Rev.18 — OVERCOMING WORLDLINESS
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on November 8th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click this link – Rev 18.
This morning we want to talk about worldliness. Worldliness, in the spiritual sense (e.g. “… the world, the flesh and the devil”) is harder to talk about than you might think. On the one hand, we all have an idea about what worldliness looks like…
~ The group of businessmen bragging about their expensive cars…
~ The arrogant sports figure who boasts about his abilities…
~ Govt. leaders who use their countries’ resources to become wealthy while their people starve…
~ The Super Bowl half-time show that spends enough $ on lights to feed a small country.
~ The political side show in which huge sums of $ are spent to accuse and ruin the name and reputation of an opponent – and the delight people take in such things.
We describe these things as worldly – and we are making an evaluation about their spiritual meaning – yet, although we recognize worldliness when we see it, worldliness covers such a broad area of pride, possessiveness and self-centeredness, that it is difficult to come up with a definition (this is less of a problem for “the flesh” and “the devil”).
But with Revelation 17 & 18, we are given a picture of “worldliness” – personified as a prostitute and a Great City. And perhaps the reason that she is hard to define, and that God personifies her in this vision – is that worldliness has to do with our relationship to the world we live in…
Worldliness is a Relationship or Attachment to the Great Prostitute.
It Attaches us to Demonic Influence: “She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.” The demonic influence of worldliness becomes evident through what it produces in people – not horns and a tail or red eyes – but rather an increasing love for what is destructive – an increasing worship of possessions and devotion to idolatrous desires.
It Feeds us the Maddening Wine that Draws People into Spiritual Adultery: James 4 spells this out clearly for us… ”What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
This is the maddening wine of worldliness personified that leads the whole world astray by so intoxicating people with their own desires that they are willing to quarrel and fight and kill and covet and be led into corrupt behavior (2Pet.1:4).
It is a Blinding Pride: “In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn” Worldliness creates a blindness in which we cease to think of ourselves as created beings before God and choose to think of ourselves as being completely free of consequences or responsibilities.
God Helps Us to Break Our Attachment to Worldliness.
By Exposing Her as a Prostitute: We said this one way with Ch.17 – it bears saying again. The image of the prostitute is shocking – and is meant to be. James’ statement that friendship with the world is adultery towards God is shocking – and meant to be. The true nature of worldliness is exposed as the most vile unfaithfulness to Christ – to whom we are betrothed. These images are meant to shock and repulse us – to give us a sense of revulsion towards the meaning of worldliness and to inspire us to repentance.
By Showing Us Her End: Vs.9-19 are a kind of lament over Babylon the Great. Three themes are repeated and stand as warnings to the church …
1. Those who loved the Great City/Prostitute Babylon, in the lament, will weep and mourn and suffer loss.
2 Those who worshipped the Great City/Prostitute will be terrified at her end and will stand far off in their terror.
3. Her ruin will come on her swiftly and suddenly, In one hour.
By Calling Us His People, to Come Out of Her: Even as God remembers the crimes of Babylon the Prostitute – and notice, after she has fallen but before judgment – he calls his people to come out of her and not to share in her plagues or sins.
This picture is a mixed image – suggesting both a call to obedience in which the people of God are called to leave worldliness behind – and also suggesting that God saves his people even in the midst of a fallen worldly place where they have to live.
This image helps us to understand what it means to “come out of” the Great City – or what it means to turn from worldliness. We cannot physically remove ourselves from the Great City – it is everywhere (even in Charles City). Coming out of the great city means that, even as we live in the midst of the temptations to worldliness, that we are called to reject the maddening wine – the drivenness of covetousness and lust – the blinding pride of worldliness.
The fact is that, while I may look down on the sports figure who boasts about his accomplishments as an egomaniac… I have the same pride and desire to impress people in my heart – in my actions – and that desire to impress often blinds me to being the servant God calls me to be. While I may roll my eyes at the businessmen who envy one another’s BMW’s… I have the same envy in my heart – the same discontentment with all that I have when someone else has something I want. And while I may be shocked at governments that starve their people while they collect wealth… I have the same desire for comfort and luxury – the same restless mind that keeps dwelling on what I don’t have rather than on the blessings God has given me.
So how do I Come Out of these sinful attitudes – this worldliness. Are we being told just to Stop It!? No! Coming out from the influence of worldliness must involve (1) First, the recognition of worldliness in our hearts – motives – words – actions – desires, and (2) Second, bringing those desires to the cross. I come out from under the driving desire for approval when I confess it to Jesus and come to the cross and receive forgiveness. As I do this, I am taking up the approval of God by grace – God’s delight in me – and I am recognizing my driving desire for the approval of others – the impossibility of that burden – and so choosing to lay it down.
God Promises Us Final Deliverance From Worldliness.
God Will Utterly Remove the Great Prostitute/City: In a symbolic act, in vs.21, a strong angel picks up a boulder the size of a millstone and throws it into the sea. In doing so, he acts out Jesus’ words of judgment on anyone who causes the weak and defenseless to stumble – “Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” ( Lk.17:1-2).
This symbolic act suggests God’s judgment on the Great City – on the worldliness that has been a cause of trouble and stumbling for his people. Vs.21-23 give a list of “Never agains” that describe a complete and utter judgment of the prostitute/ city. These begin with the statement that, “… the great city of Babylon will be thrown down never to be found again”.
Here is God’s promise – and our hope – that the temptations of the prostitute/ city – the desires that are at war within us – will be removed forever… and we will be free of them.
God Will Cover Our Struggles Against Worldliness with Grace: Finally in the last vs.23b-24 – the temptations of Babylon are retold like the story of Lot in Heb.11 – where Lot now is all of a sudden a man of faith who grieved over the evil of Sodom. The story of Lot in Genesis seems different than the way it is told in Heb.11 – Lot seems somewhat content and prosperous in Sodom. However, like the story of Abraham in Rom.4 – Lot’s story is retold from a redeemed point of view.
So now, in Rev.18, the Prostitute is exposed as the one whose magic spell led the nations astray – and the believers who struggled and at times failed are the prophets and saints – and their struggles against worldliness are the shedding of their blood. God retells our story of struggle with worldliness as a great struggle of faith and suffering – graciously.
The beginning verses of Ch. 19 confirm this (see Rev.19:1-8). A great shout of joy goes up from the saints and the angels, because, in the destruction of the poisonous Great City/ Prostitute, and the judgment of worldliness – the way has been cleared for the establishment of the new city – the new Creation – the Heavenly Jerusalem – which will be free of that corruption – of false driving desires – of sin and death.