by Bruce Mills
I have been reading a great little book titled Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World which was written by C. J. Mahaney and other pastors from the staff of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The first chapter is titled "Is This Verse in Your Bible?" and it is based on the premise that like Thomas Jefferson who physically cut out the verses and passages of the Bible that he didn't agree with, we believers do the same thing with 1 John 2:15, which states, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world." While we would not physically cut it out of our Bibles like Thomas Jefferson did, we practically live as though we have cut it out.
As I thought about this matter of our attachment to the world rather than to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, I asked myself, What exactly does John mean when he says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world”? The word for "world" which John uses here has a wide range of meaning, but its most common use in Scripture and the most significant use in John's writings is to refer to "the world system." So it is not specifically referring to the physical world and the physical things that make up our environment. Rather, John is referring to the world of men in rebellion against God. And the things in the world system that we are to refuse to love are its values, pleasures, and goals. Our attitudes toward those things is to be radically different than the world. So while John didn't mean the physical world specifically, he does mean that we are not to be attached to the things which the physical world values. And that does include many physical things.
The world says, “Gain all the wealth and things that you can.” Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…you cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:19-20, 24).
The world says, “You better look out for yourself—number one—because no one else will.” The Scriptures say, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
John says, “You better not love those things.” And then he goes on in 1 John 2:16 to specify what things he means. The first one he lists is “the lust of the flesh.” While word that is used here for “lust” includes sexual lust, it means more than just that. It refers to an evil craving for satisfaction that finds its fill in the things that please the flesh. It is any kind of craving to gain anything which the flesh desires. You could say that it refers to moral corruption, because the things which are sought corrupt one morally.
I don’t normally recommend William Barclay as a commentator, except for historical background, at which he is superb, but on this point, he really nails it. He writes these words to describe what John is talking about:
It is to live a life which is dominated by the senses. It is to be gluttonous in food; effeminate in luxury; slavish in pleasure; lustful and lax in morals; selfish in the use of possessions; regardless of all the spiritual values; extravagant in the gratification of worldly, earthly, and material desires. The flesh’s desire is forgetful of, blind to, or regardless of the commandments of God.
John says that those things appeal to our flesh and we can easily crave them, but we are to avoid them.
The second thing he lists is “the lust of the eyes.” What does that refer to? Again, I think we can easily mistake this phrase as referring to sexual lust. But it goes far beyond that. The basic idea behind this phrase is covetousness. It refers to the desire to possess things, to have all the toys that our society throws at us, to achieve status and fame. It is the appeal of Madison Avenue with its advertising which is designed to make us dissatisfied with what we have. It can include sexual lust of looking on a woman and desiring to have her for oneself, but it goes far beyond that kind of temptation.
What John is saying when he says we are not to lust with our eyes is that we are to be content with going without those things that reflect success and achievement. In other words, being willing to be overlooked for a promotion because to do so might diminish the time we have to serve the Lord; to do without the external symbols of success in order to be able to give more to the Lord’s work; to be thought of as unsophisticated or unglamorous if need be in order to accomplish the Lord’s purposes for which he has appointed for us.
Now, I’m not saying that we have to go around looking like we are wearing clothes from the 1950’s and living in a shack that we never spruce up. But we are not to allow the desire for things to control us.
This idea has particular significance for us as we will be entering the Christmas shopping season in just a matter of days, and we will be bombarded with advertisements shouting at us what we absolutely must have if we are going to be cool and up-to-date. Resist the temptation to have your desires controlled by the unregenerate minds of advertising executives who are only consumed with getting you to spend your money on their stuff.
Finally, John says we are to avoid “the boastful pride of life.” This is the attitude which says, “Look at what I have achieved. Pay attention to me. Look at how great I am.” That attitude can be based on the gaining of possessions, education, power, fame, or status. It may even be based on intellect, which is something the person didn’t do anything to gain more of than anyone else. Yet, within the world system, those who have more of something than others have, will flaunt their position and display their pride and arrogance, demanding that others defer to them.
John is saying, “True believers avoid that kind of attitude. They don’t boast about what they have achieved because the true believer considers himself to be lowly and unworthy, because he recognizes that he was destined for eternal hell apart from God sovereignly reaching down and drawing him to Christ.”
If you look back at these three phrases, you can summarize them in this way. “Lust of the flesh”“Lust of the eyes” refers to corruption of the next higher part of man’s nature; his desires for that which is otherwise good and pleasant and nice to have. But “the boastful pride of life” refers to the highest corruption of a man’s heart, because it is the exaltation of man himself. By sensuality man sinks to the level of animals; by covetousness, he competes on the level of men; by pride, he tries to reach to the heights of God. refers to corruption of the lowest, basest parts of a man’s nature.
The world accepts and prizes these values, but they are opposed to true Christianity. To love God is to move away from such values. To love the world is to increasingly drift away from love for God and thereby also lose love for others.
John wraps up this great passage in 1 John 2:17 by giving us another reason why Christians are not to love the world. It is that all that is in the world is transitory and headed for destruction. Everything that is a part of the world system is going to be destroyed.
So, does anything remain? John says, “Yes, 'the one who does the Father’s will abides forever.'” Because the good works a believer does are an aspect of his love for the Lord and find their source in God, the believer will abide forever because he is a possessor of eternal life and an heir to all of God’s riches in Jesus Christ.
When we are called to love God, we must turn from all lesser loves and loyalties. To fail to do this does not mean that we lose our relationship to God, but it does mean that we are unfaithful to Him and disgrace our calling.
It is like a marriage. Adultery does not change the legal status of the marriage, but it destroys the fellowship and is dishonorable. As Christians, we are married to Christ. Therefore, we must not dishonor that relationship by adultery with, or even by flirting with, the world.