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The Stockholm Syndrome

Christians can be in the world and not of it by not taking the world into their hearts.

For 21 years, elder Ted Childress was a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, specially trained as a hostage negotiator. He's lectured on this topic to the members of the Bureau and to other groups as well. I've asked him to give the introduction to my message on the Stockholm Syndrome.

Illustration: "The Stockholm Syndrome first occurred in 1973 at an attempted bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. A man tried to rob a bank, and the police caught him. He took three female hostages and one male hostage and held them for 131 hours. During this time he terrorized them, firing his Russian automatic assault weapon at them and threatening to kill them. He put nooses around their necks and threatened to hang them, but when it was all over, he hadn't harmed any of them. When he finally surrendered, something unusual happened. We expected the hostages to be antagonistic toward the hostage taker. Instead, they said they feared the police more than the hostage taker. They also said they didn't hate the hostage taker. They refused to testify against him. One of the ladies actually became engaged to him.

"The FBI has analyzed thousands of hostage situations since that time. We found this happens frequently. So we asked psychologists, 'What happened? What causes this?'

"They said in hostage situations, with a high level of life‑threatening stress and positive human interaction, people's ego‑defensive mechanisms come into play. They deny what is happening and regress to a different emotional state. The hostage will eventually begin to transfer his hatred—This guy doesn't really want to hurt me—and begins to hate the policemen. Something else begins to happen; a love relationship forms. This love relationship is like that between a child and its mother. The mother protects the child from the terrifying world and provides all its needs. This love relationship occurs both ways.

"One of the most outstanding examples occurred in Holland in the seventies. A group of terrorists captured a whole trainload of people. They made demands on the Dutch government. The Dutch government did not come through, so they began to murder people. They murdered two on the first day, and the second day, they selected a man by the name of Garrard Votters. They brought him out and said, 'Say your prayers. You're going to die.' He said, 'Okay, but before I die, there's a man here that knows my family. I'd like to give him a message.' Of course the South Moluccans wanted to listen in. He said, 'I feel my life has been a failure.' He wanted to tell his wife he was sorry. He went on and on about his problems. He became a real human being instead of just a symbol to be executed. The Moluccans were unable to execute him. I've seen it happen many times."

Thank you, Ted.

Illustration: Sue went off to college last fall. She was active in her church. She came from a strong Christian home. As soon as she got there, she was rushed by the sororities because she was an attractive, talented girl. After she pledged one of the best sororities, some of the fellows began to date her. The extracurricular activities and sports and parties caught her attention, and for the fall term she was completely swept away by the university environment.

Her father and her pastor had recommended a church near the university and she went the first Sunday, but never went back again. She found life was one great whirl. The Christmas holidays came along, and Sue returned home. She had changed. She was indifferent toward her parents. She spent hours on the phone with her university friends in different parts of the country. She did make a reluctant appearance in church on Christmas Sunday, but she yawned at her rather unsophisticated friends. By the time her first year of college was over, Sue was a different person. She had been taken hostage by the world.

Illustration: Jim, a Christian businessman, did well at the company he worked for and finally decided to hive off on his own. The situation was opportune, and his business began to take off. He began to make money and get caught up in it. He threw himself into it with increased vigor—12 and 14 hours a day. He had to drop the Sunday school class he'd been teaching because he didn't have time to prepare. He wanted to be conscientious, he said. Then he found he could only make it to Sunday morning worship service, and after several months he wasn't very faithful in that. His business made many demands on him, and often he had to play golf with friends on Sunday or go out of town.

Soon things began to change at home. His attitude toward his wife and children became indifferent, and he had less time to spend with them. His wife remonstrated him, and he got angry and bitter at her. When she talked about going to church, he was critical of the church and then didn't go at all. When his wife again remonstrated gently, he said, "Oh, they're a bunch of hypocrites. They don't know what's going on in the world. I haven't got anything I can learn there." Jim had been taken hostage by the world.

Illustration: There's a story about a man like that in the Bible. When Paul was in Rome and in prison the first time, he wrote several books. He mentioned that one of the men helping him there was Demas. He sent greetings from Demas to all his friends back in what we now call Turkey. Then Paul was released from prison, and we assume Demas and the others were part of his team as they traveled.

