We are continuing our study in the little letter of 1 John. So far, we have seen that John has exhorted his readers to walk in the light. He has exhorted them to love the brethren and to keep the commandments. So if you are wondering what it means to “walk in the light,” he has defined it up to this point as keeping God’s commandments and loving the brethren. Walking in the light is important because this is how we have fellowship with Yahweh:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7 ESV
So, as we keep his commandments, we walk in the light; and as we love our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light. Now, in our text for this morning, John further defines walking in the light as not loving the world. In summary, we are admonished to love the Father and love the brethren but not to love the world.
This section that we are looking at runs from 2:12–17. In the second part (2:15-17), John continues the direct form of address to his readers. But rather than complimenting them, he now exhorts them. He has told them that if they walk in darkness but claim to be in fellowship with God, they are lying (1 John 1:6). Now John points out a specific area of sin that especially threatens our fellowship with God: worldliness, to love the world.
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. 1 John 2:15 ESV
The text begins with a command. Because it is the only command in the text, it is probably the main point.
“Do not love the world.” The Greek negative prohibition, me, occurring with the present active imperative verb agapao, means that one should either stop doing something or that he should not be in the habit of doing it. John is telling them to stop an act that is already in progress. Were John’s readers loving the world? Some of them probably were, but John is most likely calling out their opponents, the pre-Gnostics. They claimed a secret knowledge, but it had no impact on how they lived their lives. It was an amoral kind of belief system. And so they continued to love the world. Those people then demonstrate that the love of the Father is not in them.
Last week in our study of this text, we focused on the word “love” (agapao). “Love” in the New Testament is most often the translation of agape or agapao. And because many of those scriptures are telling us about a godly love, it is not surprising that many assume that those Greek words refer to a superior kind of love, a spiritual godly love. But as we saw last week, that assumption is not accurate.
An English dictionary (Dictionary.com) defines agape as: (1) the love of God or Christ for humankind and (2) the love of Christians for other persons, corresponding to the love of God for humankind. It is no wonder, then, that people think that agape is some special kind of divine love.
Thayer’s Greek Definitions on agape defines it this way:
- (1) of persons: to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly.
- (2) of things: to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing.
As you can see, it is very much like our English word “love.” The love involved
in this exhortation carries a different meaning from the love (of fellow believers) mentioned in 2:10. There love is focused on the well-being of another, but here it is focused on the pleasure and gratification one hopes to receive.
What we can see from this text is that the opposite of loving the world is not only loving the Father (verse 15), but it is also doing the will of the Father (verse 17). And that connection makes sense. Yeshua said:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 ESV
And John tells us later in this letter:
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 ESV
Loving the Father in verse 15, therefore, and doing the will of God in verse 17, are not separate things. If you love God, you will love what he wills. It is foolish for someone to say that he loves God but does not love what God loves. Would you agree with that? Then why are we told in our text not to love the world that God is said to love:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV
Why does God love the world, but we are commanded not to? Obviously, there are different meanings of the word world. The word “world” here is the Greek word Kosmos. It is used 186 times in the New Testament. John uses it 105 of those times (78 times in his Gospel, 24 times in his epistles, and 3 times in Revelation).
In his book, The Sovereignty of God (pp.253-255), A.W. Pink notes at least 7 different usages of the word “world.” Colin G. Kruse (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary, senior lecturer of the New Testament at Melbourne School of Theology) states the following in his commentary, The Letters of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000, p 74):
“The word kosmos occurs 23 times in 1 John, and its meaning varies according to the context. In one place it means the natural world (3:17), in several places it bears a locative sense—the place into which various ones go or in which they live (4:1, 4, 9, 14, 17; cf. 2 John 7), in other places it denotes ‘worldly’ values or attitudes that are opposed to God (2:15–17 [6×]; 5:4 [2×], 5), and in yet other places it denotes the unbelieving world—people who are opposed to God and believers, and who are under the power of the evil one (3:1, 13; 4:5 [3×]; 5:19).”
So, Kruse sees four different uses of kosmos in 1 John. And there are probably even more. In our text, the word kosmos represents the system of values, priorities, and beliefs that unbelievers hold that exclude God. In John’s day the world was under the domain of Satan. Scripture makes that very clear:
We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 1 John 5:19 ESV
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— Ephesians 2:1-2 ESV
We know that Satan and all the other fallen gods were defeated by Christ in AD 70, but in our day, there is still a man made worldly system that opposes Yahweh and His values.
In John 3:16, “world” is used in a racial sense. God so loved the world—all peoples, Jews and Gentiles. And in our text it is used of the world system. The world system is the system which man has built up in an effort to make himself happy, satisfied, and fulfilled apart from God. What makes the world "worldly" is its persistent rejection of the claims of God in favor of its own values and desires. There is little doubt that in the present context, kosmos means “attitudes or values that are opposed to God.” Notice what James says:
You adulterous people! 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 ESV
James states that “friendship with the world is enmity with God,” and John says that “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The only way that you can fight the love of the world is to maintain and grow in your love for the Father.
