Text: 1 John 2:15-17
Introduction: In psychology, the phrase “Stockholm Syndrome” is used to describe a mental phenomenon wherein hostages express irrational admiration and generally positive feelings towards their captors in spite of the dangers or risks endured by the victims. According to the FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System, twenty-seven percent (more than one-fourth) of those who at one time or another were taken hostage show evidence of it. It is named after an incident in Stockholm, Sweden in which bank robbers held employees against their wills from August 23rd to August 28th, 1973. In this case, some of the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, and even defended them after they were freed from their six-day ordeal. In fact, one of the victims fell in love with and became engaged to a hostage-taker after she and the others were liberated. Sometime after this incident, the term “Stockholm Syndrome” was coined by a psychiatrist in an attempt to explain the mental state of the hostages in the days following the ordeal. The most famous occurrence of this syndrome happened a year later in 1974 when Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of the media magnate, William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped by the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army). A short time after she was abducted, she announced that she had joined the SLA and began participating in its criminal activities, including robbery and extortion. You may remember the famous photograph of her holding a weapon as she stood guard during a robbery. Now to most people that whole thing seemed pretty strange. How is that someone whose very life is being threatened could eventually side with the people putting him in harm’s way to begin with? As weird as it may seem, however, statistics tell us that when enough outside pressure is applied at least one in four hostages will crack. Now listen to this: What happens to these men and women when they abandon their worldview for that of their captors, also seems to be a regular occurrence for a good number of Christians that have allowed themselves to be taken captive by their culture.
That’s why I want to share a passage with you from the New Testament that warns us of a spiritual threat similar in its effect upon Christians as the Stockholm Syndrome is on hostages. If we had to give it a name, we might call it “the Backsliding Syndrome.” It works something like this: A person responds to God’s call and puts his trust in Christ. He begins to walk with the Lord and, initially at least, can’t seem to get enough of Him. He’s constantly reading the Bible, talking to God in prayer and seeking opportunities to share Christ’s love with his neighbors. Over time, he sees his priorities change from loving self to loving God and people. Because he loves his neighbors, he wants them to know Jesus like he does. So he reaches out with a pure motive, wanting to introduce them to Christ. But in an effort to gain common ground, makes a few compromises along the way and that’s when everything begins to go awry. Gradually this Christian forgets that he is called to live as an alien and stranger in a world with values that are contrary to the things of God (See 1 Peter 1:1). After all, this world is under the control of Satan himself(1 John 5:19 — We know that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the Evil One, and his only goal is to steal, kill and destroy (SeeJohn 10:10a). Unfortunately, the “Backsliding Syndrome” gets the best of him as he slowly immerses himself once again in self-centered pursuits. Despite the fact that Jesus sternly warned His followers about putting our hands to the plow and, then, looking back at the life we left (See Luke 9:62), he falls prey to this temptation. If not corrected, this person will soon lose his passion for God and people when he becomes more closely yoked to unbelievers than to the Lord. What am I talking about? In 2 Corinthians 6:14, we’re told not to be yoked together with unbelievers. This doesn’t mean that we’re not to have relationship with those still in the world. How can we reach them with the Gospel except that we open up our lives and include them in? It is warning not to allow those outside the kingdom to exert greater influence over us than we, as followers of Christ, do over them.
This morning, as we continue in our preaching series Neighboring 101, we’re going to look at what can happen to well–intentioned Christians who, in an attempt to love their neighbors, let down their spiritual guard, and soon find they’ve been taken captive to a lifestyle they once renounced. “Not likely,” you say. I’m sure others have thought the same. Yet time and again, we hear about Christians who have drifted away from the Lord because they stopped fixing their eyes on the Him, and began to focus on the “fun and excitement” they’ve been missing out on. The Bible gives us at least two examples of this. Lot’s wife, who couldn’t take her eyes off of Sodom and Gomorrah, but looked back when she was warned not to. It was so attractive to her that she chose death over leaving her old life behind. The other one is regarding a man namedDemas. Paul said of him, “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2 Timothy 4:10). He once followed Christ, but walked away from Him because the offerings of the world were more attractive. I hope these examples make you feel a little bit vulnerable to the “Backsliding Syndrome,” at least enough to listen to the Apostle John’s stern warning found In 1 John 2:15-17. In these verses he writes to Christians who were walking with the Lord, but prone to spiritual drift because of their own attraction to worldly desires. He first issues a plain and simple command and then provides two good reasons for heeding it.
