The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church the 27th day of July, 2014:
We are familiar with many commands in the Bible that tell us to love. We know all too well the passage where Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about the greatest commandment: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:36-39). We know 1 Corinthians 16:14, “Let all that you do be done in love.” And there are many other commands in the Bible to love others, to love God, to love the things of God . . . But have you ever considered that there may be a command in the Bible not to love? Well, there is, and we find it in John’s first epistle, the second chapter. We are very familiar with the biblical commands to love, but not as much with the biblical command not to love. It is a fatal spiritual tragedy if we ignore the biblical command not to love and as soon as we start obeying the command not to love, we will be loving God more, and loving others.
The Text: 1 John 2:15-17, ESV
15 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. 16 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. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
The Exhortation: Do Not Love the World (v. 15a)
The first thing John tells his readers is “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” That is the only command in this text. The rest of the passage is John’s argument for why they shouldn’t love the world. So what does John mean by “do not love the world or the things in the world?” First of all, John isn’t talking about not loving the people of the world. To understand what he means, it’s important to define what the word “love” here means.
If you’ve studied the Bible for long, you know that the New Testament was not originally written in English. It was written in Greek. This presents some difficulty for readers today because the same English word may not be the same Greek word. There are actually many terms used for the word “love” in our English Bibles, and they don’t all mean the same thing. The word for “love” here is agapate. It means “to delight in.” Often times in the New Testament, it carries a negative sense to it. Let me show you.
This same Greek word is used by Jesus when He describes the hypocritical behavior of the Pharisees, listen for it: “Woe to you Pharisees! For you (agapate) love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces” (Luke 11:43). They loved the adoration and pride of place, seen by the people as the religious rulers of that day. This was not a love for God, but loving to be worshipped by the people. John himself also uses this Greek word in his own gospel: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people (agapate) loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). The people of the world, John writes, loved and delighted in the world because their works were evil.
So here in our text, the word “love” is negative. It is not the same word for love that John has been talking about when he says that we ought to “love our brothers” (2:10). This love that John is saying his readers ought not to have is a love that is focused on self-pleasure and self-gratification. He is talking about the sinful attractions of the world, and John says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” By him saying, “Do not love the things of the world,” he gives us more insight into what he means here. Do not love worldly pleasures, do not love the attitudes and values and attractions that are opposed to God!
What John means by “things in the world” is described in v. 16, which we will look at. People will do crazy things for what they love. Love for the world is to be avoided by the Christian.
The 1st Reason: Love for the World is Incompatible with Love for God (v. 15b)
So John commands against loving the world. But why? Why would it be a problem to love the world? John gives four reasons. The first reason John says not to love the world is because love for the world is incompatible with love for God (v. 15). Do not love the world because you cannot love God at the same time. He presents a possibility here and says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” If it is true that there is anyone among you who does love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. If that’s a possibility to happen, who would be the one John is describing as the one who could love the world? It’s the person who doesn’t have the love of the Father in him.
What does John mean by “the love of the Father?” It does not mean God’s love for the believer—God is going to love you whether you love the world or not—He’s going to love you no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done: His love endures forever. What John does mean here is “your love for God.” He must mean that because he isn’t talking about God’s love for the world at all in this passage. He is talking to believers (like you and me) who were susceptible to falling in-love with the world, when they should be falling in love with God. If Christians could not love the world, then John wouldn’t have written this letter. He was writing to people just like us—they loved their brothers and sisters—they loved fellowship with one another, and fellowship with God. But they, just like anyone, can easily fall into the death trap of loving the world that promises us nothing!
Love for God is incompatible with love for the world; James writes an interesting statement about that truth: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). James says that if you love the world, you put yourself over here in the category of the God-haters who are His enemies. Loving God and loving the world is like fire and water—they don’t mix. Either you’ve allowed the world to water down you love for God, or you love for God is so fiery hot that it has evaporated the love for the world. Don’t you be deceived into thinking that you can fully love God and love the world at the same time, but that is not true according to v. 15: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Love for the world will push out love for God, or love for God will push out love for the world.
If your love for God has grown cold, then you have allowed other temporary things to creep in and choke your love for God. You have been allowing yourself to eat the crums at the floor of the world instead of feasting at the table of our God who gives spiritual satisfaction to all who seek Him.
