God calls Christians to an odd kind of life—one that is lived in the present, transient world but lived for the future, eternal world. Though some sects of Christianity take the “this is not our home” concept to an extreme and totally withdraw from the secular culture, God doesn’t desire for his people to detach themselves from the morally neutral activities of this world. His instructions to the exiled Israelites are certainly applicable to us, the contemporary sojourners of God:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:4-7
The majority of us probably are not planting gardens and arranging marriages for our kids, but we are working jobs, getting educations, taking our children to soccer practice twice a week, and participating in the world in a myriad of other ways. And this is good. The Lord wills we do this exile-thing in such a way that it contributes to the wellbeing of this world—primarily by carrying with us the good news of the gospel everywhere we go. Jesus reflected this as he asked his Father not to take us out of the world but to keep us from being of the world as we are sent into it as witnesses (John 17:15-18).
Check out this passage in 1 Corinthians, though:
“From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Paul’s language is pretty strong here. At first glance, it can appear as if he is commanding Christians to be functionally and emotionally detached from the roles and realities they must live in every day. But I don’t believe that’s what he’s doing. He isn’t telling husbands to stop loving and serving their wives. He isn’t instructing those who are burdened by worldly troubles or delighted by worldly blessings to pretend as if those troubles and blessings don’t exist. He is calling us to embrace a particular disposition in our dealings with the world that will free us from the anxieties to which we are so prone.
I wrote a bit last year about my own wrangling with anxiety. Like so many people, most of my worries are rooted in an over-attachment to transient things. I fret about losing temporary comforts and encountering unpleasant or even vexing circumstances. Lately, I believe the Holy Spirit has been whispering the following words to my soul when my anxiety begins to flare: “Hold loosely to the world.” I believe this is exactly what Paul is getting at in this passage.
Our all-wise God, through Paul’s writing, is calling us to loosen our grip on the things of this fading world and grasp tightly to the right objects: Christ and his eternal Kingdom. He is urging us to “set [our] minds on things that are above” (Colossians 3:2) as we engage in the affairs of this life below. He is commanding us to look ahead to the permanent city of God (Hebrews 11:10) as we sojourn in our temporary cities. He is exhorting us to set the eyes of our hearts not on the transient things that are seen but the eternal things that are invisible (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Do you want to be free from anxieties? Do I? Then let us heed the Lord’s instruction and hold loosely to the things of this world as we look intently to our Savior King and the glorious future that awaits us in him. We are not able nor asked to pull our bodies away from our earthly roles and activities. But we can keep our hearts from idolatrously attaching to these things and instead set our affections and hopes on unshakeable, invisible, eternal reality.