By Basilea Schlink
When the Apostle Paul wrote, "Demas, in love with this present world" (2 Tim. 4: 10), he meant that Demas had forsaken him and the work of Jesus Christ; he had fallen away. For "if anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him" (1 John 2: 15); he is under someone else's dominion, under the "prince of this world" and loves his sphere of influence. We often think that "worldly love" is harmless and we try to justify it with such camouflage as, "I am just open to the world and not narrow-minded". Yet worldly love is a dangerous sin; it brings us into the hands of Jesus' enemy.
In order not to fall into such self-deception, we have to discern whether we love the world as "God so loved the world" (John 3: 16) or as the prince of this world tries to make us love it. An example of having the right relationship to the world is the Apostle Paul. He also lived in the world and used its gifts and goods and rejoiced in them, but giving thanks to God. In everything he loved and honoured the Creator of all gifts and praised Him for them. His joy in everything that was created was his joy in God who bestowed the gifts upon him. That is why it did not matter whether he had worldly goods or not; he was completely free from them. He could only rejoice in them when God gave them to him.
But it is dreadful if we should live for the world instead of for God, that is, if we should love the people, goods and possessions of this world apart from God and be bound to them.
Then these words apply to us: We can only serve God or mammon, i.e. the world; we can only love God or the world. To love means to be completely committed to that which we love. For whatever we are completely committed to takes over God's place in our lives. Therefore, worldly love is idol worship, a serious sin, which will bring us the judgment of God. For could there be any greater sin than having an idol when the first commandment in Scripture is to love God above all things? In Revelation 21: 8 it says that idolaters will be sentenced to the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. That is what the Apostle John writes to a Christian Church about idolatry, not the idolatry of the Old Testament but rather the idols of their profession, family, reputation, art, nature, or anything that is a gift from God.
Because worldly love binds us to the prince of this world, who wants to bring us into his kingdom of darkness, we have to make a definite decision not to choose the world, but to choose Jesus as our great love and the centre of our lives. The Apostle Paul shows how when he writes, "Let those who have wives live as though they had none . . . and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealing with it" (1 Cor. 7: 29-31). That is, in every relationship to people or things of the world, Jesus must be the centre; our thoughts and emotions must centre around Him. Then we will love other people and things only through Christ. So we can either have things or not have them. The centre, Jesus, will remain. "All are yours; and you are Christ's" (1 Cor. 3: 22, 23) and the last part is the important one. -
But if worldly love has taken a hold of us in any form, this sin will separate us from God even here on earth. There is not much difference whether we are bound to the things of this world which in and of themselves are good, like art, science and nature, or to people, who have been created by God-or whether we are directly bound to a sinful lust. Bondage is bondage! It prevents us from being available for God; it chains us to Satan, the prince of this world. For only those who are free for God will be bound by Jesus in love. He is only interested in our love. And since He is the only One who can give us love as no man can, He can also make such an absolute demand upon us. He can demand that we radically turn away from every bondage and love, which takes love away from Him. He also says this about our families, about our parents, whom we are supposed to love and honour; if we love them more than we love Jesus, we are not worthy of Him and we lose the right to be called His disciples (Matt. 10: 37).
Jesus confronts us with this question: "What and whom do you love?" He does not say, "My own should no longer have families, they should not be interested in art and science or other similar things." He is only concerned about love-about what has the first place in our hearts, what our hearts are most attached to. But then He demands a radical break. He expects us to leave people and goods that we are attached to in a false manner, out of love for Him. He calls to us: "Every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake . . . " (Matt. 19: 29).
Yes, Jesus does not only go so far as saying that we should not love father or mother more than Him, but He also demands, "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14: 26). That applies to the situation when parents want to prevent us from placing our lives at Jesus' disposal. We should hate our sinful egos and everyone who wants to convince us to live for these egos and other things in this world. Hatred is the opposite of toleration. Jesus demands that we no longer tolerate our relationships with people whom we love in a false manner so that our heart and our thoughts are completely captivated by them. This is what He means by hating and forsaking.
That means more than making a clear decision. If, for instance, we are bound to a person, to break free might involve burning his letters and pictures. Or if love for art has captivated us, we ought to give away our art collection. Or if a high standard of living is our idol, we must get rid of our luxuries and reset our standards according to the Gospel. If the "television idol" rules over us, we must break away from the T.V. set.
Whatever we hate we can no longer tolerate, we have to destroy it somehow. We must declare war on this sin of worldly love, if we do not want our life to become powerless and we do not want to fall into the hands of the enemy. Jesus hates sin as much as He loves sinners, and He demands that His own also hate sin.
But how can we become free from our bondage? Only love for Jesus can help us. If we really love Jesus, we will let go of all of the things almost automatically. But what should we do, if we do not love Jesus enough and people and things still have so much power over us? First we must ask for a repentant heart for our worshipping idols and insulting God. In addition we must constantly praise the power of the blood of the Lamb over our bondages. It has power to break chains. It was shed to bring release.
Jesus is asking us, "Are you willing to be freed from the sin of worldly love?" His blood will only be effective for those who really want to be freed. We can believe that Jesus will grant us the earnest will to be free, if we do not yet have it, for He has also died and arose from the dead for the sake of our unwillingness. He wants to free us from this worldly love, because he knows that it binds us to the prince of this world, Satan, and a terrible fate will await us after death. We will be slaves in Satan's kingdom. But Jesus wants to grant us joy for time and eternity, free from chains to darkness. That is why He exhorts us, "Do not love the world or the things in the world . . . the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. The world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever" (1 John 2: 15-17) with Jesus in His kingdom.