I recently discussed the relevance of the book of Ecclesiastes and its impact on a purposeful life, that its message of the perspective of the world starting and ending only with oneself makes life ultimately pointless. That life seems meaningless and all just a waste. So it begs the question for the Christian: how much of the world should we be attached to, how much should we immerse ourselves in it, and should we even live in it? How about the Gospel of Prosperity with its emphasis on acquiring worldly goods? If we have to live on this earth, we have to seek our place and purpose. We have families and responsibilities. To what degree should we entangle ourselves with the world?
These are questions that must ultimately be decided on an individual basis but the Word has given us guidelines.
The Apostle John, in his first letter tells us:
Do not love the world nor 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 and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17
We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 1 John 5:19
So our connection with the world should be tempered with the understanding that it is not our primary destination, just as described of Abraham, “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb. 11:10 and ff) And contact with it should be evaluated and handled very carefully. Truly this is never easily done. It is so easy to figure that since we have to live in the world there are compromises that must be made. And to the extent we compromise we easily distance ourselves from the One who gives us life and purpose.
Paul is a bit more explicit:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Rom. 12:2
We can either be conformed to God or we can be conformed to this world, but not both. But it is a conscious and constant decision and must be made with a full comprehension of the impacts our contact with the world has on our spiritual lives. Without a full and conscious grounding of the Word and knowing Him the line between the Word and the World gets very blurry.
That we are expected to live in the world though not be of it, that is not to run away from it, is plain since Paul says
make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 1 Thes.4:11
Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 2 Thes. 3:12
for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 1 Tim. 2:2
and more emphatically
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 1 Cor. 5:9-10
So it seems clear that even though God created the universe and all it contains as expressed numerous times in the Scriptures, and that what He originally made was good (Gen. 1:31), He still expects us to be a part of the world but that it is not a thing to be coveted as a replacement for God Himself, which is precisely what most humans actually do. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” 1 Tim. 6:17
It is quit telling that after Ecclesiastes and its futility of a worldview that hasn’t considered God’s revelation, next comes the prophesies of Isaiah (well, after the Song of Songs!) aimed at Israel who possessed all those revelations but neglected and willfully rejected them! And Isaiah’s first two chapters are deprecations against his own people who have lost their way, abandoned the revelation of God’s truth entrusted to them, and instead have become overly fascinated with the things of this world. They let the world’s influences contaminate their standing as God’s chosen people, their priorities became economic trade, silver and gold, treasures and horses and chariots, and everything their fingers could manufacture – all of which became so much idolatry which filled the land. They became proud of what they made of themselves and their possessions so that all those things of which they were proud, beautiful hardwood trees that lines their dwellings, lofty mountains used to worship the host of heaven, great ships that spread their commerce, made them loose their perspective of what was really of value. And Isaiah says this will bring judgement, “The pride of man will be humbled And the loftiness of men will be abased; And the LORD alone will be exalted in that day, But the idols will completely vanish.” Isa. 2:17
And that is just descriptions from the first two chapters. There are sixty-four more chapters to go!!
So we live in the world but not as part of it. There is plenty of guidance for us to find our own path through this minefield by first being conscious of life’s priority and second be sensitive of the God who is there, which should influence our behavior and thinking. These are daily moment by moment decisions and evaluations of which we have to be aware to live a life by which the Lord is exalted. Don’t let it be a waste.
[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]