LOVE NOT THE WORLD
by David N. Samuel
1 John 2:15-18
“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 pride 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.”
Here is sound advice for every Christian, young, middle-aged or elderly. The world is a snare to the Christian. Therefore, do not love the world.
I. By “the world” we understand three things. The word is used in three ways in the Bible. There is, first, the physical or natural world, the creation. When God made the natural world he pronounced it ‘very good’. But it has been marred by the Fall, by man’s sin and disobedience. The Fall of man has dragged the whole creation down. The Bible says that the whole creation groans and travails in pain, and that it is subject to vanity or futility, as a consequence of sin, but that it is not evil in itself, and it will one day be restored and renovated.
So we do not take these words to mean that we should not love the world God has made, that we ought not to delight in nature. It is a very wonderful and awe-inspiring world. We admire its beauty, the sunsets, the music of birds, the seas and mountains. Wordsworth, the poet of nature, wrote, “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky…” We all share that feeling. Nevertheless, we should, as Christians, also have a certain detachment from it. This is not our permanent home. We are passing through this world. We have here no abiding city. Using “this world”, says Paul, “as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away”. Our real home is not here, but we “look for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
So moderation is the watchword for the Christian in relation to the creaturely things of this world; a certain detachment, and sitting loose to this wonderful creation and the things that are in it. “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth,” was Paul’s exhortation to the Christians at Colosse.
Then, again, the word ‘world’ is used in the Bible to mean the dwellers on the earth, mankind. But these words, “love not the world” are not intended to mean that we should not love our fellowmen. There is nothing misanthropic about Christianity! There is a tendency abroad today in certain circles to love nature, but to resent the presence of people who tend to spoil nature. I think there is an element of this in the Green Movement. “What a wonderful world this would be, if it were not for people spoiling it, and interfering with nature.” But there is nothing of that in this verse; it does not mean that we are not to love mankind. On the contrary, the Bible is replete with the exhortation to love our neighbour as ourselves, and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
And, lastly, the word ‘world’ in the Bible can mean human society organised apart from God and over against him. Mankind without true religion, and in rebellion against God and his Word – secular, humanistic, atheistic society, but it can also mean those who reject the true God and invent their own religion. The consequence of the Fall is that man is in rebellion against God, and wants to cast off his laws and his rule. In the days before the flood “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And nothing has changed since, for John says in his first epistle, “the whole world lieth in wickedness.” It is that world we are not to love. We are not to make it the object of our affections or follow its godless ways.
II. John now adds, “neither the things that are in the world.” The apostle goes on to explain more fully in our text what this world consists in (verse 16). It consists not so much in material things, but in lusts, passions, and desires.
(1) “The lust of the flesh,” that is, all that pertains to bodily appetites and their gratification. Our natural appetites as a consequence of the Fall have become inflamed, and satisfying them can become not a means to an end, as they were intended to be, but an end in themselves – living to eat instead of eating to live. Hedonism takes over, that is the teaching that pleasure or happiness is the chief end and purpose of life. We see how this view of life has come to the fore in recent years. John says, do not adopt this way of life, do not be drawn to it. People think that enjoyment and pleasure are life, but they are not.
People may call us killjoys for not behaving in this way, and say that we are being very narrow. But “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” And it is also true, that “solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.”
(2) “The lust of the eyes”. “The eye is not satisfied with seeing” (Ecclesiastes 1:8). It is always seeking out some new object. Ahab was not satisfied with his possessions, though he was king. He saw Naboth’s vineyard and coveted it. David saw Bathsheba and desired her though she was the wife of Uriah. Our Lord said, “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” He was not, of course, speaking literally. It is not the eye, but the desire of the eye that must be eradicated. The commandment is, “Thou shalt not covet.”
(3) “And the pride of life”, that is, its vainglory. “The pomps and vanities of this wicked world”, as the Catechism has it. All the pretentiousness of life, the boasting, the false glamour, the outward show. The world makes much of all this, it is very important, indeed, to the worldly-minded. Wealth, power, fame, all seem very attractive. They are like the stage props and scenery in a theatre. All the colours glow in the arc- lights and seem so very rich and splendid. But in the light of day they look cheap and tawdry. So all the show and boasting of the world will look in the light of eternity; and people will be astonished that they gave their immortal souls for it. There is that great passage in Revelation, chapter 8:16,17, which typifies all this when it describes the fall of Babylon the Great with all its wealth and power and pomp. “Alas, alas, great city, that was clothed with fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! For in one hour so great riches is come to nought.”
