The word ‘worldliness’ does not appear in the AV and the term “worldly’ appears only twice – once to describe lusts and once to describe the tabernacle. But the concept of being worldly is in the Bible.
So what is worldliness? It is an important question because many people have a distorted understanding of the Biblical meaning of ‘the world’. In many church circles there are all sorts of connotations of worldliness. I heard recently of a minister being told he was wearing a ‘very worldly tie’!
In the Bible, worldliness means the attitude and spirit of a person’s life and ways. It refers to the type of thoughts we have, the sort of inclinations and desires we have. It refers to our feelings and attitudes towards people and things. It refers to the undue time and attention we give to things.
Paul makes clear worldliness is not so much what we wear or do, as the spirit we have that defines worldliness. He says it is the spirit in which we do something that is worldly “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God” (1 Cor 2:12). The values and ideals of unbelievers are worldly because they do not have the spirit of Jesus. Paul warns the Colossians to beware of the philosophy (ideas) and basic principles “of the world” (Col 2:8) because they are based on carnal reasoning and values.
He also reminded the Ephesians that before their conversion they walked according to “the course of this world, according to the … spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience”. This was because they were unregenerate and “conducted themselves in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Eph 2:2, 3). So worldliness refers to the way we do something or the evil desires we may have.
When Paul told the Romans not to be “conformed to this world” he was referring to their own proud thoughts which they had of themselves, for he went on to say “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think” (Rom 12:2cf). He was speaking about self-opinionated churchgoers.
So pride is undoubtedly a worldly thing. The Apostle John confirms this when he says “Do not love the world or the things in the world” and then goes on to define what he means by the world. It is the “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15cf). Ungodly desires and longings of the flesh are clearly ‘worldly’.
Peter tells us that believers have “escaped the corruption that is in the world” which was obtained through lust (2 Pet 1:4). The world can corrupt us and create a craving within us which is just a lust.
There is a huge difference between love and lust. Love is willing to make a sacrifice for the object of its love, while lust is self-centred and has the gratification of its own desires as its object. Lust is impetuous and can be irresponsible, while love is willing to wait and is prepared to give in order to please its object. The greatest display of love is God so loving the world that He gave His one and only Son as a sacrifice.
Greed and gluttony, are all worldly attitudes. Paul tells us there are those (even in the church) who do not serve the Lord but their own bellies and those whose “God is their belly” (Rom 16:18, Phil 3:19).
Self-interest and snobbery are other vices which are not recognised for their ‘worldliness’. “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion” (Rom 12:16). These are the things that Scripture defines as worldly and not the way we have our hair or the colour of our tie.
To be envious and argumentative are also worldly. In the NIV we read “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:3).
A desire to win the lottery or become a millionaire and live a grandiose lifestyle without any thought of God or His cause, is a desire which unbelievers, those “of the world”, revel in. Believers who are focused on the Lord, know they have unsearchable riches stored up in heaven and need not ‘dream’ of winning millions of pounds which will perish in the using.
As well as our attitude towards material possessions and people, there are of course, things in the world that we must not love. There are many areas of life (‘little worlds’ within the world) which are controlled by the evil one which we must turn from. There are “rulers of the darkness of this world” who target Christians and tempt believers to do things which are wrong and evil. This is the world we are not to love.
While there are evil people who will corrupt us, we must remember it is not people per se but their practices that are dangerous. The church at Ephesus was commended because it hated “the deeds of the Nicolaitans” not the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6)! Again, we are not to have fellowship with the “unfruitful works of darkness” not the people of darkness, else we would never be able to evangelise them. We must separate people from their deeds. Love the sinner but hate the sin.
Let us strive to have the mind and attitude of Jesus Christ.