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. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
1 John 2:15-17
Immediately preceding this, John wrote about why he is writing this letter (v. 12-14). Prior to that, he wrote about loving one another (v. 7-11). And he opened this chapter with the statement that he wrote these things that you may not sin (v. 1). So this thought needs to be understood in the overall context of the three preceding thoughts: that John is trying to give me guidance in how not to sin, that he encourages me to love my fellow believers, and that he is writing to people whom he believes know God and are forgiven of their sins and have overcome the evil one.
All of that becomes terribly important when John opens with Do not love the world. The context tells me that John is not talking about people. He has encouraged me to love my brothers and sisters in Christ. The context also tells me why I should not love the world — that I may not sin. If I want to avoid sinning, then my best course of action is to avoid loving the world and the things in the world. What John is talking about — since he is not talking about people — is the world in the sense of life apart from God. The media, in the modern era, plays a large role in the flipping of this script. I saw a meme yesterday that illustrated this point. It was a graph of how much sexual intercourse people have in various relationship states in reality and in the media. The media would have me believe that marriage will kill my chances at sexual intercourse, while the statistics say the exact opposite. Contrarily, the media makes it seem as if unmarried people are falling into bed with one another left, right, and center and that these liaisons seldom have any adverse consequences. Yet again the statistics tell the opposite story. The world and the things in it include the promiscuity peddled by media outlets. And, while I am thinking of it, the things in the world include the world’s attempts at equality. Paul wrote that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but that all are equally saved and equally heirs to the grace of God. We are all equally condemned without Christ and all equally saved with Him. That is true equality.
John goes on to write that the love of the Father is not in … anyone [who] loves the world. Jesus said it this way: you cannot serve two masters. I cannot love the world and the things it loves and love God and what He loves — the two are mutually exclusive.
Which leads me to wonder what, precisely, defines what is in the world? I mean, preachers have variously defined it over the years. What does John write about it? For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. It boils down to a pretty simple litmus test for me. (1) Is this thing a lust of the flesh? If the thing in question is all about sating an appetite that my flesh has — food, drink, companionship, pleasure — in a fashion that is not condoned by God, then that thing is in the world. (2) Is this thing a lust of the eyes? If this thing could be categorized by me as “a shiny,” then it is likely in the world. Not all “shinies” are inherently bad, but they can easily become so if not kept in their proper place. (3) Does this thing pander to the boastful pride of life? If this thing is all about making me feel better than or more important than or pretty much anything that involves a comparison which casts me in a favorable light — even if I am trying to be more humble than ___, unless the blank is filled in with something like “I was yesterday,” then that thing is in the world.
The danger, John writes, of all of these things that are in the world is that (1) the love of God cannot be in me at the same time as love for these things — the one love casts out the other — and (2) The world is passing away, and its lusts. Not only can I not love God and not properly love my brethren if I love the world and the things in it, but I am loving something that will, definitely and forever, pass away. God does not pass away. My brothers and sisters in Christ do not pass away. This world — all the money and cars and houses and clothes and entertainments and pleasures — is passing away. I can see it happen every day. My car used to be new and amazing and pristine. Now only the amazing remains and even that will one day be gone. She is a noble steed, but every steed passes away eventually. My clothes, comfortable and pleasant as they may be, wear out and fray and eventually tear — usually in embarrassing spots — and are no longer useful. The world tells me that I just need more and better of everything. God tells me that I need more of Him and that He will supply all my needs according to His riches in Christ.
Short application, since it is embedded in the observation of the verses: love God more and stuff less. Loving God more will bring people along for the ride, because He loves them and we tend to love the things beloved by those we love. Love God more. Love things less.
Father, I see clearly what You would have me do and I know that the desiring is present but the acting out is feeble at its best. Please strengthen the hands that are weak guide me into loving You more and loving people more — especially those people whom You have most directly placed in my life to love — and to love things — objects, entertainments, and pleasures of every stripe — less. I do not think it will be easy, but I know that it is needful. Thank You for Your enduring love for me.