What the Bible says about
Course of this World
(From Forerunner Commentary)
1 Corinthians 2:9-16
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul gives a simple framework for understanding spirit in general, as well as the Holy Spirit. Verse 11 teaches that each person has a spirit: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” This echoes Job 32:8: “Thereisa spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.” In this usage, the word “spirit” is synonymous with “heart” or “mind.” This is the intelligent, non-physical part of a person that allows him to think, reason, and comprehend. Verse 11 teaches that a person's spirit is the source and overseer of his thoughts. This spirit in man is not another being within the person but simply the person's center of reason.
Next, verse 12 reveals that the world has a spirit. Like the spirit in man, this spirit is also not a separate being. But this usage of “spirit” is slightly different. Rather than being the center of reason, the spirit of the world is the world's attitude, its inclination, tendency, atmosphere, mood, or frame of mind. The spirit of the world is also the motivating impulse of the culture, which can manifest in many ways, but it will always be anti-God (see Romans 8:7).
Paul describes this spirit in Ephesians 2:2-3, saying that we “once walked according to the course of this world.” The course, or way, of the world is the invisible and immaterial motivating impulse at work in the sons of disobedience. The spirit of the world moves people whom God has not redeemed to conduct themselves in lust, fulfilling the desires of their flesh and mind, putting themselves under the wrath of God. The spirit of the world sweeps mankind along a spiritual channel to keep them in opposition to their Creator.
While spirit cannot be seen, we can see the effects of spirit. It is not a coincidence that the word for “spirit,” pneuma, can also be translated as “wind” or “breath”—just as Job 32:8, quoted above, parallels the spirit in man to “the breath of the Almighty.” We cannot see the moving air molecules in wind, but we can observe leaves and branches being moved and know that wind is present. In the dry areas of the West, tumbleweeds roll along and dust-devils form, spin, and disintegrate, revealing that the wind is at work.
In the same way, we cannot see spirit, but we can see the actions and attitudes of mankind, and thus find evidence of the spirit that is working. The spirit of the world influences and stirs up the spirit in man, inducing the individual to think and feel in a certain way, and ultimately, to act.
Returning to I Corinthians 2:12, Paul mentions a spirit that we have received. This is in addition to the spirit in man, with which we were born, and in opposition to the spirit of the world. This additional spirit is from, and of, God. We can conclude that, like mankind, God also has a Spirit. God has a mind, one of unfathomable depth, capability, and intelligence. But more than simply an overwhelming intellect, God's Spirit includes His attitude, principles, thoughts, feelings, temperament, character, disposition, and will. To put it simply, God's Spirit is the essence of His incredible mind, and it is the new motivating principle that God's children receive.
I Corinthians 2:16 shows that God's Spirit is not another supernatural being. It begins with a quotation of Isaiah 40:13 (“who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?”), but then Paul follows up with, “But we have the mind of Christ.” This is Paul's explanation of the spirit we have received. It is a principle, a disposition, a motivating influence that comes from God Himself. “Spirit,” “heart,” and “mind,” while not identical, are used interchangeably. It is the mind of Christ that we have received that allows us to know the things of God, to know what God has prepared for us, and to know the things that have been given to us. Thus, Paul equates the Spirit of God to the mind of Christ. The essence of His mind enhances our minds, giving us spiritual understanding.
The Father and the Son are one, not in the sense of being the same Person, but in the sense of being perfectly united in will, thought, and intent. They are of the same mind, the same heart—the same spirit. It is that Spirit that we receive when we are baptized and have hands laid on us. As a result, we can begin to understand the things of God, which the world cannot understand. Without God's intervention, mankind is only influenced by the spirit of the world, which has its source in “the prince of the power of the air.”
Because God is holy, His Spirit is also holy. God has many facets and qualities, yet the four living creatures in Revelation 4:8 praise Him day and night for being “holy, holy, holy.” The fact that they say “holy” three times does not mean that He is three persons. It means His holiness is superlative—it is the very highest possible. Our holy God's Spirit, the essence of His perfect mind, is also holy. That holiness is not merely an attribute, but it is also what God's Spirit will incline His people toward: holiness in conduct, in attitude, in speech, in every facet of living. God says, “Be holy, for I am holy,” and His Spirit will move us toward His holiness, if we cooperate.
David C. Grabbe
What Is the Holy Spirit?
"The course of this world" is the zeitgeist—the spirit of the times. That spirit is not always exactly the same. From age to age it is somewhat different. The spirit that was in the United States back in the 30s, 40s, and 50s is different from the spirit in the world now. Beginning in the 60s, by comparison to what was back then, there has been a gradual intensifying of anger and hostility.
All of us have walked according to this spirit. All of us have had this spirit. All of us have resembled in attitude the Beast of Revelation. It has been impossible for us to avoid taking it on in its spiritual form. Some of us more; some of us less. The amount or the intensity of that spirit in us largely depends upon the family atmosphere one grew up in and the crowd we chose to run with. This is why parents are a child's the best protection from Satan and his destructive spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Spiritual Mark of the Beast
In Ephesians 2:2, Paul writes of "the course of this world." The Greek word kosmos, translated into the English word "world," essentially means an "orderly system." To human eyes beholding all the activity throughout the earth, the world looks anything but orderly. It looks confusing, to say the least. However, that conclusion depends on one's perspective.
What is going on to discerning eyes, the eyes of one to whom God has revealed Himself, is an orderly system of deception cloaked by restless activity among humans involved in constant wars, thousands of religions, evil conduct, corrupting entertainments, and other distracting, time-wasting business and social vanities. All of this restless activity is in reality nothing but a smokescreen hiding a sinister influence from discovery.
Notice something to which we generally do not pay much attention. The word "world" appears as the object of the preposition "of." This prepositional phrase modifies "course," showing us that Paul is speaking of a specific "course" available to us to choose from among others. The Greek word translated "course," aion, is especially interesting. At first, it indicates "an age," "an indefinite period of time," and by extension, "perpetuity."
However, Vine's Dictionary of New Testament Words provides an interesting alternative, saying that it also means, "Time viewed in relation to what takes place during that period" (emphasis added). Aion, then, does not have to mean simply "time" in some form: Vine shows that it is correctly translated "place" in Hebrews 5:6. Other commentators go into greater detail, but we will quote only two highly respected ones that other commentators frequently cite as authorities.
First, Richard C. Trench is a resource virtually every commentator eventually quotes on the definitions of biblical words. He defines aion as:
. . . all that floating mass of thought, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims and aspirations at any time current in the world, which is impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitutes a most real and effective power, being our moral or immoral atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably exhale.
Aion, translated as "course" in Ephesians 2:2, is the vague, ever-present immaterial realm that we are surrounded by and live in. It is interesting that Trench ties his definition to air, in that, even as we unconsciously breathe air in and out to sustain life, the course of the world is every bit as necessary to carnal life and is affecting us invisibly and constantly.
Second, Johann A. Bengel adds that aion is ". . . the subtle informing spirit of the Kosmos, or world of men who are living alienated and apart from God." This is what Germans termed zeitgeist, the spirit of the age—the "informing spirit"! The term "spirit" is used to indicate the invisible, immaterial influence whose characteristics are absorbed and then manifested in the attitudes and conduct of the general population of a given people.
An American commentator, Kenneth Wuest, is very helpful at this juncture:
To distinguish between aion and kosmos, kosmos gives the over-all picture of mankind alienated from God during all of history, and aion represents any distinct age or period of human history as marked out from another by particular characteristics.
Course in Roget's International Thesaurus, under the heading "tendency," has such synonyms as "thoughts," "zeitgeist," "spirit," "disposition," "character," "nature," "makeup," "bent," "slant," "frame of mind," "attitude," "inclination," "mind-set," "drift," "perspective," and many more. It may be easier to understand "course of this world" by rephrasing it into statements such as, "according to the disposition of this world"; "according to the character of this world"; "according to the nature of this world"; "according to the makeup of this world"; "according to the mindset, drift, or perspective of this world."
This is the spirit from which we must be converted. It is the unseen foundation and fountain of our pre-conversion conduct, and it is the same spirit still motivating us when we act carnally or in the flesh. Despite conversion, it remains within us, compressed like a spring that is ready to jump into action and influence our conduct.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part One)
The Bible uses spirit to designate an invisible, immaterial, powerful influence whose characteristics are absorbed and then exhibited in the attitudes and conduct of the general population of a given people.
Course is an influence of which we can be much more aware. We can compare it to a path, riverbed, or highway, suggesting a way by which or in which something flows. It is a means to an end, a result, which may be a destination or an action. Course, under the heading "tendency" in Roget's International Thesaurus, has synonyms such as "thoughts," "disposition," "character," "nature," "makeup," "bent," "slant," "frame of mind," "attitude," "inclination," "drift," "mindset," and "perspective." It is helpful to understand "the course of this world" by rephrasing it as "the disposition of this world," "the character of this world," "the nature of this world," or "the makeup [mindset, attitude, perspective, etc.] of this world."
