This is a very wicked world. There is no doubt about that. As temples of God, we need to keep two things in mind:
1. We are not to love the world.
2. We are to love the people of the world.
I. We are not to love the world.
"... Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (John 2:15).
It is obvious, from reading the above passage, that there are certain things that God's temples cannot tolerate. John names them. The first has to do with sins of the flesh, the second with sins of covetousness, and the third with sins of pride.
Before we talk about intolerable sins, we want to make a point.
There are no intolerable sinners ... only intolerable sins.
What bothers me is not that the world is wicked. I'm bothered by what we can tolerate as temples. I'm not bothered so much by the fact that X-rated movies are shown on television. I'm bothered by the fact that temples subscribe to HBO and watch the filthy stuff. Have we lost our ability to be shocked? Do we no longer know how to blush?
You say, "Oh, Williams, don't be a prude!" So what's wrong with being pure? Is the "regular" Christian one who is naughty while still being nice? Since when have the words "holy" and "sanctified" become out of place in the temple?
I confess that I don't understand how we can live with compromise. I don't understand the nightclub singer with a ringing testimony of how he loves Jesus. I don't understand the undue attention we give to Hollywood ... to affluence ... and to prestige. Are these not the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life? What place has carnality, selfishness, and respect of persons in the temple? I don't see marginal living in the Scriptures. I see a temple that comes out from the wicked world and is separate. I see a temple that loves the sinner but hates his sin. I see a temple that refuses to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. I see a temple that is in the world, but is not of the world.
"But," you say, "How are we going to win the wicked if we isolate ourselves and have nothing to do with them?" Wait a minute! Wait a minute! I didn't say isolate yourself. I didn't say shun the wicked. I said shun wickedness. There is a difference. Jesus ate with sinners. So should we.
Sinners felt His love. They should feel ours, too. We don't have to drink with drunkards to win drunkards. We don't have to hallow Hollywood to value its victims. Why laud the lamentable? Why placate perversion? Why call evil good? The fact that love covers a multitude of sins does not mean that love sanctions sin. There was a day when God winked at ignorance. There never was a day when God winked at sin.
Toleration is intolerable when it is at home with evil. When adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like are commonplace in the temple ... when the wicked can see no difference between its own children and the children of light... then toleration is intolerable indeed!
Toleration is commendable only when it is focused on the wicked and not on wickedness. This can be illustrated with any number of sins, but let me single out the sin that is the curse of society. Let me talk about drink.
Drinking is intolerable. Those who drink are tolerable. Now, I know that the European sees no evil in drinking table wine. We have reason to believe that the Early Church drank in moderation. Yet we know the great evil of drink, and we have Paul's admonition to not drink wine as long as the world stands if it causes a brother to stumble. And we all know that that is exactly what wine does. It is the greatest of stumbling blocks.
I'm glad our American Assemblies of God had taken a tee-totaling stand on wine. I work with other nationalities who drink it, and I tolerate their convictions. I don't "speak out" against them. I recognize that they will answer to God for their insistence on pleasing themselves and for their disregard for those who stumble because of their example. They are wonderful brethren, but they are wrong.
My concern, however, is not with the moderate drinker. He considers himself "strong" and chooses to ignore the fact that he is accountable to God for his brother. I am concerned about the effect of drink on this wicked world and the encouragement it receives from temples who drink. I am determined to do nothing that would give the intemperate an excuse for his intemperance. The fact that it tastes good ... I speak from hearsay, not experience ... is beside the point. We are to deny ourselves. "Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification" (Romans 15:2).
I don't think God's temples can say, "It's none of the wicked world's business what I do." The fact is, it is this wicked world's business. We owe it to the wicked world to set an example of godly living. We are to shun the very appearance of evil.
I got stopped the other day for speeding. I was ashamed. Mine was not the "appearance" of evil. Mine was very "obviously" evil. I paid my fifty dollar fine, but that didn't obviate the wrong. Fines never do. I'm supposed to show the wicked world how a Christian lives ... and I blew it!
