Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (1 John 2:15-17).
John has spent much time in 1 John exhorting Christians to walk in the light, avoid the darkness, and follow God’s commands (1 John 1-2). After specifically exhorting Christians at different levels of development, John turns to the matter of “the world.”
We must be careful when discussing “the world” in 1 John 2:15-17. “The world” here is not a description of the physical planet, that is, birds and rocks and trees and the like. Instead, John uses “the world” in contrast to Heaven or the ways of God. He defines that which is in “the world” in verse 16: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vain glory of life. These are the corrupted impulses of fallen man, the distortion of the creation of God that was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). While the creation has been subjected to decay and futility (Romans 8:20-23), the creation itself is not sinful or depraved. Christians can and should appreciate God’s creation (cf. Romans 1:20).
Yet it is quite important for us to not love the world of which John speaks. This world, put simply, is the world of sin. All sin is somehow described in the three elements of 1 John 2:16: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. It is interesting to note that John’s concern is in the mind; “the world” is discussed in terms of desires of the heart. John is not somehow denying that physical actions are sin– he makes it clear, as Jesus did previously, that actions simply represent the accomplishment of the intent of the heart/mind (cf. Matthew 15:16-20). No adultery is committed, drugs used, violence perpetrated, or anything else, without the idea first coming into the mind and then the desire to do so (cf. James 1:14-15).
All three elements are also manifest in Eve’s first sin: she saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh), that it was a delight to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and it was desired to make one wise (pride of life; Genesis 3:6). This is hardly unintentional. Eve’s choice, and the choice made by all conscious humans at some point, is to choose the lusts of life over the way of God.
John also makes it quite clear that there can be no compromise between the world and God. If one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them (1 John 2:15). Jesus indicated that a man could not serve both God and Mammon (Matthew 6:24), and James makes it clear that friendship with the world is enmity toward God (James 4:4). We must choose which we will serve (cf. Romans 6:17-19)!
That choice must be informed by eternal considerations. As John makes clear, the world and its lusts are passing away (1 John 2:17). Peter vividly describes the ultimate fate of the world by fire in 2 Peter 3:9-10. How tragic it is to consider how much effort is currently being expended for things that are destined for purging! If people really understood how all physical things require purgation by fire, would they really keep striving after wind? Even though it may not always be easy, and the temptation to follow after the world is strong, let us love God and seek after that which leads to eternal life!
Ethan R. Longhenry