When we talk about “not loving the world,” many today see this as a prohibition against “worldliness.” And that is correct. The problem that arises, however, is that there are many and varied opinions about what constitutes "worldliness." Christian attempts to counter worldliness often have swung in the opposite direction. In order to avoid worldliness, some have turned to “Pharisaism.” The Pharisees were religious separatists who considered themselves holier than everybody else. They were very strict in their observance of the law, at least in their own minds; and after looking into the Tanakh, they came up with 613 commandments which they codified and elaborated upon. They imposed their own ideas and oral traditions on the Holy Scriptures so much so that their traditions became, in their minds, superior to and more authoritative than the Holy Scripture itself. The Pharisaism of our Lord’s day was an attempt to be non-worldly by adhering to particular religious rules and rituals. This just turned into legalism.
In order to avoid worldliness, some have become ascetics. The ascetics were people who denied the fleshly appetites such as sex, food, drink, and rest. They tried to avoid any form of physical sensual pleasure. An extreme example of the ascetic approach was Simon the Stylite (c. 390-459) who lived in extreme austerity for 36 years on top of a platform on a 60-foot pillar. Thousands of people flocked to see this “unworldly” man and to listen to his preaching.
Then there was monasticism. What is that? Well, you've heard of monks and hermits who withdrew themselves from the world. At one time it was thought that if you were a really committed Christian and really wanted to love God instead of the world, you would leave human society and live as a monk or a nun out in a desolate monastery.
Many religious groups and denominations forbid, either explicitly or implicitly, certain behaviors. In some circles smoking is forbidden while some groups look down on those who drink alcoholic beverages, dance, listen to rock music, or attend movies. And yet in other groups, cultures or countries, other strictures may be in place while those just listed are not. A Christian from an Eastern European country said that in his circles, attending public sporting events was frowned upon. Some stricter groups have avoided the use of modern machinery and automobiles. Many Christian colleges required their students to sign pledges not to participate in these “worldly” activities.
What makes people "worldly" isn’t smoking or dancing. Worldliness is the persistent rejection of the claims of God in favor of its own values and desires. This fallen world system attempts to meet all of mankind's needs apart from God. It structures life in such a way that humans appear to be independent.
One of the first examples in the Bible of this idea of worldliness is found in Genesis 11. It tells of human society’s united rebellion against God at the tower of Babel. There was an anti-God leader of humanity whose name was Nimrod. He led an organized rebellion against God’s command to disperse over the whole earth. In their building of what may have been a water-safe tower to protect them against a future flood from heaven, the people exposed their distrust of God’s word and promise.
“Or the things in the world.” I don’t see this as talking about things per say. The difference between “the world” and “the things” in the world is the difference between the concept of the world as a whole and the idea of the constituent elements which make it up. What constitutes “the world” in this context is clarified in 2:16.
“If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The “if” here is a third class conditional sentence. It denotes potential action. Maybe you will; maybe you won’t.
He is saying the same thing that Yeshua said in the following verse:
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:13 ESV
You cannot love God and the world. It is one or the other. They are mutually exclusive:
O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Psalms 97:10 ESV
If you love Yahweh, you are going to hate evil.
At its core, worldliness is a matter of the heart. If your heart is captured by the world, you will love the things of the world. If your heart is captured by the love of God, you will be drawn to Him and to the things of God.
“The love of the Father is not in him.” This could mean God’s love for us (subjective genitive). But to be parallel to the first half of the verse, it probably refers primarily to our love for God (objective genitive). John means that the one who loves the world does not love God. The only way that we can overcome the strong desires of the flesh and the world is to be consumed with loving God.
Commenting on “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” John MacArthur writes, “So that constitutes a clear delineation. Somebody who loves the world is not a believer, doesn't possess the love of God.” A page later he writes, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone does that, they're not Christians.” He also writes, “If anybody loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. That is to say he has no relationship with God.” He goes on to say, “Loving the world, as I told you last week is impossible for true believers because the world is an anti-God system and you can't love God and love the world.” “Now the command then, very clearly, chapter 2 verse 15, ‘Love not the world’, because if you do you're not a believer. True Christians don't love the world.”
One of the problems with what MacArthur says here is that the Greek negative prohibition, me, occurring with the present active imperative form of the verb agapao, means to stop doing something. John is writing to believers, and he tells those believers to stop loving the world. This means that a believer can at times love the world.
Can a believer not love God? Do all believers love God?
