Is the Spirit of the World Poisoning You?
ON September 12, 1990, an explosion occurred in a Kazakstan factory. Dangerous radioactivity was released into the atmosphere, threatening the health of the 120,000 local inhabitants, many of whom took to the streets in protest against the deadly poison.
But as more information came to light, they discovered that they had been living in a poisonous environment for decades. Over the years, 100,000 tons of radioactive waste had been dumped in an unguarded, open-air site. Although the danger was on their doorstep, nobody had taken it seriously. Why not?
Every day, in the local sports stadium, officials posted a radiation count, which gave the impression that there was no danger whatsoever. The figures were accurate, but they only indicated the gamma radiation. Alpha radiation, which was not measured, can be just as lethal. Many mothers began to comprehend why their children were so sickly.
Spiritually speaking, we can also be poisoned by invisible contamination. And like those unfortunate people in Kazakstan, the majority are unaware of this life-threatening hazard. The Bible identifies this pollution as “the spirit of the world,” which is orchestrated by none other than Satan the Devil. (1 Corinthians 2:12) God’s Adversary maliciously uses this spirit—or prevailing attitude—of the world to undermine our godly devotion.
How can the spirit of the world sap our spiritual strength? By stimulating the desire of the eyes and by playing on our innate selfishness. (Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 John 2:16) By way of example, we will consider three different areas where worldly thinking could gradually poison our spirituality.
Seeking First the Kingdom
Jesus urged Christians to ‘seek first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness.’ (Matthew 6:33) The world’s spirit, on the other hand, could lead us to attach undue importance to our own interests and comforts. The initial danger lies, not in forsaking spiritual interests altogether, but in relegating them to second place. We could overlook the danger—as did the people in Kazakstan—because of a false sense of security. Our years of faithful service and our appreciation for our spiritual brothers and sisters could lull us into thinking that we could never forsake the way of the truth. Possibly, many in the Ephesian congregation felt that way.
About the year 96 C.E., Jesus gave them the following counsel: “I hold this against you, that you have left the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4) These long-serving Christians had endured many difficulties. (Revelation 2:2, 3) They had been taught by faithful elders, including the apostle Paul. (Acts 20:17-21, 27) Over the years, however, their love for Jehovah had waned, and they lost their spiritual momentum.—Revelation 2:5.
Likely, some of the Ephesians were affected by the commercialism and prosperity in the city. Sad to say, the materialistic current of today’s society has likewise carried some Christians along with it. A determined striving after a comfortable life-style will inevitably divert us from spiritual goals.—Compare Matthew 6:24.
Warning about this danger, Jesus said: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If, then, your eye is simple, your whole body will be bright; but if your eye is wicked [“envious,” footnote], your whole body will be dark.” (Matthew 6:22, 23) A “simple” eye is an eye that is in focus spiritually, an eye that is fixed on God’s Kingdom. On the other hand, a “wicked” eye or an “envious” one is shortsighted, able to focus only on immediate fleshly desires. Spiritual objectives and future rewards lie beyond its ken.
Jesus said in the preceding verse: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) How can we know whether our heart is centered on spiritual or material things? Perhaps the best guide is our conversation, since ‘out of the heart’s abundance the mouth speaks.’ (Luke 6:45) If we find ourselves constantly talking about material things or worldly achievements, it is evidence that our heart is divided and that our spiritual vision is defective.
Carmen, a Spanish sister, wrestled with this problem.* “I was brought up in the truth,” Carmen explains, “but at the age of 18, I started my own kindergarten business. Three years later I had four employees, the business was flourishing, and I was earning a lot of money. Perhaps what satisfied me most, though, was the fact that I had financial independence, and I was ‘successful.’ To be honest, my heart was in my business—it was my greatest love.
“I felt I could still be a Witness while dedicating most of my time to business interests. On the other hand, I also had the nagging feeling that I could do more to serve Jehovah. What finally persuaded me to put Kingdom interests first was the example of two friends who were pioneers. One of them, Juliana, was in my congregation. She didn’t pressure me into pioneering, but her conversations and the joy she clearly derived from her ministry helped me reconsider my own spiritual values.
