There is a Christian concept you are probably familiar with, and more than likely agree with. It’s the teaching that as Christians we should be “In the world, not of the world.” But if you look for this quote, you won’t be able to find it in the Bible.
In our reading this morning, Jesus prays: “The world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”
In ancient times it was normal to see the world in terms of conflict between two rival systems. Take for example one of the world’s oldest religions, the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. God’s chosen people were strongly influenced by this religion and it shaped their thinking.
Zoroastrianism teaches that the world is a battleground between the opposing forces of dark and light. It teaches that the great decision of life is which side to serve. The ancient Jews were deeply familiar with the concept that every individual has to make a decision for one side or the other.
For Christians there is another influence that laid the foundations for the way we think of the world. For many centuries before Jesus the Jewish people had believed time was divided into two ages. There was the present age, which is evil. There was the age to come, which is the age of God. Christians, who of course were in the beginning mostly Jews, took this idea and said that in Jesus the age to come had arrived. They taught that the Kingdom of God had come and it was here. They also said that the Kingdom of God had not arrived in the world, and it had not come for the world.
They said the age to come had arrived only in and for the church. Christians thus naturally drew a contrast. Life in the church was the life in the age to come and was wholly good. Life in the world, by contrast, was life in the present age and wholly bad. This way of thinking created an impossible division between the church and the world. There was no possibility of fellowship or cooperation between these two enemies.
John saw the world, the cosmos, as God’s creation. The world as planet earth was not to be hated, because it was God’s creation. God made all things good. Jesus loved the beauty of nature and said that Solomon in all his glory was no match for a small scarlet flower growing on a hillside that would die and wither. But when John wrote our verses today he was speaking not of the good earth created from God’s love. John used the world to mean human society.
The world in these verses is the people who have forsaken God and made their own evil world.
John describes the world as having three characteristics, which he explains in 1 John 2:16.
“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.”
First he lists the craving for physical pleasure. This is includes ambitions, and selfish aims. It means that we judge everything in the world by purely materialistic measures. It means our life is dominated by our physical senses.
Next John lists craving for everything we see. This is to be captivated by appearances. It is to value what looks good and seek to look good to others. It is to flaunt what we own. To show off. God said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance.”
Third John lists pride in our achievements and possessions. John uses a word that means to lay claim to achievements and possessions that aren’t ours. This is bragging and egotism. It is narcissism. This is the person who constantly talks of how much money he has when in fact his bank account is empty. This person is always telling others how important they are.
These are things of the world that will pass away. None of it is real. That’s the world.
The world is doomed. Why would you put your trust in this fake world, God’s enemy.
John says the prince of this world will be driven out. He stands condemned.
Paul says: “You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.” (Ephesians 2:2)
Satan, the devil, is the head of the world system. We however are not of this world. We are not under the rule of the devil. We do not have the spirit of the world. We are disciples of the living God and his spirit lives in us. We shine with his glory, and the darkness has to retreat.
Many many Christians see life as nothing more than the waiting period to get out of this world and enter the new world that is heaven. It is strongly thought they should have nothing to do with this world. This is why we are taught that although we have to live in the world, we should not be of the world.
What did Jesus say about this way of thinking? He surely taught that the world system is evil and ruled by Satan. Our reading today in John 17 is part of a prayer and so Jesus is talking to God the father.
In verse six Jesus says that God gave him his followers from this world. God took faithful people who were living in the world and gave them to Jesus. They became his disciples. Jesus then revealed God to his disciples, these ones he had been given by God.
Jesus says he is praying for these people. He says he isn’t praying for the world. Jesus is praying for you who belong to him and belong to God. He tells the father that you bring him glory.
Remember, Jesus is talking to God about you and not just the ones with him on that day.
Jesus says in verse twenty that he specifically includes you all here today in this prayer.
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.”
Jesus points out to God that he is about to leave the world and his disciples – including us – are going to be left behind. He says, “I protected them by the power of the name you gave me.”
He then appeals to God to keep on protecting us and to unite us. “Now you protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are,” Jesus prays.
We might get the feeling that Jesus is praying for us to be safe until we can escape from this world and be with him. Jesus seems to be confirming our view that we just have to retreat from the world and wait until we join him in heaven. But we find that isn’t the case. Jesus is sending us back into the world. We are being sent back into Satan’s kingdom.
In verse 18, Jesus asks father God to keep us safe while we are in the world. “Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.”
Our life as disciples is to go out into the world and be light in the darkness, shining with God’s glory. We are salt in a tasteless world. We are yeast spreading love where there is only hate. We are rebels, anti-government guerillas, and insurgents. When it feels like we are drowning, we know that God will divide the waters for those who live according to his will.
We gather on Sunday, and then we go out into the world to bring change. Jesus says to father God, “Your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”
When we are filled with God’s love and love each other, we will walk safely in this evil world. We will be safe from all the wickedness around, from all the temptations, and bring change.
Brothers and sisters, as Jude says, you “must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
We are sent into a godless world to reclaim it from the occupiers and return it to its rightful lord. And because it is a godless world, we are its enemies. The world hates us. The ways of the world are a danger to us. The values of the world are foreign to us. We do not hold on to possessions or any of the things that the world offers. We who follow Jesus hold on to our Lord. We hold on to his glory that fills us. We insurgents cling tightly to each other in love and unity as we shine with God’s glory.