I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
So, are you in or are you of? Because there is a difference.
Carson Wentz is of North Dakota. (Although Wikipedia says he was born in North Carolina and moved here when he was 3.) This is where he grew up. He went to school here in Bismarck. No matter where his career takes him, he is of Bismarck, and Century High School, and North Dakota State University. He can’t change that and neither can you.
“Of” is the source that describes your past, and so “of” can also be a helpful description for who I am and what matters to me. It can give you characteristics about me. If I say I am of Watertown, WI then you can understand a few things. You know that I have experienced all four seasons of the year. I’ve seen the beautiful colors of fall. I’ve trudged through the biting cold of winter. I’ve worn short sleeves and shorts that first day over 40 in spring time. I’ve sweated out a hot muggy stretch in summer. Being of Wisconsin also helps you understand my fanaticism for the Packers and Brewers, brats and cheese. If you know anything about our Wisconsin Synod, it began in Milwaukee and Watertown. So you will also know that I kind of grew up in a Lutheran bubble. I had Lutheran friends and neighbors. My family and most of my friends’ families had long genealogies in WELS. I knew tons of pastors and teachers. I experienced plenty a potluck in my youth. I played grade school athletics in a league of only Lutheran schools because almost any town around Watertown had a Lutheran school.
There’s one more way that “of” describes a person. In Luke 2 we hear that Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem to the town of David, because Joseph was of the house and line of David. “Of” describes to whom you are connected and related. That’s kind of how last names started in the Middle Ages. Rather than saying I’m Tom of the house of Martin of the house of Robert of the state of Wisconsin of the immigrants of Germany of the bowl making clan, I can just say all of that with Moldenhauer now.
“Of” says a lot. So, what does it mean if someone says, “I am of the world?” Well, it means that they are from here, but it also describes a lot about them and what they care about. If you say, “I am of the world,” that means you really care about this world and it means a lot to you. That means that things like the elections this November are a big deal. You watch the coverage and news reports. You can’t wait for the debates. You discuss (it seems that means complain about) the issues and the candidates with family and friends. If you are of the world, then this election is a huge deal and holds a decisive path for the future of our country and world.
If you are of the world that means peace and quiet is probably a rare guest in your life. Have you noticed how busy everyone is? Have you noticed how little time people spend in peace without distractions and devices? If you are of the world then you are caught in the hurry up and go. Your schedule is maxed to capacity with work stuff, family stuff, fun stuff, and random stuff to the point where you don’t have much of any time for God and his church. I mean, honestly, if people are of the world, then that means the relationship with God is strained to say the least, because God is not of the world.
If you are of the world, then where is the truth? You see a world where people are told what they want to hear. You can’t offend anyone anymore, so morality, politics, religion, sports, hobbies, food – all that stuff is all in the eye of the beholder. You have to make your own way and your own truth. Do what makes you happy and steer clear of other people so that you don’t offend them. If you have to say something about personal ideas or feelings, do it on facebook or twitter so you can hide behind social media and a screen. Then, offer a vague apology post a couple hours or days later. That’s the way of truth if you are of the world.
If you are of the world then, brothers, then you have probably flared your nostrils and had a heated exchange with someone. Guys get macho like that sometimes, because we think winning an argument with another guy proves something. We have this this insatiable desire to be right and to win. You want to be the person who has the answers and knows how to get things done. You work really hard to “support your family,” which is maybe a cop out that means you want to give your wife and kids things they want and like. That’s what is important if you are of the world. And that spills over into other aspects. You want NDSU to get the 6-peat, or you want UND to pull off a huge upset over NDSU. You want the Vikings to win tonight so you can say, “We got you, Pastor!!!”
And maybe one final thing that really matters in this world is the way you look. If you are of the world then, sisters, you are all about fashion and hair and accessories. You’ve got the magazine subscriptions to see what’s hot this year. You stop at the malls and shops at least once a week to check out the sale racks. You’re on a first name basis with the salon stylists. If you are of the world you probably have membership at the Y or at some point in life you’ve taken on a popular diet so that you can look good. Because these kinds of things really matter when you are of the world.
