Series: Better things are coming
- Exodus 19:1-9
- 1Peter 2:11-12
Summary of the series so far:
- Christians are people who once were lost, but:
- who received a new life from God by grace
- who come to Christ and honour Him
- who obey the Gospel
- who all have a part in priest-like service to God
- who spiritually sacrifice praise to God
- who draw from eternal hope to overcome present suffering
Main thoughts for this sermon
- Who/what is “the world”?
- Christians are sojourners/pilgrims
- Why abstain from this world?
- Why engage with this world
Florence Nightingalec, the Lady with the Lamp, was indeed a light on the dark pages of war history. She wrote in her diary,
“God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.”
In 1850 she visited a Lutheran religious community working for the sick and the deprived. She regarded the experience as a turning point in her life. She gathered around her volunteer nurses who dedicated themselves to caring for British soldiers in the Crimean War.
During her first winter ten times more soldiers died from illnesses than from battle wounds. Although Florence’s immediate tasks was the care of sick, she understood that God called her to engage with all who were sick: when circumstances called for her to do so, she even cared for the wounded of the enemy. Florence was in the war, but not of the war – she was engaged in the war. She helped the sick, trying to eradicate the source of sickness.
Peter pleaded with the Christians he wrote to:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11–12, NIV)
If we listen carefully to this urgent call we hear two things:
- You are foreigners – abstain
- You are foreigners – engage
What/who is the “world”?
Christians are not from this world, but they are part of this world; this is the basis for the Bible to call us to abstain, but to also engage. So what or who is the “world”? There is probably more uses of this term “world” in the Bible. Let’s get three.
What God created
God created this world/universe and everything on/in/above it. All things seen and unseen He made. When Christ returns to give us a new heaven and new earth, God will demand from us accountability of how we cared for it.
The nations, tongues and tribes living on earth are also referred to as the world. They received their languages and their territories to live and have children from God. If we do not have love and concern for their spiritual well-being, we do not understand the Gospel and the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. He sends us out to the ends of this world.
The evil/morally corrupt/those who oppose God
When Christians are called not to love this world, they should not identify with the enemy of God. Sometimes the Bible uses another word within the same context: it talks about the flesh, or things of the flesh. Paul writes:
When we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. (Romans 7:5, NIV)
He also states:
The mind governed by the flesh is death… the mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:6–7, NIV)
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4, NIV)
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15–16, NIV)
Jesus prays for his disciples the night before He was arrested:
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (John 17:14–19, NIV)
Not from this world
When Peter writes to the scattered Christians, he over and over again calls them strangers or aliens in this world. Our home, address, new nature because of our new birth by the Holy Spirit gives us a new identity. The cross of our Lord is the place where it all changes. Paul writes:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NIV)
So we ask ourselves, “Whose side am I on? Where do I belong? What is my hope? Where is my home? Where do my priorities in life lead me?” The way we live is the telltale of where we come from and where we are going. It was said of Richard Sibbes, one of the godly people of his time, “heaven was in him before he was in heaven.”
Abstain from this world
The text for today calls us to abstain from this world. Why?
We are sojourners
We are from a foreign country, we live here temporarily, and here we don’t have citizenship rights; we are passing through.
What is it to “abstain”?
This is a very interesting Greek word. It has in its root the word “to have”. In some contexts it means to have enough. When someone paid you for the debts he owed you, your account is settled – you have had enough; you should abstain from taking more of that person. Mom taught us to say “no” when we had enough pudding; only gluttons would have more.
What is it that Christians already have in full so that they should say “no”, or refuse this world? Let’s see.
“In his great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3–4, NIV)
That’s not all.
“You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23, NIV)
More than that a Christian does not need. In fact, anything of this world will tarnish and corrode that hope. You’ve had enough! Hands off! Your satisfaction is the cross of Christ and his free offer of grace and salvation. The Israelites looked for more that God. Jeremiah cries out:
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13, NIV)
This morally corrupt world has nothing to offer Christians. This world is under the control of Satan, the prince of this world (John 14:30) He is the father of the lie, he was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. (John 8:44, NIV).
The world’s friend is God’s enemy. The spirit of this world opposes the Spirit of God. There is the Kingdom of light, and the kingdom of darkness, complete opposites, ruled by opposite principles, practices and ends. If we set our hearts on the things of this world we will necessarily find ourselves turing our back upon God and abandon his people.
Abstain from this world! It will destroy you.
Engage with this world
Verse 12 of 1 Peter 2 continues:
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)
Yes, Christians find themselves in a hostile world. But we can choose to lock ourselves up against the sin of this world to remain untouched by its sin, like those who lived in cloisters and monasteries – and have no impact on this world – and in the process be disobedient to the command of our Saviour to go into the world. Or we can maintain a distant ignorance: we would not bother you as long as you don’t bother us, and in the process disobey the command of our Lord to be light and salt of the world. Or we can be so occupied with the world that we want to do everything the way they do, as long as we sugarcoat it with a Bible verse. That way we have become worldly. This not God’s plan for his church.
Like Florence Nightingale we need to be engaged, without becoming sick ourselves. We need to serve this world by Christian and holy living so that they might see our good deeds and glorify God.
Yes, we might get the blame for every thing wrong in this world. There are those who blame Christians for the wars in the worlds; other blame us for not being loving, hanging around us the tag of bigots and homophobes because we stand by the Word of God about sexuality; they will blame us for all evil if stand on the Word and oppose same sex marriages or expose the evil of abortion. In Caesar Nero’s time Christians even got the blame for the fire that destroyed Rome.
Christians are not called to go out and pick a fight with the world; they only need to keep doing what they are supposed to do and persecution will come. If we proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, they will hate us for it. If we proclaim that God is the creator of the world and that things did not happen by evolution, they will hate us for it. If we proclaim that people are born sinful and need redemption, they will hate us for it.
But these things we need to do. We are the priests between gGod and the lost. We need to love with the love of Christ. We need to engage in a world full of misunderstanding and opposition, because there are scores who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. They hurt, they search, they are alone. If we shine the light of the Gospel in this dark world, the Bible says, they will glorify God the day He visits them. This should be understood in a positive way: when God reveals Himself in grace to the lost, there will be those who will thank God for the faithful witness of his people, who in spite of persecution and opposition did not compromise the Gospel – and that Gospel and witness will lead them to salvation.
Joseph understood something of this when he became ruler of Egypt: he was never at home in the palace of the pharaoh, but he was a blessing to the Egyptians.
Daniel too understood this principle well; he served his God under the king of Babylon and was a blessing to them, but he never worshipped their gods – he was willing to spend time in the lion’s den to not compromise his principles. In the end Nebuchadnezzar believed in his God. Daniel’s friends did the same.
Through Jeremiah God commanded his people who were taken into captivity:
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. (Jeremiah 29:7–8, NIV)
May God help us to abstain from this – it’s war against our souls. May He give us the grace to engage in this world, so He will receive the glory. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on 30 August 2015