Culture: What’s Not to Love
You hear the light, syncopated throb of the trap set, the pound of snare followed by the light rake of the wire brush on the cymbal, and then start the cat calls, loud whoops and hollers, because the teenagers know what it means. Youâ€™re quiet and theyâ€™re loud, because you both know. Your silence repudiates what the sound means. Their rowdiness signals reception. They love it. You donâ€™t. Should they love what theyâ€™ve heard? Should they even accept it?
The World, Thatâ€™s What (James 4:1-6)
In an examination of genuine saving faith, James in chapter four exposes characteristics of the world. To start, everyone should know that God is an enemy to anyone who is a friend of the world, that is, affectionate with the world, all the drives and impulses that would be associated with it. The unwillingness to break from the worldâ€™s culture comes because of this affection (“friendship,” James 4:4, philia) for the world. And then when someone loves the world, the world no longer hates the person. If you are “of the world,” the world loves “its own” (John 15:19). The way the world treated Christ is how it will treat the friends of Christ, so if you can get along with the world, you can know why.
The term “world” refers to the man-centered, Satan-directed system, which is hostile to God, Christ, and the Christian. Itâ€™s not talking about the globe, about terra firma, or about anything physical. Itâ€™s talking about the spiritual reality of a Satan-directed, man-centered system hostile to the Lord and His nature and work. It refers to all the values, the mores, the lifestyle, the ethics, the morals, and the institutions of the world as they are established apart from and antagonistic to God.
The goal of the world is self-glory, self-fulfillment, self-control, self-indulgence, and self-satisfaction. All of it opposes Godâ€™s will, so James is very direct when he says that an affection for the world is utterly incompatible with loyalty to God. He says it is enmity, that is, personal hostility or hatred to God. It is one thing to do worldly things and then hate them. Itâ€™s something else to love the world and its lusts and then defend that activity.
James pictures this friendship of the world as a great danger first because of the conflict that will surely result, primarily because the world system itself is fundamentally conflicted. You canâ€™t be the worldâ€™s friend and not be pulled into theÂ war that it characteristically is. Since the primary issue of the world is self, all of those selves that make up this system canâ€™t but be in conflict with one another. Selves keep bumping into each other like atoms before a nuclear explosion.
At the beginning of chapter four, James asks where the conflicts occurring in the assembly of believers, the internal warfare and fighting that was in their midst and causing great destruction, came from. Those fightings originated from the belligerence between two crowds of peopleâ€”those who love God and those whose affections are for the world. Some want the best for God and others are more interested in consuming things upon their own lusts. Some are for living by faith in what God said and others are for attempting to fit Christianity into what they desire. You canâ€™t maintain these two groups of people in a church and not have ongoing conflict.
Not only will conflict manifest itself in the church because of the worldly, but the worldly church members themselves will have a natural tension and stress inside of themselves. The same people causing strife in the church will have their own personal issues that will cause problems also. PeopleÂ who want what the world offers and canâ€™t get it like they want will become frustrated. And their frustrationÂ will come out of their own hedonism (“lusts,” hedone, end of v. 3). They have their difficulties because they live for pleasure. If they will have any peace, then they need to give up personal pleasure for God, because the road of pleasure, even as James 1 showed, ends in death.
John wrote in 1 John 2:15-17 that those in the world are controlled by the things in the worldâ€”the lust of their eyes (what I see, I desire), the lust of their flesh (what I feel, I desire), and the pride of life (the gratification of self). Someone who loves the Lord is content with Him and what He will provide. The best the world can offer is temporal, because the system and all that are in it will pass away. However, what is the worst aspect of love for the world is the conflict it makes between God and you.
In verse four of chapter four, James says that this affection for the world putsÂ you in antagonism with God, and not only Him, but in verse five, His Word. If you would be a friend of the world, you have ignored what Scripture says about the nature of the flesh—you just disregardÂ the Bible about itÂ if you are someone who thinks you can get along with the world, be its friend. Scripture in general says that the spirit of man lusts to envy. The evil impulses of manâ€™s heart draw him toward a worldliness that will be judged by God.
God wants to give grace to man, but He wonâ€™t if man wonâ€™t humble himself. In the context of chapter four, being hedonistic and worldly is the same thing as being proud. If youâ€™re proudly consumed with what you want in the world, you wonâ€™t experience the grace of God. He does give grace but He gives it only to the humble. On the other hand, the Lord fights the proud, because they are His enemies. Even someone who is saved will spin the wheels of his Christian life, getting nowhere, when he takes a friendly disposition toward the world.
What does love or affection for the world look like? To know what loving the world is like, we must understand what love and affection is. I believe that if you started looking at the times that the word “love” itself is used in the Bible, you would see that when we love something or someone, we invest in it our time and energy. We pour ourselves into it. We make it a priority, put it as first above other things. The devotion for the world and its things will manifest itself like our love for God will reveal itself.
When God commands us “love not the world,” it means that we must also hate the world. We canâ€™t love both God and the worldâ€”theyâ€™re mutually exclusive. In Psalm 139:19-22, David wrote:
Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men. For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain. Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
How Not to Love the World
Someone who loves God and hates the world will exhibit this in at least three different degrees.
