1 John 2:12-17 (Worldly Disaffection)

Dear Church Family,

In the second chapter of his first epistle, the Apostle John talks about the importance or right affections or right relationships. Unfortunately, many people believe that what or who a person loves is outside of his or her control. Surely, you’ve heard this sentiment: “I can’t help who I love,” or “the heart wants what the heart wants.” For unbelievers, who are still controlled by their desires and passions, this is true. For those who are enemies of the cross of Christ, their “god is their appetite” (Philippians 3:18-19).

For those who have been born again, however, God commands us to command our affections. We may naturally be inclined to love the wrong things, but the Lord gives us both the ability and the responsibility as His children to seek ways to direct our affections in a different manner. And, not only are we commanded to love the right things, but we are also commanded to hate certain things – to love righteousness and to hate sin. So, last week in 1 John 2:7-11, we saw how the Word of God calls us to have brotherly affections – to love our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ – to follow Jesus’ “new commandment” to love one another even as He has loved us (John 13:34).

Little Children, Fathers, and Young Men – spiritually speaking, that is (1 John 2:12-14)

Well, today we come to the portion of this chapter in which God commands us to not love – or even, to hate – the world. Of course, we’re going to have to figure out what John means by “world,” but let me first try and briefly explain who the “little children,” “fathers,” and “young men” that John addresses in the middle of this chapter (1 John 2:12-14):

12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake.
13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.
14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

It’s important to recognize that those mentioned here are categories of believers with reference to physical or chronological age. If that were the case, then all Christian women would be excluded. No, John is speaking in terms of spiritual maturity. Following people like Augustin and John Calvin, John Stott writes that these three groups “…represent three different stages of spiritual pilgrimage. The dear children are those new born in Christ. The young men are more developed Christians, strong and victorious in spiritual warfare; while the father possess the depth and stability of ripe Christian experience.” (John Stott, The Letters of John, 101).

To each group of believers, John addresses their particular need. Perhaps you have recently come to faith and still need to hear the encouragement – “Remember, your sins have been forgiven” (1 John 2:12). Or, perhaps you are spiritually mature who has the peace that surpasses understanding, now able to pass on and disciple others in the faith, knowing that you are secure in the heavenly Father (1 John 2:13-14a). Or, perhaps you are called as a spiritual warrior – to defend and protect the flock of God, to war against false teachings and speculations, to guard and feed God’s people.

Stop Loving the World! (1 John 2:15-16)

After these encouragements to believers in their various stages of their spiritual lives, we come to a very direct and forceful admonishment with regard to how Christians are to think about the world (1 John 2:15-17):

15 Do not love the world nor 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 lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

In the Scriptures, the term “world” can refer to several different things, depending on the context. Sometimes, “world” can be used to refer to the physical planet – as in “the world” was made through Jesus (Hebrews 1:2). Other times, “world” can refer to all humanity – as in “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). But, here – in our text before us today – “world” carries a moral quality to it. In fact, in this passage, “world” and “darkness” are synonyms.

Let me show you. In 1 John 2, verse 8, it says that “the darkness” is passing away. And in verse 17, is says that “the world” is passing away. So, in this context, “the world” and “the darkness” are used interchangeably to refer to the same thing: those things and people who dwell in ignorance and sin (the godless world, those things and people that are opposed God). As Jesus put it, “the world” hated Him and therefore “the world” hates Jesus’ disciples (John 15:18-19).

Having this definition of “the world,” God’s Word commands us to not love the world nor the things in the world because if you love the world then that means that the love of God the Father is not in you (1 John 2:15). You see, the love of the world is incompatible with the heavenly Father’s love. Or, as Jesus put it, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

Don’t love the world! Got it. But wouldn’t it help in applying this command to not love the world if we had something more specific and tangible to grab on to? Well, guess what? You just need to go to the next verse to get those specifics (1 John 2:16):

16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

In my find, this is probably one of the most important verses of this letter because it specifically defines “the world” that believers are commanded not to love. And, it specifically defines “the world” using three helpful descriptors:

(1) “The lust of the flesh.” This first element of “the world” describes the desire of our fallen and sinful nature. Concerning this fallen and sinful nature, John Stott says that, Our fallen and sinful nature “may be said to be in the world, because the world, where the devil rules, is the sphere of its operation.” Another commentator remarks, “Any and every desire of man in his rebellion against God is what is meant here.”