"Oh," you say, "Now you're getting ridiculous ... everybody breaks that kind of law." Everybody? God's temples included? Really, now, have we rationalized our weaknesses to the point where we settle for sin? Are we going to rationalize shop lifting ... the rolling back of speedometers ... petting ... shady business deals ... premarital sex ... gambling ... dishonesty ... and self-indulgence? Does the wickedness of the world no longer bother us? Are we going to take the "everybody does it” attitude? God help us!
II. We are to love the people of the world.
We cannot love the people of the world and leave them as they are. They must be freed from their wickedness.
The man on the street will tell you that the role of the temple is to reform this wicked world. And we agree ... providing reformation starts with the life and character of the wicked. Reformation of the physical world is futile if there is no reformation of the wicked of the world. Reformation via the political world is disappointing, too, since it is difficult to apply the Christian ethic in an unchristian society. How do you "turn the other cheek" to a ruthless totalitarian government? Reformation of a nation must start with reformation of the individual citizen, and that is the approach of God's temple in a wicked world.
What method should we use to bring about reformation?
God's method of reformation is information. The preaching of the cross brings change. The skeptic says that information won't do it, and that those who think it will are foolish.
And yet, is it foolish to think that information can do the job? In this computer age we are being told that information is where it is at. We are told that information is power ... and that the person who controls information controls the world.
Of course, you have to know what to do with information. We've got a CRT in the Africa area at DFM. I'm glad I have ladies working with me who know how to read and run it... because I don't. I'm still struggling to move into the twentieth century!
Information is power if it is used properly.
The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but to us who are saved (who used information properly) it is the power of God!
Reformation starts with right information. Right information ... rightly used ... changes the wicked of the world. Conversely, reformation that stems from misinformation leads to chaos and turmoil. The world is full of misinformation. The devil is busy disseminating lies via TV, literature, and radio ... and the wicked world is buying his misinformation. The role of God's temple is to disseminate true and powerful information ... packaged in love.
We are to love the people of the world. Jesus loved the world and died for it. He has given us the job of informing the wicked world about His incarnation, His substitution for our justification, and His resurrection. We cannot say we love the people of the world if we withhold saving information from them.
But what kind of information will bring reformation?
Will information concerning impending judgment bring reformation?
Should we pull a Jonah and walk through our Ninevahs with a sandwich board proclaiming the end of the world in seven days? Well, if God tells you to do it, do it. It worked with Jonah, and it can work today if God is in it.
Will information concerning social evils bring reformation?
I remember a pastor who began a crusade against prostitution, liquor, and gambling. He got his name in the papers and had all the businesses that dealt in that traffic up in arms. He got so involved that his sermons were full of accounts of his exploits and his Sunday school class became a planning session for his next foray against evil. He even got himself put in prison. If the function of God's temple is to crusade against evil, then that pastor was doing his job, and doing it well.
It is worth noting, however, that most of the prophecies in the Old Testament were addressed to God's people ... not to the wicked world. So the question comes, "Has God called His temples to censure this wicked world or to love it and save it?" I'm not sure the wicked world needs to be told that it is wicked. It already knows it. What it doesn't know is the way of salvation. A lost sheep knows that it is lost. What it doesn't know is the way home. It is the temple's job to show the wicked world the WAY home!
Will information concerning the sinner's shortcomings bring reformation?
For example: You are on an airplane in the "non-smoking" area. The fellow next to you lights up ... ignoring the signs. Should you rebuke him? Again: A man at work is cussing a blue streak. You cringe as he uses God's name in vain. Should you "witness" to him by letting him know that he is insulting your Lord?
What kind of information should the temple of God be disseminating? Should it not be the kind of information that is redemptive ... that brings inward reformation? If so, then it is our job to preach Christ and Him crucified. The preaching of the cross is the only information that will bring reformation.
I know that there is a time to trumpet warnings. There is a time when information of this nature can prepare the ground for the gospel. But our purpose in information must always be reformation. If we can't help the wicked by speaking up, it is better to keep quiet.
The role of God's temple in this wicked world is to "love not" and to "love." Jude expresses our role aptly in verses 21 to 23 ... "Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference; and others save with fear. pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh."