Overcoming the World

Partisanship should not control the love within God’s family.   

This post was adapted from a message given by Jeff Friess,
A preacher at Grandview Christian Assembly

Despite all our praying and Bible reading, sometimes God just does not do things the way we would like.  Richard Wurmbrand was an evangelical minister in Romania and founder of The Voice of the Martyrs ministry.  He had been an atheist, but eventually got saved.  He writes:

“Out of remorse for having been an atheist, I longed from the first day of my conversion to be able to witness to the Russians.  The Russians are a people raised from childhood in atheism.  I promised God that I would dedicate my life to be a witness to the Russians, to give them back their personalities, to give them faith in God and to give them faith in Christ.”

From this determination, it sounds like the scene was set for Wurmbrand to become a great missionary from Romania to Russia.  But he continues, 

“I did not have to go to Russia to reach the Russians, because on April 23rd, 1944, one million Russian troops entered Romania.”  

They entered with machine guns to occupy the country, and it wasn’t to have Bible studies.  God was answering Wurmbrand’s prayer, but not the way he wanted.  There are a couple of ways Wurmbrand could have responded.  The way he ultimately did respond, though, was to overcome the world, and his trying circumstances.  He ultimately reached those gun-toting Russians for Christ, as well as the lost people of Romania. 

But there was another way Wurmbrand could have responded, which, if you check your own experience would seem pretty relatable.  Wurmbrand, seized with disappointment, could have allowed his heart to fill up with bitterness toward God, saying, How come you did it this way?  I was planning to go to Russia, but now you’ve messed everything up!  

If you’ve ever been tempted to hold onto bitterness of this type, you know it is right on the heels of falling into some kind of sin.  Had Wurmbrand taken this route, he would have abandoned reaching Russian souls, and taken up plotting how to get revenge against them.  His love would have soured into hate.  

Right now in our country’s culture, victory is understood as crushing the other side.  I even saw some people arguing online the other day about whether God was a Republican or a Democrat.  It must be strange indeed for God to watch unregenerate people argue about love, justice, and righteousness, and who corners the market on those things.  Apparently, whoever shouts the loudest successfully claims them.  The way to overcome, according to the world at least,  lies in besting the other person.    

But for a Christian, overcoming the world begins when you love your neighbor as yourself–even more specific, when you love the believer in Christ sitting in a church meeting who looks differently, and thinks differently than you.   

If you’ve ever felt this challenge, take a look at 1 John 5:1-5.

1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

These verses portray family, with yourself as a family member, identified right there in the first verse—“everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ.  Having this faith has led to your being born of God.  The result of the second birth is that we love the Father.  Now sometimes we’d like to stop with loving the Father only.  But the verse includes our loving “whoever” else has been born of God.  

Honestly, I’ve felt from time to time that my Christian life would be so much easier if there weren’t all the rest of those “whoever’s” that have different attitudes not only about politics, but raising children, and all kinds of other things.  I’d like to have my own little huddle with Jesus and the Father.  

But God intended for us to have a lot of siblings.    

You could say love for God is the inner principal, and love for all the “whoever’s” is the outward manifestation of it.  Nor is this simply some kind of post-election pep talk.  Even without the national elections as a backdrop, this message is eternally relevant.  The necessary complement of our love for God will be that we love the children of God.  When our love for God is on fire, we’ll have no problem loving whoever has been born of God.  

So, how do we know we love the children of God the way God intends?  If we can’t get some working definition, “love” is going to be like jello—no substance.  John goes on to say, “By this we know that we love the children of God.”  Then he specifies, “when we love God, and when we obey his Commandments.”  You could say there’s a three-legged stool here—love for you, love for God, and the keeping of his Commandments.  If you remove any of these three, the stool falls over.  

Albert Barnes said that, “to keep my commandments is proof of our love to God, to do his will, to love each other, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and follow him through the good and bad.”  If we resist God’s Commandments, we’re going to have trouble loving people.  Resistance to his Commandments means we’re going to end up only loving the people we already love. On the other hand, if I keep his Commandments, it will clarify that our love for others does not spring from a selfish source.     

Continuing into verse 3, it says, “for this is the love of God, that we keep his Commandments, and his Commandments are not burdensome.”  When my daughter was younger, I would ask her, “Do you love your dad?”  She’d say yes, but then I’d follow up.  “How much do you love your dad?”  “So, so much,” she replied.  “Okay,” I would say, “Pick your toys up out of the floor.”  This always got a rise out of her, but the truth is, when the heart loves God, his Commandments are not burdensome. They’re not unreasonable.

Actually, serving sin is the burdensome thing.  For instance, if you are caught up in an offense against another person in the church, and decide you’re not going to reconcile, but hold onto your bitterness.  That is far heavier than simply forgiving others, or apologizing to them.  Yet, the world interprets exactly the opposite, thinking it preferable to nurse grudges, and get revenge.

Verse 4 says, “for everyone that has been born of God overcomes the world, and this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith.”  “Everyone,” every born again person, means more than just pastors, or other folks you’d think ought to be spiritual superstars.  If there’s anyone victorious in overcoming the world and its appetite for grievances, it is that simple man or woman of sincere faith in Christ.  

Verse 5 even asks the question, “who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?”  John looked around the world, the marketplace, the political forum,  the pagan temples, and he wondered aloud, “who overcomes?”  He quickly answers by stating, “the one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  

While I was running the kids around yesterday, I munched on a bag of pork rinds and some beef jerky (and of course, a diet coke to counterbalance the calories in those yummy things).  Although I’ve recently paid more attention to dieting, I forgot what a daily effort is required to lose some weight.  You can’t take too many days off.  You’ve got to fight all the food advertisements, the smells when you pass by restaurants, and cravings from within.  Weight loss doesn’t involve passivity.  

Overcoming the world is no different. Just coming to church, and making nice with people doesn’t mean you’ve overcome for the rest of the week.  It requires daily, intentional fellowship with the Lord.  You’ve got to fight the influences coming at you that encourage dark anger,  and the exercise of your faith will need to be more robust than the things the world throws at you. 

We all could all use some self-evaluation these days.  It probably won’t require a whole lot of introspection, either.  You’re already aware of any bitterness filling your heart, or resentment, or hatred.  Is someone your enemy?  Does someone “deserve” your hate?  If so, that’s a red flag.  

I got started on this journey long before the election.  I didn’t pray for world peace, or national unity.  Nor did I pray for my particular candidate to win.  But I did pray a lot about the person I would be when the process was done.  Would I be able to accept the final outcome of the whole process at the emotional level?  Would I still be able to love all of you, both in my church at large, as well as everyone in my own small group?  Could I have warmth toward others, not based on political outcomes, but based on their having been born of God?  This is a question that must be answered by every member of every church.

Ultimately, the world’s political divide should not be allowed to invade our hearts and devour the brotherly love of the second birth.  If it does, we’ll surrender to the urge to group ourselves either in Democrat or Republican churches, rather than by the rule of faith.  

Let’s overcome the world.
Not be overcome by it. 

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