1 John 2:15-17

"Do not love the world or anything in it." What was John thinking of when he spoke here about "the world"? He actually talks about two things here: the world itself and then all the things in it. John knows how important it is that we live "in the light" in every area of our lives if we are to show Jesus to the people around us and walk in close, undisturbed, fellowship with our amazing Father who loves us. That's why he now tackles one of the most deeply ingrained - but wrong - attitudes in the lives of believers. (We need to show active obedience in every area of our lives if we are to have the close intimate friendship with God that Jesus paid for us to have.)

John uses the same word in both his gospel and his first letter. In John's gospel, he writes: "For God so loved the 'world' that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Then, in his first letter, he says: "We know that we are children of God and that the whole 'world' is under the control of the evil one." (1 John 5:19) Many Christians have found this confusing and struggled to have a balanced attitude to the "world". We have either withdrawn in a "holy huddle" and become exclusive, or we have been so closely involved with the "world" that it is hard for people to see any difference between those in the kingdom of God and those in secular society. Our Father, who loves us, wants us to have the right attitude to the "world" so, when we pray, let's ask Him to show us where He wants us to change our thinking. (Romans 12:2) After all, Jesus commissioned all His followers to: "Go into all the 'world' and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15)

The world

The world - or "kosmos" (Gk) - is the beautiful creation of earth, surrounded by galaxies of stars, where we live. "The earth is the LORD's and everything in it: the world and all who live in it." (Psalm 24:1) When God first created the earth, He "saw all that He had made and it was very good". (Genesis 1:31) Everything was beautiful, harmonious and in good, working order. But, after the rebellion by Adam and Eve (also known as "The Fall"), when they chose to listen to Satan and ignore God's guidance, the earth was placed under a curse. (Genesis 3:17-19) Whereas, previously, Adam & Eve had looked to God to provide for them, now they were independent and had to work the earth in order to produce food to eat. It changed the whole focus for humanity thereafter. God had given mankind a responsibility as managers of His creation (Genesis 1:28) but people wanted to be in charge. It was only when Jesus came to buy us back from Satan and show us a new way of living, that it became possible for us to be in the world but not of the world.

Everything in the world

John goes on to challenge his readers directly about their attitude to the organised system of human civilisation that had developed in the world since "The Fall". Human nature had been irretrievably damaged by Adam & Eve's rebellion and society had developed in opposition to God and alienated from Him. The apostle, James, described this well in his own letter: "You adulterous people! Don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4) The problem facing believers is a temptation to water down the radical teaching of Jesus about how we should live our lives, in order to "hold hands" with the world. The danger is that we become distracted by "all that is in the world" or overwhelmed by it. (Matthew 6:21; Mark 4:18-19) As soon as we choose to make the world of human society our priority and chase after everything that the system tells us we need, (such as money, status, luxuries and power), we begin to live our lives as enemies of God!

A new way of living

"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." (1 John 2:16)

John puts his finger on our attitude to the "world" and what is going on inside us. This is so important. The "world" affects us far more than we realise or care to admit, but what is going on inside us is the fundamental root of humanity's problems. "The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart." (Revd David Hearn, President of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada) Jesus put it this way; "What comes out of people is what makes them 'unclean.' For from within, out of peoples' hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make people 'unclean'." (Mark 7:20-23)

John gathers "anything in the world" under three headings. The "lust of the flesh", the "lust of the eyes" and the "pride of life". Let's look at each one in more detail.

The lust of the flesh

This can also be described as the "craving of sinful people". Whatever our fallen, sinful nature desires when we are not "walking in the Spirit", will draw us away from God and His best for us. It describes what happens when we become focused on gratifying our physical desires. These can be uncontrolled excesses of any kind, laziness or self-indulgence. They never really satisfy us because, when we get what we think we want, we only want more. The "flesh" (our rebellious, "fallen" nature) can act as a tyrant over our ordinary physical nature, which was made by God and is not evil in itself. The "world" can never give us what it promises but, as we are led into disobedience by our "flesh", we are drawn away into rebellion against God and His way of doing things. Consequently, we lose the satisfaction and peace that come from living "in Jesus". The "world" will tell us that we can have freedom if we follow its way of doing whatever we like. What it does not mention is the fact that we are likely to become enslaved to our sinful behaviour, with a constant drive to have more, just like an addict. Our "freedom" only leads to destruction.

