Meditations in 1 John : 20 : Beware ‘the World’
1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
John now issues an instruction that really needs thinking about. World, in Scripture has at least three different meanings. The first meaning is the planet on which we live. For example, “Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved,” (1 Chron 16:30) or “you loved me before the creation of the world.” (Jn 17:24).
The second meaning is the people on the world: “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech,” (Gen 11:1) or “Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel,” (1 Sam 17:46) or “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)
So is John saying don’t love the planet or the people on it? No, definitely not, for a number of the laws of Moses clearly indicate a respect, care and wise use of the world on which we live. Similarly God wouldn’t instruct us to love our neighbour and then tell us to hate them. So what is the sense that John uses here for the word, ‘world’?
The clue to the answer comes in the following verse: “For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (v.16) There he describes, “everything in the world” with three things. Those three things are vital to our understanding.
First there is “the cravings of sinful man” i.e. the yearnings of the self-centred, self-pleasing mankind that is just concerned for personal pleasure. Also sinful mankind is not overly concerned whether it is good or bad, just that it brings pleasure. Thus drug or alcohol abuse is an extreme example, but then so is unrestrained eating, or sexual activity outside marriage. “I like it, and I want it” becomes the arbiter of sinful man, with little thought to the consequences. It’s a way of ‘the world’.
Second, there is “the lust of the eyes”. Which is expressed as, “I see it, I like it, I want it”, again often with little thought of whether it is good or bad or of the consequences. No wonder advertising is such a massive industry! The result is often bulging wardrobes, as a result of a fashion industry that tells women how they look is all important and you cannot look the same this year as last. Another result is homes bulging with goods that we rarely ever use. Yet another result is bank balances heavily in debt. It’s another way of ‘the world’.
Third, there is “the boasting of what he has and does.” Self worth has come to be measured by possessions or experiences. Conversations are often made up of tales of new things bought or new places visited. Pleasurable buying and pleasurable experiences have become the measure of a person. What is sad is that these things in themselves are not bad. God has given us a wonderful world to enjoy and He’s given us the ability of make, to invent, and to explore, and so much of the fruits of this are the things we have today and the places we are enabled to go. In themselves they are good, but if our self-worth is only achieved by these things and experiences, we are poor indeed. Our danger, even as Christians, is that in the midst of this God-given enjoyment of life, we can forget those who do not have these things and who actually struggle to stay alive. This self-centred focus on personal pleasure must be tempered for Christians by God-awareness and thankfulness, and a care, compassion and giving for those in need.
But, John goes on, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Again and again we have used the words self-centred and that is opposed to God-focused. A godly person is not self-centred, but seeks the will of the Father, including how to spend their money and how to reach out to the rest of the world.
To conclude the paragraph John adds, “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (v.17) It is a reminder to us that all ‘things’ pass away. Many of our goods ‘pass away’ into Charity Shops as we try to make space for more clothes or more goods. But the bigger truth is that as we age, these things pass away from interest. How many elderly people have clothes they no longer wear, and things they no longer use? And an even bigger truth – you can’t take any of these things with you when you die. If we could only see our families emptying out our homes when we’ve gone! All the things we once held dear, now just being dumped in a skip!
I suspect that for those of us who live in the Western world and who are tolerably well off, these are uncomfortable verses when we think about what they say. They could trigger a whole new approach to life if we let the Spirit speak to us through them. Reread this meditation and see what He says.