Worldliness

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:17-19‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Strong words from Paul. He presented to his friends the inviolable requirement that they had to change the way they live. No more living in a worldly way. No more going with the flow. No more following the crowd. Obviously his friends in Ephesus were once steeped in worldliness and he points out that living in this way was futile. It would lead nowhere other than to death and destruction. Paul’s observations of living life the Gentile way involved having hard hearts, insensitivity, sensuality, impurity and greed. Strong words indeed. The problem the Gentiles had was that they didn’t know any better. They had no moral compass. They had no appreciation of sin and its consequences. If it felt right they did it, regardless of what might happen. 

Here we are in the 21st Century and Paul’s analysis seems just as relevant today as it was in his day. Nothing has changed. In fact things may even seem to have got worse. Human nature has not been changed by the intervening years, by the improvements in “civilisation”, by the embracing of technologies totally beyond the thinking of the Ephesian Christians. We look around us at the behaviour of worldly people – take just the war in Ukraine as an example of futile thinking, of greed, of hard hearts. Our depressing analysis of human nature today won’t change the reality of the sort of world in which we live. But as Christians we must double our efforts to show those around us that there is a better way. Jesus came to this world bringing His Kingdom, a counter-cultural new way of living. Living God’s way, not the way of human nature dominated by “futile thinking”. And so today we reach out to Jesus and pray. We pray for those around us. We pray for divine appointments. We share our message of hope with our families, our communities. And we pray for our governments, that God will penetrate the dark thinking, the sinful ways, showing them that there is a better way. God’s way.

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

“I said to myself, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me.” But as I stood there in silence— not even speaking of good things— the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words:” Psalms‬ ‭39:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Psalmist is in worldly company. This Godly man is in a quandary – the worldly talk going on around him is distressing and sinful. It probably contains language and humour he disagrees with, and alludes to practices he abhors. So he keeps silent. And becomes seriously upset internally – turmoil is the word he uses to describe his feelings. And eventually he is unable to hold within himself the feelings of frustration, and he blows up, blasting his companions with a torrent of words. Sound familiar? It’s a place where I have been during my work-a-day life. Conversations take place in the office that I find degrading and upsetting. Gossip, smutty jokes, character assassination, foul language, sexual innuendo. It’s all there and as a Christian it’s a place where I don’t want to be. But I have to be there because it’s a place where I earn the money I need for life.

But there is a different meaning in these verses. We see from later in the Psalm that the Psalmist is perhaps quiet before the “ungodly” because of his sins. And in the Psalm he goes on to reflect on the temporary nature of life, his sins, his hope in God, being disciplined by God and finally pleading with God for his prayers to be heard.

But whatever interpretation we choose, the message is clear. The dichotomy between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the world is stark. We can’t have a foot in each kingdom. Jesus was clear about this in His teaching during what we call the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” Once settled in the Promised Land, Joshua delivered a rousing message to the Israelites which was recorded in Joshua 24:15, “But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” The choice he laid before his countrymen was the same choice we have before us today. Whom will we serve? As for me I can say without hesitation – I and my family will serve the Lord.