Do Not Be Like the World

aerial shot of a village

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. 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. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 2:15–17

In this short section of John’s letter, with few words, he teaches a significant lesson. The bottom line is that Christians shall not love the world, for it is passing away. It is such a simple statement, but it has a great depth found in the language that is used. While John often speaks of love, this is the one time that love is used in a negative manner.[1] Further, upon examination, the question arises, “What is wrong with the world?” God created the world, and He called it good, so why should a Christian not love it? John’s use is not referring to God’s creation in a negative manner but to the fallen state of the creation that has turned completely antithetical toward Him. So when John speaks of “the world,” the truer sense is that of “worldliness,” which is the norm of the unbelieving people.[2] The world in its natural state is in rebellion with God and under the control of Satan; thus, John references it with a negative sense, but at the same time, God loves the world so much that He gave His Son to save it.[3]

While the faithful live in the world, John urges them not to love the world or the things of it (v. 15). This puts them in a state of tension as they now act as beacons of light living in the darkened world.[4] This statement must be tempered with reason—the faithful should not despise material things, for these things can provide for their livelihoods, but they should not love the things of the world that lead them into sin.[5]

John provides the faithful with three aspects of the world that must be avoided: “the desires of the flesh,” “the desires of the eyes,” and the “pride of life” (v. 16). The desires of the flesh refer to the sensual desires and lusts for pleasure that are contrary to the commands of God.[6] For many people, such issues exist in the realm of sexual sinfulness that exists outside the confines of marriage between one man and one woman. The second aspect to be avoided is likely the desire of greed of what one sees.[7] The sinful trifecta is completed with the pride of what one possesses. While John literally says “the pride of life,” the Greek would best be understood as the pride of possessions in one’s life.[8]

Finally, John wraps up the exhortation with a statement that speaks not only toward the future but to the present as well. The world is passing away, but those with faith in Christ, will have eternal life (v. 17). Not only does this show that the current world is already in the process of dying, but that those of the world will pass along with it. For the faithful, they have been given life through their faith, and one day, this will result in their eternal glorification. So John implies that judgment is already taking place, and the world is foolish not to see it before their eyes, for it is already the last hour.[9]

Often, society puts pressure on others to explore all the things that the world has to offer. While it is glorious to see God’s handiwork throughout His creation, the world has far more dangerous offerings than just that. In this era in the western world, young adults forgo the faith they may have been raised to fall prey to worldly ideas at universities, parties, and sexual immorality. The list of all the sinfulness that people seek in the world is too numerous to explore in entirety, but what is easy to point toward is the desires of God. I believe it is for this reason that John kept this exhortation succinct, giving only a negative warning “to not love the world” as a way to point the faithful toward God. In all that one does, it should be done to the glory of God, and if it does not glorify Him, then it must be avoided.

[1] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, 1-3 John, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, 1st ed., Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2015), 66.

[2] Ibid., 68.

[3] I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 142.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 142-143.

[6] Ibid., 144.

[7] Ibid., 145.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 147.

Gordon Bland
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Gordon Bland

I am a seminary student working toward my M.Div. While I grew up Pentecostal, within my first semester of seminary, I came to a different understanding of the Word and theology. I am now Reformed Baptist. #1689 I love teaching others about Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, for it was Christ that transformed me. For a number of years, I was a militant atheist and substance abuser. If God can change me, I know he can do the same for you! I am but a wretch, yet He still chose to give me grace. He truly is amazing and deserves all our praise!

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