As Christ Followers, what should our relationship to the world be? Such an important question for every Christ Follower to consider.
Over the centuries, there have been many varying responses to this question. Some believing that they are at risk of being contaminated have tried to remove themselves from contact with the world. Others have reached out to the world and so immersed themselves in it that they have risked accommodating themselves to it.
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. (1 John 2:15)
Reading 1 John 2:15 & John 3:16 side by side, one can get easily confused. Which is it? Are we to love the world or not?
To unravel this, we need to consider the variations of meaning Scripture has for the Greek word ‘kosmos’ -translated as ‘world’ in English.
‘Kosmos’ can mean;
- All that is created and sustained by God, or
- All of humankind (the apex of God’s creation) or
- The ‘organized system of human civilization and activity which is opposed to God and alienated from him. It represents everything that prevents man from loving, and therefore obeying, his creator.’ (David Jackman)
John has been using stark contrasts so far in the letter, light and darkness (1 John 1:5&2:9), truth and lies (1 John 1:6&2:4), love for God and love for the ways of the world (1 John 2:15).
In vs15 John is forcibly urging Christ-followers to see that love for God and love for the world’s ways are mutually exclusive. They are like light and darkness.
But, in what way is the system of the world anti-God or dangerous for us? John goes on to elaborate;
‘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.’
John highlights three aspects of the fallen worldly system and correspondingly the devil’s strategy against us;
- The desires of the flesh. Physical appetites themselves are not evil since many like thirst are God-given and essential for human life. However, our natural desires have been distorted and exaggerated in fallen humankind so that we crave a level of self-indulgent satisfaction that can lead us to ignore God’s commandments and wander into uncontrolled excess. Unrestrained desires have an insatiable appetite that can lead someone off-course from the path of following God. Desires are natural, are God-given, but we are not to be lead slavishly by our desires. ‘John is concerned that we should realize that we cannot love the Father and live that way.’ (David Jackman)
- The desires of the eyes. Desire often starts with seeing something desirable. This reminds me of the original sin in the garden… ‘When Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise’ (Genesis 3:6) Much of the world’s marketing runs on this operating system – selling us a desirable image and enticing action. John knows that our eyes can and do get us into trouble.
- Pride in our achievements and possessions (NLT). This worldliness can easily slip into our lifestyles and thinking under the radar, undetected. The world we live in loves to celebrate achievements! From ticker-tape parades for rugby world champions to endless prize-givings at every education institution. The problem is not in the achievement or possession itself – but rather in what a person hopes these things will do for them. To look to our achievements or possessions as things that define who we are or to hope that they will open doors of acceptance or feeling like we belong – is worldly and does not come from the Father. Our identity, belonging, and purpose are ultimately only found in a relationship with Jesus alone, which leads John to the final thought in our passage for today.
The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (vs17)
John concludes, reminding us that not only are the world’s attractions, not God’s way for us, they ultimately fail to satisfy us, and they are fleeting.
We need to be more eternally minded; we are wise if we think long and not short! The person who focuses on God and God’s ways, God’s commandments not the ways of the world ends up fulfilling the will of God which is good for us for eternity and will bless us not just in the short term but bless us eternally.
Although following God’s ways and doing God’s will sometimes involve saying ‘NO’ to some desirable thing, in light of eternity it is not Scripture’s view to see such as a sacrifice but rather a wise investment.
So John challenges us to make Godly decisions about the way we are living today. Do not love the world and its ways, love the Father. We face these little decisions daily, but John challenges us to keep loving the Father and to follow His ways, not the way of the world in all things. ‘For the world and those who live for it will pass away, but the Father and his obedient children will live forever.’ (David Jackman)
So what is our relationship with the world to be?
We are to love people, as God loved people going to extreme lengths to share His love with them (John 3:16).
However, we are also to be extremely careful of the tempting and corrupting influence of the world’s ways, wisdom and systems which are anti-God and dangerous for us from the perspective of eternity (1 John 2:15-17).
- Look through the three aspects of the world’s ways that John highlights and ask God the Holy Spirit to speak to you about any of these which you need to address
- ‘Love for God is the ultimate antidote for sin’ – how does loving God more fortify you against sin?
- Are you truly living with an eternal perspective? How would having a clearer eternal perspective help you in daily decisions?