Ps. 90:1-17, 1 Jn. 2:15-17, 5:1-5, Jn. 15:12-17
The task of Christian mercy and mission is not complete without an eschatology: Where are we going? What are we aiming for? We are after unending goodness and beauty, and we are convinced that all goodness and beauty comes from God.
Against the World, For the Life of the World
John famously exhorts us not to love the world or the things in the world. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15). At first, this can seem strange given the fact that God created the world. Should we not love fireflies? Or peanut butter? Or Miles Davis music? Or the smell of the ocean? John goes on to explain that what he means is “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” – those things are “not from the Father” (1 Jn. 2:16). And John adds that those things are passing away, “but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn. 2:17). Putting this together, we see that John is defining “the world and the things in the world” in a very precise way. He’s defining them as certain kinds of desires and pride, and he’s defining them by duration: they are passing away. John wants us to love the world and the things in the world rightly and in such a way as to be part of God’s future/permanent plan. We see this dynamic in much of John’s gospel: Jesus came into “the world,” but the world did not know Him or receive Him (Jn. 1:10). The world hates Jesus because He testifies that their works are evil (Jn. 7:7). He tells the unbelieving Jews that they are “of this world” and He is not of this world (Jn. 8:23). And He says that He came to judge the world: “now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (Jn. 12:31). But Jesus also came take away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29). God so loved the world that He gave His only Son not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (Jn. 3:16-17). He is the bread of life come down from heaven and “gives life to the world” (Jn. 6:33, 6:51). When Jesus casts out the ruler of this world, when He is lifted up from the earth on the cross, He promises to draw all people to himself (Jn. 12:31-33). So the point is that God is against the world in its slavery to evil desires and pride; He is for the life of the world in the beauty and glory it was originally intended for. And so are we.
What’s the Difference between Worldliness & a Christian Love of Goodness?
Because God is good, and He doesn’t make any evil, all sin and evil involves the twisting and mishandling of something good. It is this twisting and mishandling that God is determined to leave behind: it is passing away. Hebrews says that God is shaking all things, that He might remove the things that are shaken, in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain (Heb. 12:26-27). “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…” (Heb. 12:28). Like Lot’s wife, if your heart clings to the things that are passing away, you will pass away with them. This is why all things die as a result of the Fall. Sin causes good things to become temporary, but the death of Jesus takes away sin in order that all good things might be established forever. Psalm 90 is a very realistic psalm of Moses, outlining the futility, shortness, and sinfulness of life, but it closes with an astonishing prayer: “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” Men in the grip of lust for power and arrogant pride, seek to make themselves immortal by science, by conquest, by wealth. But the humble see the futility in that and recognize that the only way of permanence is if God’s beauty is upon us and He establishes the work of our hands. While the men of Babel built a city and tower to make their own name great and they were scattered and foiled, Abraham sought a city with foundations “whose designer and builder is God” and God promised to make his name great (Heb. 11:10). The fundamental differences between the city of God and the city of man is the love of God versus the love of self. The one is humble and honest about human weakness, frailty, sinfulness and loves the only One who can give strength, permanence, and goodness. The other ignores or lies about the inherent weakness and evil, and loves the self as the source of strength, legacy, and goodness. Putting all of this together, the difference between worldliness and a Christian love of goodness is not in the things themselves but in how we hold and approach all things. And over time, cities and cultures form around loving self or loving God.
Applications for Mercy & Mission
The fundamental question to ask is: Is this “thing” drawing me closer to God and His people with joy and thanksgiving or is it creating a barrier, causing confusion or tension, and pulling me away? Is it self-love or self-giving-love? Is it for my kingdom or God’s kingdom? Some examples:
Your wealth: Do you use the resources God has given you to build bridges, to share life with others, to deepen friendships, or is it a fortress of self-sufficiency, effectively keeping people away? Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it (Prov. 15:17).
Your time: Husbands and fathers, when you come home from work, do you think, now for some me-time? Or do you think, now to serve my wife and children? Wives and mothers, when your husband comes home, do you think, now for some me-time? Or do you think, now to serve my husband? The same principles apply to singles and students with your roommates or children toward your parents.
Pop-culture: Is your love and enjoyment of pop music, movies, fashion, etc., driven by joy in God and the love of others? Or is it driven by fear of being left out, missing out, and wanting to be noticed, admired, respected, and thought cool? It’s not “the thing”; it’s how you hold it. Are you constantly looking in the mirror? Or are you looking out for others?
Start where you are: You may not be a wine connoisseur or a classical music aficionado or an fine artist, but beauty is fundamentally about the joy of sharing with others. Look at this. Taste this. Let’s do this together. Sometimes the most beautiful moments occur even in the midst of great loss and hurt – when those moments are shared. Every Christian has something to share – at the very least, you have what God has shared with you in Christ. This is the center of the beauty that is saving the world. This is our faith that overcomes the world.