THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US
A sermon on 1 John 5:1-6
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
April 11, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
1 John 5:2-3
Around 1802, the celebrated British Romantic poet William Wordsworth began writing a series of sonnets that criticized the decadent materialism of his age. The Second Industrial Revolution was in full swing by that time and the poet was distressed at the effects of the changes that the Revolution had wrought in the lives of people—changes both great and small to people all up and down the social spectrum. In response, he shared his feelings in one of his best known poems. It goes like this:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;–
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are gathered up like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.1
In this poem, one of the lines that sticks out to me the most is the fourth line—the one which goes “We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!” Wordsworth does not deny that technological advances made life in 19th Century England a bit more comfortable. After all, he calls them a “boon”—something that is helpful and worthwhile. And yet he ponders “At what cost?” People cramped up in the cities and always chasing after still more money to satisfy a never-ending craving. Such devotion to those things robs them from observing and enjoying the simple beauties and boundless wonders of nature. It seems to me that the poem still resonates with us today. Because if that was true of 19th Century London, England, how much more true is it of 21st Century America? And while Wordsworth
1 www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45564/the-world-is-too-much-with-us (Accessed April 5, 2021)
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was mainly concerned with the social aspects of the changes he saw in society, I think that his
observations are also true in the realm of the Spirit. In the church and in the individual lives of those
who profess Jesus as Lord, I’m afraid that “the world is still too much with us”…
“The world is too much with us” could also describe some of the teachings in today’s sermon
text from 1 John 5. It does not take much to look at the state of the church, and to come to the
unmistakable conclusion that the world is still way too much with the lives of many who are followers of
Jesus…We are still much less than the people that God created us to be…and the people that God
desires us to be…
The Apostle John wrote the book of 1 John in order to counter certain false teachings that were
apparently circulating around in the church. One error that he was especially concerned with was the
teaching that Jesus was not really human. Proponents of this doctrine borrowed it from a Greek thought
that was popular at the time. It said that all physical matter was in and of itself evil. Therefore, since the
flesh is evil, Jesus could not really have actually inhabited a human body because he was divine—and
flesh is evil. And so, because of that, it did not matter what one did with one’s body. It was only the
spiritual that was good and essential in the life of faith. That was the only thing that was important.
The problem with that thought is, if the body is really unspiritual, then you could do anything
you wanted to with your body. It really did not matter how you lived your life since the body was evil
and was going to perish anyway. The only thing that mattered was if you loved God or not.
Consequently some of the believers in the church were living their lives with a total lack of morality.
They entirely ignored the commands of Christ and how God wanted them to live. This is where the
discussion is when we pick up John’s teaching in 1 John 5…
In verse one, John writes that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of
God.” And then he makes the comment that “everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” Let’s just
tell the truth—as much as we might wish it to be so, that’s not always true in the natural world, is it?
Sometimes you can love the parents…and have a difficult time with their children.
