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Is It Really a Great Big Wonderful World?
From the Writings of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion’s Fire Magazine in September/October, 1995

While shopping this morning, I saw a salesman approach a customer and ask, “How is the world treating you?” I thought to myself, I can answer the question for the gentleman since the answer is always the same. The world does not now, never did, and never will treat anyone good. The world knocks people down, it leads them astray, it offers glory that quickly fades, it provides pleasure for a season, it seduces the soul – but the world never treats anyone any good.

Does that seem harsh and excessive? Do you perhaps think the world has some redeeming characteristics?

I used to think that this world treated people good. I thought the good guys rode triumphantly off into the sunset of life. I bought – hook, line, and sinker – into the romantic philosophy expressed by a song that was popular in my youth. Its lyrics suggested that “It’s a great, big, wonderful world we live in, when you’re in love you’re a hero, a Nero, Apollo, a Wizard of Oz; you’ve a kingdom, power and glory, the old, old, oldest of stories; It’s new, true, you built your Rome in just one day....” (If you are over fifty, you may well remember the melody that went with these lyrics.)

The fact is, it’s really not a great, big, wonderful world that we live in. That’s simple, unadorned, biblical fact. I’m not a “Scrooge,” I’m not a “party pooper,” and I’m sure not a pessimist. I am, however, a Biblicist and, as a consequence, a realist. I view the world through the lens of the Word of God and, therefore, as it really is; not as romanticists make believe the world is, not as philosophers theorize the world is, and certainly not as humanists who make the world in their own image.

Many students of the Bible have written about our world.

Clement, an early Church father wrote:

The world that is and the world to come are enemies . . . We cannot be friends of both; but must bid farewell to this world to consort with that to come.

John Newton, a great preacher and hymnist, whose most-famous hymn is “Amazing Grace,” said of this world:

A soul disengaged from the world is a heavenly one; and then we are ready for Heaven when our heart is there before us.

Thomas a’Kempis wrote of this world:

Man draws the nearer to God as he withdraws from the consolation of this world. How swiftly passes the glory of the world!

What is the World?

The primary Greek word for “world” in the New Testament is cosmos. The basic meaning of cosmos is “order” or “arrangement.” It is the root from which “cosmetic” comes. Originally, “cosmetic” conveyed the idea of making order or arranging.

Cosmos is used in three primary ways in the Bible. First, the “world” (cosmos) is used to speak of the entire “ordered” or “arranged” universe. As such, it includes the heavens, earth, sea, the elements, the angels, men, and animals; in a word, all created things. Second, the “world” (cosmos) refers to the arena where human life; and experience occur – the stage of human history. Third, the “world” (cosmos) is used to speak of humanity; that is, the people or “players” who inhabit the planet Earth.

In a theological sense, the world or cosmos is best understood to refer to an “ordered” system. That ordered system has a leader, it has followers, and it stands in total and unequivocal opposition to God (John 5:18). The cosmos represents a society warped by sin and tormented by beliefs, desires, and emotions that surge blindly and uncontrollably within the human breast. The cosmos was not originally created that way – it became that way as a consequence of the Fall.

The World and Satan

The “ordered system,” or cosmos is headed by Satan. Man was initially created to be king of the earth – to rule and reign – to have dominion. But Satan solicited Adam to sin and then grasped the scepter of man’s divinely appointed kingship before it ever hit the ground. And a curse was placed upon the world.

In the temptation in the wilderness, Satan offered the Lord “all the kingdoms of the world” (Matthew 4:8) if He would bow :down and worship him. He could do so because they were his to give. If they were :not, the temptation would not have been :genuine. On another occasion Jesus, speaking of Satan, said, “the prince of this world cometh” (John 14:30); and again He said of Satan, “the prince of this world is judged” (John 16:11). At Calvary, Satan was defeated, but his execution awaits the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the interim, he remains “the prince of this world” – “the god of this age” – the one who goes about as “a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”

Along the same theme, the beloved apostle, John, wrote, “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19), or, perhaps more literally, “the whole world ’lieth’ in the wicked one.” The idea conveyed in the Greek word “lieth” is as in a drunken stupor or insensitive to their condition. The unsaved world “lieth” in the wicked one, unaware of their condition – all the while boasting of their liberty to do as they wish. The believer is in Christ. The unsaved world “lieth” in the wicked one, in a drunken stupor, semi-conscious, oblivious to their condition, unaware of the danger. If that does not generate a compassion in your heart for the inhabitants of the world – perhaps nothing will.

The World and the Believer

How is the believer to relate to the ordered system (world) which is headed by Satan? Permit the Scriptures to speak for themselves. In each instance cited below, the word for “world” is cosmos.

