Tuesday, March 22, 2022

In the Long Prayer of Jesus to His Father in John 17, Has "Of The World" Become Meaningless?

The model prayer of Matthew 6 and Luke 11, Jesus didn't pray.  He was teaching His disciples how to pray.  Certain few times the New Testament records that He spoke to His Father, He didn't ask for anything.  He prays for one thing in John 12:28, "Father, glorify thy name."

On the cross in Luke 23:34, Jesus prays, "Father, forgive them."  He prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26, two of which He requested essentially the same thing, and the third time it says he prayed the same thing as the first two.  In verse 39, He prayed, "Not as I wilt, but as thou wilt," regarding His suffering and death, and then in verse 42, "Thy will be done," which was about the same thing.

We know Jesus prayed other times, but those passages don't tell us what He prayed.  John 17 most represents what Jesus prays, because it contains more that He prayed than all the other places combined.  I will focus on one point of His requests in the chapter, which were not many, but of all of those prayers, He uses the words, "of the world," seven times.
Jesus never, per se, prays that believers will not be "of the world."  Not in those exact words.  However, He is asking the Father that in a practical way they will not be of the world.  Let me explain.  John 17:14-16 say (underline mine):

14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

Verses 14 and 16 say something similar that lead into the prayer requests of Jesus in John 17:17-20.

17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.

The Lord Jesus Christ has sent His own into the world, which not only includes His disciples at that time, but all of them into the future (v. 20).  Since they are not "of the world," even as Jesus was not "of the world," He prayed that the Father would sanctify them through the truth.  The prayer is that believers would live out in a practical way who they were by nature.  That would occur by sanctification through the Word of God.
Let me further elaborate.  They would be in the world, but since they were not "of the world," Jesus wanted it to continue that way.  Not being "of the world" directly relates to sanctification.  They would need sanctification through the truth to keep them "not of the world" even as Jesus was "not of the world" (v. 14).  By nature they were "not of the world" (v. 16), but sanctification would be required for them to stay "not of the world" in a practical way or manner.
Of all that Jesus could have or may have prayed, He associated a big chunk of it with "not of the world."  It seems that the Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote a crucial command of sanctification in Romans 12:2, "Be not conformed to this world."  It seems that the Apostle John comprehended it, because he wrote in 1 John 2:15-17:

15 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. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Two verses later, he connected these verses with this (v. 19):

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

"Of the world" and "of us" seem to be a contrast with the other.  If they were not "of us," based on those previous verses, it seems that they "loved the world" and were "of the world" instead.
John says that "the lust of the flesh," "the lust of the eyes," and "the pride of life" are "of the world."  This will enter into the right understanding of worldliness.  In Titus 2:15, Paul says that the grace of God teaches us to deny "worldly lusts."
It also seems for sure that Peter understood what Jesus prayed, when he later wrote in 2 Peter 2:20:

For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.

This parallels also with what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:14, "As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts."
Much more could be said about the phrase, "of the world," since it is found in the New Testament many times.  Many related phrases also occur with the "the world" in them, that add to this overall teaching.  However, a believer being in a practical way "not of the world" was a prayer of Jesus in John 17, when coupled with His prayer for sanctification.
Since Jesus did not want true believers to be "of the world," should we not assume that we can know what "of the world" actually means?  Since Jesus prayed for this, should we also not surmise that Satan would want believers to be "of the world," especially since John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11 say he is the "prince of this world."  In John 17:15, when Jesus prays that the Father would "keep them from the evil," this would relate to Satan, as likely Jesus was praying, "keep them from the evil one."  This is how the adjective, used as a noun with the preposition (ek, "from"), might imply the noun, such as "evil thing," "evil person," or "evil business."
What is it to be "of the world"?  If someone is not to be "of the world," then he needs to know what "of the world" is?  Can he know?  I am contending that "of the world" has become meaningless in evangelicalism and much of fundamentalism.  People know the words, but they do not give an interpretation or an application of these words.  "Not of the world" is not some arbitrary concept.  It means something.
The adverb "worldly" can represent the prepositional phrase "of the world."  If someone is not worldly, then he is not of the world.  What is worldliness?  When is someone worldly?  It's nearly impossible for an evangelical or most fundamentalists to be worldly anymore, because they've made it meaningless.
For someone not to be worldly, which Jesus prays for all true believers, he will not think worldly, act worldly, wear worldly dress or have a worldly appearance, listen to or play worldly music, or love worldly things.  For all of that to occur, worldliness must have meaningIt does have meaning.
To love the world (1 Jn 2:15) is not the same thing as loving chocolate cake or donuts.  It is to love the world system, which results in conforming to the spirit of the age (Rom 12:2).  Those who conform to the spirit of the age love the world.  They are of the world.
A vast majority of churches today are worldly.  That means they are not "of God."  They are "of the world."  Because of a particular view of the grace of God, they think they are saved.  It is not the grace of God.  It is the grace of God having been turned into lasciviousness (Jude 1:4).
With worldliness having no meaning, churches can be worldly and it doesn't matter to them.  Professing believers can be worldly and it means little to nothing.  By staying worldly, churches keep their worldly people.  Since they don't preach against worldliness or at least explain what it means, the people most often don't know anything is wrong.  They don't even know that worldliness clashes with being a Christian.  If they stood and preached against worldliness, they would shrink to almost nothing.

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