First, Godâ€™s child will not adapt to the world system. Romans 12:2 commands, “Be not conformed to this world.” “Conforming” is “adapting.” A believer will continue to conflict with the worldâ€™s styles and philosophies. The world itself isnâ€™t neutral in its relations to God. We were sometime in darkness, but now we are light in the Lord, so we walk as children of light (Eph. 5:8). “Conform” and “adapt” also mean “to be similar.” The art, music, dress, attitude, and aesthetics of a Christian wonâ€™t be similar to the worldâ€™s. Christians donâ€™t adapt to the culture, because Christianity itself presents an unchanging, infinite message. The goal is to see the people of the world change, not Godâ€™s people. When we adapt to them, we lose the distinctiveness, the saltiness, that God uses to show them the difference between His ways and theirs.
Consider what Richard Kyle, Professor of History and Religion at Tabor College in Hillsborough, Kansas, writes about evangelicalism in his Evangelicalism: An Americanized Christianity (p. 2):
The first tendencyâ€”the acculturation of evangelicalismâ€”has dominated and has been a key to evangelicalismâ€™s numerical success. Rather than develop a viable subculture, evangelicals have created a counterfeit cultureâ€”that is, they have baptized and sanctified secular culture. . . . For any religious body . . . there is only a fine line between being relevant to its surrounding culture and being absorbed by the culture. American evangelicalism has stepped over this line. . . . For much of its history, evangelicalism has accommodated popular culture. This trend has accelerated itself in the late twentieth century. . . . Because evangelicals have become culturally mainstream, their social acceptance has greatly increased.
James Montgomery Boice writes in The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (p. 20):
What was once said of liberal churches must now be said of evangelical churches: they seek the worldâ€™s wisdom, believe the worldâ€™s theology, follow the worldâ€™s agenda, and adopt the worldâ€™s methods.
Second, Godâ€™s child will not absorb the world system.Â A Christian isnâ€™t to “fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). Godâ€™s holy priesthood are “peculiar people” (Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9), putting off “the old man and his deeds” (Col. 3:8, 9). Saints will “put off the former conversation of the old man” (Ephesians 4:22). Knowing that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand,” a believer will “cast off the works of darkness, and” “put on the armour of light” (Heb. 13:12). You can see that absorbing the worldâ€™s culture is not Godâ€™s plan. Those who absorb the world, love the world. Godâ€™s disdain for absorbing the culture is seen in Jeremiahâ€™s command to Godâ€™s people in Jeremiah 10:2, “Learn not the way of the heathen.”
Third, Godâ€™s child will not adopt the world system, that is, he wonâ€™t become like the world. He wonâ€™t look like the world, act like the world, or sound like the world.Â Â The manÂ involved in the battle for and with Christ will not “entangle himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4). “Affairs” is hapaxlegomena from which comes “pragmatic.” Being like the world is not an acceptable strategy for someone entrenched for the Lord. As a part of our holiness, majestic transcendence from this world system, Peter instructs: “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance” (1 Peter 1:14). “Fashioning” is suschematizo, “to form according to a pattern or mold.”Â A believer will not adopt the culture.
In The Christian Mind, Michael L. Gowens writes:
When people who profess to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ fail to apply their Christian faith to every sector of their lives, they will inevitably descend into the worldâ€™s way of thinking. They will adopt the worldâ€™s values, court the worldâ€™s approval, and pursue the worldâ€™s symbols of status. The church, consequently, will lose its distinctiveness, the basis of its power.
A Case Study in Not Loving the World: Jazz Music
Wynton Marsalis, one of the foremost trumpeters in the world and jazz afficionado, in an interview about his music, especially jazz, commented:
There is so much in jazz music to be studied and to be learned, and so little education. I could go on and on and on, just about what Duke Ellington did. And also the romantic connotations of the music. The music had the effect of liberating a lot of the people from the Victorian image of sexuality. But for some reason people still think they need to be liberated from that. This is something jazz music was doing around the turn of the century. And now it’s degenerated in the modern era to the type of vulgarity that is represented by rock and roll, which parades under the guise of giving you sexual freedom, which is really, truly, sexual repression. Sexual freedom is found in the sensuality and the romance and the lyricism of the great songwriters like George Gershwin and Cole Porter and Duke Ellington, and of the great instrumentalists like Louis Armstrong. These people had a truly romantic conception that was based on elevation of the relationship between a man and a woman, rather than the denigration of it into just some abusive adolescent sexual discoveries.
Musicians know the meaning of their music. The music is a language, which communicates explicitly with notes, melody, harmony, and rhythm. Like written or spoken communication, which use letters and punctuation and inflection, the music can be used to express something edifying or filthy. Paul commanded in Ephesians 4:29:
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
He also wrote in Colossians 3:8, “But now ye also put off . . . blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.”
Words, like musical notations, will be assigned meaning. The meaning of the words and their combinations can either glorify God or dishonor Him.Â Also with music, the goal is to evaluate the style with Scripture to discern whether it is a musical form that can honor God. Much of other modern music style conveys a message, like jazz, which contradicts the nature or attributes of God. We repudiate and avoid those aspects of the culture of this world for the glory of God.
Even if itâ€™s eating or drinking, that is, the most mundane activity, all is to be the glory of God. Since our lives are a perpetual offering to God, everything in our life is to be acceptable to God. For that reason, God wants us to discern what is Godly in our culture and hold on to that, and to ascertain what is profane and worldly and to eschew oneâ€™s self from that.Â Â The culture of this world is what’s not to love.Â Â On the other hand, our unique Christian culture is the distinctiveness, the savor, by which believers can preserve society.