One Command: Do not love the world or the things in the world (1 John 2:15a). What is he talking about? Here John is referring to a way of life that is organized in rebellion to God. Before we point fingers at others, we have to remember that all of us were formerly in the same place with our pursuits directed by our own sinful desires. But then, God, in His grace and mercy, saved us and we became the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Now he warns us that while we, as believers, are forgiven of our sin and blessed to experience fellowship with the Living God, we are still engaged in a spiritual battle with the devil (1 Peter 5:8 — You adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour); we live in a world system under his control; and we battle our own fallen human desires that can lead to sin (Galatians 5:17 — For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, for they are opposed to each other). That’s why Jesus instructed us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One (Matthew 6:13). And so the Apostle John warns Christians to avoid setting our affections on the world or the things in it. Now some people might be confused by this. How is it that God can love the world, while commanding us not to? When the Bible says that God so loved the world (See John 3:16), it is referring to people. And certainly we are called to do the same (Matthew 22:39 — Love your neighbor as yourself). But the world as an evil system organized under the rule of Satan that rejects Christ and His authority is never to be embraced by Christians. Unfortunately, it is this world that constantly exerts pressure on us to conform to its values and standards causing many believers to stumble. Pastor and author Vance Havner must have had his fill of this sad state of affairs. He said, “Most church members live so far below the standard (of holiness) you’d have to backslide to be in fellowship (with them). We are so subnormal that if we were to become normal, people would think of us as abnormal.” Obviously, the Apostle John did not want to see this happen, so he warns us to refrain from loving the world and its offerings and then gives two reasons why.
Two Reasons: When believers love the world (as it is organized in rebellion to God), it points out two things:
- First, it means that our relationship with God is not what it ought to be(1 John 2:15b-16 — If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world — NASB). Now this makes sense to most of us. How can one love a world system that is against God and love God at the same time? Jesus said as much in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 6:24 — 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. Our master is not just the one we declare, but the one we obey. If we obey our sinful desires, then we serve them. On the other hand, if God is our master, then we serve Him. In the verse that follows, John breaks down the attractions of this world system and why they hold out such appeal to people
- The lusts of the flesh. The word “lust” means a strong desire for something either good or bad (See Philippians 1:23; 1 Peter 2:11). Here it has the latter sense…any desire of man that leads us to break God’s law. It is this sinful lust from within that produces an attraction to sinful temptations from without (James 1:14— But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire). There are many things we can lust for in the flesh … food, sex, gossip, possessions, power etc.
- The lusts of the eyes. These are sinful pursuits that come from without and satisfy the lusts of the flesh. Our Lord spoke of it like this: “The eye is the lamp of the body, and if your eyes are clear/good the whole body is full of light, but if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness — Matthew 6:22-23a.” The lusts of the eyes are those things that lead people into covetousness and idolatry. Consider Achan, who kept for himself some of the things under the ban when the Israelites attempted to take Ai. He coveted a robe, two hundred shekels of silver and fifty shekels of gold. For his offense he and his family perished (Joshua 7); or David, who looked down on Bathsheba as she was taking a bath and subsequently committed adultery with her while murdering her husband (2 Samuel 11). Each was enticed to sin by the lust of the eyes.
- The boastful pride of life. These are sinful pursuits that are driven by the desire to worship oneself. It may well be that arrogance is the motivation for all sin, including the lust of the flesh and eyes (Romans 1:24-25 — Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator). Prideful people are not looking for someone to worship, but seek to be worshipped themselves. By the way, the Bible warns that those who exalt themselves will be humbled (SeeLuke 18:14). Illustration: This reminds me of the story about a lion that decided to make sure all the other animals knew he was the king of the jungle. He was so confident that he bypassed the smaller animals and went straight to the bear. “Who is the king of the jungle?” the lion asked. The bear replied, “Why you are, of course.” The lion gave a mighty roar of approval and moved on. Next he asked the tiger, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The tiger quickly responded, “Why everyone knows that your are, mighty lion.” Next on the list was the elephant. The lion faced the massive pachyderm and asked his question, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The elephant did not respond but instead grabbed the lion with his trunk, whirled him around in the air five or six times and slammed him into a tree. The he pounded him on the ground several more times and even dunked him in the water in a nearby lake before unceremoniously depositing him on the shore. The lion, beaten, bruised and battered, struggled to its feet. It looked disappointedly at the elephant and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer is no reason for you to get mean about it!” When we’re consumed with the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, our walk with God is destined to suffer.
