Yesterday I posed a question on my Facebook page from 1 John 2:15, where John commands us not to love the world. Several people responded. I loved their insights and they really made me examine this question. Here are my thoughts.
To preface, the “world” in this context does not mean “humanity” as in John 3:16, where “God so loved the world.” In John’s first letter, he means the present age and culture. BlueLetterBible defines “world” as “world affairs, the aggregate of things earthly; the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments, riches, advantages, pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ.”
We are commanded not to love the world (2:15) but are to do the will of God (2:17) because the world is passing away, but we will live forever. We live for eternity, not for this present world. We invest our time, energy, money, and talents for God’s kingdom, not the kingdom of this world, which belongs to our enemy (5:19). If the opposite of loving the world is doing God’s will, then to love the world is to focus on self (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, boastful pride of life), i.e., spend my time, energy, money and talents for the things I want, need, or feel that I deserve, as one comment said. Another friend alluded to this when she spoke of a daily inventory of our actions and motivations. What do we spend our time on? What do we think about the most? Where does our money go? At the end of the day, have we advanced “our” kingdom, or God’s?
One comment took us down another, related path, that of being “in” the world without being “of” it. John says we should expect the world to hate us (3:13). He learned this from Jesus (John 15:19). This world presently (and temporarily) lies in the power of our enemy, Satan (5:19), hence the pull of the world is always toward our flesh (those lusts we mentioned). I think we can find the “fine balance” of being in the world and not of it by examining how comfortable and accepted we are by the world (unbelievers), and how comfortable we are with them. Another friend mentioned this principle of being “set apart.” If the “world does not know us” (3:1); if we are to “overcome” the world (5:4), then we should not feel at home in it. If we’re accepted and embraced, we probably should give some thought to how worldly we’ve become ourselves. Light always exposes darkness, and if our lives are shining the Light of Christ brightly, those who love the darkness will not be our good friend (John 3:20-21). Here’s the real test: how do they respond when we talk about Jesus? (4:1-6) Are we talking about Jesus?
Demas abandoned the mission for the gospel because he loved “this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10). Maybe he decided giving up his life to preach the gospel wasn’t worth what he was missing back home (all of which could have been “good” things, like family, friends, career, etc. but should have taken second place to doing what God called him to do). Or, maybe Paul’s boldness in proclaiming the gospel and calling sinners to repentance was too uncomfortable. We all know that talking about Jesus isn’t popular. Demas craved the comforts and acceptance of this world and wasn’t willing to pay the temporary price of rejection for the eternal gain of God’s glory. As one person mentioned, he chose to please himself and lost focus of what really mattered.
One comment referenced anything that steers our identity away from Christ. That’s another good test to see if we’re loving the world. If we avoid being identified with the part of Christ that offends the world (exposing sin) and present only the “acceptable” version (God loves) then we’ve compromised. We’re trying to make Jesus attractive so the world will want Him. We love the world more than Christ. Our identity in Christ must be rooted in ALL of Christ, the Christ who came FOR sin, to put away sin, and defeat sin. Christ came to radically redeem us from sin, not just to make us a better version of our sinful selves. The gospel only makes sense when we know we are sinners. Really loving someone means risking rejection by being willing to address the sin that keeps them from knowing Christ.
One person’s summary was short and simple. Not loving the world means to deny self and live in Christ. She echoes Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:24-26, as He described the life of a true disciple, the one who does not love the world but loves Christ first and foremost: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it gain a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
God gave us this world to enjoy its beauty, to provide for our needs, and to have a place to live while we remain in our “earth suits.” But it is not our home. Let’s not love it at the expense of our soul.