People who are of the world are into all of this stuff. You’re consumed by it. You find your purpose for life in all of the worldly things. But let me ask, does being “of the world” produce any lasting joy? Is it really a good thing? Let me ask it this way: will the election change our life? Will the busy schedule give us hope for a better future? Will speaking the world’s version of truth help people who are struggling to find some? Will cheering for the Vikings or Bison or Brewers help us in the fight against Satan? Do the shopping trips pay the price for our sins? Can any of our worldliness help others with their sins? Does being of this world shine God’s light in the darkness?
Not so much! In fact, that kind of life is a part of the darkness. Being of the world is a life where nothing lasts and where we can never stop the pursuit of ourselves. That kind of life is serving the devil’s purpose, really. And we fall into that scary trap too often. We get caught think about worldly problems and worldly passions and worldly possessions and worldly preferences. And we may excuse it saying everyone else is doing it, but that doesn’t work with God.
That’s why God sent Jesus. He didn’t send Jesus to be of the world. He sent Jesus into the world. That’s why Jesus’ main purpose here was not to show us the best kind of political leader. He wasn’t interested in giving worldly wisdom for us and our kids. And Jesus’ main message was not motivation to make a better life for yourself. Jesus came into the world to be the Savior from the world. He gave himself as a ransom for all. He paid the price so that people wouldn’t think life is always about paying the price to get ahead. Jesus gave his life so that we can have a life that lasts forever.
God does not want people to fritter away in life trying to make this sin-darkened and broken world a better place. You see, the world is broken and the devil wants you to think that you can fix it. He’s hoping that you will love it so much here that you won’t think about eternity that much. The devil hopes you will buy into the “be part of the solution” mentality. But it won’t work. The only solution is Jesus. And if he wasn’t of the world, do you think you have to be? No. You have a God who loved you and saved you for an eternity with him. You have a God who guards and protects you. You have a God who guides you in the right paths.
That’s where Paul is getting at with this section of his letter. If we are saved by God’s grace through Christ, if we have been paid for in full by a Savior who loves us and gave his life as a ransom for us, and if we have the truth that being of the world leads nowhere, then you don’t have to be of this world. Instead, Paul gives us some ways to live in the world and not of it.
He says that you don’t have to think this election is the be all and end all of America. You can have the right attitude. Make requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. That’s the right view of government. Pray for it. There is not one divinely ordained government in this world. Every government is filled with a bunch of sinners just like every country is filled with sinners like us, but God works through the government for the purpose of peace. God doesn’t want heaven on earth, he wants us to have peace while we serve him with a godly life. So being in the world gives us the right attitude about government and elections; you’ll pray for a government that allows us to share the gospel, for a government that lets us take care of the church.
Because in this world God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. That’s what matters, the gospel of Jesus. God wants that to get out. He wants truth to prevail, because his truth lasts. If you have been struggling, if you have been running around trying to make life whole again, if you are fed up with everything going on, then the truth is still that God loves you and wants you to live with him in heaven forever. HE sent his own Son to face hell so that you wouldn’t have to. There is nothing more powerful than that.
So that changes things for us, brothers and sisters. We don’t have to be macho men who win arguments, disputes and fights. We don’t have to be alpha dogs, who everyone is afraid of. We don’t have to put such an emphasis on being of this world. We get to be bringers of peace because Jesus brought us peace and we want others to have it to. We get to be honest leaders because Jesus gave us the truth. We get to be good examples to our families, friends, and neighbors, because we know that being of this world leads nowhere. We get to plan out time personally and for the family where Christ is the center. That might be before or after meals. That might be before bed times. That might be in the morning. And that will be every week in church. That is what a godly man does when he is in the world and not of it.
And for our sisters in Christ, Paul isn’t saying that looking nice and feeling nice is sinful, but there’s no need to find your worth and purpose in how you look or what gossip you know. That’s being of the world. God uses you in the world to be the example of decency and propriety. Our younger girls and daughters don’t need better fashion tips and bigger closets. They need godly mothers. And you have a God who makes that possible because he fills you with his grace and mercy through his word and sacrament.
That’s what God has done for all of us. Because he didn’t make us of the world. He is using us in the world to be lights where the devil wants darkness. He is using us to show love, the kind of love that speaks truth and speaks it with such selflessness and humility. All by grace and mercy, God is using us to take care of his church so that people will know their Lord and Savior.
So, are you in or are you of? Thank God that he sent Jesus into the world to save us from being of the world. As you go out this week, be in, not of. God grant it. Amen.