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Which World Is It?

There are many ways to interpret any passage of Scripture, but there is only one absolute and right interpretation for each passage.  The God who authored the Bible is not the author of confusion (1Cor. 14:33), and therefore any interpretations of His word that result in confusion must be misinterpretations.  It is our goal as diligent students of the Bible to accurately handle the word of truth (2Tim. 2:15) and to understand exactly what God intended when He inspired the Bible writers through the Holy Spirit.  This is a lifetime pursuit which may be difficult at times, but it will be richly rewarding as we gain the knowledge of God.

With this in mind, let us consider the use of the word "world” in the New Testament.  This word is translated from the Greek word kosmos, which has the generic meaning of a harmonious arrangement, constitution, order, or government.  However, it is the New Testament contexts that give this word a specific meaning so that we cannot interpret the word "world” the same way every time we read it.

Consider an example of how the word "world” has different meanings in different contexts.  Notice John 3:16, where Jesus said, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  Now notice 1John 2:15-17:

"Do not love the world nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

Is there a contradiction here?  Are we to understand that God so loved the world, but we are not to love the world?  Of course, there is no contradiction, for the word of God is flawless (2Sam. 22:31; Ps. 12:6; 18:30; 19:7-9; Prov. 30:5).  The contexts of these two passages dictate that the word "world” must be interpreted differently in each passage.  In John 3:16, "world” refers those for whom Christ died, i.e., sinful men.  In 1John 2:15-17, "world” refers to the entirety of earthly entities that oppose God and godliness.  In one context, there is a world that is loveable through God’s grace, but in the other context, there is a world that should not be loved in any way.

There are also other contextual meanings for the word "world.”  Notice John 1:10 – "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.”  Here we see that "world” refers to Christ’s creation, i.e., the world of people who were created through Christ (see John 1:1-3).  In passages such as John 8:23 (Jesus said, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world”), John 18:36 (Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world”), and others like these (John 15:19; 17:14, 16), the world is defined as the contrast to heaven and the spiritual realm.  In other contexts, the word "world” refers to the earth and all of creation (John 21:25; Acts 17:24; 1Tim. 6:7).  Sometimes the world "world” refers to a particular group of people, such as in 2Peter 2:5 ("world of the ungodly”).  In is evident that with all of these various contextual meanings, we must be careful to get the right meaning.

With all that said, let us consider the relationship of Satan to the world.  Jesus described Satan as the "ruler of this world” or "prince of this world” in John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11.  The apostle Paul called him "the god of this world” in 2Corinthians 4:4.  The apostle John said, "We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1John 5:19).  Is Satan truly the ruler and god of the world, or is Jehovah sovereign over all things?  Again, our interpretations of the Scriptures must be dictated by contexts, and the whole Bible context reveal that Jehovah God is the Almighty Ruler of all creation.  Satan’s power is limited to that which is affected by the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life.  The limitations of Satan’s power are demonstrated by passages such as Job 1-2 and James 4:7.  Certainly, Satan’s power is great, but it is as nothing compared to the power of our God.  Men who are lured by Satan into sin fall into his domain of darkness, but they are transferred into the kingdom of Christ through the gospel (Col. 1:13).  Indeed, Satan is the ruler of a world, but we may overcome him through Christ, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1John 5:4).

Therefore, when we speak of the world, let us be clear in our understanding and our meaning.  We may sing "This is My Father’s World” with a view to God’s creative and sustaining power and His great providence.  We may also sing "This World is Not My Home” with a view to the temporal nature of the earth and the powerful influence of Satan in this realm.  The word "world” may not always have the same meaning, but our understanding should be clear.  God created the world (the earth and universe), He sent His Son to die for the world (sinful men), He wants His people to be separate from the world (Satan’s spiritual domain of sin), and He will judge the world (all of mankind).  This is the essential message of the Bible, and there is nothing confusing about that.

Stacey E. Durham




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