Defining the World

Zephaniah preached the coming of the “great day of the LORD” (Zephaniah 1:14). God would be merciful to His people, but the world would be judged (see 3:8) and all the godless nations in it (see 2:1-15). The term “world” (Greek kosmos) basically means “order” or “system.” Kosmos can mean the entire created universe (see Acts 17:24), the earth (see Mark 8:36) and frequently the world of humanity (see John 3:16,19), which is under the dominion of sin. Consequently, “the world” is a term used to speak of the complex system of humanity apart from God. The institutions, structures, values and mores of this world are primarily godless.

The moral character of this fallen world system is evil and its animosity toward God can be seen in what Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:18-19: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” As Christians, we live in this world but are not of this world. The wisdom of the world looks at the cross of Christ as foolishness and is antithetical to the wisdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-24). The nature of this world is evil because it is the domain of Satan’s rule (see 1 John 5:19).

The true characteristics of the world are seen in 1 John 2:16: “For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world.” The “lust of the flesh” is the sinful desires of our fallen human nature. The “lust of the eyes” relates to looking only on the outward appearance of people or things without seeing their real value. It is the love of beauty divorced from the love of goodness. Eve saw the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden as “pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6). Achan said, “When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them” (Joshua 7:21). David saw that Bathsheba “was very beautiful” (2 Samuel 11:2) and sinned grievously.

The Greek term for “boasting” describes those who make more of themselves than reality justifies. This boastful pride of life is what drives fallen humanity to exercise their own sovereign right to decide the shape of their lives. This attitude is not limited to the braggart. John indicates that it is the attitude of all those who live apart from God (see 1 John 2:16). These characteristics are not from the Father but from the world. If God is not included in who we are and what we do, then it is from the world. “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:15).

This worldly way of thinking is a product of the fall. God created the world and under His sovereign rule we were supposed to tend it. Everything God created is good, but now, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22).

Dr. Neil

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