By David Faust
The Bible’s golden text informs us that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), so it seems strange when the same biblical writer says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them” (1 John 2:15).
These verses do not contradict themselves. In John 3:16 “the world” refers to people created in God’s image, no matter where they live on planet Earth. No geographical or cultural boundary limits God’s love. No language is too complex for the Creator to comprehend it. No barbed wire can fence him in, and no concrete wall or Internet security system can block him out. God’s love reaches the teeming cities of China and the steaming jungles of Brazil. He loves islanders and highlanders. He loves the stressed-out urban dweller crammed into a high-rise apartment, and he loves the reclusive loner who lives in a backwoods cabin. He even loves atheists and others who treat him like an enemy.
As followers of Christ, we are compelled to love the world Jesus came to save. Like light, we illuminate it. Like salt, we flavor and preserve it. Like Emergency Medical Technicians, we rush into it to serve the injured and wounded. Like ambassadors, we convey the King’s message to it.
So what does John mean when he says, “Do not love the world”? Here John is not telling us to hate the people God loves. He’s warning about anything that might pull people away from God.
Clint Gill observed, “Since love is essentially the giving of self, I give myself to that which I decide to love
. . . . John’s plea is not to condemn the things of the world . . . . His entreaty is ‘Do not have the habit of loving’ (of giving yourself regardless of the consequences) to these things.”
Earl F. Palmer added, “John’s point is that we are not to crave the world nor love it from its own standpoint. We are to love the world from God’s standpoint.”
John explained, “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (v. 16). This verse identifies three main rivals for God’s rightful place in our hearts: (1) the unbridled desire for physical pleasure, (2) excessive fascination with attractive things, and (3) the prideful yearning for autonomy and self-gratification. The devil used these alluring enticements to deceive Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. According to Genesis 3:6, “the fruit of the tree was good for food” (lust of the flesh) “and pleasing to the eye” (lust of the eyes), “and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (pride of life). Satan tried similar strategies when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness.
Christians must constantly realign our perspective so we think and act according to a biblical worldview. We live in a culture preoccupied with out-of-control cravings for food, sex, and personal happiness. Within proper boundaries we can enjoy these pleasures as good gifts from God, but they shouldn’t define our reason for living. Most of all we’re here to love God and love our neighbors—to invest our lives in things that matter most from God’s standpoint.
After all, “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17).
1. Most of the time, do you see the world from God’s standpoint?
2. What worldly cravings tempt you to ignore the will of God?
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for November 16, 2014
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
1 John 2:12–17
Ezekiel 29, 30
1 John 2:18–23
Ezekiel 31, 32
1 John 2:24–29
Ezekiel 33, 34
1 John 3:1–10
1 John 3:11–18
Ezekiel 38, 39
1 John 3:19–24
Ezekiel 40, 41