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I John 2:15-17 --- “The Test of Love”


In Jesus’ prayer for His disciples on the way to Gethsemane He said that He was not of the world, but was sent by the Father into the world. In the same way, He was sending His disciples into the world, even though they were not of the world either (Jn.17:8-20). The idea that the believer is in the world and yet not of it has spawned a wide variety of understandings regarding how these words are to be put into practice. Some have attempted to cloister away from the world in small Christian communities, others have sought to immerse themselves in the world so as to better reach out with the Gospel. Between these two extremes is an entire spectrum of alternatives. Therefore for the serious minded Christian, this raises the question of just how we are to live in this world, and yet not be a part of it? This passage gives a key insight to answer that question.

I. The Command: (vs.15a)

John admonished his readers, “do not love the world”. This statement seems to contradict what is recorded in the Gospel of John where we are told that God did love the world; so much in fact that He gave His Son to redeem it (Jn.3:16). Since in general Christians are instructed to love what God loves, and hate what He hates; why is John saying here that we are not to follow God’s example?

The “world” in the writings of John is the organized mass of humanity which exists in rebellion and hostility to God and His ways. God loves rebellious sinners and in that love has provided a way of salvation. The love for the world that John warns believers against is a little different. In essence any and all love is an expression of commitment, investment, and loyalty to the object of that love. John is not warning against having this sort of love for people as a whole, rather he is warning against an investment and attachment to the system itself.

Then John adds that a believer is not to love the “things in the world”. This is an important addition because when referring to loving this fallen world as a whole, it is fairly easy to believe we don’t. However when we think about specific things that we enjoy or value in the world the question becomes more real and it is harder to deny that we are guilty of possessing this forbidden love. We must ask ourselves; do I love clothing, jewelry, nice homes, a good sound system, a large piece of property, the adulation of others, a good paying job, a robust investment portfolio, or fun vacations? Paul wrote to Timothy that God has given us richly all things to enjoy (I Tim.6:17); therefore enjoying things in the world is not sin. Instead it is a matter of whether or not one can live a contented and joyful life with or without the things we enjoy? Are our hearts invested in them?

It is interesting to note that the way John phrases this verse it indicates that he is calling upon his readers to stop loving the world (with the assumption that they already are). The point then is that when we were converted we already loved the world. It is part of

our sanctification that God is weaning this love from our souls.

II. The Reason: (vs.15b)

But why is it wrong to love the world? In short, the answer is because a love for the world is incompatible with genuinely living for God. John uses a hypothetical statement to express a universal cause and effect principle. He writes if any person should love the world, then it is a certainty that the love of God is not within them.

The phrase “the love of God” could refer either to a person’s love for God, or God’s love for an individual. In this case it is referring to God’s love. This is evident because the love is said to be “in him”, and indicates the internal workings of God’s love to effect a change of heart. The idea that God’s love for a person is what motivates the transformation process is a prominent theme in this letter. In a sense the presence of God’s love within the person is equivalent to the salvation process itself. Therefore to say that this love is not in the person is to indicate that there is no evidence that such a person is actually born again.

This stark black and white distinction between the world and the things of God is an important concept that in part defines the nature of the Christian life. When one comes to Christ they must make a choice between two ways; the narrow way that leads to life, and the broad way that leads to destruction (Matt.7:13-14). By choosing one path, one is by definition forsaking the other. The kingdom of God is pictured as being in conflict with the kingdom of Satan who has sway over all the world (I Jn.5:19). In light of this conflict one must choose a side, and again in doing so, one chooses not to be on the other side (Lk.11:16-23). Therefore a worldly Christian is oxymoronic, and self-contradictory. Thus when John exhorts us not to love the world he is in essence

calling us to be true to who we are and to our allegiance to Christ.

III. The Explanation: (vs.16-17)

Finally, John explains what it is that draws us to the world so that we will see the attraction for what it is. John writes, “for all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world”. The “lust of the flesh” are those desires which are rooted in our physical natures, as well as that part of our ego which is at home in this material existence. Therefore it covers the gamut of the things that human beings long for in this world; sensual pleasure, beautiful or enjoyable possessions, esteem in the eyes of others, monetary success, and many other similar things. It is living a life for the satisfaction of our urges apart from any other consideration.

The “lust of the eyes” as the expression suggests, is the desire for things that is aroused by seeing them. It is a common warning in Scripture to be careful what our eyes fix upon, and to guard our hearts from the desires that can well up and control us as a result of what we see. Therefore this refers to living moment by moment so that one’s priorities in life and one’s orientation to it are determined by what passes before one’s eyes.

The “pride of life” has a different meaning than what these English words might suggest. The Greek word translated as “pride” does not refer to an arrogant disposition, but refers to the activity of boasting. In addition, this boasting is understood to be of a vain or empty sort wherein one suggests that one has more than one actually does. The Greek word translated as “life” not only refers to a person’s natural life, but also to those things that are the substance of life. Therefore in I John 3:17 the word is translated as “goods” and refers to the material things that are needed to sustain life. Therefore the phrase means to boast in an empty way about the things of this life. All three refer to the proclivity of trying to find satisfaction in this life without regard to the life to come or the things of God.

In the second part of the explanation, John wrote “and the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever”. This world and everything in it will not last; in fact in light of the coming of the Son of God the world and the things in it are already in the process of passing away. By contrast those who are obedient to the will of God (an expression that refers to those who are genuinely saved) will live forever. The point of the contrast is that nothing we gain from this world will be with us in eternity; it will all be left behind. One might be tempted to think that at least there will be the satisfaction we gained from getting the most out of it while it lasted. However, this passage is intended to warn us of potential loss. The idea is about how we invest our lives. As Jesus taught, an individual can either lay aside treasure for heaven, or can lay it aside upon the earth (Matt.6:19-20). If one invests one’s life in the pleasures of this world, then the investment will yield nothing in eternity. In daily life only a fool would invest their money in something they knew would fail so that all would be lost when it came time to collect on the investment. John exhorts us to apply that same wisdom to our spiritual lives and invest ourselves not in this world, but in the kingdom of heaven.


It would be easy to decide to simply stop loving the world and to live for God. Though that would be the right choice, those who make it often fail. This is because many have failed to understand a vital principle about successfully living a genuinely spiritual life. The reason the world is so tempting, is because it promises fulfillment, satisfaction, and meaning. These are things our souls require. Therefore if we simply turn away from the world, and do not address these yearnings, the lack of satisfaction will eventually erode our resolve and we will return to our worldly ways. We must not only turn from the world, but turn to God who is the true source of the satisfaction we seek (see Jer.2:13). The love of God is meant to fill our hearts. As His love fills us more and more it will crowd out the love for the world and make it easier and easier to deny its pleasures because we have found a superior treasure feasting on God. This requires time and commitment, but it is the only way to find lasting freedom from loving this world. And it is that freedom which allows us to be in the world, and yet no longer

of it.

In the Bonds of Christ,

Pastor Michael

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