Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In the World, Not Of the World

"But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them as the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." - John 17:13-18

We can’t talk for very long about a Christian's fashion or dress without talking beyond 1 Timothy 3. There are larger issues to consider. How should the Christian relate to the world around her, to both witness to it, love the people in it, and live as an alien and stranger in it? Some thoughts to consider:

Writer Duane Elgin, when talking about Jesus’ words in his book “Voluntary Simplicity” (1993), says:
“To say that Christians be “in the world” implies much more than the observation that in the world is where we happen to be and that we ought not try to fight the fact. Jesus insists that Christians be “in the world” because he himself sent them into the world just as God sent him into the world. The Christian way of being in the world, then, is the way of conscious and deliberate religious commitment rather than the way of inevitable happenstance. And thus voluntary association in the world of men can be the only possible intention behind Jesus’ words.”

Let’s also look to an early Christian writer. The following is a fragment of an early Christian apology known as The Letter to Diognetus. Not much is known about who wrote it, when, where, or how. Let’s peek into the culture of the early Christians and their practice of being in the world but not of the world.

“Christians are not different from the rest of men in nationality, speech, or customs; they do not live in states of their own, nor do they use a special language, nor adopt a peculiar way of life.... Whether fortune has given them a home in a Greek or foreign city, they follow local custom in the matter of dress, food, and way of life; yet the character of the culture they reveal is marvelous and, it must be admitted, unusual. They live, each in his native land--but as though they were not really at home there. They share in all duties like citizens and suffer all hardships like strangers. Every foreign land is for them a fatherland and every fatherland a foreign land. They marry like the rest of men and beget children, but they do not abandon the babies that are born. They share a common board, but not a common bed. In the flesh as they are, they do not live according to the flesh. They dwell on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the laws that men make, but their lives are better than the laws. They love all men, but are persecuted by all. They are unknown, and yet they are condemned. They are put to death, yet are more alive than ever. They are paupers, but they make many rich. They lack all things, and yet in all things they abound.”, huh? It helps give me some inspiration... and perspective.

Duane Elgin has some more reasonable thoughts that can balance out legalism:
“The calling of the Christian impels him to be working every bit as hard at being in the world as at being not of it. In fact, just as soon as one of these tasks is disregarded, the other loses its validity at the same time. Many Christians have become so good at being in the world that there no longer is any evidence of their being not of it. That’s worldliness; and that’s bad. But the situation isn’t helped when those of the counterculture overreact to that hypocrisy and become so scrupulous about being not of the world that they fail any longer to be in it. That’s self-righteous contemptuousness; that’s bad, too; and it is a hypocrisy of its own sort.”

So being a disciple is the straight and narrow path of a different sort: not fitting in so much that I don’t impact people around me, but also not isolating myself in a self-righteous way.

A closing thought from Elgin:
“This is not to say that it doesn’t matter whether living like Christ has an outward impact or not. No, no, no it is incredible that a person could freely and wholeheartedly choose God and become absolutely obedient to him without it making some change in his relationship to things of the world. If some sort of outward change did not take place, it rightly could be suspected whether he had actually chosen God. That change, of course, will be in the direction of simplicity, a lessened evaluation of what the world promotes as important.”

To add to this, I think it’s not just a one-time change; as a Christian grows in maturity, that simplicity will increase. The worldliness will decrease. This is difficult, it is hard work! Let’s feed our spiritual soul and not our worldly nature!

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