My lowest moments in life have often come when I’ve chosen to love pleasure. In my first year of university, I had a bad habit of taking a lazy day. On average, once every second week I would decide to skip all my classes, stay in bed and do nothing but watch YouTube videos and NFL highlights, read articles on my favorite humor site. I could justify it well enough to myself: I’d worked hard (not really) for a couple of days and I didn’t have the stamina to continue without a break because I never did much work in high school. It was fun for hours at a time, but the fun always faded. But no matter how bored I got, I could never seem to motivate myself to get up and actually do work. Often my lazy day would extend to multiple days until an imminent deadline reminded me that I was supposed to be a student.
Every lazy day(s) hurt my spiritual life. In an internet haze, I was highly unmotivated to take the initiative to pray or spend time in God’s Word. I was vulnerable to sin and even if I didn’t do anything “wrong”, God always seemed so far away. I believe that rest, fun, pleasure are good things, but can very easily become idols, or things we value above God. They compete passionately for our attentions and when we give our hearts to them, they work to displace God. It’s no surprise then that God warns us against them, quite passionately.
“Do not love the world or 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 desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17
We are called not to love the world or the things of the world. What does it mean to love the world? Well, for one, it is a sign that the love of the Father is not in a person. I’d like to compare it to another passage where love of something is set against loving God.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” – Matthew 6:24
Here love is paralleled with devotion. A person can only love either God or money and can only be devoted to God or money. Love is a huge concept with a lot of aspects and implications. If here we focus on loving as the act of committing, devoting and giving of oneself to its object, we’re able to get a clear understanding of what the passage from 1 John is saying. Do not be committed, devoted or give yourself to the world or things of the world. You can only serve one master, and it will be either God or the world.
The world consists of natural inclinations: The desires of the eyes, the desires of the flesh and the pride of life (or pride in possessions). John Piper puts it well in his book Future Grace, “No one sins out of duty. We sin because we want to. Sin promises happiness, and we buy the lie.” It’s easy to be lazy; our flesh loves it. It’s easy to sit and be entertained for hours at a time. We are prone to loving the world because it requires no real effort. Love, devotion, commitment to pleasure is not always an active decision we make, but often the natural consequence of choices we don’t
Relationship with God is a regular and active choice. Knowing God requires that we think deeply and reflectively, and communicating with Him doesn’t happen unless we’re intentional with our prayers. Salvation is free, and costs us our lives at the same time. Paul describes his Christian experience as being crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) and Jesus tells us we’ll need to take up our crosses (an image of death) daily (Luke 9:23). The author of Hebrews talks about striving to enter God’s rest so as not to enter into disobedience (Hebrews 4:11). To know God is to choose a lifestyle of daily sacrifice and to love Him, not pleasure.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1,2
Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. There was a plan, from before the foundation of the world to save humanity by paying the penalty for our sins. This plan was rooted in God’s love for His creation, made in His image. Since the fall of man in Genesis, God has been on mission to redeem man, cumulating at the cross. Jesus had a purpose set before Him and gave up everything to fulfill it. And now He is exalted, sitting at the right hand of the Father, having inherited a name that is more excellent than the angels (Hebrews 1:4).
He sets before us a purpose. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” A life driven by our God-given purpose will protect from the destruction that comes from pursuing the pleasures of this world. What’s your purpose? How are you uniquely gifted to make God’s kingdom known?
For many of you and for me, it’s the beginning of a long summer break. It’s easy to slip into laziness, hours online doing nothing or making fun the goal each day. You can spend the summer looking for new ways to be entertained, being deeply unsatisfied. Or you can be a part of a mission that’s been going on since before the world was created. Don’t lose sight of the purpose to which you were called. Pleasure is not bad, but it can become a weight that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1).