Do not love the world (1 John 2:15-17)

Chatswood Baptist Church

1. Worldliness and the church

Over 150 years ago Charles Spurgeon wrote…

“The 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”[1].

It’s more than 150 years since Spurgeon wrote those words but it would seem that little has changed. The greatest danger for the church today is worldliness and if anything the opportunity for the world to influence believers is greater than perhaps any other time in human history. It was a little over a decade ago that C.J Mahaney, who was the president of Sovereign Grace Ministries at the time, wrote that “the greatest challenge facing American evangelicals is not persecution from the world, but seduction by the world.”

In the west this has been our greatest challenge for some time now and if anything, things are perhaps worse than they were even ten years ago. We now do not just meet the influence of the world when we go out and rub shoulders with the people of the world who march to the beat of a different drum. The ways and values of this world are taught more in our schools and in our tertiary education system. The cultural narrative seductively comes into our homes in the shows that we watch on the TV. It is there in the films that we go to see or that we download and the social media that constantly demands our attention. With the development of the internet and our smartphones we open ourselves up to this influence carrying it around with us 24 hours a day seven days a week. The generation that has grown up not knowing life without the constant background noise of the internet has been immersed in these things in a way that my own generation didn’t have to cope with.

The danger for us is real. Many of us are being tempted to allow the world to influence and shape us far too much and often we aren’t even aware of it. We are so immersed in the cultural narrative that we don’t even see the influence that it is having on us. We are in real danger of being conformed to the pattern of this world, and losing our way and wandering from the faith.

And don’t think that it cannot happen. In his second letter to Timothy Paul wrote to Timothy for him to do his best to come to him quickly. He wrote “for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:10). Demas had been one of Paul’s fellow workers in the gospel and had been a close friend of the apostle. He had been with the apostle Paul and Luke when he wrote the letter to the Colossians (Col 4:14). In the letter to Philemon Paul includes Demas with Mark, Aristrarchus and Luke describing all of them as his fellow workers. But sadly by the time Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy Paul had to report that Demas had lost his way. He had deserted the apostle and the work of the gospel because he loved the world.

Today we want to look at why as believers we cannot love the world and how we are to resist its influence. To do this we are going to look at 1 John 2:15-17 where believers are commanded to not love the world. In this letter that John wrote he was encouraging the believers to continue to walk in the light. Sadly, some of the church had already abandoned the faith and had left the church. John was writing to encourage and strengthen those who remained. He wanted them to continue to walk in the light by remaining in the truth of the gospel and walking as Jesus walked. In the early part of chapter 2 he explained that walking as Jesus walked meant loving their brothers and sisters. In verses 15 to 17 that we are focusing on now, John explained that walking as Jesus walked also meant not loving the world.

1 John 2:15

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.

2. Do not love the world or the things in the world

For those who are familiar with John 3:16 it might strike us as a little strange that believers are here commanded to not love the world when in the gospel of John, the apostle wrote, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son”. If God so loved the world that he should do this, why would John tell believers to not love the world?

But of course if our love for the world was like God’s love for the world, such a love wouldn’t be a problem. But John here is not speaking of that kind of love that seeks and saves the lost. Rather he is talking about us giving in to our own selfish desires that sees us flirting with the world and forming an unhealthy attachment to it akin to a married man or woman forming an adulterous affair with another.  He is talking about an adulterous sort of love, an attachment to the world that sees us living for the things of this world rather than the Lord Jesus. The world that John is describing here is the fallen world that is under the control of the evil one (see 1 John 5:19) and that is opposed to God and his ways.  What John is condemning is an idolatrous affection for this rebellious world and the things that it offers us. John Stott has helpfully written…

“Viewed as people, the world must be loved. Viewed as an evil system, organized under the dominion of Satan and not of God, it is not to be loved.” [2]

What is condemned is a love of the fallen world and for the things of this world that leads us away from a single minded devotion to Christ. Hence we are commanded to not love the world or anything in this world. The CSB translates the prohibition in verses 15 a little better in my opinion.

“Do not love the world or the things in this world.”

It is this fallen world and the things in this world that we are not to love. John goes into more detail about what he means by loving the things of the world in verse 16 but in the second half of verse 15 and at the end of verse 16 he tells us why such love is forbidden for those who walk in the light.