You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:28 ESV
Do you understand what Yeshua is saying to them? "If you loved me, you would have rejoiced"—"if you loved Me" is a second class conditional sentence which is called "contrary to fact." "If you loved me, [which you don't] you would have rejoiced [which you have not]. A. T. Robertson states in his commentary on the Book of John that the phrase “if you loved me” is a “second-class condition with the imperfect active of agapao referring to present time, implying that the disciples are not loving Jesus as they should" (Word Pictures in the New Testament (Volume V) Fourth Gospel, Epistle to the Hebrews).
Did they love Him? Yeshua said they didn't! He said that if they loved Him, they would be rejoicing about His departure to the Father. But they were not rejoicing, because they didn't love Him. So, can a believer not be loving the Lord? Obviously!
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 1 John 2:16 ESV
As I said earlier, verse 16 is explanatory of verse 15. “For” is the Greek word hoti. It gives the reason why the love of the Father is not in the person who loves the world.
“The desires of the flesh.” The word “desire” is epithymia which refers to a strong desire or impulse. It is found 38 times in the New Testament. In only three places does it have positive connotations (Luke 22:15; Phil 1:23; 1 Thess 2:17). In all the rest, it has morally negative connotations such as are found in the present context.
“Flesh” here is from the Greek word sarx. The term "sarx" is used in many ways in Scripture. The important thing is for us to determine its usage in this passage. We must be careful not to interpret the Johannine usage by the Pauline. John tells us:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 ESV
The Greek word sarx (flesh) is sometimes used in a moral sense of the deeds of the flesh (e.g. Romans 8 and Galatians 5). But sometimes it is used in a physical sense, and that is the way it is used here. Romans 1:3 says that Yeshua was the Son of David, "according to the flesh," humanly speaking.
“The desires of the flesh” are purely human desires characterized only by that which is “flesh” and nothing more. The genitive could be attributive (“fleshly desire”), but it is more likely that it is subjective, conveying that it is “the flesh” which does the desiring. The "desire of the flesh" is the desire to do something apart from the will of God. It includes all corrupt bodily desires and every sinful activity that appeals to the sinful hearts of people. It is all those desires and plans that are shaped entirely by our impulses and not by the Spirit of God.
Perhaps the most common manifestation of the "lust of the flesh" in modern western civilization is illicit sex (hedonism, idolizing pleasure). The Epicureans became known for unbridled desire and licentious behavior, especially gluttony.
“The desires of the eyes” Whatever is appealing to our senses but not properly ours to desire or obtain falls under this category. It is those sinful cravings which are activated by what people see that lead to covetousness. Covetousness is one part of what makes up the “desires of the eyes” in this context.
The problem with the eyes here is that they tend to see only that which is of “the flesh”; they fail to see the spiritual significance. It is the tendency to be captivated by the outward show of things without inquiring into their real values. When we examine John 9 and the account of the healing of the blind man, we see that the real significance of the sign-miracle was not found in Yeshua’s restoring the man’s physical sight, but rather in his opening of the man’s spiritual sight as well.
With today’s pervasive influence from modern media, the tug of the world is greater now than it ever has been. We thumb through magazines that lure us with beautiful homes, new cars, luxury items, or expensive vacations that can all be ours if we just get enough money or go into enough debt. It is lust for the things of the world that prompts Americans to spend billions on casino gambling and lottery tickets.
The desires of the eyes, I assume, would cover such things as pornography. The viewer deceives himself into thinking that he is simply looking. He is not actually going to engage in adultery. I believe Internet pornography is one of the most damaging things that Christian men face today.
Achan saw with his eyes and coveted and took. Samson saw something he wanted, and it cost him his eyes. David was walking on his balcony and saw a woman who was another man's wife. He paid profoundly for that iniquity for the rest of his life.
“And pride of life.” This refers to human pride apart from God (humans trusting in their own resources). In The Jerome Bible Commentary, vol. II, Raymond Brown, a renowned Catholic Johannine scholar, says of the phrase, "However, alazoneia, found also in James 4:16, has a more active meaning then mere pride: It denotes arrogance, boastfulness, the conviction of self-sufficiency" (p. 408).
The word life is bios which has a range of meanings, including life, livelihood, living, property, and possessions. It is used in 3:17 clearly with the sense of property or possessions, and this is the predominant use of the word in the New Testament.
While the lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes refer to the desire to have what you do not have, the pride of life refers to sinful pride over what you do have. It is the desire to be better than others so that you can glory in yourself and your accomplishments. Worldliness is primarily an attitude that is motivated by wrong desires and the wrongful promotion of self. Perhaps the most common manifestation of the "pride of life" is trying to control people, circumstances, history, or even God. It is egoism, idolizing power.
