Do not love the world or 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 desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.1 John 2:15-17
John presents clear warning and instruction here: “Do not love the world or the things in it.” As clear as his warning seems, I’ve witnessed Christians with a sincere love for God and the scriptures misunderstand and, as a result, misapply John’s words.
The first thing we need to get clarity on is what exactly John means by “the world”? The word he uses is the word “kosmos” which can refer to the world or worldly affairs. Based on the context of the letter, the latter seems more likely. Naturally the question of what we’re allowed to do as Christians comes up. What does it mean to “love the world”? That’s a big question. But add to this Jesus’ command to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). It seems like John is instructing us to disengage from the world that Jesus tells us to engage with. How do we go into a world we’re commanded not to love? Have you ever felt this tension before? I know I have. One thing I rest confident in is that God does not contradict himself. So then, what do we do with this passage? Let me start with this: The question of whether we love God or the world is not first and foremost a matter of ACTION but AFFECTION. In other words, it’s not about what you do, it’s about what or who you love the most. What you love shapes what you do.
St. Augustine famously wrote “Love God and do whatever you please.”
I know what you’re thinking. “That’s terrible advice!” Of course, doing whatever we please has dire consequences. There is a myriad of behaviors that we may want to engage in that scripture clearly identifies as sin. Stealing, lying and sexual sins, just to name a few, are spelled out as being contrary to the will of God for us. They’re black and white. Objectively wrong, immoral and harmful. But there are areas that aren’t so black and white to which even the most devoted Christ-followers might disagree. For example, what is a Christian allowed to watch or read? Can someone love Jesus and drink alcohol? Can Christians serve in the military? In these cases, we need to give ourselves over to honest examination before God and really ask him if he is the primary object of our affection or if we’ve allowed another to take his place.
Wherever you are in your spiritual development, this should be a deeply convicting set of scriptures for you. Here’s why. You can steer clear of anything biblically prohibited or morally questionable and still not have a sincere love for God. So before you run through the list of people you associate with, places you’ve been, and activities you enjoy, first allow God space to examine your heart to see if the three areas John identifies have gripped your affections. Here are each of them described briefly:
The lust of the flesh: Simply put, this is the craving for physical pleasure.
The lust of the eyes: This refers to the craving for everything we see–coveting, accumulating, and ultimately bowing to the god of materialism and wealth.
The pride of life: This can be described as the obsession with our own achievements, status, and sense of importance.
When the serpent tempted Eve, he tempted her in these three areas (Genesis 3:6). When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, these three were his strategies of attack (Matthew 4:1-11).
Take a moment and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal which of these most grips your affections right now.
This is what St. Augustine was getting at. Full disclosure. I didn’t give you the full quote. Here it is in its entirety:
His point was not to do what you want. It was to love God above all things, and as a result, to please God in all things. As John said, we either love God supremely or the things of this world supremely. Today, would you take a few minutes and allow God to reveal any misplaced affection in your life? Would you repent (turn away) and renew your commitment to him today?
Grace & Peace,