the world systems are about, we will be able to keep ourselves in the sweet spot of a relationship with God.
The old Apostle John wrote in his first epistle, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17). Wise words indeed.
As we are seeing in this chapter in Revelation, the world system will not end well. Let’s diligently ensure that we don’t go down with it.
Dear Father. Please help us to be strong, with a resolve to stand against all the temptations that come our way in the worldly system around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.