Sound Words: Worldliness

In August of this year, the reins of the OBF Visitor were handed from Pastor John Ashbrook, one of my friends and mentors, to three younger men. Pastor Dan Greenfield is the new editor, and Pastor Mark Perry and I are the assistant editors. I am privileged to write a monthly column for the Visitor, a brief devotional entitled “Sound Words.” It is my intent to address issues that will challenge my fellow fundamentalists in both the pulpit and pew.

The column entitled “Worldliness” appeared in the July/August edition of the Visitor.



Fundamentalism’s consistent exhortation to be distinct from the world is a legacy which we should applaud and continue. However, we must make certain that our definition of worldliness is consistent with Scripture’s. Consider, for example, James 4:4, where we are told that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.” On that basis, many have preached against worldly entertainment, worldly dress, and other external manifestations of worldliness, and rightfully so. However, the context of the passage indicates that worldliness is primarily revealed through internals: combativeness, ambition, selfish desires and the like (vv. 1-3).

Thus, worldliness is having the same desires, goals, and values as the lost. So the Christian who sits at his desk wearing modest apparel and listening to hymns but whose thoughts, disposition and career ambitions mirror those of the unsaved co-worker in the next cubicle is worldly. Let’s continue to battle external evidences of worldliness, but let’s especially go after the root: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (I John 2:16).


10 Responses

  1. May God give you many many years to write in the defense of his Gospel! Congrats!

  2. Very well said, Chris. Isn’t it sad that we can even be preparing sermons with worldly ambitions lurking in our hearts? Truly, meditations like these would prompt us to say with Paul, “O, wretched man that I am…”

  3. Good thoughts, Chris!

  4. Excellent point! Why is it that this is so neglected in our Fundamental circles? I get weary of a constant focus on externals to the neglect of the heart! O that we could see beyond our checklists and examine our hearts!

  5. Hi Chris

    It is obvious that worldliness starts in the heart with inordinate desires. But you will notice in the context that it is not just any desires that James is excoriating. Notice verse 2:

    You desire and do not HAVE … you covet and CANNOT OBTAIN.

    Worldliness is an internal desire for the externals of the world and is often detected by the imitation of the world.

    It is a problem to eschew the outward trappings of the world and still desire them. That is still sin. But I would not necessarily call that worldliness.

    Anyway, I don’t want to get into a debate – I went through this ad infinitum ad nauseum on SI with Aaron. But just thought I would add a little contra. You don’t have enough controversy going on!!

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Good post, Chris. As you mentioned, both are important. I studied through this for ouor Children’s Worship Service a while back. Check out Luke 11:42. For some of us, it is easy to “do” without a thought about “why.”

  7. Hi, guys.

    Don, I did think Aaron blurred the line between the world & the flesh a bit. I don’t disagree with your definition, though I think you may make it too much like covetousness.

    My point is that we have often spoken of worldliness purely as dress, entertainment, etc. I think there’s much more to it, whether in James or elsewhere.

  8. Chris, can the OBF mail to me the Visitor with any $ bill . . .

    My address is

    1671 Brenthaven
    Idaho Falls, Idaho 83402


  9. Hey, James 4 is the first chapter in our Thru the NT outline for next week. I was working on it today and found this quote in MacDonald & Farstad:

    The world does not mean the planet on which we live, or the world of nature about us. It is the system which man has built up for himself in an effort to satisfy the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. In this system there is no room for God or His Son. It may be the world of art, culture, education, science, or even religion. But it is a sphere in which the name of Christ is unwelcome or even forbidden, except, of course, as an empty formality. It is, in short, the world of mankind outside the sphere of the true church. To be a friend of this system is to be an enemy of God. It was this world that crucified the Lord of life and glory. In fact, it was the religious world that played the key role in putting Him to death. How unthinkable it is that believers should ever want to walk arm-in-arm with the world that murdered their Savior!

    William MacDonald and Arthur Farstad, Believer’s Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments, electronic ed., Jas 4:4 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995).

    BTW, I agree that worldliness is not purely externals. Obviously it is a heart issue (Hey, Todd!). The more I work through James, the more convicting the material is. I have preached chapter 4 twice now. Man, it’s good James only wrote 5 chapters. We’d all be prostrate 100% of the time in complete confession mode if James had kept on going.

    Another interesting little feature of Jas 4 is that James uses three different words for inordinate desire in 4.1-2:

    hedone – ‘hedonisms’ – satisfied desires, according to Tom Constable
    epithumew – ‘lusts’ – to keep the heart set on acc. to Thayer
    zelow – ‘zeal’, trans ‘envious’ by the NAS.

    Quite a catalogue and all too evident in all of us every day, to one extent or other. No wonder Paul said ‘I keep my body under.’ I bet he read James.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  10. […] (Related: A short post I made in the OBF Visitor on Worldliness) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: