For God So Loathed the World
Bethany’s been out of town this weekend, which means it’s just the kids & dad. So I’m making lunch the other day and I give the kids two options: they can have a sandwich or a hot dog. I ask Alex, “sandwich or hot dog?” and he says, “Sandwich.” On down the line to Jack, “sandwich or hot dog?” He says, “hot dog.” Then I get to Haddon. I ask, “sandwich or hot dog?” And he says, “yep!” Apparently he rejected my premise of the mutual exclusivity of the sandwich and hot dog.
Our lives are filled with choices that are mutually exclusive – if you choose one, it is logically impossible to choose the other. Recently God has been blessing our church with so many babies. Brett and Gina had their son Ezekiel last Sunday, and we’ve got Ryan and Brittany, Doug and Emily, and Andrew and Chrissy still with child, there’s a lot of life going on in this church. When you find out that someone is pregnant, the next piece of information that you’re waiting for is what: boy or girl? Those are the only two options. They’re mutually exclusive. Ryan and Brittany are having a girl, which means for sure that it is categorically impossible for them to have a boy (unless the ultrasound tech made a mistake).
Most people that you talk to around here are either Michigan fans (go blue!) or they’re Michigan State fans. The two are usually mutually exclusive, people predominately root for one and against the other. Unless, of course, you’re Pastor Kevin, in which case you are neither hot nor cold, but are lukewarm. More often than not they are mutually exclusive.
Here in 1 John 2.15-17, The Holy Spirit is using mutually exclusive language to teach us about our affections. The Word of God contrasts the love of the Father with love for the world. On the basis of their assurance from the victory song of verses 12-14, now John moves on to encourage these believers to be selective in their affections. So let’s start in verse 15 and feast on God’s Word together.
John gives us a command: Do not love the world or the things in the world. The imperative is blunt, but what does it mean? Wasn’t it John who wrote that God loved the world in this way that whoever believes in him might not die, but have eternal life (John 3.16)? Is John contradicting Jesus here? I don't think so, and let me tell you why. The Greek word for world used here is κόσμος, which has a three-fold symantic range. First, world, or κόσμος, can mean the plant earth, or the universe. John 1.10 says, [Christ] was in the world (κόσμος), and the world was made through him. Jesus Christ created and physically inhabited the world, creation.
Second, world can refer to the people of the world. John 3.16 for example means that God loved his people in the world by giving his one-and-only Son. These two senses of the word world demand our love. On this Earth Day, let me remind you we are to love God’s creation. We are also commanded to love his image bearers that inhabit the earth. So, what must we hate? This is the meaning we have used here. The third way that the word world is used in the NT is to refer to the kingdom of the world, the evil system that stands against the kingdom of God. St. Augustine called it the city of man as opposed to the city of God. The world is that which is under the sway of the evil one. The world consists of the thoughts, affections, and actions that stand against the revealed will of God.
This is the world John is commanding us not to love. Notice that the emphasis of his imperative is about love. He doesn’t say, “don’t think like the world,” or “don’t act like the world,” those would certainly be applications of what he’s saying, but he says do not love the world. The foundational human issue isn’t improper thinking or improper acting, but improper love. Wrong thinking and wrong acting are results of wrong loving. This is because we are most foundationally creatures who love. God is love and we’re created in his image. We are made to love God and love neighbor, Jesus said Scripture hangs on these 2 commands. The problem stems from when we love wrongly. Do not love the world. Do not give your highest affections to that which stands antithetical to the kingdom of Christ. Believers are not to love that which stands against the revealed will of God.
Then the Bible gives us a condition, if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Love of God and love for the world are mutually exclusive. John doesn’t give any room for nuance. He says if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. The love of the Father refers first to God’s love for us, which is placed in our hearts and subsequently enables us to love him. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4.19). If God has loved us through union with his Son Jesus Christ, then it is illogical and immoral for us to love that which stands against his revealed will – the world. The stark language here should produce urgency in our own hearts. We must examine ourselves even in these moments. “Do I love the world? If so, what does that say about my love for God and my standing with Christ?”
Well now you may be confused because you’ve been taught that there’s such thing as a carnal Christian, that someone can love the world and still follow Jesus. John tells us why that is not the case. He gives us the cause for his stern statement, for all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. It is impossible to love the world and the Father because everything that the world is about stands in opposition to God. Here John clarifies what he meant in verse 15 when he said do not love the things in the world. The things in the world are (1) the desires of the flesh, (2) the desires of the eyes, and (3) pride of life.
The desires of the flesh are our appetites. Do not love your physical appetites inappropriately. Whether it is sex, food, drink, medicine, rest or any other good thing that God has given us, do not abuse it. Sex outside of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman in sin, drunkenness and gluttony are sin, sleeping all day every day is a sin. We must be cautious not to love the gift more than the giver.
“The desires of the eyes” means coveting that which you don’t have. It doesn’t mean that we can’t ever want stuff and work to obtain them, but if the disposition of your life is always “the grass is greener on the other side,” then you’re not content in Christ. You’re loving the world, not resting in God’s love for you revealed in the gospel of his Son. Pride of life is confidence in one’s self apart from God. If your supreme confidence and love belongs to your own intelligence, strength, bank account, physical ability, or appearance, then you’re trusting in yourself.
This worldly trifecta has been the bane of human existence since the garden. When the serpent tempted Eve with the fruit of the tree, she saw it (desire of the eyes), she wanted it (desire of the flesh), and she took it, trusting in herself over God (pride of life). The story of the Bible is the story of God rescuing his people from the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and pride of life. These things are not from the Father, so we must not love them.
In verse 17 John tells us why the object of our love is so important. He says it’s literally the end of the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. Again, remember that he’s not talking about the planet earth. We will live in a new earth forever (Rev 21-22). John says the conclusion of history is that the system of the world is passing away. This anti-Christian kingdom that has waged war against the kingdom of God wont last forever, but the one who does God’s will abides forever. Loving the world is like building a house on a foundation of sand, it’s fleeting. Loving God is like building your house on rock, it abides forever.
Two years ago went to WDW in the fall when the “Food & Wine Festival” was happening at EPCOT. All throughout the park booths are set up with food and wine from all over the globe, real foodie, hipster scene. Our kids wouldn’t eat any of it. We had to go to this counter service restaurant called the Electric Umbrella and get them chicken nuggets and fries. Quality food from all over the planet and they wanted chicken nuggets and fries. Loving the world instead of God is like choosing frozen chicken nuggets over the finest cuisine. Like choosing drunkenness over the Eucharist. God has revealed the riches of his grace in Christ; why are we going to play in the mud?
If you’re anything like me a passage like this can be discouraging. I’m trying to love and follow Christ, but so often I find myself back in a love affair with the world. The desires of the flesh tempt me, the desires of the eyes beckon me, pride of life seduces me. What are we to think of ourselves? Church, this is where we must read John’s entire letter with 1 John 1.9 in mind. If we confess our sins [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. It is the gospel of Jesus that makes it possible for us to love God and not the world. It’s only possible because Jesus is the only human who never loved the world. Jesus never gave in to the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and pride of life. When Jesus was tempted by the devil he didn’t love the world or the things in the world.
Not only did Jesus succeed in not loving the world on our behalf, he died in our place to pay for our sin of loving the world and the things in the world. On the third day the Father resurrected Jesus proving that he had accepted Christ’s life and death. Because this good news is true, Jesus Christ is both faithful and just to forgive you of your sins and cleanse you of all unrighteousness. When you love the world too much, repent of your sin and believe the gospel.
You’ll notice that in verses 14-16 John mentions three different perpetrators of trouble. He mentions the evil one in verse 14, the world in verse 15, and the flesh in verse 16 – the devil, the world, and the flesh. This anti-trinity beckons our love. They vie for our affections; they long for our worship. But John says it is impossible to love them and God. The two are mutually exclusive. Choose this day whom you will love: the flesh, the devil, and the world, or the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Believers are not to love that which stands against the revealed will of God. Do not love the world; love Christ. He’s better. He forgives you when your love is misplaced so long as you repent. But don’t be confused; the two are mutually exclusive. It’s either Jesus or the world. You’ve got to choose the sandwich or the hot dog.