Friend of God or of This World?
It pays to have good friends. Would you like to have the friendship of the most powerful one in the universe? You can, but only upon his conditions.
IN 1850, only 15 per cent of the United States population belonged to a church. Today, more than 60 per cent are members. . . . The evidence is conclusive that a spiritual awakening is here. You see it in dynamic laymen’s movements, in the improved quality of religious leaders, in vast church building programs, in the reappearance of mass evangelism.” Thus spoke Dr. E. L. R. Elson, President Eisenhower’s pastor.—New York Times, June 24, 1957.
But is there not something wrong somewhere? The September 26 issue of the Times quoted an F.B.I. report that showed that during the first six months of 1957 there was an 8.4-percent increase in crime over the previous year’s first six months, for an all-time high. It also showed that if this trend continued 1957 would be the sixth consecutive year that more than two million major crimes were reported to the F.B.I.
More in line with the facts is the position taken by a Roman Catholic bishop of Saginaw, Michigan. He felt that more than one fourth of professed Catholics were “fellow travelers” or backsliders, and that while there “has been great progress in the physical condition of dioceses, . . . the spiritual condition is an entirely different question.”—Time, September 23, 1957.
Also more apropos is Dr. R. W. Sockman’s recent remark that “church statistics are growing, but personal spirituality is static. . . . Individuals are not getting vital contact with God.”—New York Times, October 21, 1957.
Why this seeming paradox, an all-time high in church memberships and an all-time high in felonies committed? And why can it be said that “personal spirituality is static”? Why? Because the great majority of persons attracted to religion today are not really interested in getting “vital contact with God.” They want to be friends of both God and this world. They like to hang on to God, whose friendship is convenient in times of emergency or death, but they would never think of trying to cultivate his friendship at the expense of their friendship with the world.
But in this they sadly err. Would any sane man expect to travel east and west at the same time? Or to be going up while going down? Or would he demand a bowl of soup that was both hot and cold? Of course not! Yet it is every bit as impossible to try to be friends of God and of this world, which is exactly what most professed Christians are trying and which accounts for increased church memberships not being accompanied by increased morality and spirituality.
Jesus made no such mistake when he was upon earth. Regarding himself and his followers he prayed: “They are no part of the world just as I am no part of the world.” And addressing them, he stated: “Because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.”—John 17:16; 15:19.
And this is the way his apostles and early disciples understood it. That is why his beloved apostle John wrote: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” And that is why the disciple James so strongly rebuked some: “Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God?”—1 John 2:15; Jas. 4:4.
Why should it be impossible to be the friend of both God and this world or “system of things,” as it is termed elsewhere in the Scriptures? Because this world consists not only of a visible part, or “earth,” composed of business, politics, organized religion and society, but also of an invisible “heavens” composed of Satan and his demons.—2 Pet. 3:7.
The visible part of this world is under the control of the invisible “heavens,” having Satan’s spirit and doing his will. He is “the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.” That is why Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” and why Paul spoke of him as “the god of this system of things” who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” Yes, “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” Since Satan is the malicious enemy of Jehovah God, certainly all those who want to be friends of God can have nothing to do with Satan’s world.—Eph. 2:2; John 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19.
All this being so, how can we steer clear of friendship with this world? By going to a monastery or becoming a hermit? No, for such practices find no precedent in the Scriptures but only in pagan religions. Neither Jesus nor any of his immediate followers withdrew from contact with their fellow man, and yet they were not friends of the world.—Matt. 4:17.
KEEPING SEPARATE FROM THE WORLD
God sent Jesus to earth on a mission of reconciliation as his ambassador. Since Jesus’ return to the heavens his followers have been substituting for him, as Paul tells us: “We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us. As substitutes for Christ we beg: ‘Become reconciled to God.’” To get the right mental attitude we are supposed to have as ambassadors we must ‘quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making our mind over, that we may prove to ourselves the good and acceptable and complete will of God.’—2 Cor. 5:20; Rom. 12:2.
An ambassador conscientiously obeys the laws of the land to which he is sent. But at all times his loyalty is to the government sending him. So with us as dedicated Christians; our loyalty must be, not to the governments of this world, but to God’s kingdom. Therefore, not only will we pray, “let your kingdom come,” but we will ‘keep on seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.’ And as an ambassador does not involve himself in the political issues of the nation to which he is sent, so we may not involve ourselves in the political issues dividing worldly nations.—Matt. 6:10, 33.
That is the course Jesus followed. He refused to become involved in political questions and plainly said: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” He drew a clear line of demarcation when he said: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” Caesar may call for taxes, which were the point at issue, but the “exclusive devotion” of our hearts and lives belongs to Jehovah God; for, as Paul shows, “our citizenship exists in the heavens.”—John 18:36; Matt. 22:21; Ex. 20:5; Phil. 3:20.
To be friends of God, the Potentate who commissioned us as his ambassadors, we may not get ensnared in the commercial schemes of this world, any more than a worldly ambassador may allow himself to become engrossed in piling up a fortune in the country to which he is sent. He is sent there not to get rich but to represent his country’s interests. That means, then, instead of succumbing to the love of money, “a root of all sorts of injurious things,” we will cultivate “godly devotion along with self-sufficiency,” which is great gain. Then, rather than ‘storing up treasures on earth,’ we will faithfully represent God’s kingdom, thereby ‘storing up treasures in heaven’ and becoming “rich in right works.”—1 Tim. 6:10, 6; Matt. 6:19, 20; 1 Tim. 6:18.
Here also Jesus set the example for us. What riches he could have amassed had he commercialized his powers of healing! But so far was any such thought from his mind that he could say: “Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head.” And warning his followers against trying to be friends of God and of greedy commercialism or materialism, he said: “You cannot be slaves to God and to Riches.”—Matt. 8:20; 6:24.
To be friends of God we must also lead clean lives, being wholly devoted to righteousness and following as closely as possible the perfect example set by Jesus Christ. Only then can we properly serve as ambassadors of the holy God Jehovah. We must therefore be careful to keep ourselves “without spot from the world,” appreciating that “everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world.”—Jas. 1:27; 1 John 2:16.
And finally, to be friends of God we must, as his ambassadors, keep separate from the religions that are a part of this world and that are also at variance with his Word, the Bible. The Israelites were strictly forbidden to take part in any interfaith movements. Jesus, our Exemplar, refused to make common cause with the Pharisees, Sadducees or Herodians of his day. Therefore Christians are commanded: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? And what agreement does God’s temple have with idols?”—2 Cor. 6:14-16.
Clearly, then, from the foregoing we can see why, in spite of increased church memberships, crime increases and “personal spirituality is static.” As Burlingame well expressed it in his The American Conscience: “Religion has become, for the most part, a social convention—convenient in time of trouble but devoid of responsibility.” To be a friend of God we must take on the responsibility of being his ambassadors. And that means we must put God’s interests, the interests of his kingdom, first; not trying to divide our allegiance between it and the nations of this world; not neglecting God’s kingdom for the sake of commercial gain; not casting reflection upon God and his kingdom by conduct unbecoming to Christian ambassadors, and not making common cause with worldly religious organizations at variance with his Word.
If we try to be friends of both God and the world we shall be ‘lukewarm and as such be vomited out.’ But if we concentrate on being God’s friends, giving him “exclusive devotion,” then in his due time he will receive us into “the everlasting dwelling-places” of his righteous new world.—Rev. 3:16; Luke 16:9; 2 Pet. 3:13.