In the World, But Not Of the World – May 28, 2006
Psalm 24, John 17:6-19
May 28, 2006
When I was a kid, I remember sitting in Church leafing through the pew Bible. At Carmel Church in Glenside, we had “Red Letter” Bibles. Do you know what those were? They were Bibles in which the words of Jesus were printed in red. And I can still remember paging through that Bible trying to find the pages that had the most red letters. And do you know where I found them? It was right here in John. And specifically, it was here in this section we read from today. I still remember that!
This passage is part of John’s account of Jesus in the Upper Room with his disciples. And by the way, I think this is one of those places in the Bible you should just know. John, chapter 13-17 is the Upper Room account in his Gospel. It’s the longest discourse of Jesus in the Bible. It’s longer than the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7) It is the place with the most red letters.
John saw is episode in the story of Jesus as being extremely important. Nowhere else in the Gospels is any one story or account given four entire chapters. This is the farewell address of Jesus. He wanted to prepare his disciples for what was going to happen. He wanted them to know how to handle the life ahead of them after he was “gone.” And in this seventeenth chapter, as he made this chapter long prayer, he had a lot to say about their role “in the world.”
That’s a very important phrase in John’s gospel, as well as in the writings of Paul. That term “the world” is used 26 times in these four chapters alone, and 167 times in the whole of the New Testament. Both John and Paul wanted the people to know that “the world” and the kingdom of God were two very separate realms. And yes, the disciples were to be “in the world.” That’s where they lived. But they were not to be “of the world.”
That’s how we as Christ’s followers should be living, as well. Simply put, we are to be living in this world. That is, we are to be part of this society. We are to interact with and to love all of God’s children. We are not to insulate ourselves from the world. We are not to be hermits. And not many of us are to be monks living in a secluded community. Though that may be a good thing for some, it is not to be the norm for God’s people.
We are to be in the world. How else can we be witnesses to the world? How else can we reach out with the love of God? How else can we ever expect to be effective agents for change in this world? We are not to distance ourselves from the people of this world. In fact, we are to appreciate the world in which we live. We are to love the God of all creation and to love what he created. Psalm 24 tells us that the “Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Our God created an incredibly beautiful world! Writer John Eldredge observed that God is lavish, almost wasteful with beauty!” And that beauty in creation points us back to God. And I might add, we need to look for the beauty in the people God created, too!
However, having said all that, Jesus prayed that his disciples would not be “of the world.” That is, they were not to be of the “worldly mindset.” It’s the same with us. We too are not to be of the world. And I think this is something of which we need to be constantly reminded. We are not to be part of the worldly mindset out there. We are not to be part of that mindset in which there is no room for God, and in which human beings are the end all, the last word, the ultimate authority.
As God’s people, we are to be different. We are to seek God’s will, not our own. We are to be conformed to the image of Christ. We are to be concerned with the needs of other people more than our own needs. And those things are foreign to the worldly mindset. Those of the worldly mindset are more concerned for the self. As God’s people, we are called to be above that. We are called to live differently.
That’s not easy, I know. But let me take it one step further. Because “being” is more than just “doing.” And this is where a lot of Christians don’t get it. In order to “be” different, we need to learn to “think” different-ly. Paul told the Romans “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (by what?) by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2)
You know what “WWJD” stands for, right? You see it on wrist bands and T-shirts. It stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” I may have said this before, but that phrase is based on Reverend Charles Sheldon’s book “In His Steps” – which was written in Topeka, Kansas, by the way. It’s about Sheldon’s experiences when he challenged people in that town to do nothing without first asking that question, “What Would Jesus Do?” That challenge produced an amazing change in that society!
Well, It occurred to me several years ago that Reverend Sheldon may not have asked the most basic question. I suggested that the wristbands should say, “WWJT.” “What would Jesus Think?” That’s where real change occurs. It happens first in our minds when we change the way we think. Paul told the Corinthians “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (II Corinthians 10:5)
In our “Purpose Driven Life” study, we found that to be one of the things Rick Warren said was essential to the Christian life. He said flat out that we need to change the way we think. And too many people in this world choose the path of “defeatism”. They say, “I can’t help how I think.” “It’s just who I am.” And too many people in the Church take that approach, too. They say, “We can’t help thinking like the world around us.” “Worldly thinking is pervasive.” “It’s everywhere.” “It’s scary!”
Let me tell you, my friends. This is difficult! Worldly thinking is everywhere! It is pervasive! We’re bombarded by it day and night, where ever we look. If you don’t believe me, just turn on your TV sets! TV is one of the biggest conveyors of worldly thinking! That constant bombardment does make it very difficult for us, as God’s people, to grow into the image of Christ! And if we ever think that’s easy, we may be missing the mark entirely! This is something we must work on constantly! If we don’t, guess how we will be thinking – by default?!
Fortunately, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Because Jesus didn’t just drop all this stuff on his disciples. He told them he would be with them. He told them they would have the spirit that he would send in his name. By the spirit, God would guide them, and remind them of his love, and uphold them through their darkest times. His last words before this prayer in Chapter 17 were “I have said this to you that you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32)
The Holy Spirit is with us as well. If we will seek the Spirit’s power, guidance, teaching, and comfort, we too will be able to face life in this world as the disciples did. Through that power, they changed the world. Through that same Spirit, we have the power to change our world. The only real question is, will we?
Let me tell you something, though. The tendency for people in churches is to hear this stuff, and think, “That’s nice,” and then go home and think nothing more about it. I challenge you today to think differently than that, too. I challenge you to think about the way you think. I challenge you to be transformed by the renewal of your mind. I challenge you in all you do to think, not just, “What would Jesus Do?” but, “What would Jesus Think!” And think that way! And live that way!
We are in the world. But are we of the world? God calls us to be his own. It is our choice to follow.
Eternal God, help us to live in this world, but not to be of the world. We know that’s difficult. But help us to have the faith and perseverance to do so. Help us to live as your people, and to think as your people. Show us the glory of living in your kingdom. Teach us to be true brothers and sisters of Jesus, and of each other. For this we pray in his name, Amen.