The World Encyclopedia

The World. When scripture uses the word “world” it usually means one of three things, although sometimes there is a blend between them. The Greek word is kosmos, and in the broadest definition it means an ordered system.
  1. The World-place (“the planet”). In the most basic sense, the term refers to the literal planet earth. An example of this is Romans 1:20; “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”
  2. The World-people (“the people”). In another sense, the term refers to all the people living in the world. A classic example is John 3:16; “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
  3. The World-system (“the program”). In a third sense, the term is used to describe a system that exists in independence of God. This “world” is positively against God and God’s people. A good example of this is in John 15:18; “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”
The World System.

The world is a vast system set up by men, energized by Satan, in which men may live in independence of God.1 The world provides manufactured resources to fill the void that exists in every human heart. Where did the world come from? What is the world characterized by? Where is it going? These are important questions to ask and have answered from the Word of God.

  • A system: not mere objects. The Greek word translated “world” is kosmos, and it simply means “a vast, ordered system”. We can see from 2 John 2:15 that the “things” are not mere objects. They are influences, desires, etc. that may involve objects, but it is far deeper and broader. The world-system is a complex but marvelously efficient system. Man has needs and desires, and the world provides what is needed to meet those wants (or appear to) in order to keep the soul at a distance from God.
  • Independence: Its Origin and Character. If we go back to the beginning, we find the origin of the world-system in Genesis 4. “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord… and builded a city” (Gen. 4:17). Cain himself is known for bringing a bloodless sacrifice to the Lord, and committing murder. Then he went out from the presence of the Lord and set up a system in independence of God. This is the birth of civilization without God. Following Cain was a line of descendants that further developed aspects of that system; “Jabal was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle… Jubal was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ… Tubalcain was an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron” (Gen. 4:20-22). All of these things – commerce, art, science – are systematized function together to steal the hearts, defile the conscience, occupy the attention, and blind the eyes of men.
  • Tailored to the desired of the flesh“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). There are many kinds of people in the world, and the system has a department – or a blend of departments – suited to each one. The world is not synonymous with the flesh; it is a different enemy. However, the world finds an ally in the fallen nature, hence the believer needs to judge his own motives in regard to all the world offers.
  • Presided over by Satan. We find also that Satan is the “god” of this world (religiously, 2 Cor. 4:4), and also the “prince” of this world (politically, John 12:31). The present state of the world is that it “lies in the Wicked One” (1 John 5:19). Satan wants to take the place of God, and yet he is not omnipresent. The world-system that Satan heads up is everywhere (the “prince of the power of the air”, Eph. 2:2), functioning as an extension of his influence, and seeking to take the place of God in the lives of men.
  • Opposed to the Father. The world is opposed to the Father, just as the Devil is opposed to the Son. The point of dispute between the Father and the World is the Son. Jesus is the object of the Father’s love, and Jesus is the object of the world’s hatred.2 This has powerful implications for Christians!
  • Cast out the Son of God: Under Judgment. The world would not receive the Son of God. The worldly mind is incompatible with the mind of Christ. We see in John 7 an example of the worldly mind in the Lord’s unbelieving brethren, and how He rejected that mindset. He would save souls, not by becoming great in the world, but by delivering men out of the world and bringing them to the Father. It is no wonder that the world cast Him out. Further, the world is under the sentence of judgment This sentence was passed when the world cast out the Son of God by way of the cross, as Jesus could say; “Now is the judgment of this world” (John 12:31). The destiny of the world-system is judgment. Prophetic events reveal the storm of judgment that is ahead for this world.
The Progress of the World: Using Not Abusing. “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Dan. 12:4). The world is constantly changing and improving itself; a phenomenon called human progress. What it really is – if we have the discernment to see it – is the world adapting itself to better occupy and tempt us. Satan has been improving his system for approximately 6000 years, and he knows what he is doing. For example, the explosion of technological innovation in the digital age has revolutionized the access of humans to vast amounts of information, and has opened up modes of communication never before imagined. There is nothing evil in the technology itself, but these advancements increase and widen the access of the average person to all that the world offers. With one hand-held device, a person has access to almost anything they desire, whether it be products, information, communication, entertainment, etc. As Christians, we are to be wary, “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). The believer’s knowledge of these things should be a caution to us, as “they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Cor. 7:31).
The Believer and the World. God has called us to be separate from the World. This begins with our our heart, because we pursue what we love.