Years ago I had some friends that I was very close to. One of them was my college roommate
and he married a young woman that was part of our Baptist Student Union group. The story goes that
these friends of mine had another couple over for dinner to their apartment one night. This other
couple were also friends that we had all gone to college with. They had gotten married early in their
college career and already had two young boys by the time that they graduated. I never met the boys,
but by all accounts, these two kids managed to grow up into some of the most unruly children that I
have ever heard of. I was told that they were so loud and so obnoxious that it was hard to have a
conversation with their parents whenever they were in the same room. I did not witness this event
myself, but I heard a story about how the evening dinner went. Amongst other things, I was told that the
boys threw knives from the dinner table at the hosts! (It was said that one of the knives actually stuck in
the dining room wall, if I remember correctly. Not surprisingly, I don’t think that they were ever invited
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Now I’ll admit that story is a rather extreme example, to be sure. I have not run across that kind
of situation very often over the years. The fact of the matter is that it is usually pretty easy to love the
children of those who you love. There is a saying that you have all probably heard before—“The apple
doesn’t fall far from the tree,” right? More often than not, I have found it to be true. If the parents are
people that you enjoy being around, then usually the children are as well. In fact, the children of most of
my friends through the years have usually been respectful and decently behaved. Why does that tend to
be the case? Because the children are often simply imitating the actions that they see modeled for them
by their parents. And they are doing what they have been taught by their parents…
Jesus is like that. Jesus is God’s son and he is very much like his heaven Father. In the gospel of
John 5:19, Jesus told his critics, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only
what he sees his [heavenly] Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” What
our Lord is saying is that, in the realm of the Spirit, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” The things
that Jesus does are the same things that he has seen his heavenly Father do. So…if you want to know
what God is really like, then take a good look at Jesus…and you will find out…because Jesus does the
same things that God does…
John goes on to point out that the same is for all believers in Christ. He writes in verse two of
today’s text, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his
commandments.” Loving God…loving God’s children…and obeying his commandments…According to
the Apostle John, they are all together of one piece…and they are all three evidence of the Christian
Let me ask you a question this morning. This is what we will be considering during the remaining
time that we have together this morning. Which of those three things is it the hardest for you to do? Is
it loving God? Is it loving God’s children? Or is it obeying the commandments of Christ? Which of those
three things has been the most difficult thing for you in your spiritual journey?
For those of the household of faith—that is the audience to which the Apostle John is writing—I
think that loving God is probably the easiest of the three questions. Over my time as a minister, I have
met a few people who have found it difficult to love God. Not many, but a few. They have felt as if God
has been unfair to them. Life has taken some unexpected and ugly turns and they have blamed their
troubled situation of God. The sudden passing of a spouse—the losing of a child—the souring of some
relationship or some awful turn of events in their life over which they had no control—they have
decided that God (if he does exist) does not love them. They feel as if God has turned his back on them.
And so, in response, they have decided to turn their back on God.
I sympathize with them. Let’s just tell the truth: life is a mystery. Plenty of things happen that
seem to be random and that we cannot understand. And sometimes the slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune can be too much for a person to feel like they can handle. It can bring them to a point of
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despair…and cynicism. I get that. Life is hard. There’s no question about it. And people can get angry at
God when they feel that life has hurt them badly.
But I think for most Christians, loving God is fairly easy. After all, God is the creator of heaven
and earth. It is God who showed his love to us by sending his Son Jesus into the world to reconcile us to
himself. God’s love is never-failing and all-encompassing. God is the hope in our lives, even during those
periods where hope seems dim and far away. To experience God through Christ makes life satisfying,
even during the times in our lives when things are not so rosy. So I think it’s easy for most followers of
Jesus to love God…He is certainly worthy of our love and our devotion…
Some of us might prefer to love God and thereby be excused from loving some of those whom
God has begot through Christ. A confession here is in order—it is sometimes more challenging to love
some fellow Christians than it is to love God…
C. S. Lewis is widely recognized as one of the most prominent writers on the Christian faith
during the last half of the 20th Century. In addition to writing the well-known Chronicles of Narnia series,
he wrote voluminously about many aspects of the Christian faith.
The story is told that C. S. Lewis was approached by a student of his while he was a professor at
Oxford. The student said, “Dr. Lewis, I understand that the Bible teaches that becoming a Christian is a
life-changing event. I live next-door to a woman who is the most disagreeable person that I have ever
met. It’s not just me: no one in the neighborhood can stand her. She is always loud and obnoxious. She
chases after any children that dare to walk on her lawn. She thinks that she knows everything and no
one can have a conversation with her. She is always stirring up trouble in the neighborhood association
about the most trivial and unimportant matters. She’s a terrible neighbor. We all just wish that she
would move away.
But here’s the thing: I have been living next-door to this woman for the last twenty years. Every
single Sunday morning, I watch her as she gets up, puts on her Sunday best and makes sure that she
goes to church on time. I have to tell you that it is a rare occasion whenever she misses Sunday worship.
