Today's Little Lift
by Jim Bullington
Dirt isn’t always obvious. Sometimes it hides behind a young boy’s ears; ask any mother! Sometimes it masquerades as wholesome and clean. The biblical writers frequently wrote from a perspective that seems a bit odd to us, especially as we adapt and conform to the world around us. James warned about dirt, dirt that can soil and damage our spiritual existence. The dirt about which he warned was not of the ordinary type, the type that hides behind boy’s ears; the dirt of which he warned was a more insidious type and capable of far greater harm. As we continue our look at three great passages, we will consider what James had to say about keeping oneself unspotted from the world.
“But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1.25-27).
The key word here that is used metaphorically is the word world. Followers of Jesus live in the world, but we are not of the world (see John 15.19). Paul gave stern warning about the undesirable effects of the world: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12.1-2). From this perspective, “…the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (1 John 5.19). Because of this, believers are challenged as follows: “Do not love the world or 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, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” (1 John 2.15-16).
To heed James’ admonition and to keep oneself unspotted from the world, a person would first have to admit that there are forces that are unseen – in fact cannot be seen – with our physical eyes. Much as in earlier times we were not aware of germs, viruses, and bacteria, we have learned that unseen things exist and that they can be hazardous to our health. In this same way, there are unseen forces which threaten our spiritual wellbeing. One can deny this reality, but denial does not change reality. The biblical writers believed in and warned of the dangers that are unseen. The “spots” that James warned of are unseen with the physical eye. In fact, those things that are actually most spotted seem appealing and wholesome to the physical eye. The issue here is not one of appearances or perception; it is one of reality – cruel reality regarding sin and its effects upon the human heart and upon mankind in general.
Jesus knew that the world (as He used the term in the citation above) was completely and diametrically opposed to what He came to accomplish. For that reason, His objective was to demonstrate to His disciples the existence of another “world.” This world was a better world, a world in which moth and rust cannot corrupt, and where thieves cannot break through and steal. It was the world in which He existed before He emptied Himself and came to the world in which we were living. The world from which He came is the world to which He bids us come. In fact, that was and is the “end game” of His ministry. Everything else is just thrown in to boot! Keep yourself unspotted from the world!
1. What is the world of which James warns? Is it the physical universe? Explain.
2. What warning did Paul give in Romans 12 regarding the world? How can we heed his warning?
3. What did John mean when he said that all that was in the world was tainted? What world was this?
4. Peter speaks of a new heaven and a new earth? What does that have to do with the gospel message? In what ways will they be new? Can flesh and blood inherit this new kingdom (world)?
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