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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Worldliness (2)

WORLDLINESS.—The teaching of Christianity concerning worldliness forms one of the most important parts of its practical message to mankind. And yet, more or less strongly marked at different periods, a tendency to serious misconception of this doctrine has probably existed in every generation since the days of Christ. The error into which it has led man is that of regarding the material world and whatever strictly pertains to it, as inherently evil and anti-spiritual. Such a misconception, it is true, did not originate in Christian times, but was taken over by Christianity from earlier systems of religious thought. The source from which it sprang, however, does not affect the gravity of its persistent survival; and inasmuch as the attitude of any faith to the present world must always deeply influence men’s estimate of its claims, a clear apprehension of Christ’s own teaching on the subject becomes of more than ordinary importance.

i. To reveal the basis of our Lord’s doctrine of worldliness, we must review briefly one or two broad outlines of His message.

1. Christ’s teaching concerning the existence of a spiritual realm.—Man has contact with two worlds, (a) Of his communion with the material universe and of the various relationships involved therein, he has by nature a vivid consciousness. This temporal world forms a realm of which, by his birth, he himself has become a part. It has for his possession a special form of life adapted to it. It reveals relationships of its own, as laying their obligation upon him—relationships to a properly constituted authority to be obeyed, and to relatives and friends to be loved. It provides also certain standards of judgment by which the various experiences of its inhabitants are deemed happy or sad, prosperous or unsuccessful, (b) But man has contact also with another world—the spiritual. Of his communion with this world he has, by nature, but dim and uncertain comprehension. It was to reveal the truth concerning it that Christ came to earth. Its existence and claims form one of the principal themes of His teaching. Of this realm also it is by a birth that a man becomes a part (John 3:3-6). This realm also has, adapted to it, a special form of life (John 6:33, John 17:3) which becomes his upon his entrance into it, and which receives its own spiritual sustenance (John 4:14; John 4:32; John 4:34, John 6:35; John 6:48-51, John 7:37) This realm also imposes certain relationships upon him; for it, no less than the other, has its sanctions of authority (Mark 11:9, John 12:13; John 18:33-37) and ties of kinship, both of man with God (John 1:12, 1 John 3:2) and of man with men (Mark 3:34-35 || Matthew 10:29-30, John 19:26-27). Moreover, this realm also possesses standards of its own by means of which its citizens estimate the events and experiences of their lives (Matthew 5:3 ff.: for the contrast offered to the standards of the temporal realm, see Matthew 5:10-12, and consider the force of δοξασθῆναι in John 13:31). The sphere in which these spiritual relationships are acknowledged and their obligations become operative, was named by Christ the Kingdom of God (or, of Heaven), and it formed the theme even of His earliest teaching (e.g. Mark 1:15). This invisible world is as real as the visible. It is clearly marked and self-contained (John 3:6). Its citizens possess definite characteristics (Mark 10:15, Luke 18:16-17), and, as it is essentially spiritual in character (Luke 17:20-21, John 4:23), a certain fitness is necessary to those who would belong to it (Luke 9:62). Hence it has to be definitely entered (Matthew 7:13-14, Mark 10:15; Mark 12:34, John 3:3; John 3:5).

2. His teaching concerning communion with this spiritual world.—Now, just as man has communion with the temporal world and its life, so he may have communion with this spiritual world and its life, (a) Christ Himself, as man, constantly enjoyed such fellowship. The Gospel narratives reveal Him as holding converse with the Father (Mark 1:35 et passim; see art. Communion), with angels (Mark 1:13, cf. Matthew 26:53), and with departed spirits of holy men (Mark 9:2 ff.). Indeed, this realization of His communion with the unseen realm formed the basis of His sense of mission (Luke 2:49, John 7:16; John 8:16 b, John 8:29, John 16:32) and the source from which He derived His strength in suffering (John 18:11). (b) And the fellowship with the spiritual realm which Christ thus exemplified in His own life upon earth, He enjoined upon His followers also (John 15:4 ff; cf. John 6:53-55 et passim). While they must live before men their outward life in contact with the visible universe and its affairs, they possess also an inner life which must be lived ‘in secret’—in contact with the unseen (Matthew 6:1-18; Matthew 10:19-20).

