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First John

Love Not The World

1 John 2:15-17

Considering that she was a devout Roman Catholic, Mother Theresa is certainly highly esteemed by Protestants. Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, and perhaps this explains it. For American Protestants, by and large, have very little in common with Mother Theresa - for we love the world she shunned.

(1 John 2:15-17 NIV) Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. {16} 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. {17} The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

Do Not Love the World

It is a fundamental principle of Christianity - though too seldom stated explicitly these days - that the Christian is an alien, just passing through this world. He is not to fall in love with the world, or the things of this world. Why?

(John 15:18-21 NIV) "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. {19} If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. {20} Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. {21} They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

The test of our belonging to Christ, it would seem, is our love of the world. Most of us have far too much difficulty with this concept. How often have you complained of what the world has done to you? Yet for many of us, the question is not, "How can I avoid being entangled in this rotten system?" - but "How can I get ahead in it?" C. S. Lewis tells the story of one of his students who came to him and opened the conversation with a diatribe on the state of education in Britain - and finished it by asking if Lewis had any influence to get him a better position in that system. How many of us have done the same thing - I work for a lousy company; how do I get the next promotion in it?

Turn this around. You have a choice between two doctors. Dr. A drives a Chevrolet, and loves his job for the chance to bring healing. Dr. B drives a Mercedes and can't wait to get to the golf course. Which doctor do you want prescribing your pills? Which attitude do you have on your job?

The world - perhaps I should call it "the system" - says you only go around once, this life is all there is, grab it while you can. It's Satan's playground. The question really is, do you want to buy into it?

Suppose you don't. How do you avoid it - after all, it's very impressive and constantly advertising.

The things of the world

Begin by understanding this. "The world" that John is talking about here does not mean simply the physical planet. God created all things good, and God desires that you have things that are truly good. But the things of this world have been twisted by sin. Is food good? Certainly. Is too much food good? Not according to my doctor. Is it good that I should stuff myself when others starve? Not according to my Lord.

So then, to avoid the love of this world we must see the temptations of this world, recognize them, and deny them.


John divides these temptations along the general lines that Satan used in the Temptation in the Wilderness: flesh, world and pride. But he gives us an interesting new view on them.


Doesn't that word almost summon up the image of - chocolate? Indeed we are dealing with the sins of the flesh here.

Most of us, when we hear "sins of the flesh," instantly conjure up the word "lust." It's an exquisite word - for while it is usually meant in the sexual sense, it has overtones of other sins of the flesh. But do understand that it certainly does mean craving after sex. Be clear on the point: God intends sex as a wedding gift to a married couple - California law notwithstanding, gay rights not included. Let us label perversion for what it is. Be equally clear that adultery and fornication are included as well.

But there is a social side to cravings as well. The sins of the flesh also include:

Anger. Is there anything so tasty as wrath recalled? Do we cherish our loved ones as much as we do our feuds with relatives?

Sloth. That's the scholarly word for it; it means laziness and indifference. It goes by a new name now: Tolerance. I don't care what goes on around me, do your own thing. "I don't care" sums up sloth very well.

Gluttony. Most of us understand that stuffing ourselves too full is sinful - or at least fattening. But do we also recognize gluttony in other things? The woman who cannot have too much jewelry; the man for whom only the finest of wines will do? These too are gluttony.

Some thing the sins of the flesh are strongest in youth. Perhaps. But then perhaps some of us never grow up.

Lust of the eyes

I see it, I want it. John defines it well here. If the sins of the flesh are supposed to bedevil the young, the sins of the world - the lust of the eyes - are to bedevil the middle aged. There are two we need to see:

Greed. We don't like the word - so we will substitute others. But it comes to the same thing: the endless acquisition of more "stuff." When asked "How much money is enough?", J. Paul Getty replied, "more." That's greed - sheer acquisitiveness. It doesn't even need to be good stuff - as long as there is more. If he has it, why can't I?

Envy. If greed is the sin of the "haves", then envy is the sin of the "have-nots." Since I don't have it, why should he?


John uses the word "boasting" here - it literally means "ostentation" - to denote pride. We take pride in two kinds of things:

The things we have - our possessions, as sign of accomplishment; the trophy wife, as sign of our greatness as a man; our trophies, whether from the job or the golf club.

The things we do - our position in life (I'm a very important executive, you know), the great things I do for charity (God owes me for all this, you know).

It is, as C. S. Lewis remarked, the completely anti-God state of mind. For it says that I am better than you are - and as I look down on you, I cannot look up to God.

This is said to be the temptation of the elderly Christian - for it comes at a time when accomplishments have been made - and perhaps when the other temptations have been defeated.

Socially Respectable Sins

Of course, as good Christians, we would never condone such things - right? Or would we?

Lust - she was such a shrew of a wife, and his new lady is really fine looking; you can understand the divorce.

Anger - let's just call it righteous indignation, shall we?

Sloth - hey, I can tolerate anyone's beliefs; after all, one religion's just as good as another, right? If it feels good to you, then go for it.

Gluttony - look, it's just that I have a taste for the finest things in life. After all, a man should know good wine from bad.

Greed - such an ugly word; really, didn't you mean "entrepreneurial spirit?"

Envy - actually, it's really nothing but a longing for social justice. Why should the rich have all that stuff? Aren't their sins my excuse?

Pride - the chief value of America. You think not? Listen to a post-game interview some time.



Why is it that we cannot love the world, the things in the world and not love God also? After all, is it really impossible?

The Two Masters Principle

Christ put it this way:

(Mat 6:24-33 NIV) "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. {25} "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? {26} Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? {27} Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? {28} "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. {29} Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. {30} If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? {31} So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' {32} For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. {33} But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

How is this so? Remember that John has already taught us that to love God means to keep his commandments. His commandments include avoiding these things of the world - we are cautioned on all of them many times in both Old Testament and New Testament. So then, to love the world is to disobey God - and thus to show completely that we do not love God. The two loves are mutually contradictory. To attempt it is spiritual bigamy.

Eternal and Temporal

We must remember that we are, for a while, hybrids. We are both spiritual (and thus eternal) and physical (and thus temporal). Ultimately there will come a separation of the two - sooner than some of us think, for who knows the hour of his death? - and when that happens we will discover that we have already made a choice. We will have chosen either the things of God or the things of the world, and on that choice will rest our eternity.

"He is no fool if he would choose to give the things he cannot keep to buy what he can never lose." That's the choice. To love the things of this world, and cling desperately to them even in our dying moments, or to trade these transitory things for eternal things. The problem is, we don't have eternity to decide. We have now.

Even at that, we will not always have "now." The time is coming when our Lord will return. At his return, all choosing is over; the decision is made. It is well said that God sends no one to hell; he simply identifies the road on which you're travelling.

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