THE WORLD AND OUR KINGDOM
by Rick Michaels
The Bible and the Church Fathers use the term “world” not as a definition of the universe created by God, but as the place where the community of sinful men and women exist in rebellion against God. St. John speaks plainly, “we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one”, (I Jn. 5:19). Church Fathers liked to call the world an arena where a Christian fought to defeat the devil and to obtain the prize of communion with Christ in His Kingdom, (I Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 3:5; Rom. 8:13; Eph. 6:10-17). Christian martyrs, like St. Ignatius, likened their own deaths to the eucharistic offering. People of the world might plan their lives around the various securities they work for and attain in the world. They provide an inheritance to their children to ensure the well-being of the family. But the Christian does not arrange his or her life like this. As St. Peter says:
“By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to our inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time,” (I Peter 1:3-5). See also Eph. 1:13-14, 17-18; Col. 1:12, 3:24.
Christians await the coming of Jesus Christ in glory to reveal His Kingdom, in which they participate already through the Church. We do not set our hearts on the world. “Conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear …“ (I Pet. 1:17). Christians are not home in the world.
Because the “world” opposes God and values things the Lord rejects “the list of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I Jn. 2:16) it “passes away,” it decays and “groans” as St. Paul said in his epistle to the Romans. The devil, nonetheless, presents the world as attractive and alluring. It was the world he offered Jesus during Our Lord’s Temptation. And the world, in this sense, belongs to the devil. “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out,” (Jn. 12:31, 14:30; 16:11). Jesus fasted and prayed to withstand the world and its counterfeit lifestyle and deceptive security. He “overcame the world” and experienced real joy because of it. His struggles amplify the power of the world and its dominion over all of us who through our own sins are inclined towards the world.
Love for the world terrorizes a believer’s soul, and locks the door to the Kingdom of Christ. All the fathers say this, being in complete harmony with the Bible. Jesus used the parable of the sower to carry his message to hesitant believers. “And the (seeds) that fall among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity,” (Lk. 8:14). Demus, a companion of St. Paul, and witness to the power of God working in and through the Apostle, turned away from God for the world, “for Demus has forsaken me, having loved this present world …” (2 Tim. 4:10).
His attachment to the world detached him from the Lord. St. James asks: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” He then declares, “whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God,” (James 4:4).
Once alienated from God, a person no longer experiences His fatherly direction and comforting Spirit. He possesses only temporary pleasures and sporadic excitement, which prestige, power, position, and praise sometimes provide. He seeks some new teaching or religion in which to attach himself. Worldly men and women create an industry out of their restlessness. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world,” (I Jn. 4:1). From trendy encounter groups, to Eastern mysticism to Nautilus Plus, the world seeks to escape its spiritual poverty. And it is deceived.
The Church teaches that a Christian can overcome the world just as Jesus did: by prayer, fasting, study of the bible, participation in its sacramental life, and through doing good for others. Giving up passing pleasures frees one to concentrate his energy on godly work. A Christian does not reject the good things of God, he seeks rather to renovate his spirit by seeking an eternal significance and dimension to his life. He seeks to rediscover the world “as food and as a gift”, as Father Alexander Schmemann has said. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is good and acceptable and the perfect will of God,” (Rom. 12:2). “… put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness,” (Eph. 4:22-24; see also Rom. 3:14).
It takes time and effort to reach the goal of being in full fellowship with God. And it means personal suffering too. We climb toward the gates of heaven: “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope,” (Rom. 5:3-4). “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, to brotherly kindness love,” (2 Pet. 1:5-7).
Some commercials on T.V. tell us to “be all we can be.” They say we can “have it all” if we drink the right beer, or join the Army, or buy a four wheel drive truck. We can, I guess, have the whole world. But what if we do have the whole world? The Devil offered the world to Jesus once, but He rejected the offer. “For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?”
Rick Michaels a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, is the lay assistant at St. Nicholas Church in Montreal, Quebec.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America