The 2nd Reason: All That is in the World is From the World (v. 16)
John has commanded the believers against loving the world and says that the first reason they should not love the world is because love for the world and love for God is incompatible. The second reason, John writes, why we should not love the world is because all that is in the world is not from God, but is from the world (v. 16). John is explaining here why love for God and love for the world is incompatible. So what’s to be said about the good we see in the world? The trees, rocks, lakes, family, children and relationships? Is that what John is talking about? No, John defines what he means by “all that is in the world” in v. 16. He names three things that build on each other:
A. “the desires of the flesh”
First, John says that the “desires of the flesh” are of the world and not from God. Let’s talk about that word “desire” for a moment. The Greek word for “desire” here is epithymia. It is used 38 times in the New Testament and only three times is it used in a positive way. This word, like love that we talked about, is used mainly in a negative way. Here are some Scriptures that demonstrate its usage:
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil (epithymia) desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own (epithymia) desire. Then (epithymia) desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
“By which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful (epithymia) desire” (2 Peter 1:4).
John doesn’t say that there is anything wrong with desire, but the “desires of the flesh,” that is from the world! He literally means that desires that come from the flesh. It is the whole of sinful man; in his rebellion. The flesh is our enemy! We have been born with a sin nature that is naturally rebellious against God—that gives us no excuse for running from God and having desires for other things besides God . . . But more so as a believer, we have no excuse for giving in to the sinful cravings of our flesh! We’ve been made new, we’ve got the Holy Spirit of Almighty God to give us the strength to resist sin and be obedient to the Lord, we need to heed the Bible when it says to “Crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” as in Galatians 5:24.
Your desires rule you. Did you know that you cannot even make a choice without a desire? You must first have a desire before you can ever even make a choice for something. And when it comes to the moment of decision, whatever you desire most is what you are going to choose. I’ve been trying to eat healthy for a few weeks now, and so when I go to town for lunch, I desire to eat a good salad. Well, when I get to the restaurant and I glance at the menu and see a bacon cheeseburger staring at me, begging me to eat it, my desires change. I have a conflict in me: I desire to eat healthy, but I also desire to eat the cheeseburger. If I choose a salad, ultimately my desire to eat healthy was stronger than my desire to eat a bacon cheeseburger. If I choose a bacon cheeseburger, then my desire to indulge was stronger than my desire to eat healthy. If I choose not to eat at all, my desire to not eat salad or the cheeseburger was stronger than my desire to eat.
We are desiring people by nature. That’s why it is so important to have a stronger desire for God than for the world! Because if you are desiring God, then the things you do will be influenced by that desire for God. The problem is, when we were born with our sin nature, we naturally desire sin and evil over God: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:22-23). I don’t know about you, but I’ve got the Lord, and that’s enough! I don’t need that sin that promises me nothing but sorrow, pain, and hurt. We need to fight sin and our evil desires of the flesh and replace those desires with desires for wholehearted worship and adoration and white-hot passion for God.
B. “the desires of the eyes”
It is important that John names this next in his list. Why? Because what you desire with your eyes is what you will desire with your flesh. The sinful cravings of the flesh are activated by what people see. The eyes are often the source of desire. And John tells his readers that the “desires of the eyes” are from the world, they do not originate with God. Jesus has much to say about the eyes:
“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matt. 18:9).
What Jesus means here is not to be taken literal—please there was an early church theologian named Origen who castrated himself because of this verse. Jesus means here that we need to take whatever measure necessary to eradicate the sinful desires in our lives.
Another penetrating statement about this from Jesus is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23).
We need to get filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and keep ourselves under control when it comes to our eyes. We need to identify with the Psalmist David when he says, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me” (Psalm 101:3). The “desires of the eyes” are from the world.
C. “pride of life”
Pride is the chief sin—Pride lifts you up far above others and makes you think that you are even above God. John means here that the “pride of life” is boasting and arrogance. It is being puffed up in pride because of what you have on the earth. It expresses a sense of human self-sufficiency and independence from God. When you look at all that you have, Pride says, “Look what I did! I did this!” Against this, Paul writes, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 3:7) So to boasting Paul says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:31). Pride is rooted in every sin that we commit. Pride is saying to God’s face when we sin, “I do not need You to be satisfied; I do not need You at all! I will find meaning and satisfaction in things of the world.” Proverbs 16:5 says, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.”