III. “All that is in the world is not of the Father.” It does not proceed from him. If we love these things the love of the Father is not in us. The two cannot exist together in the same person, love of the world, and love of God. “No man can serve two masters.” Like certain plants which grow in the garden, other plants cannot live next to them; they are incompatible. “Whosoever will be the friend of the world is the enemy of God” says James in his epistle, putting the matter simply and starkly. There can be no truce between God and the world, therefore there can be no truce between the world and the Christian. “Demas hath forsaken me,” wrote Paul, “having loved this present world.” (2 Timothy 4:10). It is a snare and temptation to the Christian, yet he is in the world.
In Pilgrim’s Progress we read how Christian and Faithful had to pass through Vanity Fair, which in the allegory stood for the world and its ways. We have to pass through the world, but we must not be of the world. While the church has no choice but to be in the world, the world has no place in the church. The two must not get entangled and confused. What God has separated must not be joined together. The Christian is called to holiness because God is holy. “Be holy for I am holy,” and holiness means separation from worldly and godless ways.
John also gives another reason for this separation. “The world passeth away, and the lust thereof” (verse 17). The Bible tells us that God created the world and all things. It also tells us that he will cause it to pass away. “The fashion of this world passeth away” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:31. The ancient Greeks, Aristotle in particular, believed that the world was eternal. We ourselves speak of the solid earth, terra firma. But scientists tell us that in fact there is nothing solid about it; it is a mass of whirling atoms. The chair I sit on, the table I write at, the house I am in, all partake of the same insubstantial nature. Shall I not believe the Word of God then, when it tells me that “the fashion of this world passeth away”? And with it, John adds, will pass away the “lust” or desire, “but he that doeth the will of God shall abide for ever.” He who holds fast the Word of God, he who believes and obeys it from the heart lays hold upon something enduring. He is committed to something outside the present world with all its flux and change and insecurity. He builds upon a sure foundation, for “the Word of God liveth and abideth for ever.”
The Christian has to live in the world, but he must get the world out of his heart. Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, writing in The Times stated, “It took a day to get the Israelites out of Egypt. It took much longer to get Egypt out of the Israelites.” Only the expulsive power of the love of God can get the world out of the heart of the Christian. It is the process of sanctification, in which the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. He who loves God cannot love the world.
But there is something else which should also impress this upon us, and make us see the need and urgency of separation from the world. It is this, these are the “last times”. “Little children, it is the last time…” (1 John 2:18). This is the closing period of this dispensation. It is the eschaton, the technical term for the last period of the world. It was announced by the first coming of Christ, and will be concluded by his return. It calls for watchfulness and seriousness. These are critical days in which we live, we must be alert and attentive; it is no time for taking our ease. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light” (Romans 13:12).
“Love not the world”, for the world is hastening to judgment. But how do we know that? How do we know it is the last time? Because, says John, “antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists; whereby we know it is the last time” (verse 18). “Antichrist” means two things. First, “opposed to Christ”, and secondly, “in the place of Christ”.
There are many who are opposed to Christ today. We are living in a culture which has not only ceased to be overtly Christian but is actually opposed to Christ, and to the teaching and principles of the Gospel. We must now be conscious that those organs and bodies which mould thought and opinion, such as broadcasting, journalism, schools and universities, are antipathetic to Christianity. This is something which has crept up upon us over the last fifty years or so, but none can deny that it is now an accomplished fact.
But in addition to that, there is the powerful influence of Islam. Muslims deny that God has come in the flesh, in the person of Jesus. They accept Jesus as a prophet, but not as God. The Jews did not really kill him, they say. On the cross he was represented by one who was like him, but God took him directly to heaven.
How do we know, then, that this is the eschaton, “the last time”? Because the sprit of antichrist is abroad in the world. Therefore, do not love the world, for it will soon pass away and all its lusts or desires.
But somebody may say, “I find it very hard not to love the world.” We must all, at times, feel like that. And the truth is that love of the world cannot be overcome by us on our own. We need the grace or love of God to overcome it. Somebody has spoken of the “expulsive power of a new affection”. That is simply, that a new love drives out the old love.
The Bible is full of this very thing. That is why its great message is the love of God for us. “God so loved the world…” “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” When we realize the greatness of God’s love it has the power to drive out the love of the world. As Paul has put it, “The love Christ constraineth us…” (2 Corinthians 5:14). He is referring to all he did and suffered as an apostle of Christ. Why did he do it? The answer was the love of Christ. He could not have done it of, or by himself.
That is why there is so much about God’s love in the New Testament. It is the key to everything in the Christian life. Without it we are nothing and can do nothing. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [or love as Tyndale translated it] I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.”
If we would not love the world, we must “know the love of God, which passeth knowledge.” The words of Charles Wesley’s hymn fittingly capture the sense of this part of John’s epistle.
O Love divine, how sweet thou art,
When shall I find my willing heart
All taken up by thee?
“The world passeth away, and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”