The lust of the eyes

Our society today is awash with things to see - things that look attractive. We have hundreds of channels on the television and the internet enables almost anyone to publish almost anything - throughout the world. We are constantly bombarded with choices: things to watch and opinions to consider. We have a window into different societies and cultures, with various beliefs and standards from every country on earth. We are forced, endlessly, to compare ourselves with others through advertising. We are led to believe - in the "fame" generation - that if we have all these things we will be happy. We are encouraged to say: "I see it, I want it and I’ll have it". We see everywhere the idols of materialism. But all these things: the cares and anxieties of the world, the distractions of the age, along with the pleasure, delight and false glamour of wealth and the cravings and passionate desires for more things, all lead to the choking of God's word, making it unfruitful. (Mark 4:19)

The pride of life

The third danger that John warns against is that of becoming proud and boastful about what we have or what we've achieved. What is our attitude to all the things that God has given us? Do we think that our value consists solely in how much we have or what we do? When we become Christians, we exchange our boasting about worldly things and give thanks instead for the prayers we have had answered, for the ways of serving others into which God has led us and for how much He has helped us to understand about who He is and what He has done. As we have seen recently, all our worldly boasting is fleeting and can disappear in a day. Today’s treasure will be tomorrow’s trash.

When Satan tempted Eve in the "Garden of Eden", he used these same three areas of temptation and, when he tempted Jesus, he followed the same pattern again. After fasting for forty days, the craving for bread would have been very real, so Satan taunted Him by saying: "Tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered: "It is written, 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God'." (Matthew 4:4) Then, at the highest point of the temple, Satan tempted Him with the "lust of the eyes", but Jesus’ reply was: "It is also written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test’." (Matthew 4:7) Finally, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered them to Him in exchange for Jesus worshipping Satan. It was an encouragement to think about what He could achieve in terms of status and power, but Jesus told him directly and forcibly: "Away from me, Satan! For it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only'." (Matthew 4:10)

This is exactly what we should do every time we are tempted to succumb to all that the world can offer us. We need to speak God's word out loud because this will "guard our hearts - for everything we do flows from it." (Proverbs 4:23) "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2) John concludes this paragraph on how to deal with "the world and its desires" by saying: "Whoever does the will of God lives for ever." (1 John 2:17) It is hard to think that everything that we have worked so hard to obtain (and which we think of as so valuable) will pass away and be worth nothing, but it happens all the time. More than that, we also see people suffering heart attacks because of stress and fear as their security or things they have valued disappear before their eyes.

Matters of the heart

A heart attack occurs when the flow of life-giving blood in the heart is stopped by a blockage. Something very similar can happen in the spiritual realm as well. If we walk "in the light" and the love of God, His life and passion flows through us to others - people that He loves as much as us and wants to reach out to. However, if we turn away from God, distracted by the temptations of "everything in the world", our relationship with the Father is blocked and our spiritual arteries become clogged. We are then in danger of a spiritual heart attack that leaves us either "dead" or disabled.

These are some common causes of a spiritual blockage:

Boredom. We need to develop a vital relationship with Jesus, rather than allowing ourselves to fall into a formal, sluggish religion, where we just go through the motions. We need the presence and power of the Holy Spirit constantly flowing through us. Let's be bold and dynamic in seeking the heart of God! "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." (Philippians 3:12)

Familiarity. This can be found in many marriages and leads to a sluggish, weak, spiritual heart. The best way to counteract this is to develop an attitude of gratitude. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Lust. The world is full of idols - false, empty "lovers" that seek to displace God's position in our hearts. Such idols can include sexual attraction, but there are many other things that divert us, from material possessions to status and ambition. Let's not not seek the provision over the provider. The answer is: "To seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33)

Laziness. The Christian life for eternity takes hard work. "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence but now, much more, in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12) Let's choose to love with our whole heart (Matthew 22:37) and check that we have not lost our first love. (Revelation 2:4)

Disobedience. This deadens His love in our life. His voice becomes dull and we become dissatisfied. Sometimes, it prompts us to go out and look for our satisfaction elsewhere, leading us towards those other conditions that cause blockages to a healthy relationship and a healthy heart towards God.

We don’t want anything to block our hearts and stop us moving forward in His purposes, particularly not the things of this world which are so transitory. We must declare war on the sin of "loving the world and all that is in it". We must uproot it and throw ourselves wholeheartedly into God’s way of doing things. That will help to focus our life on His life. As we seek first the kingdom of God and do not neglect our daily relationship with Jesus, we shall receive everything we need - and more - to fulfil the "great commission" of telling the whole world about the freedom that is found only in Jesus.

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