Love our peers but do not love the world! Is it possible?
I’m at a stage in my life right now where I have classmates, friends, and also colleagues coming from non-Christian families. Why can this be an issue to talk about? Can our surroundings affect our lives, behavior, actions? Maybe the question really is—should it affect these?
Everyone who is at least 15–20 years old has probably had 3 environments in which to meet non-Christian peers: kindergarten, school, and friends from afternoon activities.
You typically go to kindergarten at a very early age, somewhere between the ages of 3–7. Until that time, children usually have been under the care of their parents and the influences they have received came from the home. Kindergarten is often the first place where they may encounter some badly learned behavioral patterns. Dealing with classmates coming from another kind of environment that is different than that to which they’re accustomed, calls for new patterns and solutions to problems of everyday life. These are sometimes not ideal.
In my observation, children today are already learning to pick on each other, to mock, to argue and even utter their first curse words in these early age environments.
When we talk about this age, it’s the parents’ responsibility to tell their children about why these things are not good and why their kind and good Heavenly Father does not love this kind of behavior. At the same time, this is where children need to be advised that this does not mean to hate their peers, but rather to not love the way they act.
This phase is the age of school and early work. We can say that it is somewhere between the ages of 7 and 20–26. These are the years where our personality becomes fully established. It’s really important to be awake and take heed to ourselves and realize who we are becoming. That being said, we need to watch who is around us. From this, you might think we therefore should just separate ourselves from our classmates. No, not necessarily.
Let me remind you of something from the Word of God: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (). This is one of God’s most important commandments. Love your neighbor, love your friend, love your classmate . . . and it goes on and on. Spend time with them. But can you still manage to stand firm and not bend like a tree in the storm?
We know of a good example who was brought up in sinful environment but still was a really good child of His parents:
“The life of Jesus was a life in harmony with God. While He was a child, He thought and spoke as a child; but no trace of sin marred the image of God within Him. Yet He was not exempt from temptation. The inhabitants of Nazareth were proverbial for their wickedness. The low estimate in which they were generally held is shown by Nathanael’s question, ‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?’. Jesus was placed where His character would be tested. It was necessary for Him to be constantly on guard in order to preserve His purity. He was subject to all the conflicts which we have to meet, that He might be an example to us in childhood, youth, and manhood.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 71.
“Thus as He grew in wisdom and stature, Jesus increased in favor with God and man. He drew the sympathy of all hearts by showing Himself capable of sympathizing with all. The atmosphere of hope and courage that surrounded Him made Him a blessing in every home.”—Ibid., p. 74.
A “blessing in every home!” He was going around filled with the love of God. He had a good relationship with Him and therefore it was evident for Him to be kind and loving with everyone. When we follow His example—the best ever shown—we can go around and make friendships with our peers. We are able to love them and be a blessing to them. Yet, we are still to stand firm in our faith. We need to see and act by faith, because in our own strength we will fail. But if we are able to build connections with these intentions, later we can reveal God to them as the apostles did:
“The apostles endeavored to impart to these idolaters [the Lystrians] a knowledge of God the Creator and of His Son, the Saviour of the human race. They first directed attention to the wonderful works of God—the sun, the moon, and the stars, the beautiful order of the recurring seasons, the mighty snow-capped mountains, the lofty trees, and other varied wonders of nature, which showed a skill beyond human comprehension. Through these works of the Almighty, the apostles led the minds of the heathen to a contemplation of the great Ruler of the universe.
“Having made plain these fundamental truths concerning the Creator, the apostles told the Lystrians of the Son of God, who came from heaven to our world because He loved the children of men. They spoke of His life and ministry, His rejection by those He came to save, His trial and crucifixion, His resurrection, and His ascension to heaven, there to act as man’s advocate. Thus, in the Spirit and power of God, Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Lystra.”—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 180, 181.
Once I heard a really good illustration: It is easier to pull someone off the table than to lift someone up onto the table. This thought stayed in my mind ever since.
“Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” ().
This Bible verse states that if you go around with those friends or colleagues of yours that don’t know about nor are even interested in your faith, it can cause a big mistake in your life.
As I “discovered” new things, new friends/groups in my life, it always affected me. Hopefully mostly for good—but unfortunately, I can mention some examples where I loved the people around me, truly, but I also started to like not only them but their actions as well (which weren’t always so good). Growing up in Christian family with Christian friends, it was easy to make friends. My friends were similar to me and enjoyed the same things as I did. Only later did I understand more thoroughly that although I am to love my friends from the world with the same love, I can’t love their actions.
There is a man in the Bible whose bad example we can learn from. His name is Lot. He lived near the city of Sodom, and as he and his family had probably heard a lot about the city, they started to like it.
