Times change, values change, culture changes. It's critical we, as Christians, keep ourselves in the word of God, so that our values and culture reflect the unchanging kingdom and God's values rather than the ebbs and flows of the lusts of men. Living in Sodom, Lot's righteous soul was vexed with what he saw and experienced daily in his city, but it didn't move him enough to either speak up, move or cry out to God for change. He had become used to the Sodom way of life and it rewarded him with affluence and comfort.
In 2 Tim 3:1-4 Paul gives us a description of the culture in the last days and of the three great loves that will drive society.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, (2 Timothy 3:1-4 ESV)
In this passage, we see the love of self, the love of money and the love of pleasure. Three great loves that perhaps seem innocuous, but in fact shift society into dramatic breakdown and toward lawlessness. Selfishness, unchecked lusts and greed driving society will give rise to every imaginable evil. Is this not what is accelerating in our western culture? Are we not well down the road to the full mature bloom of these tares* of evil that Paul describes in this passage?
Love of Self- narcissism, psychiatrists say is in epidemic levels. The generation that was raised in entitlement with self-image as its highest priority rarely thinks in terms of duty, service or self sacrifice—virtues once honoured and aspired to. Pursuing full self-actualization has become the ultimate life goal. Our society is being driven by the love of self.
Love of Money- this is not a new love, but the opportunities for unchecked greed have never been greater. The love of money and it's trappings of consumerism and materialism are choking our society with boats, vacation homes, clothes, electronics, luxury homes, jewelry, cars and every imaginable toy. We shop not out of need, but for the entertainment value of buying and our inability to delay our desires, because of this, it is becoming rare to find someone who is not in debt. Economists tell us that Canadian household debt is at an unsustainable level, yet the spending and the chasing of the trappings of wealth doesn't slow.
Love of Pleasure- perhaps this end-time love may cause you pause. What is wrong with pleasure? God loves us and blesses us with pleasure. In fact at His right hand are pleasures forevermore! This is totally true, and our relationship with God is ultimately a source of unending pleasure. In addition, there are legitimate pleasures that He gives to us for our enjoyment. However, there is also a love of pleasure that sets pleasures as the driver of our lives, pleasure becomes a right not just a blessing. Anything that reduces or withholds pleasure becomes a bondage we buck against. Self-control gives way to every conceivable indulgence.
Today, gourmet food, holidays, spa treatments, entertainment—everything that has offered pleasure as a special treat has become an lifestyle expectation. Sex has taken on a whole new level of intensity and refuses to be denied. Pornography is everywhere. Sexual modesty and chastity are looked at with suspicion and incredulity. All sources of pleasure that appeal to the flesh have been ramped up, demonically empowered and now captivate men's hearts to the point of obsession.
Not of the World
One of the greatest challenges for the Church is to be culturally relevant and speak the language of today's culture, without adopting the values or coming under the influences of the cultural idols of self, money and pleasure. But we will never be able to walk this way without a renewed investment in scripture. We must once again be discipled by the word of God rather than Hollywood. We need to recognize we we have become compromised because of being acclimatized to the loves (idols) of our culture. We must war against these idols taking any place of worship, surrender or service in our hearts.
Two Greater Loves
But in the midst of deepening darkness, the first and second commandment will also rise in full bloom in spite of the tares of idolatry that mock and challenge them.
There is a glorious move of God which is now awakening extreme passion in the heart of the Church all through the nations. It has been birthed in intimacy and encounter and expresses itself in living lives "wasted on Jesus", lives fully invested in worship and prayer. Lives divorced from the idolatry of self, money and pleasure for the sake of the Greater Love. Lives that have embraced a fasted lifestyle of restraint rather than the indulgence of our culture in the pursuit of the superior pleasure of loving God.
The expressions are varied, houses of prayer and worship movements are bursting forth in all kinds of new wine skins but the heartbeat is the same, pure, vertical, passionate, even extreme- love for Jesus.
Love Our Neighbour
The other movement that is arising from the church with new grace and passion is in the realm of "loving our neighbour". Social justice and missions, church planting and evangelism are all maturing and bearing kingdom fruit. These two kingdom loves are not independent or isolated from each other, in fact in recent days there has been an intentional alignment, even a marriage of these movements of prayer and missions for greater impact and acceleration.
Loving our neighbour, to be genuinely fruitful must be free of the idolatry of our day, and to the extent that is is pure from selfish, soulish agenda, and filled with God's heart, will be to the extent that it shines with kingdom light and glory. The qualities, based on a biblical culture rather than the culture of the day are what enable Christian good works to shine as light and preserve as salt in a crowded field of do-gooders.
Wheat and Tares
According to the parable of the wheat and tares (see footnote), these two plants grow up together and only as they mature is their nature clearly displayed. As our culture moves into a greater, more blatant idolatry of self, money and pleasure, it is critical we "come out from among them", not with a literal exodus, but with a spiritual separation. Instead of loving self, we choose to die to self, instead of loving money, we keep it in its role as a servant and choose to trust God while living in radical generosity. We also choose to be lovers of God, and ones who value the things above rather than trading them for base, temporary pleasures.
Two keys will help us in this holy endeavour. We must have our minds washed, renewed and discipled by the word of God to stay in the cultural values of heaven. We can't be lazy or careless about this, it's life or death. Secondly, we must live in a place of His presence and choose intimacy, our pursuit must be out of love for Him, not religious performance.
But there is no neutral ground. As in Elijah's day when the contest of Mt. Carmel game to its climax, it was either choosing idolatry and serving Baal, or serving the Lord. "And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word." (1 Kings 18:21 ESV)
Today, the only way to resist the idolatry juggernaut sweeping western society and to not be seduced by the end-time loves of self, money, and pleasure; is to stand wholly given over to Jesus. Here we find everything we've laid down returned to us in a kingdom way, either in this life or the next —but even if it wasn't, we've still gained the greatest prize, the Lord Himself.
"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." (Philippians 3:7-8 ESV)
* Wheat & Tares:
24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds[a] among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Mt 13:24-30 ESV)