“Some time later, while on vacation in the United States, I stayed with Gloria, a pioneer sister. She had recently been widowed, and she was looking after her five-year-old daughter and a mother who had cancer. Yet she pioneered. Her example and her heartfelt appreciation for the ministry touched my heart. The four brief days I spent in her home made me determined to give Jehovah my best. First of all I became a regular pioneer, and a few years later, my husband and I were invited to serve at Bethel. I said good-bye to my business—an obstacle to my spiritual progress—and now I feel my life is successful in Jehovah’s eyes, which is what really matters.”—Luke 14:33.
Learning to “make sure of the more important things,” as Carmen did, will help us make sound decisions regarding our employment, education, housing, and life-style. (Philippians 1:10) But do we also make sure of the more important things when it comes to recreation? This is another area where the spirit of the world exerts enormous influence.
Keep Leisure in Its Proper Place
The spirit of the world craftily exploits people’s natural desire for rest and leisure. Since most people have no real hope for the future, it is understandable that they should seek to fill the present with entertainment and relaxation. (Compare Isaiah 22:13; 1 Corinthians 15:32.) Do we find ourselves attaching more and more importance to leisure? That could be a sign that the world’s way of thinking is shaping our viewpoint.
The Bible warns: “He that is loving merriment [“entertainment,” Lamsa] will be an individual in want.” (Proverbs 21:17) Having fun is not wrong, but loving it, or assigning it prime importance, will lead to spiritual want. Our spiritual appetite will inevitably be dulled, and we will have less time available for preaching the good news.
For this reason, God’s Word advises us to “be mentally stripped for action, perfectly self-controlled.” (1 Peter 1:13, The New English Bible) Self-control is needed to limit our leisure time to what is reasonable. Being stripped for action means being ready for spiritual activity, whether it be study, meetings, or field service.
What about needed rest? Should we feel guilty when we take time off to relax? By no means. Rest is essential, especially in today’s stressful world. Nevertheless, as dedicated Christians we cannot allow our lives to center around leisure. Too much leisure can lull us into doing less and less meaningful activity. It can diminish our sense of urgency, and it may even encourage self-indulgence. How, then, can we have a balanced view toward rest?
The Bible recommends taking a handful of rest rather than toiling excessively—especially if the secular work is unnecessary. (Ecclesiastes 4:6) Although rest helps our bodies to regain strength, the source of spiritual energy is God’s active force. (Isaiah 40:29-31) We receive this holy spirit in connection with our Christian activities. Personal study feeds our hearts and stimulates right desires. Attending meetings nurtures appreciation for our Creator. Sharing in the Christian ministry fosters feelings for others. (1 Corinthians 9:22, 23) As Paul realistically explained, “the outward man does indeed suffer wear and tear, but every day the inward man receives fresh strength.”—2 Corinthians 4:16, Phillips.
Ileana, mother of six children and wife of an unbelieving husband, leads a very busy life. She has responsibilities toward her own family and several other relatives, which means that she always seems to be rushing about everywhere. Nevertheless, she also sets a noteworthy example in preaching and meeting preparation. How can she handle so much activity?
“Meetings and field service really help me cope with my other responsibilities,” Ileana explains. “For example, after preaching, I have plenty to think about when I do my housework. Often I sing as I do it. On the other hand, if I have missed a meeting or have done little in field service, household chores become a real effort.”
What a contrast to the excessive importance attached to leisure!
Spiritual Beauty Pleases Jehovah
We live in a world that is increasingly obsessed with physical appearance. People spend huge sums on treatments designed to improve their looks and reduce the effects of aging. These include hair transplants and coloring, breast implants, and cosmetic surgery. Millions attend weight-reducing centers, gymnasiums, and aerobic classes, or they buy exercise videos and diet books. The world would have us believe that the passport to happiness is our physical appearance, that our “image” is everything.
