Many things divide our nation. Political affiliations separate us into segments of blue and red, depending on whether we support Democrats or Republicans. Professional and college sports fuel rivalries between fans of different teams. Wealth separates us by zip code and neighborhood depending on where we can afford to live. Religion sends us in different directions on weekends to worship whatever God we follow, if any at all. Issues of national importance often are viewed through the lens of race, gender, education, and age, frequently tearing us apart instead of bringing us together. Of course, not all differences are divisive and most are reflective of the healthy melting pot America represents.
One commonality, however, unifies our nation almost universally – in large cities and rural communities, across religions, races, and age groups, among political parties, and within most neighborhoods whether rich or poor. That unifying theme is a love for the world and the things in it. We may disagree on what aspects of the world we love or how we manifest that love but nearly all of us love it deeply. Evidence of this truth is all around us, in how we spend our time and how we invest our income. Some examples might prove helpful.
We love entertainment. From YouTube to Netflix, music to television, sporting contests to cultural events, video games to social media, we cannot get enough entertainment. While the genre and medium vary considerably, our thirst (perhaps lust) for entertainment appears insatiable.
We love stuff. While the stuff we love and the brands we buy differ dramatically between individuals, Americans love acquiring the things of this world. And it’s not enough just to collect stuff; we want the best, most popular, and coolest brands: Apple, Givenchy, Beats, Mercedes, Breitling, Neiman Marcus, and Hermès. We insist these are not luxuries but simply a part of being a real American. Laptops, i-pads, cell-phones, chic cars, large-screen televisions, double lattes, and six-dozen pairs of shoes are necessities. And the more we acquire, the more we realize that we require more necessities.
We love pampering. Our definitions may vary but we love being ensconced in luxury. Spa treatments, pedicures, and deep tissue massages to forget the rigors of work. Resort vacations to alleviate stress. Patronizing those businesses that make us feel special and understand our need for comfort. We gravitate to retailers, merchants, and brands that recognize our importance and meet our physical, emotional, and psychological needs.
I could go on but you get the picture. More than ever, a love for the world and all it offers unites us as a nation and represents the American dream. It probably sounds crass and we may resist that truth but the evidence is overwhelming. We love the world and the things of the world.
This may not sound at all troubling to most Americans who probably agree with the above assertions and might even celebrate them. Heck, yeah, we love entertainment, stuff, and pampering. But who cares? Indeed, for secularists and those of other faiths, a love for the world is nothing to be concerned about.
But for those who claim to follow Christ, it is a topic of grave concern – or at least it ought to be. Scripture addresses the issue on numerous occasions and we would do well to reflect on relevant verses, to understand God’s perspective. Perhaps the clearest and most compelling passage comes from the apostle John. “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 lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17, NKJV).
John leaves no room for ambiguity. Do not love the world or the things of the world. Simple and straightforward, right? Yet on reading that verse many Christians reject it (‘I don’t agree with what it says’), dismiss it as legalistic (‘I am free in Christ to do whatever I want, which means I can love the world and the things in it’), or insist they already adhere to John’s advice irrespective of how they live (‘I don’t love the world or the things in it. End of discussion.’).
Still, many believers who claim to prioritize their faith and take it seriously have little interest in understanding and applying the truth of this passage. Why? Because it discomforts us and requires wholesale changes in our lives. It is a very disruptive verse that, if followed, will radically alter how we spend our time and invest our resources. And let’s be honest, most of us have no desire for radical alterations to our lives. So we ignore or reject the truth embedded in that passage.
Perhaps the most disingenuous response, though, comes from believers who contend they have no love for the world or the things in it. Despite drowning in a sea of stuff, entrenched in entertainment activities, and living in the lap of luxury (by global standards where abject poverty thrives), they refuse to admit the truth. They are so deeply in love with the world that they have convinced themselves otherwise to avoid having to undergo a lifestyle transformation consistent with John’s verses.
So why does God wants us to avoid loving the world, its’ pleasures, and the things in it? Does He simply want us to live an ascetic life so we are miserable? Does He want His followers to suffer while the rest of the world enjoys lives filled with fun and indulgence? Not at all. He calls us to avoid falling in love with the world for two reasons. First, the world distracts us from following Him. When we fall in love with the things of this world, they take God’s rightful place in our hearts and minds. We focus on serving ourselves and pursuing our interests instead of serving the Lord and pursuing His plan.
Second, a love for the world consumes the focus, time, and resources that properly belong to God. When we resist the temptation to love the world we are set free to love God fully. Jesus explained it like this, “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 both God and money” (Matthew 6:24, NLT).
Sadly, many of us believe we can serve God and the world simultaneously. Or we believe we can love the world and all it offers while pretending and claiming to love and serve God. But Jesus makes clear that such an arrangement is not possible. To avoid any confusion, He outlines a very simple litmus test for identifying our one true love. “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:21, NLT).
So ask yourself: ‘Where is my treasure?’ How do you spend most of your free time? Where do you invest the majority of your financial resources? In the things of the world or in the kingdom of God? Your answer reveals your real love. If you don’t know how to answer, look at the evidence around you. It is probably overwhelming.