Let’s begin with a review of what the Bible means by “the world.” The world in this passage is a reference to the organized system of human civilization and activity that is actively hostile to god and alienated from God. The world is fallen humanity hostile to God. It is arrogant, self-sufficient individuals seeking to live apart from God. Thinking, attitudes, practices apart from God, in defiance of God.
If we don’t see the issue at hand – the danger of the world – then James helps us. He pulls no punches, but clearly states – “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4).
The Bible gives us instructions on how to live in light of this reality. Two key passages tell us how to fight against the world. In this post, we want to look at John command to not love the world.*
Do Not Love the World
The apostle John says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
This is not monastic separation. It’s not a leaving of the world for some huddled gathering of Christians only, all the time. Rather a godly separation from the sinful practices. While remaining in the world, we are not conformed or contaminated from the world. “Seduction by the world, not persecution from the world is the particular challenge of the church in this country at the present.”
C. H. Spurgeon says, “put you finger on any prosperous page in the church’s history and I will find a little marginal note reading thus: In this age men could readily see where the church began and where the world ended. Never were there good times when the church and world were joined in marriage. The more the church is different form the world in her acts, and in her maxims, the more true is her testimony for Christ, and the more potent is her witness against sin. I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the Church.”
Though written over a 100 years ago, it is strikingly accurate for today. James Means has pointed out that in the evangelical church in America it is common for a “professing Christian to remain in a lifestyle indistinguishable from that of the unregenerate individual, but with confidence [that he possesses] eternal salvation.” Yet, John says if you are to live like a Christian, you must not love the world. Specifically, he gives three examples
Examples of Loving the World
So what does loving the world look like? How can we know if we are loving the world? Look again at our passage –
1 John 2:15-17 – Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Whatever the culture in which we live, 1 John 2:16 lists three desires of the heart that reveal worldliness: “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has or does.” About these things, David Jackman comments, “The ‘worldly’ characteristics of which the verse speaks are in fact reactions going on inside us as we contemplate the environment outside.” In other words, the root issue when it comes to worldliness is internal in nature, not environmental. John is equipping us to discern worldliness where it first lurks: within the heart.
1. desires of the flesh – cravings
The “cravings of sinful man” are not the legitimate desires of the body. They are the illegitimate, idolatrous cravings and tendencies of the non-Christian, or of the Christian who continues to be excessively influenced by sin. Indeed, due to indwelling sin the heart can defile even legitimate desires, transforming them into idolatrous cravings. This is why John Calvin observed that “the evil in our desire typically does not lie in what we want, but that we want it too much.” (the heart is an idol factory).
2. desires of the eyes – lust
Our eyes are a precious gift from God, yet they provide us with opportunities not only to observe, but to covet. “desires of the eyes” is not a reference to sexual sin exclusively. It applies to many areas that may entice us and attract our covetous attention, including such things as modern media, music, and dress. Thus Dodd says this desire of the eyes, “Is the tendency to be captivated by their outward show of things without inquiring into their real values.”
3. pride of possessions – boasting
This is boasting in what we have or what we do. How prominent in this materialistic age is the boasting of what one has or does! C. J. Mahaney shares a story that illustrates what John is talking about there.
Several years ago, the Washington Post Magazine described a man who arrives at a Washington networking party. [T]he people there weren’t so much potential friends as potential commodities, each hoping to rise in some unknown way through the rub of others. Sure enough, when the people around the man discovered he was a reporter for an influential newspaper, they fawned over him. This irritated the man. He went upstairs, where someone again chanted the Washington mantra, “What do you do?”
“I’m a garbage man,” he said.
“Oh, you own a garbage company.”
“No, I pick up garbage.”
A labored silence followed. “Yeah, and you know what bugs me — people who put wet grass clippings in plastic garbage bags. You know how heavy that is? Why don’t people think?”
The man rambled on and on, knowing that his squirming audience was trapped as long as he talked. When he finally stopped nobody said a word. Heads turned and soon he was alone.*
C. J. Mahaney asks, “Why was this man left alone? Because no one there aspired to share in his particular brand of boasting. We all tend to enjoy certain kinds of boasting, and to value boasting about the things we find worthy of our time and attention. What sort of boasts do you value? How much of your boasting is in the things of this world, and how much of it is, like Paul’s boasting, centered on the gospel?”
Why God’s People Do Not Love the World
John says, don’t love the world. And he bases this on two arguments.
First, If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Living like the world is incompatible with a love for the Father. In other words, over the long haul, we cannot call ourselves Christians if we live this way. How can we claim to love the Father if we love that which hates the Father? Can you imagine if your earthly father has enemy at work? A guy named Ned who would never leave him alone. He was always trashing talking about him – putting him in front of other workers, the bosses. Maybe even keyed his car, or pulled other pranks that made your dad’s life miserable. Then one day you come home and tell your dad you’ve made a new friend and brought him home for dinner. Dad comes into the dining room and it’s Ned. Can you imagine the pain and sense of betrayal in your Dad’s heart?
Second, the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. There is no future in this. The world sparkles, it dazzles, but it doesn’t satisfy. Like all sin, worldliness, can never truly satisfy the soul. Even the unsaved, if they live long enough and gain any measure of wisdom, often come to understand this. Media fixture Ted Koppel has written, “So many people are, on paper, indisputably fortunate to live in such an unbelievably rich and blessed nation. And yet these Americans do not strike me, by and large, as a happy people. There is a sullen edge to our satisfaction…. And the worst part is that we don’t seem altogether sure of what we’re missing.”
Again C. J. Mahaney is helpful: “What’s missing is the fruit of the gospel. There is no future in worldliness, but there is an eternal future in godliness. Only godliness delivers as advertised. When informed by an eternal perspective, the things of this world are exposed as worthless. Instead, deepen your relationship with the Father. Receive God’s gracious forgiveness of sin, increase in your knowledge of him, and triumph over the evil one. From there — from the place of greater maturity, wisdom, and godliness — you will be able to look at the tawdry, temporal glimmerings of the present world and say, “Why would I love this?”
*Though we all stand on the shoulders of others, I am particulalrly indebted to C. J. Mahaney’s article on this at Boundless.