In the United States, a survey quoted by Newsweek magazine found that 90 percent of white American teenagers were “dissatisfied with their bodies.” The desperate quest for the ideal figure can affect our spirituality. Dora was a young Witness of Jehovah who felt ashamed of her physical appearance because she was somewhat overweight. “When I went shopping, it was difficult to find suitable clothes in my size,” she explains. “It seemed that smart clothes were made only for slim teenagers. Worse still, people made disparaging comments about my weight, which upset me a lot, especially when they came from my spiritual brothers and sisters.
“As a consequence, I became more and more obsessed with my appearance, to the extent that spiritual values began to take second place in my life. It was as if my happiness depended on my waistline. Several years have gone by, and now that I have matured as a woman and as a Christian, I see things differently. Although I take care of my appearance, I realize that it is spiritual beauty that matters most, and that is what gives me the greatest satisfaction. Once I understood that, I was able to put Kingdom interests in their rightful place.”
Sarah was a faithful woman of old who had this balanced viewpoint. Although the Bible speaks of her physical beauty when she was over 60 years of age, it draws attention principally to her fine qualities—the secret person of the heart. (Genesis 12:11; 1 Peter 3:4-6) She showed a gentle and mild spirit, and she submissively obeyed her husband. Sarah was not unduly concerned about how others viewed her. Though she came from a wealthy background, she willingly lived in tents for more than 60 years. She meekly and unselfishly supported her husband; she was a woman of faith. That was what made her a truly beautiful woman.—Proverbs 31:30; Hebrews 11:11.
As Christians, we are interested in improving our spiritual beauty, a beauty that, if regularly cultivated, will grow and endure. (Colossians 1:9, 10) We can take care of our spiritual appearance in two main ways.
We become more beautiful in Jehovah’s eyes as we participate in our life-saving ministry. (Isaiah 52:7; 2 Corinthians 3:18–4:2) Furthermore, as we learn to manifest Christian qualities, our beauty deepens. Opportunities for improving our spiritual beauty abound: “Have tender affection for one another. In showing honor to one another take the lead. . . . Be aglow with the spirit. . . . Follow the course of hospitality. . . . Rejoice with people who rejoice; weep with people who weep. . . . Return evil for evil to no one. . . . Be peaceable with all men.” (Romans 12:10-18) Cultivating such attitudes will endear us to both God and fellow humans, and it will minimize the ugly appearance of our inherited sinful tendencies.—Galatians 5:22, 23; 2 Peter 1:5-8.
We Can Combat the World’s Spirit!
In so many subtle ways, the poisonous spirit of the world can weaken our integrity. It can make us dissatisfied with what we have and anxious to put our own needs and interests ahead of God’s. Or it may lead us to think men’s thoughts instead of God’s, assigning leisure or physical appearance undue importance.—Compare Matthew 16:21-23.
Satan is determined to destroy our spirituality, and the spirit of the world is one of his main weapons. Remember that the Devil can change his tactics from those of a roaring lion to that of a cautious serpent. (Genesis 3:1; 1 Peter 5:8) Occasionally, the world conquers a Christian by brutal persecution, but more often it poisons him slowly. Paul was more concerned about the latter danger: “I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent seduced Eve by its cunning, your minds might be corrupted away from the sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ.”—2 Corinthians 11:3.
To protect ourselves from the serpent’s cunning, we need to identify the propaganda that “originates with the world” and then reject it firmly. (1 John 2:16) We must not be deceived into believing that the worldly way of thinking is harmless. The poisonous air of Satan’s system has reached alarming levels.—Ephesians 2:2.
Once worldly thinking is identified, we can combat it by filling our minds and hearts with Jehovah’s pure teaching. Like King David, let us say: “Make me know your own ways, O Jehovah; teach me your own paths. Make me walk in your truth and teach me, for you are my God of salvation.”—Psalm 25:4, 5.
Substitute names have been used.
[Picture on page 26]
Striving after a comfortable life-style can divert us from spiritual goals