(This series of writings was prompted by listening to an excellent sermon from Dr. John MacArthur entitled “Thanks, No Matter What” on 1 Thessalonians 5:18. The sermon was from 1995, I believe.)
“in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thess. 5:18
My last post was mostly about biblical warnings against worldliness. The post presented some of what the Bible had to say about the danger of being attracted and enamored by the things of this world. The beautiful and glittering things of this life appeal to the flesh and so cause us to strengthen our roots in this world. Thus we weaken and risk the loss of our hunger for heaven and our delight in the spiritual pleasures of holiness. What, then, are some specific strategies and tactics that we can employ to oppose this temptation to love the world? That will be the subject of this post.
We must acknowledge that worldliness is a sin and that it is dangerous to our sanctification. This is perhaps the first step for the believer, to see that being entangled in the things of this world is a sin and that overcoming this is an important part of sanctification. The attitude of loving the things of the world is sinful and this sinful attitude must be consciously recognized and admitted to be sinful so that the defenses against that sin can be raised.
It should at least be kept in mind that the Lord Jesus did not have a place to lay His head and that He was a very poor Man from every earthly standpoint. If Jesus was poor, that must say something to His followers. It is easier to escape the temptations of worldliness when one has modest means than when one has extravagant means.
Be fully aware of your own personal vulnerability to loving the world and lusting after the things of the world. Just as not everyone that takes a drink becomes an alcoholic, so not everyone is equally vulnerable to the temptations of worldliness. Every believer should have a good handle on how much they love money or to what degree they want the things of this world. For example, because of my background and upbringing, I am prone to hoard money and to try to accumulate more money than I need. I don’t want what money can buy; rather I want the money itself. I am vulnerable to the love of money. Therefore from time to time I must spend money just to fight my tendency to hoard and I must be aware of my tendency to be a miser and to love money. The same can be true of a believer who likes the things that money can buy, whether they are cars or houses or clothes or vacations or gold watches. What I am saying is be aware of your own personal weaknesses and then build strong defenses against those weaknesses. This will prevent worldliness and will encourage thankfulness for the things that God does provide.
Give extravagantly of your money to kingdom causes. One of the best defenses against the love of things and the love of money is to give away money to others. Give extravagantly to causes that advance the gospel and be very frugal with spending on yourself and on your pleasures. Starve worldliness and feast on generosity. Consider Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:21; Psalm 37:21, 26.
Prioritize the things of Christ and the pursuits of the Spirit. Always value the things of Christ of greater value than all the world’s riches. (Hebrews 11:26) Remember that the world is passing away and also its lusts. The things of this world are passing and fleeting, and accumulating many goods in this life dulls your thankfulness. Paradoxically, having an abundance actually tends to make us less grateful, rather than more grateful.
When making a decision about material things, ask yourself questions like, “Does this draw me closer to Christ or does this ensnare me more in the world?” Realize that all decisions ultimately do one or the other.
If you have an excessive love of the finer things of the world or you have a tendency to become entangled in the world’s allurements, then consciously choose to travel as lean and as light as possible. A runner gets rid of everything that is going to hinder his running (Hebrews 12:1; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27) and travels as light as possible so that he can accomplish his goal. He is, after all, a runner and his goal is running to win.
“No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” (2 Timothy 2:4) A soldier is trained and equipped to wage war and to wield his weapons well so that he can defeat his king’s enemies. He therefore has no need for rich foods or fine wines or luxurious clothing or many pleasures and distractions. These distractions can cost him his life if he is careless and his enemy catches him by surprise, and they can cause him to fail at his mission of serving his king on the battlefield. The analogy for the Christian is obvious. We are here to serve our King, the Lord Jesus, and not to indulge ourselves on the world’s pleasures and entertainments. “Which choice equips me to be a better soldier?” Our flesh will always urge us to choose the way of excess and comfort and ease, and thus ruin our usefulness to the King. The flesh hates pain and loathes delayed gratification; therefore, the disciplines of enduring hardship (2 Timothy 2:3, 9; 4:5) and of delaying gratification (Philippians 1:21) silence the flesh and spur thanksgiving.
So worldliness is defeated when we recognize our tendency to this enemy of thankfulness and take aggressive action to defeat that enemy. Thankfulness will flourish as worldliness is crushed.