Love not the world, 2:15-17
John has just addressed the issue of brotherly love and now he turns his attention to love for the world. In confronting the issue of worldliness, John reminds his readers that a person who "does the will of God lives forever", so it is incongruous for a believer to love the things of the world and their transient glories.
v15. John begins with a clear exhortation; "do not become overly devoted to the fading glories of this age and the false promises of all the stuff that belongs to it." John, like Jesus, is rather black and white when it come to ethics; he loves absolutes. So, in rather stark terms, he goes on to make the point that a person who loves the world does not love the Father in heaven. Of course, all of us are a mix of conflicted compromises; we stand with one foot in heaven and the other on earth. John's focus is on the transient corruption of this age rather than the good found in God's creation. John's point is this; "the person who pledges themselves to the secular world betrays a wonton disregard for the Father in heaven."
v16. John now identifies the corruption dominating the secular world. The "world" John is speaking of is not God's good creation, but the world corrupted by sin and now manipulated by dark powers. He uses three descriptives. The first, "primitive desire", J.B. Phillips, may well refer to sexual cravings, lust. The second, "the lustful eye", Heinz Cassirer, speaks of the cravings prompted by what we see. John seems to have covetousness in mind here, envy. The third addresses the tawdry glamor of things, of possessions; "the worldly boasting that accompanies the majoring in the miners of what money can buy", Billy Junkins - the problem of greed. A lifestyle focused on such in no way reflects a loving relationship with God in Christ. Such reflects a life that is worldly-focused, rather than heavenly-focused.
v17. One good reason for not putting our weight on the things of this age is that they are transitory; "the world is passing away with all its desires", Raymond Brown. Actually, the word "desires" may mean "deceptions", but either way, John's point is that it is impermanent, non-substantial. Yet, what might be so for this age is not necessarily so for believers. If we act according to God's will we become "part of the permanent and cannot die", J.B. Phillips. John explains elsewhere what he means by doing God's will. God requires that we believe in Jesus, put our faith in all that Jesus has promised us, and go on to nurture the fruit of that faith, namely, the love of the brotherhood. To do God's will is to live forever.
Three deadly sins
Before we try to apply this passage we need to remember that our sinful nature has a tendency to amplify deadly sins. It's like when we tell a child not the touch the stove because it's hot and then find them running around the house with a burnt finger. So, I'm a little uneasy speaking about deadly sins and then to find that I've inadvertently encouraged wonton corruption. We do well to remember that ethics can give direction in the Christian life, but in the end, the power to live a good life does not come from the instruction, but from the incarnation - goodness derives from God's grace to us in Christ. So for example, consider the problem of greed. I can tell myself not to be greedy, but the more I tell myself the more greedy I get. Only God's generosity to me in Christ makes me generous.
So, looking at John 2:16, lets note three of the seven deadly sins. By the way, I don't want you to spend the rest of our time together trying to remember the other four, which of course, is exactly what you will do because I've told you not to!!! To thwart Satan's sneaky ways I will remind you of the other four now - wrath, sloth, pride and gluttony.
First, lust. When I was young I assumed that this was a problem of youth, now, as an elderly gentleman, I can assure you that it is a human problem, not a youthful problem. I need to say at the outset that lust is not attraction; opposites attract, and if that wasn't the case the human race would have died out long ago. Lust is when we allow the imagination to pornographically build on attraction. In the same way we train ourselves to turn off the mind when we settle down for a good night's sleep, so we must train ourselves to turn off the imagination when it decides to explore forbidden fruit.
Second, envy. You may have noticed that of the neighborly commands in the ten commandments, covetousness, is the only command of the mind. All the others are actions, murder and the like, but covetousness goes to the seat of the human will. It is the command which foils those who claim to live by the ten commandments. This, the last command, surely convinces us that "all have fallen short of the glory of God." Envy, "which is idolatry", the green-eyed monster, is that feeling of grudging admiration and desire to have something possessed by someone else. This dissatisfaction with what we have, comes not from our God, but from a corrupted world. So, focus on the glass half full; be satisfied.
Third, greed. The tawdry glamor of things, possessions. I'm a bit of a bower bird, I love collecting things. I have a major collection of Angolan stamps and I am very aware that "moth and rust doth corrupt"; fungus constantly stalks our beloved pieces of paper. It just loves the gum on stamps and so while it eats up the gum it eats up the stamp. So, stamp collecting is a hobby without a future. John reminds us that the world with all its constant wanting is on the way out. It is impermanent, a "shadow land", as C.S. Lewis puts it, a flash in the mind of God. Sure, enjoy the world's trinkets, but remember, all that is permanent is found in God, the one who abides forever.
So there we have it, lust, envy, greed, three constants ever before us, but depowered in the knowledge that "the world and all it's passionate desire will one day disappear", J.B. Phillips.
1. John tells us that if we love the world then the love which is found in the Father is not evident in our lives. Discuss how to handle what is a rather black and white statement. Consider the issue of compromise in the Christian life.
2. Discuss the impact of the three deadly sins and how that impact can be lessoned in the Christian life.
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