3. The twofold communion.—Man, therefore, belongs to two worlds, and may have communion with both. But just as, possessing a twofold nature, carnal and spiritual, he knows that the spiritual is the higher, so, enjoying a twofold communion, he is to learn that the spiritual fellowship must take precedence, its realization being his supreme duty and the end of his creation. Yet, as in the freedom of his will he is able to cultivate the carnal in him at the expense of the spiritual, so too he is free, as the whole appeal of Christ’s teaching presupposes, to choose for himself with which realm, the temporal or the spiritual, his fellowship shall be the more real and intense.

II. Christ’s teaching upon worldliness

1. Christ encouraged no indifference to the claims of the temporal world.—There is an un worldliness which so emphasizes spiritual realities as to undervalue the material universe and its lawful concerns. This attitude, which, as we have hinted, has found frequent and varied expression among His followers, derives no support from the life or teaching of Christ Himself. The beauty and charm of the visible world appealed to Him (Matthew 6:26; Matthew 6:28). Its incidents furnished illustrations for His sermons (Mark 4:3, Matthew 25:14). He participated in its festivals (John 2:1 ff.), and contrasted Himself with one whose asceticism disparaged its good cheer (Matthew 11:18-19). Again, the claims of this world’s lawful authorities always received His ready acknowledgment. Respect for them was scrupulously evinced alike in His advice (Mark 12:17) and in His example (Matthew 17:27). Further, in His thought, the welfare of men is by no means a merely spiritual matter. On the contrary, the social obligations imposed by His religion form one of His most constant themes. Love towards others is the very test by which His true disciples can be identified (Matthew 5:43-48, cf. 1 John 2:9-11; 1 John 4:20 etc.), and that love is to find expression not in vapid sentiment, but in whole-hearted service (Mark 10:42 ff., Matthew 22:36-39, Luke 10:30 ff.). Indeed, Christ teaches that this love and service to man are the criterion of love and service to God (Matthew 25:40; Matthew 25:45), while in several suggestive passages He even hints that the earthly life forms in some sense an interpretation of the spiritual life (see Mark 2:5; Mark 2:10-11, Matthew 18:10). Christ therefore calls His followers not to neglect the temporal world, much less to despise it, but to recognize that they have a function to fulfil in it by permeating every part of its life with beauty and truth (Matthew 5:13-16; Matthew 13:33, John 17:15). So far, indeed, is He from any underestimation of the present life, that we know of no teacher in any age whose principles, carried into effect, would so ameliorate the material condition of mankind in all its individual aspects and social relationships.

2. Christ uttered no condemnation of worldly possessions.—See art. Wealth.

3. A false antithesis.—It is clear, therefore, that in one study of the Christian doctrine of worldliness we must eliminate what is now seen to be a false antithesis. In view of the unfortunate ambiguity in meaning both of the Greek and of the English word, it is necessary to define closely the sense in which Christianity sets the ‘world’ in opposition to its own life and principles. The Christian teacher has to distinguish two forms of contrast. There is the contrast of difference or distinction, and there is the contrast of opposition. It is in the former sense alone, as our Lord’s own life and words declare, that the material is set by Christianity over against the spiritual. The contrast of opposition established by Christianity is never between the spiritual and the material, but always between the spiritual and the anti-spiritual. The material, it is true, may be made the instrument of the anti-spiritual; but the two are essentially distinct, and confusion between them, signally absent from the Gospel teaching, must never be condoned in its exponents. It is of the utmost significance in this connexion that our Lord deliberately refused to recognize a contrast of opposition between the powers of the heavenly and those of the earthly realm (Mark 12:13-17 || John 6:15, cf. Romans 13:7): the antithesis He accepted was that of the Heavenly King and ‘the prince of this world’ (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11 in each case ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου or ὁ τοῦ κόσμον ἄρχων). The ‘world’ He condemned is not the material world, in which He Himself took delight, or its claims, which He loyally acknowledged, or (in themselves) its possessions, of which He spoke with guarded moderation, but a certain spirit of the world fundamentally antagonistic to man’s highest life, and the men in whom that spirit has established its abode (cf. the careful definition in 1 John 2:16 and that implicit in John 12:31). It is between Christ’s Kingdom and the ‘world’ in this sense that there is opposition, and in this case the opposition is final and complete (John 15:18-19; John 16:33—note the terms of the contrast, ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ and ἐν ἐμοίJohn 17:14, 1 John 2:15; 1 John 3:13; 1 John 4:4-6).

