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Last week we saw why John wrote to the little children, young men, and fathers. John encouraged and reminded them of what they know, what they have, and what they have overcome. Now John moves from emphasizing what they know and the assurance that knowledge brings as they interact with others who hate them and stand in opposition to God. Just like he has said in all we have seen so far, John links belief and behavior. We know that John is shifting in his thoughts by the first phrase in v. 15.
Take a look at 1 John 2:15-17.
The first thing you notice is John talks about some bad love. “Do not love the world” seems like a contradiction. Many times in the church we are told that we shouldn’t be worldly and this verse is used to support that conclusion. “Do not love the world” seems to be in direct opposition to John 3:16 where the Bible tells us that God loved the world so much that He gave us His Son. It seems in opposition to 1 John 2:2 where John said that Jesus died not just for our sins, but for the sins of the world.
So what’s the difference? It all has to do with the way John uses the term world. World is the Greek word kosmos and is used in three different ways in John’s writings. In John 1:10, 3:17, and 4:17 he is writing about the created universe. In John 3:16 and 1 Jo. 2:2, he uses it to refer to the people of the world. In John 16 and 1 John 4 and 5, he uses it to refer to the evil system of the world controlled by the evil one – the devil – that is opposed to everything godly, and holy, and pure, and righteous. It is this third meaning that John is talking about in these verses. How do you know? Context! Context is king!
“Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”This phrase is in the imperative mood and present tense meaning it is a command we are to adhere to now. Remember for John, behavior is critical in defining who we belong to, who our allegiance is to. What kind of love is John talking about? After all he uses the same word three times in v. 15. It’s not necessarily love that John is concerned about, it is the object of that love. Your love cannot be divided between the world and the Father. If you love the world, you don’t have the love of the Father. John 15:19, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”Ja. 4:4, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world.” (Rom. 12:2) Col. 3:2, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Do you get the idea? There is no middle ground.
So the question that must be asked is, “What are the things of the world?” John provides the answer in v. 16. The things in the world are broken down into three simple categories. These are the things the devil uses to try and get Christians to veer off the righteous path. These are the same three sin categories that have plagued humanity since creation. They worked in the garden, they were used to crucify Christ, and we can expect Satan to continue to use them against us. Although I’ve said sin is sin, John neatly characterizes sin into three broad categories or headings of sin if you will. The first is, “The lust of the flesh.” Lust in this context means to strongly desire what belongs to someone else or to engage in an activity which is morally wrong. Paul told Timothy to, “Flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace . . .” (2 Tim. 2:22) 1 Pet.1:14, “Do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance.” Gal. 5:16, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” We have a natural tendency to fulfill the desires that are contrary to God’s will. Daniel Akin says it this way, “We are not sinful because we sin. We sin because we are sinful.” Paul told the Romans that we come into the world with a nature predisposed to sin.
The only cure for this nature that results in our physical and spiritual death is to accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ. This lust of the flesh drives us to excess as we attempt to satisfy these strong desires. When you hear the word lust, you may think about it as a sexual desire, but the meaning is broader than that. It would include such desires as gluttony. Drunkenness, drugs, any kind of physical addiction. I don’t believe you’ll find anybody that woke up one day and decided to become an addict.
There’s also the, “lust of the eyes.” This is the often the bridge between the flesh and the world. Advertising is a trillion dollar business that seeks to get us to fulfill this lust of the eyes. I see it leads to I want it leads to I’ll have it. The lust of the eyes can lead to covetousness, greed, immorality, and a host of other problems if we allow that desire to go unchecked. Remember in Matt. 5, Jesus equated a lustful look with adultery.
And finally, “The boastful pride of life.” This really means boasting in having or doing what the world thinks is important. This is a glorification of the self. There is a failure to realize our dependence on God for existence. We make idols of our jobs, our social standing, or any other status symbol that the world determines is important. Pride, prestige, power, and position don’t count for anything in the Kingdom of God. These three lusts can be seen in the garden. Eve saw that the tree would satisfy her appetite for good food (lust of the flesh). She liked the look of the food (lust of the eyes). She wanted to be more fulfilled in life (boastful price of life). Satan uses the same techniques on us today that worked in the garden. These desires often push us to a level that the world cannot satisfy.
Satan’s system leads to destruction. Satan’s system attacks the truth of God’s Word. Satan’s system seeks to push us off of the narrow path, seeks to get us to take another road. Why does he do this? To draw us away from completely surrendering and obeying a loving, holy, and perfect God.
John concludes very clearly in v. 17. This world that does not and cannot satisfy us will not last forever. We spend so much time and energy trying to live life to satisfy ourselves that we miss the most important thing of all. The world will end. The lusts that drive us will pass away. Everything the world offers is simply an empty imitation of what Jesus offers. The big contrast is right in the middle of the verse. But. John’s emphasis, like in the rest of this letter, is that if you fulfill your own desires, walk in the darkness, hate your brother, etc. your world will pass away. But – not if you do the will of God. God’s will is not for you to blow of His will for your own. Don’t get sucked into the world’s system of thinking that says you’re goals and desires are the most important things to pursue. John 6:38, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”