In his second imprisonment, Paul wrote several books as well, the last of which was his letter to Timothy, one of Demas's peers. In the last chapter of 2 Timothy—the last paragraph that Paul ever wrote as far as we know—there is one tragic sentence: "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world." He was taken captive, taken hostage, and lost to the cause of Christ.

A great tragedy is taking place in the evangelical church today. Our numbers are legion and we're a large minority in American culture. But the Stockholm Syndrome has crept into the church and altered many Christians' viewpoints on reality. We've begun to believe a lie. We believe our enemies are actually our friends, and our former friends are our enemies. The loyalty we once gave to God we now give the world.

Let's look at the spiritual Stockholm Syndrome that grips much of the church today in the light of our text, because that's what the old apostle John is talking about. He said, "My little children" was giving them a serious warning out of the richness of his experience "love not the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." The world is your enemy, not your friend. Don't love it. The tragedy of the Stockholm Syndrome is that hostages' fear is gradually replaced with a love for the very enemy that enslaves them and may well kill them. "The world is passing away," John says. "Only he that does the will of God abides forever."

The first question to ask in loving not the world is: Who are our enemies today?

I want to ask and answer four questions about the Stockholm Syndrome and loving not the world. The first is: Who are our enemies today?

Years ago, Dwight L. Moody, the great evangelist, said, "We have three enemies: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. And we have three friends: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit."

Do you know what the Bible says about the Devil? First, it says the Devil is real. There's a Devil, just as there is a God. Secondly, he said he's the god of this world; this world has been ceded to the Devil as his area of sovereignty under the sovereignty of God until Christ returns. So in Ephesians 1, Paul says when we're converted, we are translated out of the kingdom of the world—the kingdom of the Evil One—into the kingdom of God's beloved son. Everyone born into this world system and living under it, apart from the redeeming grace of God, is under the sovereignty of Satan. John says in the third chapter of his little letter, "The whole world lies in the Wicked One." That's aptly paraphrased in the Living Bible: "The whole world is under the domination of Satan." There's no other explanation for the progressive proliferation of evil. The world is our enemy. So Paul categorizes all non‑Christian men in Ephesians 2:2 as obeying the prince of the power of the air. People outside of Christ are obeying the Devil in what they do.

Jesus said the Devil is disguised like an angel of light. He's deceptive, and he's our enemy. The world is his sphere of sovereignty. He's talking about the world here in the same way Jesus talked about it in John 3:16. It's this conglomeration of created men, who apart from Christ are following their own selfish desires and ambitions. Paul says, "Don't love this world of men that have corrupted themselves in their society. If you love this world, the love of the Father is not in you."

Why do Christians succumb to this spiritual Stockholm Syndrome? If you're reared in non‑Christian surroundings, you're alien to God. God is not God, the Bible is not authoritative, sin is not even sin to you. Perhaps the church and Jesus Christ are your enemies. I read of a university professor who observed rather sagaciously (according to his own opinion) that the Christian movement is the greatest tragedy of history. A lot of people agree, though they'd never say it. Why? Because the Christian movement and the Word of God are threats to a worldly lifestyle. It's a threat to what John talks about here: "the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life." It's a threat to total devotion to selfish indulgence.

The second question to ask is: Why do Christians succumb to worldliness?

So, why do Christians succumb? Let me suggest four things.

First, Christians succumb to naivete. A lot of Christians, particularly those born in the Christian culture of the Old South, have a naive view of the world. They think the world is an attractive place. Sue, when she went to college, suddenly burst into the world, and it was all glamor to her, all sequins and spangles and music. A lot of Christians are naive about the world until they come to a tragic crisis, often too late.

The world looks good because Satan makes it look that way. He came to Adam and Eve in the garden and said, "Why don't you eat of that beautiful tree?" He made sin attractive. They succumbed to it like many Christians do today—the world isn't evil; sin isn't and sex and alcohol and 're just missing out on life. We're naive about what's there.

Secondly, Christians succumb to the Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome because of spiritual laxity.

Illustration: A pastor had a tour group going to the Holy Land who was forced to land in Athens three days after TWA 847 was hijacked. America had invoked sanctions against Greece because of the laxity of their security. Three days later this pastor said, "The security in Athens wasn't any better then. There were a lot of soldiers standing around. Their weapons were often lying on the ground. They were lax when we went through the security control." A worldwide tragedy, and they were lax in their security. They're just like Christians, aren't they? They're just like the church so often. We're lax in our security. We've failed to realize that we're in danger. Paul says, "Take heed lest you fall." Don't be lax in your security against evil.