The Apostle Paul calls this lust of the flesh, “the law of sin” (Romans 7:23). It’s your sin nature that still calls you to follow it in rebellion against God. It’s easy to love this part of the world because it’s part of you, but you must resist and fight against it. It’s this part of the world that God called on Cain to control when He said, “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).

(2) “The lust of the eyes.” This second element of “the world” refers to temptations and assaults that come from without – through the eyes. One commentator calls this “the love of beauty divorced from the love of goodness.” This was the aspect of the world in which Eve was first tempted in the Garden of Eden. Remember, she saw the tree was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” – and so, she took and ate, and gave also to her husband with her (Genesis 3:6).

Oftentimes, the lust of the flesh (inward temptation) and the lust of the eyes (outward temptation) go hand in hand. I’m pretty sure that I don’t need to make a whole of applications here. Just about anything that you can look upon with your eyes that tempts you to feed the desires of your flesh is included here.

(3) “The boastful pride of life.” Literally, it’s “the arrogance of life.” The translation of the New International Version is helpful here. It translates this “arrogance of life” as “the boasting of what [a man] has and does” – boasting in what you own and boasting in what you do. It is a pretentiousness of life, finding value in material goods and the things of this world. In short, we may call this third description of “the world,” materialism.

Now, when you put these three things together – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and materialism – it is these things about “the world” that John has in mind when he says in verse 15, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

In our introduction and study of the background of this letter, we talked about Gnosticism. And, I gave a little self-examination quiz: “You might be a Gnostic if…” Well, as we consider how the Word of God commands us to direct our affections here in 1 John 2, I want to give you another little self-examination quiz with regard to your love of the world:  “You might love the world if…” (By the way, the 17th century Puritan William Greenhill wrote a wonderful little devotional booklet on 1 John 2:15. It’s called, “Stop Loving the World.” It’s an excellent read and I commend it to you. These questions are basically a summary of one section of that little booklet):

You might love the world if…

  • You highly esteem the world, holding it in high account.
  • Your thoughts are fixed on the world.
  • You desire the world.
  • You set your heart on the things of the world.
  • You employ most of your strength in, on, and about the things of the world.
  • You watch all opportunities and occasions to get the things of the world: to buy cheap and sell high; to get great estates, houses, lands, and things of that nature.
  • You endure great hardships for the world.
  • You favor the world the most, you are glued to the world.
  • You mourn and lament for the things of the world that are taken from you.
  • You are resolved to be rich and will have the world one way or another, by hook or by crook.

How much time do you spend in promoting the glory of your heavenly Father and the love of the brethren, compared with how much time you spend feeding your own sinful nature, lusting after the things of this world, promoting yourself, buying unnecessary things for yourself, lusting over mail-order catalogs, attending to your financial portfolio, trying to earn the next quick buck so that you can live more comfortably in the world?

Motivation (1 John 2:17)

If the fact that it is the God of our salvation who commands us to love our brothers and sister in Christ (1 John 2:7-11) and to not love the world (1 John 2:15-16) is not motivation enough for us, John gives another motivation of why we should command our affections in such a way (1 John 2:17):

17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

You see, the world is passing away – the things that we love in “the world” are temporary. But God’s people – the ones who do the will of God – they will live forever. So, the commandment to love God’s people is not only something that God demands. Loving God’s people also has its practical rewards. Loving God’s people is actually one of the best ways to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness – to store up for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-34).

All the rest – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of material goods – it’s passing away. But, God’s people – the redeemed of the Lord – those who do the will of God, will live forever. Invest in them – love them – and you will gain an eternal return on your investment.

The Lord be with you!

– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch