When I say “world” in this context it is not in the sense as it is often used in scripture – in contrast to God. I’m not speaking of “worldliness” vs. “godliness” (I John 2:15-17), but rather “world” in the sense of God’s creation. He is the creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1), and we can learn from His physical created world.
Jesus Christ, the Creator (Col. 1:15-16; Heb. 1:2) and Supreme Teacher (Heb. 12:2; Lk 6:46), often used “worldly” illustrations to drive home the spiritual points of principle he was preaching. One must look no further than the great Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5-7 to see such. For example: 5:13 “you are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless…”, or 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air…”, or 7:17 “…every good tree bears good fruit…”. Jesus routinely used worldly illustrations to drive home spiritual points. Additionally, there were the parables such as the parable of the Sower, Wheat and Tares, Lost Sheep, etc. Parables were some of Jesus’ most potent forms of teaching. We can learn from God’s creation, as well as use it to better understand Him and our relationship to Him.
The Holy Spirit also uses such worldly instruction in providing us illustrations for spiritual principles. Romans 1:20 – by observation of God’s creation all men are without excuse from accepting His divine authority. I Corinthians 11:14 – “Does not even nature itself teach you…” – not that nature is the ultimate authority, but it can be a supporting one. Consider especially the book of James, where worldly illustrations are provided throughout. One of my favorites being in chapter 3, “Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?” (vs.11) Of course, these are not proofs, they are illustrations. Illustrations do not prove, they merely illustrate (support) the understanding of truth. God’s word is the final authority by which all truth is judged (II Timothy 3:16).
Likewise, in the Old Testament “wisdom” literature we see those who are wise stopping to observe things in the natural world, and thereby further understanding or illuminating spiritual truth. Consider two examples. First, Proverbs 24:32 where the author states about his passing by a worn-down field, “When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction.” Second, Proverbs 6:6 “Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise.” Both instances are the encouragement to learn from, or gain wisdom by, observation of what occurs in God’s natural creation. Wisdom can and should be found in the world created by God’s infinite wisdom!
But this is where we must be careful, as both students and teachers. As students we must always remember that God’s word is the sum of truth (John 17:17) and the ultimate authority (Rev. 22:18-19). If we observe things in the natural world that contradict the clear teaching of God’s word, we must always adhere strictly to the truth of God’s word. There are those who pervert the truth by applying observations of the world in a worldly way. Such methods have been used to justify immoral practices such as theft, murder, homosexuality and the like; Things which the Bible clearly condemns. Likewise, as teachers we must be careful, that the weight of our teachings and arguments is placed upon the burden of proof found in scripture, and not worldly illustrations or observation. It doesn’t matter how fancy, funny, or entertaining an illustration may be… NOTHING trumps the effectiveness and truth of God’s word. (Romans 1:16)
We are called in Christ to be a spiritual people (I Cor. 2:13-3:1) devoted to spiritual thinking and living. While we may be able to learn from God’s natural creation as well, it is His holy and divine word that is to be our primary and overriding source of spiritual wisdom, growth, and maturity. (II Peter 3:18)