4. The consequent meaning of worldliness.—The accurate recognition of Christ’s attitude to the temporal world at once yields the accurate conception of worldliness. Worldliness will clearly consist in devotion to ‘the world,’ not in any sense of that ambiguous term, but in the particular sense in which Christ revealed it to be evil. Inasmuch, therefore, as ‘the world,’ in the only signification in which He condemned it, is the spirit of antagonism (whether expressed as a principle or personified in individuals) to His spiritual kingdom, worldliness must be the possession of this spirit, and the practice of worldliness must be its manifestation. In view of persistent misconception of the teaching of Christianity on this subject, clearness at this point, even at the risk of repetition, is of the utmost importance. Worldliness does not consist in a love of the temporal world and its concerns, for between the Kingdom and ‘the world’ in this sense Christ acknowledges no necessary opposition, and a man may so use both realms as to fulfil the rightful claims of each without setting them in any inevitable antithesis. Nor does worldliness lie in the performance or nonperformance of any particular actions (Mark 2:18; Mark 2:24; Mark 3:4; Mark 7:5; Mark 7:8; Mark 7:15; Mark 7:21), Luke 11:39-41, John 5:10; John 7:23-24 et passim); for, since it is the possession of a certain spirit, the most scrupulous punctiliousness in outward conduct may coexist with the deepest unspirituality (Matthew 27:6, John 12:5-6; John 18:28; John 19:31; cf. the significant pronouncement in Matthew 21:28-31), and the truest unworldliness with apparent indifference to its formal expression (Matthew 11:18-19). It is quite true that a love of the temporal world and indulgence in particular actions closely associated with it, may constitute manifestations of worldliness. A realm not evil in itself may easily become the medium of evil, and so, owing to an undue emphasis, man’s fellowship with the temporal world may, both by its positive and by its negative influence, prove injurious to his fellowship with the spiritual. Such a misuse of the two realms inevitably turns the contrast of distinction between them into one of opposition. This result, however, is reached not because of any anti-spiritual quality intrinsic in the material realm itself, but through the employment of that realm as a vehicle of the anti-spiritual. The essence of worldliness lies deeper than any particular form in which it may of expressed, and, according to the Christian teaching, its essence is found in the mind—in whatever form embodied—which leads a man to identify himself with that ‘world’ which is anti-spiritual in its nature and influence.

5. The manifestation of worldliness.—Such a self-identification is revealed in practice by the point at which a man lays the chief emphasis of his life. As our review of Christ’s teaching has shown, man has communion with two worlds—the temporal and the spiritual. Right and lawful, however, as the first communion may be, there come frequent crises in which its interests are found to be in rivalry to those of the higher fellowship. To cling in such crises to the lower communion, in other words, to sacrifice the spiritual to the temporal, this is to be worldly, for this is to make the temporal world, innocent and good in itself, a vehicle of the anti-spiritual. It is unnecessary, and, in the strict sense, even impossible, to identify particular actions as in themselves involving the anti-spiritual; for, as we have seen, worldliness in practice is the possession of a certain spirit, and there is no action which must necessarily embody that spirit nor any which cannot be made a medium for it. The whole question of worldliness in action is ultimately one of arrangement and precedence. The things of the temporal world are right in their right place, but that is the second place in a man’s life. What Christ teaches is that they must never be allowed the first place, for that belongs to God (see Matthew 6:33, where both elements are recognized and the true order is laid down; and for a striking illustration in OT, 1 Kings 3:4-15). The practice of worldliness, therefore, consists in such an arrangement of these two elements in life as, from the standpoint of God, is false. It is the laying of a disproportionate emphasis upon the temporal, to the impoverishment of the spiritual, elements in life. In some cases this may be recognized by the entire exclusion of the spiritual (Luke 22:15-21); in others by its subjection to the temporal (Matthew 8:21; Matthew 10:37-38, Mark 5:17, Luke 14:15-24, John 3:19). The error, however, always lies not in the cultivation of communion with the temporal world, but in the untrue emphasis laid upon it; in the failure to see that, while many things appear desirable, only one thing is needful (Luke 10:41-42, cf. Matthew 13:44-46); in the self-identification with that ‘world’ which is the direct antithesis of the Kingdom of heaven.