It is easy to think like Nebuchadnezzar, who said:
At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, Daniel 4:29-31 ESV
The material security of one’s life and possessions produces a boastful over confidence. The person who thinks he has enough wealth and property to protect himself and ensure his security has no need for God. You can see this in your emotional reaction when you have lost something or have been disappointed in a business venture. Are you depressed, discouraged, defeated? What a contrast with that word in Hebrews where the writer reminds those Christians:
For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Hebrews 10:34 ESV
That does not sound like many Christians today, does it? The pride spoken of is self-reliance, self-sufficiency. Either people trust in themselves, or they derive their values, assurance, and life from God. Those who love the world see their security in the world. They depend on their possessions. They do not depend on God alone.
Many have pointed out how the three aspects of temptation listed here parallel the way that Satan tempted Eve. She saw that the forbidden fruit was good for food (Genesis 3:6), which was an appeal to the lust of the flesh. She saw “that it was a delight to the eyes.” This appealed to the lust of the eyes. She also saw “that the tree was desirable to make one wise.” This appealed to the boastful pride of life.
The same pattern occurs in Satan’s temptation of Yeshua (Luke 4:1-12). Satan urged Yeshua to turn the stones into bread (the lust of the flesh). He showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth, offering to give them to Him (the lust of the eyes). He encouraged Him to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, which could have been a source of pride in this miraculous accomplishment.
“Is not from the Father but is from the world.” The phrase, “from the world,” uses the Greek preposition ek with the genitive. As it is often used in the Gospel of John, ek here does not denote origin but rather nature. It does not mean that everything in the world comes from it; rather it means that evil behaviors are altogether worldly and as such are contrary to what God wills.
Occupation with Christ delivers us from our occupation with the world. Frankly, the more I am occupied with the Lord Yeshua, the less I want what the world offers.
And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:17 ESV
“And the world is passing away.” The present tense indicates that the passing of the world is an ongoing process. In John 2:8, John spoke in a similar vein about the passing away of darkness
Most futurists and preterists take this as eschatological. The futurists see it as something yet future when the world ends as we know it and we are in the eternal state in which worldliness is no longer a problem. This verse presents a difficulty for those of us who are preterists. If we take this as eschatological, then we believe that it happened in AD 70 at the return of Christ. But if the world and its desires passed away in AD 70, then this passage has no meaning for us. We don’t have to worry about loving the world. But I simply don't see how John's "Love not the world" was just for the first century saints. It seems to me that we still wrestle with not loving the world. We, or at least I, struggle with the issues of verse 16.
It seems to me that if John had meant this eschatologically, he would have used the word aion for world instead of kosmos. The age (aion) was in fact passing away. The Old Covenant age was about to end and the New Covenant age was about to be consummated. But the world system which attempts to meet all of mankind's needs apart from God and which structures life in such a way that humans appear to be independent of God has not passed away. I believe that even believers today can love the world and all that it offers.
The words “passing away” are from the Greek word paragō. It is used ten times in the New Testament. Seven of them simply mean "to pass by" or "go past". The world is passing away, so don’t get attached to it. Hang on to what is eternal not temporal.
and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. 1 Corinthians 7:31 ESV
Here Paul doesn’t say that the kosmos is passing away but rather that the schema of the kosmos is passing away. Schema is the outward which changes from time to time and from circumstance to circumstance. So the outer appearance of the world was then passing away. Although it would look different under the New Covenant, the new covenant world still deals with lust and worldliness.
The transient nature of the world is clearly part of the meaning of this verse. Martin Luther wrote, "I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But the things I have placed in God's hands I still possess." How true that is! We all know the glory of this world is rapidly turning to dust. The power of it soon passes from our nerveless fingers into the hands of another. Nothing lasts very long. Everything is changing. That is the characteristic of the world.
The ancient pharaohs were buried in the pyramids with all sorts of riches which were thought to be of some use to them in the world to come. In the end, they were only of use to the grave robbers. The pharaohs could take none of their worldly stuff with them to the world beyond.
“Along with its desires.” When it is taken eschatologically, this passage seems to indicate that one’s falling prey to the desires of the "world" was only possible until the "world" passed away. The implication, then, is that since the world has passed away, the "desires of the world" are no longer a problem. How is that working out for you?
“But whoever does the will of God abides forever.” In the Fourth Gospel, Yeshua speaks of his doing the will of God five times (4:34; 5:30; 6:38, 39, 40). In each case it relates in one way or another to his carrying out of the mission for which the Father had sent him. Does John use it differently here? Our mission is to love God and not the world. We do this by avoiding the “desire of the flesh” and the “desire of the eyes” and the “pride of who we are or what we have obtained.”
If you love the world or the things in the world, you will lose them all at death. All that the worldly person lives for is gone in an instant and means nothing in light of eternity. Even if you have attained your worldly desires, what good are they at death? But, if you do God’s will, you will not only abide with him now but throughout all eternity!
Missionary Jim Elliot, who died at the hands of the Auca Indians, said: "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep [the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life], to gain that which he cannot lose [fellowship with the Father]." That is where John rests his case. (Note: words in brackets added by DBC).