To the believer, God’s Word says: “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

To the believer, God’s Word says: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).

To the believer, God’s Word says: “If the world hate you [the idea is, and it does], ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

To the believer, God’s Word says: “In the world ye shall have tribulation [pressures and problems]: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

To the believer, God’s Word says: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Timothy 6:7).

To the believer, God’s Word says: “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

To the believer, God’s Word says: “Love not the world [its system], neither the things that are in the world [its baubles]. If any man love the world [its system and its baubles], the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

To the believer, God’s Word says: “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” (1 John 2:16).

To the believer, God’s Word says: “And the world passeth away [will be purged of the defilement and consequences of sin], and the lust of it; but he that doeth the will of God abided forever” (1 John 2:17).

To the believer, God’s Word says: “Greater is he [the Holy Spirit] that is in you, than he [Satan] that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

To the believer, God’s Word says: “For whatever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). Human obstacles, no matter how large, cannot impede faith in God’s Word.

To the believer, God’s Word says: “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5).

How many times and in how many ways does God have to tell us that this world is our enemy before some of us finally get it? This world is no friend of grace. Circle it – underline it – color it red – but don’t ever forget it! I really have not been exaggerating.

It is okay for a ship to be in the sea; there is danger when the sea is in the ship.

It is okay for the believer to be in the world; there is danger when the world gets into the believer.

The world is the mortal enemy of those who love the Lord. Men will find nothing of eternal value in this world.

It is true that “God so loved the world...” (John 3:16). But in view, in that context, are the inhabitants of the world. They were trapped, cut off, helpless, without hope. And, therefore, since God so loved the world’s inhabitants, He sent His Son into the world to save them from their lost estate within the world system.

The Destiny of the World

God destroyed the world once by flood; He is going to destroy it a second time by fire. The universal Noahic flood which “destroyed” the world did not “annihilate” the world. The earth and humankind continued following the flood. The coming destruction of the world by fire will not be the annihilation of the world. It will be for the purpose of judging the present world order because of the defilement of sin and preparing it for the glorious reign of Christ which is yet to follow. When the Son of God said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), He was not saying, as some contend, that His was only a spiritual kingdom. He was saying that He would not rule over the present world – contaminated as it is by sin. But after it is purged by fire, He will establish His millennial Kingdom. What began in a Garden, as recorded in Genesis, will end in New Jerusalem, as recorded in Revelation. It’s not a great, big, wonderful world that we live in – but one day, after the regeneration of all things, it will become a great, big, wonderful world.

The child of God is not a citizen of this world. He is a stranger, a sojourner, a pilgrim. He is just passing through. His umbilical cord is tied to an infinitely better land. God did not call the Church to capture this world. Such an attempt, as some advocate, is a futile and inappropriate mission destined for failure. God did call the Church to proclaim a saving message to lost men. The Church is literally a “called out assembly” – called out of the world and placed into the body of Christ. In this world, there are sometimes noble men and noble causes. But apart from Christ, they are wed to a system doomed to failure and punishment. If some choose not to concur, simply remind them that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness.” (1 Corinthians 3:19).

“Worldliness” is participation in this world system, headed by Satan, when such participation is apart from the will of God for one’s life. Worldliness is not necessarily participation in something that is wicked. Worldliness is participation in this world’s system, when God’s will for one’s life is left out of the equation. How important then to solicit divine direction for our daily lives.

“Faith,” the writer of Hebrews informs us, “is the substance [title deed or reality] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). By faith, like father Abraham, we must look to that “city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). THIS PRESENT WORLD IS NOT IT! The world to come is.

Take a look around you. Look in any direction you choose, you need not look long or hard to see one thing. The world is in an almost unbelievable mess. I don’t even have to stress that fact. You know it to be true. The world cannot be fixed. It carries within itself the virus of sin. It is only suited for destruction; and such a day is approaching. If you are not a citizen of this world – not in an ultimate sense – you are well-off, for this world, with its glory, is going to pass away. Don’t hold on to the things of this world too tightly. That way, when one day, during the Day of the Lord, this world is totally purged of all that is defiled, you won’t feel a sense of personal loss.

No, it really isn’t a great, big, wonderful world that we live in. The poet had it right when he penned the words,

Only one life,
   ’twill soon be past;
Only what’s done
   for Christ will last.

There’s a new world coming. “In due season, we shall reap if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). Press on, keeping your focus on the goal that is set before us.

Is It Really a Great Big Wonderful World?
From the Writings of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion’s Fire Magazine in September/October, 1995