We live in the world, meaning this physical world, but we are not of this world. What does this mean? We have physical bodies in this world. We are dependent on things of this world for our physical existence. We need food, clothing, and shelter. That means having a job to pay for the things we need. However, we are not of this world in that it is not the totality of what we are created for.
This means we should not see material things as the sum of our existence. We are created for something more. We are created to know God. We are created to spend eternity with God.
This does not mean we should forget the things of this world. We just need to look at them differently. For instance, one can look at one’s job solely in terms of making money to get what we need. In faith, we can look at the work we do differently. Do we make the world a better place? Does the work we do help build up the Kingdom of God (thy Kingdom come)? Building up the kingdom is not just something for those who work for the church. Health care workers can contribute to the building of the kingdom in caring for their patients. Cleaning staff help keep the rest of us healthy by keeping things clean.
In working to build up the Kingdom of God, we need to acknowledge people’s physical needs. In James 2:15-16, we read, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” To bring people to Christ, we need to show them love. For those lacking basic necessities, it means helping them in those necessities. How do we expect them to know that God loves them if they don’t have enough food?
To say we are “not of this world” is to say we do not let it control our entire lives. There are two Bible passages that I think are very relevant when we say we are in this world but not of this world.
First, there is John 15:19, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” We do not “belong” to this world in that, as I said above, it is not the sum of our existence. This world does not dictate our whole existence. It is not the ultimate purpose of our existence.
The second passage is John 17:14-16 where we read, “I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” Jesus did not belong to this world and, created in the image of God, we do not belong to this world. However, Jesus says that He does not ask the Father to take us out of this world. We are to live in this world until our appointed time to die.
What we need to do is to put God first. As Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). We need to make a choice between God and “mammon” (“mammon” meaning material possessions).
Again, our physical needs are real. Yet, we must not them get the best of us. If we accumulate material things, we might like to think that they belong to us. However, what have we given up to accumulate these physical things? What good does a fancy wardrobe, fancy car, or home do you if you have no one to share it with? Do we work so many hours that we never have time for God or our family? If so, these things do not belong to us. We belong to them.
It’s not that we intend to let these things take over. It starts with basic needs but then expands. Sometimes, the more we have, the more we want. Yet, we can never find true fulfillment in material things. As I said above, we are not created for the material things of this world, we are created to know God.
Here’s another way of looking at it. People spend a lot of time trying to climb the “ladder of success.” Does one every reach the top or does the climb go on forever without ever really achieving total success? As Christians our success lies in being with God.
Having written this article, I am not sure I have made the point I hoped to when I started, that we must choose to belong to God rather than the things of this world. I hope you follow what I am getting at.
In conclusion, I will just ask if you belong to this world or to God?