6. The Christian’s true relation to the temporal world.—Our Lord’s example and teaching, thus briefly reviewed, enable us to infer the Christian’s true relation to the temporal world, (a) Like his Master, he will be fully cognizant of its charms and fully responsive to its lawful claims. Christianity is a religion calculated to make true lovers of Nature, and to produce good fathers, good husbands, good rulers, good servants, good men of business and men of public spirit. Those who have truly learnt the mind of Christ will never shrink from their obligations to the full-orbed life of the world in which lie has set them. On the contrary, it is their simple duty to see that every sphere of human life, public and private, individual and social, shall be permeated by His spirit (Matthew 5:13-14; Matthew 13:33). (b) Yet, while the claims of the temporal world will receive their due acknowledgment, the main stress of the Christian’s life will lie elsewhere. He is in the world; but, like his Master (John 8:23), he is not of it (John 17:14-18). He will mix freely even in its darker scenes, but without sharing their spirit (Mark 2:16). For he is no longer a slave to that spirit: he has acquired the independence of real freedom (John 8:31-36). Indeed, his whole attitude to the temporal world has been changed. He no longer regards himself as a permanent holder, but as a temporary steward, ever awaiting the return of an unseen Lord (Mark 13:35-37). He thus maintains his fellowship with the two realms to which he belongs, but there is no division in his mind (μὴ μετεωρίζεσθε in Luke 11:29 according to interpretation of Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 : cf. the supreme submission of Mark 14:36) as to their comparative claims. His real world is the spiritual world. Whether he is giving alms, praying, fasting, or whatever he is doing, his true life is a life lived ‘in secret’ away from the gaze of men (Matthew 6:1-18). (c) And it is the claim of this unseen life that dictates his policy in all his earthly concerns. If it require that he sacrifice his own temporal fame (cf. John 3:29-30) or temporal possessions (Matthew 9:9), he does so with joy. If, on the contrary, it require that he retain these and employ them for the advancement of the Kingdom, he is equally, but no more, ready to obey While some men make a temporal use of eternal conditions (Matthew 21:12 ff. and ||), he makes an eternal use of temporal conditions (Matthew 25:40, Luke 16:9-11). While some interpret spiritual facts by the material (Matthew 16:23, John 6:42; John 6:52), he seeks the key to material facts in the spiritual. Like his Lord, he never condemns as inherently evil the things which are temporal and material, but throughout his life he subjects them to what is spiritual and eternal (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:18). And herein he has found life’s true interpretation (cf. John 6:63).

Literature.—Cremer, Lex. s.v. κόσμος; Weiss, NT Theol., Index; Beyschlag, NT Theol. ii. 250, 435, 471; F. W. Robert-son, Serm., 2nd ser. xiii; Dale, Laws of Christ, 217; ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] v. [1894] 201; J. Watson, The Inspiration of our Faith, 122; J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, 47; E. Grubb in Present-Day Papers, i. (1898) 7; J. Rickaby, Oxf. and Camb. Conferences, 2nd ser. (1900–1) p. 25.

H. Bisseker.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Worldliness (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/w/worldliness-2.html. 1906-1918.

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