If being a Christian is supposed to bring transformation in our lives, then why is this woman still so
disagreeable and hard to get along with after all these years of going to church?”
The story goes that Dr. Lewis took a long draft from his pipe, thought for a moment and then
said, “Well, you must remember that God has longer to go with some people than with others…”2
Over the years, I have met some of the most wonderful people that anyone could hope to meet
in church. They have been kind…generous…encouraging…helpful…loving people. When we were
younger, we have met couples who have taken on our boys as surrogate grandparents since their own
natural grandparents lived so far away. In Matthew 19:29, Jesus said, “Everyone who has left houses or
2 I read this story several years ago and I have forgotten its source.
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brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as
much and will inherit eternal life.” Over the last 40 or so years of being a minister, I can testify to the
truth of our Lord’s promise.
But not everybody in church is like that. Some people in church are just hard to get along with.
There are probably many different reasons for that. It took me a while to figure out that one of the
biggest reasons is that not everyone in church really has had an experience with the Risen Christ. Not
everyone in church is eagerly interested in growing in the Christian faith. Not everyone is cooperating
with the indwelling Holy Spirit to change themselves into being more Christ-like in their attitudes and
I want to be clear that I am not standing in judgment of anyone. I would not even pretend to do
that. Only God is qualified to be the judge of someone else’s spiritual journey. But I do recall the words
of Jesus in Matthew 7. There he said “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A
good tree cannot produce bad fruit and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit…By their fruit you will
recognize them.” (Matthew 7:17-18, 20) Sometimes there is rotten fruit in the church. There’s no
denying that. And those people are sometimes difficult to love…
The third thing that that the Apostle John tells us is a mark of someone who belongs to Christ is
that they obey his commands.
A lot of people have a difficult time following orders. No one likes to be ordered around, do
they? I know that I don’t. We don’t want to be told what to do. It just grates on us. When I feel
sometimes trying to order me around, I naturally want to bow my back and not to do it. I do not think it
was any different in the 1st Century either. People don’t want to be told what to do…
In verse 3 of today’s passage, the Apostle John writes, “For the love of God is this, that we obey
his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” And what are these
commandments that John is talking about?
In Matthew 22, Jesus was approached by a man in the crowd who asked him, “Teacher, which is
the greatest commandment?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all
your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on those two commandments.”
In the gospel of John chapter 15, Jesus was meeting with his disciples one last time before he
would be arrested. During that time together, he told them many things, but perhaps the most striking
is to be found in these words, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love
has no man than this, than that he lay down his life for his friends…This is my command: Love one
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In my young adult years, I had a pastor named Daryl Jones. Daryl came to know the Lord later in
life. In his earlier years, he was notorious in the community for being a drunk, a cheat, a gambler and for
running around on his wife. But all that changed when he met the Lord Jesus. And then after a few
years, he felt the call to the ministry.
He said something in a sermon that has stuck with me all these years. It was obviously
something that was born out of his own life-experience. In talking about what one might have to give up
to faithfully follow Jesus, he said, “The only things that God will ever ask you to give up are those
things which hurt you…or hurt other people. That’s all.”
I think that he was right. The things that we give up for Christ are those things that hinder our
relationships with God and others. And I believe that these are the essence of the Christian life—our
relationships with God and with others. In the end, the teachings of Jesus make that clear. And hanging
on to those things which hinder those relationships is just not worth it. As mentioned a few minutes
earlier in the sermon, it is not always easy to love others—especially if they are really unlovable. But
with the help of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, it is perhaps the single most important ingredient in
progressing in the life of faith…
Hear again the words of the Apostle John, “By this we know that we love the children of God,
when we love God and obey his commandments.” The three marks of someone born of the Spirit: loving
God, loving other believers, and obeying Christ’s commands. How are you doing with those three things
this morning? How well are you exhibiting these marks of what it means to be a follower of Jesus?
To God alone be the glory! Amen.