A third reason that Christians succumb to the spiritual Stockholm Syndrome is ignorance of Satan's devices. Paul says, " Don't be ignorant of those devices" (1 Cor. 2). Satan does not approach us as a devil with horns. He approaches as the angel of light more often than not. He approaches us through seductive attractions.

The fourth reason Christians succumb to this syndrome is simply spiritual immaturity and lack of Christian conviction. A lot of Christians don't have a conviction that sin is sin, that worldliness is ensnaring, that the Devil is alive. They're immature to the degree that they don't recognize when the appeal and temptation come: when John says, "Love not the world," they think John's a deceived old man. The world is attractive, beautiful, satisfying, fulfilling, and good. We lack conviction about the existence of evil in the world. John says, "My dear little children, beware the spiritual Stockholm Syndrome. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world."

The third question to ask is: How are Christians deceived and enslaved?

The third question is: How are Christians deceived and enslaved? John says, "The things that are in the world are these: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." The word lust is powerful, and it's not a mistranslation there. But it's a far more embracing and inclusive word than we tend to think. It doesn't have to refer to some gross drunkard lying in the gutters, given over to satiation with whiskey. It doesn't have to refer to some foul adulterer. It can be attractive. A better translation in our culture is this: any inordinate desire of the flesh; any inordinate desire of the eye; any inordinate pride of life.

How does this happen? How do Christians get trapped? First, because we're immersed in the culture of our affluent, materialistic, secular society. Consequently, we soon lose consciousness of the fact. We are so saturated that our guard is down.

Illustration: You know the old story of how to boil a frog. You don't just put him in a pot of boiling 'll jump out before he's injured. So you put him in a pot of cold water, and he's perfectly comfortable. Then you put him on the stove, and little by little the water gets warm. It's pleasant at first. Then it gets to Jacuzzi level, and he becomes a little alarmed. Finally, when it's boiling, it's too late. We Christians are like that, aren't we? We find the world so pleasant at first. Then it gets a little warmer, and it's pleasanter yet. Here's Sue at the university and Jim in business for himself. One day we wake up and realize the danger: "This is going to kill me, and I haven't the strength to get out!"

The second thing that happens in this culture is brainwashing. Take ads: they try to brainwash you to believe if you use the right deodorant and the right shampoo, if you wear the right jeans and drink the right beer that life will be glorious. You're being brainwashed that happiness, joy, and fulfillment are going to come of what you have on your face or in your stomach. Now, that's a lie if there ever was one! Some of the most miserable people in the world and some of the most prominent suicides—take Marilyn Monroe for example—are people who had it all. They wore the right jeans and deodorant and perfume and shampoo, yet their lives were tragedies.

We're brainwashed by dramas. What do the dramas in the media tell us? They tell us that extramarital sex is natural; that no two people ever get together without breaking out the drinks; that pot and abortion and homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle ought to be legalized. They're telling us in a dramatic form (which is far more compelling than most sermons, unfortunately) that all these things are good, and kids take it for granted. Adults take it for granted when they're immersed in a secular culture and their guard is down.

The third reason Christians get trapped is that we're seduced by apparent kindnesses.

Illustration: In Beirut one night, the Muslims put on a banquet for the hostages in a luxury hotel on the Mediterranean. The people threatening to kill them if the United States didn't bow were treating them kindly. So a number of the hostages expressed sympathy for their viewpoints. That's a common characteristic of the syndrome. What do you find happening in the church today? People make apologies for the world. "Well, the world is good. Don't condemn this. Don't condemn that. Don't be negative." What a beautiful phrase that is! How good that makes you feel: "I'm not going to be a negative Christian." Well, you better be negative about sin; you better be negative about adultery, and thievery, and lying, and dishonesty, and taking God's name in vain. The Ten Commandments were not ten suggestions abrogated with the new generation; they're God's law. We're being seduced by the apparent kindnesses around us.

Finally, one of the reasons we fall is fear of losing our lives. Jesus anticipated this. He said, "He that seeks his life is going to lose it. But he that loses his life for my sake and the Gospel shall find it unto life eternal." We may lose a little popularity; we may lose a little status. Some people have lost jobs by remaining true to Jesus Christ. We're going to find life in the and experience of life. We don't let fear of losing things take us captive. Christians, as a result of these things, adopt their captor's viewpoint. You'll find Christians taking up for the world. What are we doing? We go over to the enemy's side. We sell out to the enemy's lifestyle.