“Fairest among the cities of the Jordan Valley was Sodom, set in a plain which was ‘as the garden of the Lord’ in its fertility and beauty. Here the luxuriant vegetation of the tropics flourished. Here was the home of the palm tree, the olive, and the vine; and flowers shed their fragrance throughout the year. Rich harvests clothed the fields, and flocks and herds covered the encircling hills. Art and commerce contributed to enrich the proud city of the plain. The treasures of the East adorned her palaces, and the caravans of the desert brought their stores of precious things to supply her marts of trade. With little thought or labor, every want of life could be supplied, and the whole year seemed one round of festivity.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 156.
We can easily fail in this trap set by Satan. We can, and have to love our peers, but cannot start loving the fame of the world as Lot did.
That previous paragraph might seem to you that you either have to shut yourself in with the church only or you have failed God and sinned.
Even if you feel like right now you are loving the world too much, even if you feel that you did wrong to love all your peers and then you fell in a trap and now you love the world, it is not too late. You still have time to change the behavior of your love and choose the never-ending divinely-inspired love and help for the souls of your peers.
“Solomon flattered himself that his wisdom and the power of his example would lead his wives from idolatry to the worship of the true God, and also that the alliances thus formed would draw the nations round about into close touch with Israel. Vain hope! Solomon’s mistake in regarding himself as strong enough to resist the influence of heathen associates was fatal. And fatal, too, the deception that led him to hope that notwithstanding a disregard of God’s law on his part, others might be led to revere and obey its sacred precepts. . . .
“So gradual was Solomon’s apostasy that before he was aware of it, he had wandered far from God. Almost imperceptibly he began to trust less and less in divine guidance and blessing, and to put confidence in his own strength. Little by little he withheld from God that unswerving obedience which was to make Israel a peculiar people, and he conformed more and more closely to the customs of the surrounding nations. Yielding to the temptations incident to his success and his honored position, he forgot the Source of his prosperity. An ambition to excel all other nations in power and grandeur led him to pervert for selfish purposes the heavenly gifts hitherto employed for the glory of God. The money which should have been held in sacred trust for the benefit of the worthy poor and for the extension of principles of holy living throughout the world, was selfishly absorbed in ambitious projects.”—Prophets and Kings, pp. 54, 55.
“Solemn are the lessons of Israel’s failure during the years when ruler and people turned from the high purpose they had been called to fulfill. Wherein they were weak, even to the point of failure, the Israel of God today, the representatives of heaven that make up the true church of Christ, must be strong; for upon them devolves the task of finishing the work that has been committed to man, and of ushering in the day of final awards. Yet the same influences that prevailed against Israel in the time when Solomon reigned are to be met with still. The forces of the enemy of all righteousness are strongly entrenched; only by the power of God can the victory be gained. The conflict before us calls for the exercise of a spirit of self-denial, for distrust of self and for dependence on God alone, for the wise use of every opportunity for the saving of souls. The Lord’s blessing will attend His church as they advance unitedly, revealing to a world lying in the darkness of error the beauty of holiness as manifested in a Christlike spirit of self-sacrifice, in an exaltation of the divine rather than the human, and in loving and untiring service for those so much in need of the blessings of the gospel.”—Ibid., p. 74.
Here we can see how Solomon bent and turned not only himself but all Israel away from God. There seemed to be no hope, but with our God on the throne, there is always hope indeed.
“In gratitude Solomon acknowledged the power and the loving-kindness of the One who is ‘higher than the highest’ (); in penitence he began to retrace his steps toward the exalted plane of purity and holiness from whence he had fallen so far. He could never hope to escape the blasting results of sin, he could never free his mind from all remembrance of the self-indulgent course he had been pursuing, but he would endeavor earnestly to dissuade others from following after folly. He would humbly confess the error of his ways and lift his voice in warning lest others be lost irretrievably because of the influences for evil he had been setting in operation.
“The true penitent does not put his past sins from his remembrance. He does not, as soon as he has obtained peace, grow unconcerned in regard to the mistakes he has made. He thinks of those who have been led into evil by his course, and tries in every possible way to lead them back into the true path. The clearer the light that he has entered into, the stronger is his desire to set the feet of others in the right way. He does not gloss over his wayward course, making his wrong a light thing, but lifts the danger signal, that others may take warning.”—Ibid., p. 78.
What really needs to happen here now is for us to discern how we can be like the successful heroes in the Bible. It really takes a strong person to stand in a heavily polluted environment. It’s possible, but sometimes it’s not easy; sometimes you feel like you have failed. Solomon felt like that, but he realized afterwards that he was completely able to help his peers with love that flows forth from God.
May the Lord help us to be like Christ—and even if our peers have sometimes pointed us away from the narrow path, we may determine to stand firm and be like the house built on the rock. In God’s strength, we can love with the help of our Saviour. And even if we have been bent or even broken at times, with Christ there is hope and eternal love for us and for our peers, too.