I have centered my thoughts in the following words on a phrase found in Paul’s writings to a young preacher named Titus in chapter 2, verse 12. The context of Titus, Chapter 2, is that the world is our stage where we as human beings play out our roles in domestic relations, personal daily activities, and even anticipation of events yet future.
Paul speaks to Titus of proper living in this present world. These words, in one bold statement, explain the plight of all confined to this terrestrial ball. We arrive naked and dependent and usually depart the same way. Even devoted believers and dedicated servants to the God Who created them and placed them in their circumstances vocalize their earthly soul unrest.
The Psalmist David, when overwhelmed with fear and calamity, expressed his desire to be lifted from this present world in Psalm 55:6, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest.”
Job, though known for his patience, wished to be loosed from this world and bewailed his birth asking, “Why died I not from the womb?” (Job 3:11a).
The great prophet Elijah, fleeing for his life, fell under the juniper tree and requested that he be allowed to leave this present world (I Kings 19:4).
We spend our lives craving and conniving to produce the perfect set of circumstances for our journey in this world. At last count, I viewed this proposal as impossible. Sickness will come, along with disappointments in people and happenings. Life, in general, and the daily grind all take their toll. Rarely will anyone, for any portion of time, be able to say all things are as we would have them be.
A Sunday school teacher told the story of the rich man and Lazarus in graphic detail to her class of young junior boys. She explained how Lazarus was a poor beggar who died and went to Heaven and the rich man lived lavishly, but died and went to Hell.
She then asked her eager students, “Which one would you want to be?”
One little boy answered immediately, “The rich man until I die — then Lazarus afterwards.”
In his little boy’s mind, he summed up the thinking of the vast majority of those in this present world.
Paul explained to Titus that we are to live soberly, righteously, and godly and we are to do all of this living in this present world. After having lived my threescore and ten and then some, I have to confess the system is rigged against the believer. This present world lies in the lap of the Wicked One.
He is described as the “prince and power of the air, the ruler of this present world.”
His system says be sensual, please yourself, promote yourself, expand, and fulfill your every desire. Yet, the Sovereign God of the universe Who loves me with an eternal love leaves me in this environment. He is always with me, yet allowing me, like David, Job, Elijah, and all believers, to be subject to the slings and arrows of this present world.
Several of my high school buddies, when graduating, joined the Marine Corps. They were sent to a place called Parris Island. This is an 8,095-acre military installation located in Port Royal, S.C. It is affectionately known as boot camp and holds the prestige of providing the rigorous training that turns men into seasoned warriors. Marine recruits boast of the hardships and wear the toil as a badge of honor. Could you imagine training for soldiers to be effective if it was not in an adverse and difficult environment under often harsh and trying circumstances?
In the same sense, God does not expect His followers to be a race of uninvolved, unchallenged, unaccomplished esthetics running from all spiritual responsibility. God is plain in His Word that He is not seeking to develop an army of believers who are like reeds shaken by the wind. We are not destined to hide in a cave like mystics or monks. Our sober, righteous, godly lives are to be worked out in this work-a-day trying world of imperfect circumstances. The believer is not sent to the parade ground, but into the thick of the battle, arrayed in the whole armor of God. God’s plan involves developing a people with Christ-like character who can function standing tall for the Savior in the wear and tear of the here and now.
Every day, the sun rises in Washington, D.C., with its first rays falling on the eastern side of the 555-foot Washington Monument. On the aluminum capstone, these words are inscribed, “Laus Deo” — Latin for praise be to God. This epitomizes to me Christians rising above a world hostile to Christ, and all the while bringing praise to their God.
A Christian grows and matures through the working of two divine agents: The precepts of Scripture and the providences of life. The ultimate goal to which all believers are predestined is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). A believer receives data and instruction from Scripture that marks the course of action to be taken in accomplishing the goal. To follow this plan will result in a strong soldier of the cross. The key is always the implementation of the Bible’s answers to everyday life situations. God suits this to every individual believer. I fear that today many believers are not combat ready or have gone AWOL joining the ranks of the unbelieving world in lifestyle.
The prosperity gospel proponents will not convey the inevitable struggle assigned to every believer. Too many show Christianity as a problem-free utopia when the reverse is generally true. Accepting Christ thrusts the believer into God’s boot camp to season us for combat with the world, the flesh, and Satan and his emissaries. Take joy from the fact that Christ is the Captain of the Lord’s Army and the battle outcome has already been decided.
The Apostle Paul is an example of a battle-scarred warrior.
His spiritual journey in this world began when the prophet Ananias was told by the Lord, “He is a chosen vessel for me — I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).
The journey ended with Paul’s review of a well-lived life summed up in the words, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 3:7).
All transpired “in this present world.”
The believer is always moving against the tide. Granted, it would be far simpler to conform to the unsaved world, to be silent about our faith, and shrink into our safe little haven. To declare boldly our stand for righteousness and godliness will guarantee conflict. Intimidation silences half-hearted witnesses, while pride considers man’s approval paramount to God’s.
After a half-century as a pastor, I have yet to be asked by a grieving family to talk of the financial, social, or educational accomplishments of a departed loved one. Without exception, the close of life in this present world brings into focus the things that are of major importance. Everything else seems to be way down on the list. Could it be that our time in this present world is but a window of opportunity to prepare us for eternity? How very sad to spend it on things that really never matter!
Dr. Jack Scallions serves as pastor emeritus of Fairview Baptist Church in Athens.