1 John 2:15b

“If anyone who loves the world, the love for the Father is not in him.”

Loving the world is incompatible with loving God. You can’t love the world and love God. We only have room enough in our hearts for one true love. Anyone who thinks that they can love God and also love the world is like the foolish man who once told me that he both loved his wife and the woman that he was having an affair with at the time. But you can’t love them both and the reality was that the man loved neither his wife or the other woman. The one that he really loved most was himself because in the end all that really mattered was what he desired and thought that he wanted and what he thought would be best for him. In the end he chose his mistress and left his wife and his girls. To love the world is unfaithfulness and James can liken it to an adulterous relationship.

James 4:4-5

4 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. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?

Later James refers to it as double mindedness. Double mindedness is to think that your affection can be split or divided between two, that you can have a double allegiance, that you can serve two masters. But the Lord Jesus made it clear that you can’t…

Luke 16:13

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

We need to be clear about this for sometimes we are tempted to not see the danger of  flirting with the world. We think that we can be like others in this world and enjoy what this world has to offer and for it to not compromise our relationship with God. But James makes it clear in verse 16 that the things that this world offers, its pleasures and treasures are not from the Father but from the world. We cannot flirt with the world and for this not to come between us and God.

3. Worldly desires

What drives our love for the things of the world is explained further in verse 16. John mentions the sinful desires and attitudes of our hearts. First and foremost the root of the problem of worldliness (of loving the world and the things of this world) is what is going on in us and our hearts rather than just what is going on in the world around us. It is our own worldly desires that come from within. If our hearts and our desires were right then the world and the evil one would have nothing to tempt us with and to take advantage of.

a. The lust of the flesh

The first thing that John mentions is the lust or desire of the flesh. While the Greek word that has been translated “lust” can also mean “desire” which is a word that doesn’t necessarily have to have negative connotations, yet, in this case the NIV is probably right in using the word “lust” which has much more of a negative connotation. What is being described is desire gone wrong.

When the word is used in conjunction with “the flesh” what is usually being referred to is our selfish desires that we have within us because we have been born into a fallen world distorted by sin. When we become a Christian we are no longer under the rule of sin but these old sinful desires still manage to rear their ugly head in our lives.

These desires are sinful sometimes because of what we desire. We desire those things that we know are wrong in themselves that we shouldn’t want or ought to not want to do. At other times, these desires are sinful not because what we desire is wrong in of itself but because we just want something too much. It becomes something that is all consuming that we value more than we should.

My desire to eat isn’t wrong in itself, but when it becomes all-consuming so that it leads me into gluttony, eating more than I should then that desire has given birth to sin. We can want something so much that we can make “a good thing” an idol in our lives for we have given it a place of importance that it was never meant to have in our lives.

Worldliness (being engrossed in the things of this world) is first a problem of our hearts and our own selfish desire or lust so that we pursue what we want in this world rather than the will of God and what we know is pleasing to him.

The lust of the flesh is probably a more general category describing the root of the problem and the two phrases that follow in verse 16 are two ways in which we see the lust of the flesh surfaces in our lives.

b. The lust of the eyes

John mentions the lust of the eyes next. These are desires and longings that are aroused within us by what we see around us in this world.

Advertising is built on the lust of the eyes. In the old days, which don’t seem that long ago, we used to get bombarded day after day by retail pamphlets in our letter box which were just lots and lots of pictures of things that we might never have thought of ever buying until we saw it there in that catalogue. What was being appealed to was the lust of the eyes. These days the advertising has just moved to the internet. Wherever you go on the internet you’re always being reminded of what you don’t yet have or what you could have or that you ought to purchase.

Our world fosters the lust of the eyes providing us with limitless opportunity to covet what others have, to not be satisfied with what we do have or to want what we ought not have. It is also not limited to just things like cars, homes, wealth, expensive holidays, nice clothes, but includes a lifestyle of  pleasure and promiscuity that gets portrayed in the reality shows, the soapies and films that we watch. While we cannot go around in this world with our eyes shut and with our ears stuffed with cotton wool we do need to be careful what we watch and listen to and how much influence we allow these things to have over us.

c. Pride in one’s possessions

The last thing that John mentions is the pride of life or as the CSB puts it the “pride in one’s possessions”.

