How shall we shun the world, which we ought not to love, when we are in the world and are taught to die to it, and yet on the contrary fold to our breasts with a sort of envious lust that world which we ought to have spurned as it were beneath our feet?
- Columbanus, Sermon III, Irish, 7th century
Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
- James 4.4
Of course, neither Columbanus nor James meant to suggest that we should avoid, reject, eschew, repudiate, or otherwise distance ourselves from everything in the world.
We do, after all, live here, as Paul reminds us (1 Cor. 5.9, 10). Jesus has reconciled the world to God, having borne the sin of the world in His own body on the cross (2 Cor. 5.17-21). Our mission in the world is to restore to the goodness of God that which Jesus has reconciled. So we don’t just walk away from the world or its people and other creatures.
At the same time, we must be always mindful and on guard against the world’s tendency to want to be our god. Its things, successes, experiences, knowledge, and so forth will, from time to time, insist that, in themselves, they are the good we seek, they are our true source of happiness, fulfillment, and peace.
We must be in the world, but we must not be overcome by it. To seek anything other than God as our highest source of joy, satisfaction, fullness, and delight, is to make an idol of it.
This includes even the blessings God Himself grants us each day.
It is in this sense that we must practice the discipline which Columbanus referred to as “shunning” the world. The idea of “shunning” is related to the practice of church discipline. When someone is put out of the church because he refuses to repent of a known sin, then it is the duty of the rest of the church to “shun” that person – as Paul puts it, not even to eat or drink or have any fellowship at all with him (1 Cor. 5.11).
That seems harsh, I know, but in the case of church discipline, it’s not the last word (cf. 2 Cor. 2.3-8). We shun the offender to help him realize how serious is his sin, so that he might come to repentance, and be reconciled with those he has offended, and with the church. When reconciliation has been achieved, then we can work to restore the offender, so that we can flourish together with him in the one Body of Christ.
This is the sense in which Columbanus, echoing James, urges us to shun the world. Resist its allurements. Steer clear of its traps and pitfalls. Separate yourself from all its sinful ways. Give no place for that which insists it is more to be desired than God.
We must recognize the world’s various tempations and resist them, so that we might grow in the Lord. As Luther is reported to have said concerning temptation, we can’t stop the birds of this world from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from building nests in our hair.
And so we must. The love of God requires it; and love for our neighbors will not proceed as freely, fully, or fruitfully, if we are distracted by and captive to the enticements of this idolatrous age.
Jesus has reconciled the world to God, and we must work to restore it to that good and upright condition it had before the fall. This work we carry out within our own spheres, as we bring the Word of God to bear on all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities, seeking to realize the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Ps. 27.13).
But as we do, we must must be continually on guard against the allurements of the sinful world, and not fold them into our breast.
Let us banish everything in this world which does not conduce to our living to God with all our soul and strength.
Psalm 48.9-11 (Cwm Rhondda: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah)
For Your grace and lovingkindness we proclaim Your matchless worth!
As Your Name is, great and boundless, let Your praise fill all the earth.
Let Your people sing rejoicing for the judgment of Your truth,
For the judgment of Your truth.
Help me to recognize and resist the temptations of this world, O Lord, so that I may…
Would you see Jesus?
We encourage you to do so. Seeing Jesus in His glory is the great “way of escape” through all temptation. Learn to meditate on Jesus, so that you can say with the Psalmist, “I have set the LORD always before me” (Ps. 16.8). Download our free, 28-day meditation on Psalm 45, Glorious Vision, by clicking here. And when you’ve finished that, add another 28 days of meditating on Jesus by ordering a copy of Be Thou My Vision from our online store (click here).
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Walker, p. 75.