John has named three things that make up “all that is in the world.” The desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. Are you desiring God or desiring the world? Surrender your sinful desires to God, give Him all the room He needs to work—but be willing to get rid of those sinful desires. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12).
The 3rd Reason: The World is Passing Away (v. 17a)
John has exhorted the believers against loving the world and has given two reasons why not to love the world. Don’t love the world because love for God and love for the world is incompatible. Don’t love the world because all that is in the world is not from the Father, but is from the world: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, the pride of life. But further, the third reason why we should not love the world is because the world is passing away along with those desires which entice us: “And the world is passing away along with its desires” (v. 17a). John writes to his readers that it would be foolish to love the world, because it doesn’t last—it is passing away. Not only that, it is passing away along with its desires. The world is passing away and its days are numbered. All that is against God and His grace is passing away. There is no future in worldliness. There are two ways in which the world is passing away:
A. Temporary by Nature: What it offers is temporary—it is not eternal; it does not last. Solomon has some wisdom from Ecclesiastes concerning this: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Eccl. 5:10). Solomon is establishing a very important truth: Sin never satisfies. Sin will always tell you need more and more of it to be satisfied, that you will not be satisfied until you have it. But that is a lie! The author of Hebrews writes that the pleasures of sin are fleeting (11:25). Sin will never be enough—only God is enough. Further, Peter writes, “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable (impossible to be satisfied) for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!” (2 Pet. 2:14, emphasis mine).
B. Consummation: It will one day be gone, but made new. The Bible says that we are awaiting a new heavens and new earth. Again from Ecclesiastes, “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Eccl. 3:20). Everything in this world that is material and contrary to God, will one day waste away. Back in 1987, Kansas released a song titled, “Dust in the Wind.” Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren wrote this after reading a book of Native American poetry. The line that caught his attention was “For All We Are Is Dust In The Wind.” This got him thinking about the true value of material things and the meaning of success. The band was doing well and making money, but Kerry realized that in the end, he would eventually die just like everyone else. No matter our possessions or accomplishments, we all end up back in the ground.
Do not be fooled into living for the moment. “Do not conform to the ways of this world” says Paul in Romans 12. Let us work and think and plan and desire all to exalt God and to make Him known—let us do those things which really matter: worshipping God and making His name known where it is not exalted. This world will one day pass away with everything in it.
The 4th Reason: Whoever Does God’s Will Abides Forever (v. 17b)
John has given three reasons so far as to why we ought not love the world. The fourth reason is found in the latter part of v. 17: ” . . . but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” In contrast to the person who loves the world, the Christian who does God’s will shall abide forever. This is the climax of John’s argument for why not to love the world. I don’t know about you, but this is who I want to be: “whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Who is the one who would do the “will of God?” Well, in this context, John is talking about salvation because he says that whoever does God’s will “abides forever.”
John writes much about abiding forever in his gospel:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).
“I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
“And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26).
So who is it that will overcome the world? Who will be able to overcome the sinful desires of the flesh? Who will be able to overcoming loving the world? John asks the same question in 1 John 5:5, “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Friends, if you a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ—if He has made you a new person, you will abide forever. You have the power accessible to you to overcome loving the world and loving the desires of the world. You know what the difference is between you loving the world and someone who doesn’t know Christ as their Savior? John answers that question: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (5:19).
John Presents the Biblical Command Not to Love
John gives the biblical command not to love. If you are loving the things of the world, God can change your desires. Confess it to Him, repent, allow Him to work in you—fall inlove with Him by getting to know Him through the Bible. John tells us that everything in the world is not from God, but from the world. If you have problems with these desires that John named, get things right with God, and through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will overcome them. Overcoming our desires is not just something we ought to do, or something we need to do—it’s something we can do through Christ who strengthens us. John reminds us that this world is passing away, but whoever does God’s will abides forever. What John presents for us in this text, my friends, is the biblical command not to love.