During our Lord’s earthly ministry, He repeatedly pressed upon His disciples, and those who heard Him speak, that the heart and affections must be set upon heavenly, spiritual, godly things, indeed upon God Himself, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Desiring to convey both what he heard and saw from His Lord, the Apostle John provides this sentiment of proper desires in chapter 2 of his first epistle.
There are two major sections that lead into our passage under consideration in this post. The first occurs in 1 John 2:3-6 in which the Apostle outlines the requirement of obedience to God’s commands as evidence for coming to know God. Rather than leaving it as heartless duty, he intertwines it with love, “whoever keeps His word, in Him truly the love of God is perfected.” With that statement he paves the road for our second passage, 1 John 2:7-11 which builds upon this concept of love. Notably, John introduces love as a commandment, not a new commandment, but an old one, but not really an old one because it is new in Christ. By weaving together love and obedience, John most definitely recalls the words of Christ from John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
But also our Lord’s words from John 14:15, “ If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” As well as His words from John 15:9-14
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
With this context in mind, providing our framework for understanding what the Apostle is aiming for in this chapter, we arrive at the passage under our consideration
“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.” 1 John 2:15-17
Love continues to be the theme in this section of chapter two, though stated negatively, do not love, or we might even say dislike, or perhaps even more strongly stated, hate the world and the things of the world. Said this way, we should be compelled to ask, what does John’s use of world here mean? Surely not the created order that God made as recorded in Genesis? Surely he doesn’t mean hate trees, and squirrels, and the sun? Before unpacking this further, notice that John places a qualification on loving the world, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” As has been typical throughout the book, there is no room for gray area here. Love the world, then the love of the Father is not in you. Love the Father, obey His commandments, and love the brethren, then it is incompatible to love the world.
Here we are in need of further defining the use and meaning of world. Thankfully, this is done for us in the verse that follows
- the desires of the flesh
- the desires of the eyes
- the pride of life (or pride in possessions)
Puritan Matthew Henry sheds light upon the meaning of these three phrases when he writes, “The things of the world are classed according to the three ruling inclinations of depraved nature. 1. The lust of the flesh, of the body: wrong desires of the heart, the appetite of indulging all things that excite and inflame sensual pleasures. 2. The lust of the eyes: the eyes are delighted with riches and rich possessions; this is the lust of covetousness. 3. The pride of life: a vain man craves the grandeur and pomp of a vain-glorious life; this includes thirst after honour and applause. The things of the world quickly fade and die away; desire itself will ere long fail and cease, but holy affection is not like the lust that passes away.”
In our passage we are exhorted, or better commanded, to not love the world or the things of the world. This was preceded by a test of our affections for God and a delight in the duty of obedience. The issue under our consideration is where do our affections lie? We ought to consistently, even daily, consider the gauge of our hearts to determine whether it is inclined towards loving the things of the world, or whether it is inclined towards loving God, obeying Him, and loving others. It isn’t a matter of legalistic do’s and don’ts. It is a matter of desire, at the heart level, of where the affections of our heart rest. That is the genuine test of a Christian and it is one that we need to apply to ourselves on a regular basis.
Soli Deo Gloria