When I was a kid my father made my brother and I wear church clothes to go to public school. In our public school system there were no uniforms. Everyone just wore whatever they had which usually meant really cool clothes. I would see all of my classmates wearing Fila's (they were pretty cool back then) and trendy Tommy Hilfiger shirts and jeans (yes, I'm obviously a 90's kid) and then there was me. Wearing dress pants and church shoes with a button up shirt from K-Mart. As you can imagine this made my brother and I stand out. We were immediately branded as nerds and losers. And we got picked on.
Life wasn't horrible. We did have friends. Mostly all the other nerds and losers in the school (love you guys--snif, snif). But it was pretty hard. As we got older it got even harder. Until one day, my rebellious mom got into an argument with my dad over it, and then went out - completely against his wishes, and got my brother and I some trendy clothes. Which led to another argument because my dad was really upset (thanks ma', for sticking it to the man).
Why did my dad do this? He had one simple reason. He didn't want my brother and I to be like the "world". He wanted us to be different. So he made us wear church clothes to public school.
This experience led me to wrestle with questions such as, "What does it really mean to be like the world?" And since my dad derived his ideas from the Bible, I figured I might as well go there and find out what all this "worldly" stuff was about.
Which brings me to my text today. James 3:1:
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?In my home church there was an elder once who I wont name. He was a really nice guy. I liked him a lot. He preached better than the pastor too which was cool. And he was deeply spiritual. And, like many of us, he had a concern for what he referred to as the "world creeping into the church" which is a fair concern. But something happened during one of the board meetings. A certain annoying gentleman came into the board meeting to do a presentation. Now this gentleman was a very divisive and problematic kind of guy. And our dear elder had had it up to his neck with this guy. Now here is what you don't know. Back when he was younger, this elder was a Kung-Fu student. His wife met him kicking palm trees. This guy was hardcore. And at some point during the meeting this annoying gentleman began pushing his buttons, and next thing you know the head elder gets up ready to drop a bolo on this other guy. It was so bad that another one of the elders had to grab him so he wouldn't punch this guy. That night, my dear friend discovered something profound. He was worried about the world creeping into the church but it had been there all along hiding inside his own heart.
Notice what James says here,
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?Now the interesting thing is that James is paralleling something Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:3:
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?James and Paul are saying the same thing here. That the quarrels, jealousy and fights among the church members come from a single place - worldliness in the heart.
This blew my mind. Up to this point I was convinced that worldliness was purely external. I have since discovered that the church talks too much about the worldliness of fashion, and too little about worldliness of the heart.
But not James. James is calling out worldliness in the church. And here is what I discovered about worldliness in the Bible. Whenever the Bible speaks about it, it never has anything to do with culture, fashion or styles. My dads definition of worldliness was small. For him worldliness was about what haircut you had and what clothes you wore. For my elder it was about what songs we sang in church. And I am not discrediting any of those concerns. I do believe that those are relevant things for us to discuss. But what I am saying is that if your definition of worldliness stops there you have a very small picture of what worldliness is.
Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.Notice how James repeats himself. This is a method of emphasis among the Bible writers. Rather than using caps, or underline or bold (no Microsoft Word back then) they repeated points they wanted to emphasize. And twice he says, if you want to be a friend of the world you make yourself an enemy of God. A Christian who seeks friendship with the world is an adulterer. But notice how he defines this friendship. He doesn't say anything about culture or fashion. He speaks exclusively about character.
When church members rile up and point fingers at each other and fight and bicker and defame one another and drag one another through the mud - James is saying that these people, noble as they may think they are, are committing spiritual adultery. Rather than operating under the fruit of the Spirit, the are operating under the law of the flesh.
Here is what I discovered guys. Worldliness in the Bible isn’t “the youth are wearing Roman skirts instead of Jewish ones.” Worldliness isn't "the music sounds a little too Greek or Persian". Worldliness in the Bible is Christians who gossip like the world. Christians who hate like the world. Christians who argue like the world. Back stab one another like the world, criticize each other like the world. Christians who are lazy, uncompassionate, merciless, unloving, indifferent and judgmental. That’s biblical worldliness. Not wearing trendy clothes - as my dad believed - but talking about the elder behind his back, mistreating your youth, inciting division, and gossiping about your fellow believers. That’s worldliness.
I discovered something scary after studying what worldliness is in the Bible. I discovered that it’s perfectly possible to be a good conservative, orthodox, traditional Adventist who does everything by the book and still be worldly. Worldliness is not just culture guys, its character.
But why does this matter? Why preach on it? I watched a video last night called "What People Really think about Jesus VS Christians" (below). These guys walked around the street asking random people what they thought about Jesus and their responses were mostly positive. They spoke of his kindness and love. Of the way in which he cared for people. And when asked to define Christians, their tones changed completely. They spoke of rigid people who were over bearing on others, unkind and judgmental. And that's the reason why this matters. Because so long as we continue to allow worldly attitudes to govern our lives we will continue to damage our witness in the world.
So the question that screams at me is this - what is the solution to this? How do we overcome our natural inclinations to be vicious, divisive and arrogant? How do we overcome those worldly tendencies buried deep within that entice us to gossip about one another, to show favoritism and to act in antisocial ways? And most of all, where will we find the wisdom to differentiate between true holiness which leads to love, and false holiness which leads to bickering and demonizing one another in the name of "faithfulness?"
I am thankful that James gives us the answer in four simple words:
I am thankful that James gives us the answer in four simple words:
...he gives grace generously (6).
Grace. That is the answer. Grace is always the answer. God gives grace. And grace in the Bible has two primary functions. Grace cleanses us from all our sin. Grace gives us a new beginning. Grace wipes the slate clean. And grace also transforms our lives. It sets us free.
I had a friend one who was so divisive and critical (in the name of holiness of course) that he even started to divide his own family. I distanced myself from him for a while to get away from the toxicity, but about a year later I ran into him. He had a huge smile on his face. He walked up to me, shook my hand, and said, "I'm a brand new man Marcos". And then, without me ever having said a word to him he began to talk about his judgmentalism, his critical spirit and his pride. He spoke of how he would always write people off when they didn't live up to what he considered holy. In other, words, he spoke of his worldliness disguised as holiness.
But now he stood there. With a big smile on his face. And he said to me, "I have encountered Jesus. I have encountered grace." And he was never the same again. We became good friends after that and I saw the work of grace in him. Jesus oozed out of his smile, his calm spirit and his sermons. He was a new creature. Grace had saved him. Because grace saves the wayward soul whether it be in the alley way or in the pew.
I want to encourage the church today, let's not be like the world. If there is any fighting, scheming, or jealousy among us let's humble ourselves before God. Lets come to him for grace to pardon and grace to set us free. Lets come to him and humbly pray, with Paul, "it is no longer I who live! Let Christ live in me. I can't do this. I can't be like Jesus. Lord, let him take full control. Let his love flow through me to others. Set me free of the worldliness inside my own heart. May my life be a reflection of your love."