  • We are not of the world. In praying to His Father, Jesus said of His disciples, “the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” How Jesus was not of the world – different in origin, character, nature, walk – in grace He associates us with Himself. A true believer will never fit in with the world. Why? We are the Father’s gift to the Son. He may try, and with a seared conscience he may become quite complacent, but ultimately there is a core incompatibility. Yes, we are in the world, and for good reason; Christ has sent us! Our being here serves a higher purpose. “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil… As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world”. Being here though, there is a need for sanctification. Christ sanctifies Himself in heaven that we, occupied with Him, might be sanctified from the world; “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:13-19).
  • We should not be conformed to the world. In more practical terms, Paul beseeches us not to be conformed to the world. The thoughts, motivations, and behaviors of the world are pressed down upon us as a mold, seeking to conform us to it. God is seeking to transform us from the inside out, “by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1-2). In James we have something even stronger; “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). To be conformed to the world is a much fuller thing, but the believer is to be careful to not even be spotted by the world. We can be spotted by the world when we get close to it; when we fraternize with unbelievers, join worldly movements and organizations, or subscribe to worldly entertainment. 
  • We are crucified to the world. The cross has forever separated us from the world; “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). The cross is the open declaration of a state of war between God and the world. Therefore, “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). The believer should never forgive the world for what it did to our Savior.
  • We cannot enjoy the love of the Father while also loving the world. As John says in 1 John 2:15-17, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him”. Those two things are mutually exclusive, because the world is opposed to the Father.
Worldliness and its results. Worldliness is the character of being like the world. The world is set in direct opposition to Christ. Even "the things of the world" should be shunned by the believer (1 John 2:15). A believer cannot walk with Christ and with the world. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). As we survey the Word of God, we find that worldliness is at the root of many troubles that Christians experience. Worldliness leads to the following:
  1. Offends the heart of God and Christ (Gal. 6:14; James 4:4; 2 Cor. 6:15; Hos. 3:1). 
  2. Destroys communion with the Father and Christ (1 John 2:15; 2 Cor. 6:15, 18; Hos. 2:13).
  3. Weakens our appetite for spiritual food (Num. 11:5; Hos. 2:5). 
  4. Loss of moral discernment (Judges 16; Hos. 7:8-11).
  5. Leads us into sin (1 Cor. 15:33). 
  6. Brings emptiness into our soul (Jer. 2:13; Psa. 106:15)
  7. Dampens the affections for fellow-believers (2 Cor. 6:14; Amos 3:3; Hos. 4:11).3
  8. Spoils our effectiveness in service (2 Cor. 6:14; Hag. 1:6; Gen. 19:14).
  9. Brings down the government of God on us (Jam. 4:6; Gal. 6:8; Hos. 2:9; 4:17).
How to Overcome the World? We can take courage knowing that Christ has overcome this same wicked world; “In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good courage: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The world, the flesh, and the Devil have a triple aliance, and yet we are assured that “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). But how can we overcome the world?
  • Faith in the Son of God. In 1 John 5:4-5 we learn how we can overcome the world. The secret of overcoming the world is faith. “For all that has been begotten of God gets the victory over the world; and this is the victory which has gotten the victory over the world, our faith. Who is he that gets the victory over the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Faith in the believer apprehends Jesus as the Son of God. When we consider Him, the lowly, subject One, as the glorious Son of God, we get a victory over the world. His personal glory eclipses all that this world has to offer, and when we consider what the world did to Him, we will want nothing to do with it. It isn’t by fasting, isolation, or self-flagellation that victory is gained. It is through faith in the Son of God as the center of another world altogether! The world pales in comparison to the Son, and we become willing to bear the shame and reproach, knowing that the world has crucified our Lord.4
  • The Word Abiding in Us. The young men in 1 John 2, who are exhorted to “love not the world”, are also characterized as having the Word of God abiding in them. The wicked one seeks to awaken the lusts of the flesh in the believer through presenting the world before his eyes. But when the believer immerses himself in the Word of God, it abides in him, and through it God presents to the soul another world of a wholly different character, of which Christ is the center! These thoughts are God’s thoughts, expressed in inspired writing. They awaken the desires of a new nature within us; the eternal life that is true in Him (Christ) and in the believer. Faith in the believer lays hold of these eternal realities, and Satan’s world has not more hold. Therefore, constant feeding on the Word of God is a great antedode to the love of the world.
  • Dependence on God. Closely coupled with faith is the character of dependence on God. The Lord Jesus Himself overcame the world when its prince tempted Him in the wilderness, taking Him up into an high mountain, and showing Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.” The Lord Jesus replied with scripture, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:5-8). As with the other temptations, the Lord defeated the enemy by obedience and dependance. The world is a system of independence, and therefore the antidote to it is dependence on God, and by relying on the Word of God.
  • The Cross. Keeping the cross of Christ before us is another key to overcoming the world. The cross is a stark reminder and witness of the true character and guilt of this world, and it is very hard for a true believer to join hands with the world if we remember what the world did to our blessed Lord. In this sense, “the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).
  • The Father’s Love. More than anything else, if we do what Jude exhorts, “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21), we will have no desire for the things of the world. The love of the Father is the strongest antidote to the love of the world (John 17:26). J.N. Darby gave a helpful example. “How can such an one who has come to know God, be interested in the world? Should we see a boy eating bitter, worthless fruit in an orchard, while on the very next tree there were delicious apples, we should judge that he did not know of the good apples.”5
Nay, world! I turn away,
Though thou seem’st fair and good;
That friendly outstretched hand of thine
Is stained with Jesus’ blood.
If in thy least device
I stoop to take a part,
All unaware, thine influence steals
God’s presence from my heart.6
Types of the World. There are a number of types in scripture that portray the world. We can learn practical lessons about the world and its character, as well as help to overcome the world.
  • Egypt and Moses. Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house and educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. He had every worldly advantage, and he could have chosen to live a life of luxury. But there came a day, when Moses was come to years, that he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward” (Heb. 11:24-26). He saw the way the Egyptians treated the Hebrews, and esteemed association with the people of God, though it meant reproach, as greater riches than that treasures of Egypt. This teaches us several things. First, faith is needed to overcome the world (“by faith Moses…”). Second, we need to realize the true character of the world, as that which cast out the Son of God. Third, we must take our place with the people of God in separation from the world, which will mean reproach. Fourth, it is a privilege to suffer the world’s reproach, and there will be a reward for it at the end of the pathway.
  • Babylon and Daniel. Daniel was taken from his home in Israel and made a eunuch in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. His name was changed, his language was changed, and he was given the best education the world could offer. In addition, he was given the meat and wine of the king, which was offered to idols. Daniel could not eat that food in good conscience, and it says; “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” (Dan. 1:8). In the chapter, it records how Daniel’s faithfulness was rewarded by God. One lesson we can learn from this is that overcoming the world will take purpose of heart. Later, a drunken Belshazzar offered Daniel to be clothed with scarlet, to have a chain of gold about his neck, and to be the third ruler in the kingdom if Daniel could read the writing on the wall, and make known the interpretation. Daniel refused this, saying; “Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another” (Dan. 5:17). He knew that that kingdom was about to be destroyed, and that fact cast a pall over the king’s rewards. We can learn from this that our understanding from prophecy that the world is headed for judgment will help us to remain separate from it now.
  • Sodom and Lot. In Lot we have a negative example of a believer in the world. His course was always one of attraction to Sodom, and he gradually moved closer until he exchanged his pilgrim’s tent for a house in Sodom, where he sat in the gate and tried to have a place of administration in the city. The sad account reveals how Lot’s desire for Sodom swallowed up his entire family, whether literally or morally. When he went to warn his sons-in-law to flee, Lot seemed to them as one who mocked. His life was totally inconsistent, and it spoiled his effectiveness in the hour of extreme peril. Lot is an example of a true believer that is totally consumed with the world, and who has a saved soul but a lost life as a result.
  1. For the world in the sense here conveyed is that vast system which man has built up away from God in independence and self-reliance, and to the exclusion, not of His nominal honour, but of any real submission to His righteousness, His will, word, or glory. This fully came out in the rejection and cross of His Son. - Kelly, W. Exposition of the Gospel of John.
  2. The world is opposed to the Father, as the flesh opposes the Spirit, and the devil opposes Christ. – Darby, J.N. The Love of God, the Love of Saints, and Overcoming the World.
  3. Generation divides often happen because of worldliness. As the world progresses, generations are tied to different eras, resulting in unnecessary strain.
  4. Unspeakable mystery of the knowledge of Jesus! a crucified One is the Son of God! Faith knows this Saviour rejected by the world, and clings to Him. The name of Jesus has an all-powerful attraction for faith; and finding a blessed portion in Jesus it joyfully accepts the place of the Saviour here below. What can the world do against the faith that sees things thus? It is not astonishing that faith in Jesus should be in conflict with the world; for if a crucified one be the Son of God, what an overthrow of the order of things in belonging to this world! But this rejected One has overcome the world and faith shares in His victory. – Darby, J.N. Notes on the First Epistle of John.
  5. J.N. Darby. What the World is; and how a Christian can live in it.
  6. Margaret Mauro, The Young Christian.