Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.– 1 John 2:15-17
When I was growing up, I loved the sport of skateboarding. I was fascinated by the culture, clothing, and language. The vast majority of my time was spent learning tricks and researching the newest skate companies. I vividly recall the joy I felt when a UPS driver arrived at my house to deliver a CCS box. That box contained magic. It provided opportunities. Within its four walls was a complete skateboard, each component I carefully selected after hours of flipping through skate magazines. Skateboarding was a means to happiness.
After skating all day with my friends, we would huddle around the television to play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or watch the X-Games, a competition featuring the best skateboarders in the world. I knew I was destined to be the next Tony Hawk. I was going to be a famous professional skateboarder. I just knew it.
Even though I spent years developing the craft, my dreams of stardom never materialized in the real world. I was crushed after realizing I would never be a famous skateboarder.
Why do I share these childhood memories with you? I share them because we all have the propensity to set our affections on things of this world. We often find our hope, identity, and purpose in the things we do and love. Please hear me clearly, developing our God-given talents and desires is never a problem. In fact, we should always seek to steward the gifts God has given us. The real problem arises when we attach our affections to things of this world apart from any connection to God or His glory.
The Constant Threat of Worldliness
In her commentary on the epistles of John, Marianne Meye Thompson states that worldliness looks like a constant rejection of God’s claims in favor of our own values and desires.
If Thompson’s words are true, we must ask ourselves some serious questions: What values are most important to us? What do we desire most? Can our answers be reconciled with the claims of Scripture?
Sadly, many of us fall into worldly patterns without even realizing it. Scripture is crystal clear. In Romans 12:2, Paul says,
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Furthermore, James 4:4 says,
“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
In what follows, I’d like to look at John’s command to not love the world.
One Command and Three Arguments
In the second chapter of his first letter, John provides one command and three arguments for not loving the world. The command is found in verse 15a: “Do not love the world or anything in the world.”
In the New Testament, the word for world is the Greek word kosmos. It can mean different things in different places. For instance, world can mean the universe or material world. It can also mean the people of the world, such as in John 3:16, where God so loved the world. In the current verse, John Stott says the word means “an evil system, organized under the dominion of Satan.” That is the world we are not to love. The Apostle John gives us three reasons why.
1. Love for the world is incompatible with love for God.
In verse 15b, we are told if anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. We cannot have it both ways. Many try to obtain balance between love for the world and love for God. This verse clearly teaches we cannot love God and the world simultaneously. If we become friends with the world we become enemy’s of God (James 4:4).
2. The world produces in us only selfishness, worldliness, and ungodliness.
In verse 16, John gives us his second argument as well his own definition of worldliness. He claims that worldliness is not an external problem, but rather, an internal one. He points to lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life, all issues arising from within a person.
John was really borrowing teachings from Jesus. In Mark 7:21-22, the Lord says,
“For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come — sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these things come from inside and defile a person.”
Selfishness, worldliness, and ungodliness are all heart issues. They arise from within and cause us to misplace our love.
3. The world and its desires pass away.
To me, John’s last point, found in verse 17, is his best argument. He says everything in the world will inevitably end. It has an expiration date. We would be wise to heed this warning. Instead of exhausting ourselves for treasure or pleasure in this life alone, we should seek treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. Jesus warned us about treasure. He said where our treasure is, there our heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21). Apart from Christ, anything we place our affections on will pass away — our friends, our family, our possessions, our very lives.
The Gospel is Still the Answer
If we are not to love the world and our biggest problem is internal not external, how are we to obey John’s command? The gospel is still the answer.
Jesus died in our place for our sin so that we can experience abundant life. We cannot flee our sinful heart without first surrendering it to Jesus.
Timothy Keller has written some fascinating words about our problem and solution. He says, “We love to be our own saviors. Our hearts love to manufacture glory for themselves. So we find messages of self-salvation extremely attractive, whether they are religious (Keep these rules and you earn eternal blessing) or secular (Grab hold of these things and you’ll experience blessing now). The gospel comes and turns them all upside down. It says: you are in such a hopeless position that you need a rescue that has nothing to do with you at all. And then it says: God in Jesus provides a rescue which gives you far more than any false salvation your heart may love to chase.”
If we attach our affections to the things of this world, we will spend eternity separated from the love of God; however, if we attach our affections to the person and work of Jesus, we will spend eternity in the presence of God where there is light and hope forever.
I pray we all heed the words of the Apostle John and choose our love wisely.