- Second, it means that we are no longer living with a view to eternity (1 John 2:17— And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever). It is foolish to love the world because of the fate that awaits it.
- The world and its lusts are passing away. Don’t miss the implication of this. The sinful desires of this world will not last. Neither will those who are consumed with them. Is this God’s way of making us feel insecure in our salvation? No, He wants every true believer to rest in the promise of salvation knowing that we’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14). But nowhere in Scripture do we see God wanting to give assurance to the professing believer who has not interest in walking with Him. These people should be concerned for their eternal destinies.
- The one who does the will of God lives forever. Permanence only belongs to those who do the will of God. This is what our Lord is saying in Matthew 7:24-27when He tells the story of the foolish man who built his house upon the sand and the wise man who built his house upon the rock. It is the storms of judgment that reveal who has trusted in the world (and is swept away as a result) and who has trusted in the Lord (and has a permanent place in God’s kingdom through faith in Christ). He warns of the same thing in Matthew 24:36-41. Those who are not doing the will of God will be taken away. So by way of review: One command — do not love the world or the things in the world; Two reasons — if you love the world, it means that your relationship with God is not what it ought to be and that you are no longer living with a view to eternity.
- The World and Satan. Satan holds those in the world (i.e. participating in the current world system corrupted by sin) under his control (See 1 John 5:19). This is a world that is not in need of reformation, but transformation. We would be wise to remember this and resist its attractions while ministering to our neighbors.
- The World and God. God loves those in the world and sent Jesus to rescue us from this present evil age (See Galatians 1:4). Through faith in Him anyone can enter the kingdom of God (See 1 Timothy 1:15).
- The World and Us. God’s deliverance (rescue) does not take us out of the world, at least for now, but provides us with power to overcome it(See 1 John 5:4) and be the light of the world (See Matthew 5:14). Though we are in the world, we are not of it and long to take others with us when we leave it (See 2 Peter 3:13).
Conclusion: As a captivating and burly African-American stage actor, Charles S. Dutton won fame for his acclaimed, Tony-nominated performance in the play “The Piano Lesson” in 1990. Interestingly enough, when he first burst onto the theatrical scene a few years before, Dutton found that his personal story made for more interesting copy with the press than his performance on stage. It turns out that the Baltimore native had a troubled childhood, interspersed with stints in reform school. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade, and eventually tried his hand as an amateur boxer under his nickname ‘Roc‘. At age 17, though, he was convicted of manslaughter after stabbing a man to death in a street fight. After serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison term, he was paroled only to return to jail less than two years later for possession of a deadly weapon. Given his violent past and prison record, no one thought that Charles Dutton would accomplish anything with his life. During his second stay in prison, however, he took an interest in acting and decided to start a theatre group. In order to do this, he was required to be enrolled in school. Dutton entered with a 7th grade education, but when he left prison he had earned an associate’s degree from a local community college. Remarkably a short time later he was invited to enroll in the drama school at Yale University. From there one thing led to another, and then, at the age of 59, he became a well-known actor in Broadway plays, Hollywood movies and TV sitcoms. Someone asked Charles how he managed to make such a remarkable transition from “jail to Yale”, he replied, “Unlike the other prisoners, I never decorated my cell.” His point being that Dutton resolved never to regard prison as his home. In the same way we, Christians, while seeking to love our neighbors, would be wise to adopt a similar approach to this world. Sure…we live in a place that still remains under the dominion of Satan, but only as aliens and strangers, and so we’re careful not to accommodate ourselves to it lest we would suffer from the backsliding syndrome. Instead, we look forward to being with our Lord in His very presence in heaven. But until that time, we strive to love God and our neighbors and focus on being the light of the world rather than lovers of it.