Jesus said we're in the world but not of it. Most Christians today are of it, with it, for it, and love it. We've got to watch out.

Christians are to be different. Salt is to purify, season, and change what it touches in the world, not be changed by it. Jesus said we're to be light in the world. He said, "Don't let your light be covered by a basket. Christians ought to shine out in the middle of a dark world," Jesus said. People know they're there and they're different. Beware of the Stockholm Syndrome.

The fourth question to ask is: How can we be liberated from our captivity?

How are we going to be liberated from captivity if we have truly been seduced by the spiritual Stockholm Syndrome?

First, we've got to be redeemed. Remember how the prisoners got out of Beirut? The United States made a quiet deal with Israel. In return for those 37 hostages, 800 Muslims were released. They made a deal; they were redeemed. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ redeemed us from all iniquity that he might purify unto himself a people for his own possession. When Christ died on the cross, he was buying us out of the enslavement of our enemy, that we might become the people of God—Christians. Have you let Christ redeem you out of this world? Or are you still part and parcel of this world system that Jesus Christ died to save and redeem?

Second, if we have been redeemed, our primary loyalty has got to be to Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "Nobody can serve two masters. You love the one and hate the other. You can't serve the world and God at the same time." That's why John says, "Love not the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Now many Christians are trying it, and they're failing God. They've been seduced, brainwashed, captured, and bound by the system in which we live. The salt has been destroyed, and the light has been covered.

Third, resist the Devil. James said, "You don't play with the Devil," like Faust tried to do in Goethe's immortal tragedy. You don't play chess with the Devil and think you'll win. You'll lose your soul.

The fourth thing we do is return to our first love, Jesus Christ. Let's say you were one of those 37 hostages from Beirut. Hourly you're living in fear. You appeared deserted by your own country. You were threatened with death. One day they told you to be packed up and ready to go to Syria; you'd be released. You're all ready to go, and they said it's not going to happen. Finally, you go to Damascus. You see that plane out on the airstrip and you board it. You are still afraid. You remember you were in a plane before, and there were terrorists with grenades ready to blow you up. Finally you see the last Lebanese face disappear, the door is shut, and the plane leaves the ground. How do you feel? Were they saying, "When are we going to get back to Beirut?" No. "We're going to be home!" That's what they were talking about all the way to Frankfurt.


Dear friends, the enslavement of the Stockholm Syndrome upon a Christian is drastic. We can be deceived and brainwashed, seduced and enslaved, and think we're happy for a while. But Paul has a trenchant phrase in Romans 8:21: "the glorious liberty of the sons of God in Christ Jesus." The world will lull us to sleep with its tranquilizing slogans and tempting attractions, but let the glorious liberty of Jesus Christ be our attraction in this life: freedom from the fear of death; freedom from the bondage to evil habits that enslave us even while we're conscious of it; freedom from the effects of sin; freedom from futility and frustration. He gives you the freedom to develop your talents, your abilities, your career, your life, and your family, unfettered by hostile influences within. He grants you freedom from shame and guilt. You don't have to run around all the time troubled by your conscience, when you know you've disobeyed God.

The glorious liberty of the sons of God is the freedom to enjoy pure love and true friends, to breathe the clean air of high values, to the see the lofty ideals of Christian faith, and to enjoy the stimulating friendship of Christ and his church and the warm embrace of a truly loving family where God is first. Enter, Paul says, "into the glorious liberty." The sons of God break free from the enslavement of the world.

John is really saying in these verses, "You can live effectively, successfully, and triumphantly in the world. The trouble comes when you take the world into you, when you let the things that characterize the world—the lust of the eye and the flesh and the pride of life—characterize you. You can live in the world and not be of you take the world into your own heart." Then you're sunk. You've got to put it out this morning. Break clean. Come out into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

Donald Hoke has pastored four churches in his lifetime, has served as a career missionary, and has written several books on missions. He currently resides in Fort Myers, Florida.

Donald Hoke

Preaching Today Tape # 30


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Sermon Outline:


I. The first question to ask in loving not the world is: Who are our enemies today?

II. The second question to ask is: Why do Christians succumb to worldliness?

III. The third question to ask is: How are Christians deceived and enslaved?

IV. The fourth question to ask is: How can we be liberated from our captivity?