The third phrase gets translated these two different ways because of the Greek word, “bios” which can have a range of meanings including “life” and “possessions”. According to one scholar the fact that it is predominately used in the NT to refer to our “possessions” is a good reason to lean us in the direction of translating it “one’s possessions”. But then what clinches it for him is that in chapter 3 and verse 17, the only other place this same word is used in this letter, it is obviously a reference to “worldly goods”. In that verse the NIV translates the same word, “material possessions”[3].

The temptation that comes with having material possessions is that we can think that we earn them and that they supply us with what we need, providing us with security and happiness in this world.  We will look more at this in a subsequent talk but for now the warning is that our possessions can be a temptation to take pride in ourselves rather than turning to our Creator and Saviour in humility looking to him and his promises.

Our possession can quickly become the chains that bind us to the world which is passing away, and so prevent us from taking hold of that which is to come, that which is eternal and permanent. Listen to how John concludes this section in verse 17.

1 John 2:17

The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

There is no future in loving the world for it and its desires don’t last.  They are all coming to an end and those who are consumed with worldly desires will pass away with this fallen world.  It is those who do the will of God who remain forever.

4. Walk as Jesus walked

These words are a call to us to remain faithful and not flirt with the world in which we live but keep walking in the light. These words are a warning to all of us that flirting isn’t harmless, it’s how all unfaithfulness begins as we act out the selfish desires of our hearts. If it goes unchecked eventually, like Demas we walk away from the faith and end up in darkness. John calls us to keep walking in the light.

But how do we do this?

For John it meant remaining in the truth, trusting the Lord Jesus and learning to walk as Jesus walked. This is what you and I are to learn to do. In this world we are to keep holding on to the truth that we have believed and keep on trusting what Jesus has done for us. We are to remember what John reminded the believers in chapter 1 which was not to ignore sin or to gloss over it or to pretend that we don’t sin, but to remember that when we do that “we have an advocate with Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One”. As John went on to say.

1 John 2:2

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sin, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

When the light of God’s word exposes the sin in our lives we aren’t to ignore it or to pretend it isn’t there, but to repent and turn to the one who is our advocate and trust in done his sacrifice for our sin.

We are then to get on with learning to walk as Jesus walked living a life of love. We are not to be like those around us who do not know God and who march to the beat of a different drum. Rather, our ambition or goal in this world is to become more like the Lord Jesus. We are to do what the apostle Paul told the Romans to do…

Romans 13:14

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Don’t gratify the desires of the flesh

We are to set our hearts on being more like Jesus and not even think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. We must be people who are learning to say no to those sinful desires and not entertain or give any room for them in our lives, not even for a moment. Instead, we are to mortify them, put them to death (see Rom 8:13; Colossians 3:5).

Of course, this isn’t something we can do without the help of the Lord. Fortunately, for us the Spirit of God is working in us using the Word of God to expose what continues to hide away in the dark recesses of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12-13). He renews our minds and hearts so that Christ might be formed in us so that in this world we might be like him.

Live a life of love

This is our calling as believers. This is to be the desire that is to rule all the other desires of our hearts. We are to walk as Jesus walked and follow the example of the one who came into this world to do the will of God. And for us the will of God means holding on to the truth and living a life of love in this world and not loving the world or the things of the world.

1 John 3:23

“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ and to love one another as he commanded us.”

This is how we are called to live in this world. We are not to selfishly hold on to our lives for ourselves in this world, being engrossed in the things of this world, but we are to lay our lives and what we have using them, giving them away for the sake of others living a life of love in this world.

In this world it isn’t our selfish desires that are to rule us. It isn’t our pride in who we are or what we have achieved or might achiever or what we might own that we are to delight in. We are to resist all these things. We are to cast them off and rather pursue a life of faith in Jesus seeking to be more like our Saviour who loved us and gave himself for us.

Friends, let us not love the world but together let us learn to walk as Jesus walked in this world.

[1] As quoted by C.J. Mahaney in “Worldliness, Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World.” Page 23.

[2] John Stott, The letters of John: An introduction and a commentary, page 103. “

[3] Colin G. Kruse, “The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary,Kindle book Location 1916.