In the apostle Paul's usage of this word, "course" is the whole mass of elements that encompass the conduct and attitudes of the times, the zeitgeist. It would not be the same all over the world because its expression in people would differ depending upon many factors. However, in Paul's writings, its elements will invariably be carnal and evil because the spiritual source, Satan, is always evil.
We can begin to understand this more practically by realizing that someone from France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, or Iraq, though carnal, would not be as inclined to see, understand, and react to a given situation exactly as an American would. The specifics of what affects their minds will differ. Though all are of the world, the things that make up one nation's course will impress themselves on other nationalities somewhat differently.
Regardless of nationality, the course of this world greatly enhances the self-centered pull that we are born with, and becomes our nature. It is from this that we must be converted, the largely unrecognized foundation of our pre-conversion attitudes and conduct, and it is the same force still motivating us when we behave carnally. Despite conversion, it remains within us, compressed like a spring ready to leap into action and reveal itself in carnality once again.
A prime characteristic of this world's course - exhibited worldwide, regardless of culture - is that it is habitually self-centered rather than God-centered. This is due to the underlying spirit beings who are its heart and soul, the key elements in communicating the course of this world into humanity. Through a simple illustration, we can perceive how it became this way. Genesis 1:31 reads, "Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day." God's statement of satisfaction in all He had made at the end of the sixth day of creation includes Adam and Eve's nature, as by this time they were already created.
Thus, in the beginning, mankind's nature is designated by our Creator as, "very good." Genesis 3 records the episode that began the transformation of their basic nature to the extremes of self-centeredness we witness today. Man's nature was not created evil, but it became evil through the influence of another spirit - besides God - that Adam and Eve chose to follow without any interference from their Creator.
Once they committed to that initial step, the course of this world began. By the second generation, murder had occurred (Genesis 4:8), and by the Flood, men were so evil that they were "only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). It is this same peak of evil toward which this world and its multiple courses are being driven. All of this takes place because of the communication, reception, and acceptance of evil concepts from an evil source.
II Timothy 3:13 reveals a general principle still working as we "progress" toward the return of Jesus Christ: "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." Improving character and conduct in any given culture are temporary, indeed very brief, when observed within a survey of all of man's history.
The same process of moral deterioration that concluded with the Flood was quickly restarted shortly after its waters receded, and it persists to this day, as each person is born into this world and exposed to the same spirit and to the variety of courses that influenced Adam and Eve and all their progeny. Because we are made of flesh, we are born with a slight pull toward self, but not with the corruption that later develops and reveals itself in our conduct. Contrary to Catholic Church teaching, evil is not passed on through procreation, but by the spirit of the age through the course of this evil world. It is transferred to us primarily through the cultures into which we are born, all of which are carnal to the core.
It is the responsibility of converted parents to God and to their children to ensure that the right spirit prevails in their homes so their children can be properly nurtured. People grasp this to some degree when they observe that, "The apple doesn't fall very far from the tree," or "Like father, like son." Unless parents make a concerted, persistent effort to change and live as God commands, they will succeed only in passing on copies of themselves.
This world's Christians, in an effort to evade responsibility for the evil in them, have instead blamed God for creating man this way. God is responsible to a degree, in that He has not yet chosen to halt Satan's deceptions. Nevertheless, God did not make us this way. Mankind, represented by Adam and Eve, chose to submit to Satan, and all of their descendants, including us, have also chosen to become evil under the sway of the same evil spirit that offered our first parents the choice. This creates and accounts for "the course of this world."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Two)
Paul here reminds us of our indebtedness to God. Earlier, he had laid the groundwork for a proper sense of obligation and commitment to Christ by stating a few undeniable facts: That we conducted our lives according to the course of this world, according to Satan's will (verse 2); that we fulfilled the desires of the flesh and the mind (verse 3); and because of disobedience we were as good as dead (verses 1, 5). Through no merit of our own but by God's grace alone, He through Jesus Christ rescues us from this.
In those who understand this deeply and personally, this creates an exquisite sense of indebtedness, devotion, and longing to honor Him. It accounts for the sorrow we feel each time we are aware of falling short of fully pleasing Him. This is not bad; it is good because it motivates those who have this in balance to intensify their devotion and redirect their efforts along the right path.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Three: Mourning
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