I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. John 17.14-16.
In John’s Gospel, ho kosmos — “the world” — is neither planet earth nor the wider created universe, but is the world of human beings and human affairs. Often John uses the fuller expression ho kosmos outos — “this world” — to contrast the godless world order into which, as human beings, we are all born with a world order that is completely other than this; a God-filled world order which, though it is yet to come, is one that those who receive Jesus both enter and belong to right now. That other world is what Matthew, Mark and Luke call “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven”. It is the world in which Jesus reigns as opposed to the present world order that “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5.19) who usurped its rule from man in Eden (Genesis 1.26-28).
And now Jesus tells me two things about these two world orders. First, that, because I belong to him, I no longer belong to the present world order any more than he does. But, second — and this is the bit that I need to think carefully about — that I have no choice but to remain in it. And the uncomfortable question I find myself being asked this morning is how I am expected to remain in this present world order.
If I am honest, I must admit that for much of my time I am a kind of “sleeper” … being careful about what I say, keeping step with the world around me, and letting folk assume I belong to it even though I don’t. But deep down I know that, as a citizen of the kingdom of God, I am really called to be consistently open and outspoken about that kingdom to which I now belong, and to make clear not only my allegiance to Jesus but also my opposition to “the ruler of this world” (John 12.31). Two verses later, Jesus makes this plain. He says to the Father: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (John 17.18). I am to remain in this present world order as he lived and loved and worked in this present world order.
Which is why Jesus prays for my protection; for if the enemy was out to get him, he will be out to get me too. But only if I am in the world as Jesus was in the world. Only if I pose a threat.
Lord Jesus, give me the courage to stand up and be counted this day … and watch over me and keep me as I do so. Amen.