1 John 2:15-17 – He that Has Love is Far from All Sin
A second century pastor by the name of Polycarp said the following in a letter to some fellow believers: “He that has love is far from all sin.” That’s the title of this message, and I would like you to keep it in your mind as we go through our text this morning and I will make it clear why when we draw our time to a close.
John writes this letter, probably a kind of circular letter, to a group of Christians most likely in his locality of Ephesus, who have been experiencing the spiritual attacks of some false teachers. These teachers were teaching terrible lies about what it really means to be a Christian. They were denying that Jesus Christ was truly a human, and even denying that He was one sent into the world by God the Father, to redeem all who trust in Him. These errors were serious ones.
But rather than write for the believers firstly a series of do’s and don’ts, he establishes several things that define a real a Christian and define the real Jesus. And in the passage in front of us this morning, John is explaining for his readers, and by proxy for us, how a Christian relates to what he calls ‘the world’.
Now, let’s set one thing straight very clearly – the Bible places spiritual life very much in the heart and not merely in the head. Plenty of theories and systems of thought exist about almost everything – but the Scriptures appeal not only to our minds as a system of thoughts and a framework for understanding the universe – but they appeal to our hearts, as a reason to live, a passion to live by, presenting to us a person to love.
This passage that John writes meets us this morning and asks a very deep and searching question – What do you really love?
For the purposes of organization and understanding, we’re going to look at this passage under three headings – 1. What not to love, 2. Why not to love it and 3. What to love instead.
So, let’s jump into our friend John’s mind and seek to understand what it is he, and God through him, would say to us.
1. What Not to Love
Now John begins this section by saying the very bald statement, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Seems like a pretty clear prohibition. Or does it? Didn’t God create the world? And didn’t John also write the words that “God so loved the world”? And aren’t we told to be “the light of the world”? Isn’t Jesus the Saviour of the World? Surely we’re expected as Christians to love the world, and everybody in the world! This is actually, initially, a pretty confusing statement for people in our position who have the whole New Testament and understand more fully the complete will of God that John’s original readers.
And John clearly isn’t messing around here either – he says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” If you love the world, you aren’t really a Christian, you don’t really love God and God hasn’t saved you!
Confused yet? John doesn’t leave us in the dark long, but proceeds to explain clearly what he means by ‘the world’ in this context.
He lists three things here – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Some scholars go on a field day here and seek to define each term as a separate idea or essence of whatever John means by “the world”, but such scholarly gymnastics is not really necessary. Perhaps John is making reference to different kinds of sinfulness that exist in the fallen system of this present world, but the point remains the same – When John says, “The World”, he means the system of this fallen world arrayed against God and His Gospel. When John says “the world”, he means sin, sinfulness and sinners. Everything in this current world that stands against God, in utter rebellion to His Right to be the King of what He has made.
And it is those things that John calls his readers, and us, not to love. Do not love impatience. Do not love revenge. Do not love self-centred anger. Do not love blasphemy. Do not love false teaching that denies the truth of Christ and of the Scriptures, as in John’s original context. Do not love not the sinful desires that arise in our own hearts for the wrong things – things that God hates. Do not love lying, injustice, disobedience to parents, drunkenness, all manner of sexual immorality. Do not love gossip, do not love complaining… this command from the Apostle is not a small one! It opens up for us a vast ocean of sinful things that we as Christians must guard against loving.
But it is the loving that the text focuses on. It focuses on our hearts, and on what matters to us. You see you can appear to outwardly abstain from an act, and still love it, still revel in it in a fallen, twisted way. You can be the sort of person who doesn’t gossip but really, really loves to. You can be the sort of person who doesn’t look at pornography on the internet, but would like nothing more than to indulge in it. No, John doesn’t write a long list of prohibitions – he challenges the very centre of our being, and call us not to want sinful things, not to love them, but to hate them!
What reasons does John give us then, as to why we should hate these things?
2. Why Not to Love It.
There are two reasons that John gives us in this text as to why we shouldn’t love the World, and we’re going to explore them both briefly now:
Firstly, John says that these sinful things- the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life – are not from God, but from that fallen system of hatred for Him.
There is an underlying assumption here that is oh so very important for us to grasp. God is the source of all that is truly good. It sounds obvious enough, but it needs making plain – the reason that is sin is because it has nothing to do with God. It isn’t from Him, He didn’t make it, He Himself cannot do it, and it is by nature the very opposite of His nature and His perfection. There is no sin in God.
And the question then becomes – If God is perfect, and lovely, and from Him flow all the blessings of joy and happiness – why would you ever want something completely the opposite of that? Why would you love something that does not proceed from the source of all that is truly good and satisfying?
John is aiming squarely at our hearts with this statement – God, as our Father, provides all the good and perfect things that we could ever need and legitimately desire – He gives them for our joy, and happiness, and to delight our souls in His glory and greatness and goodness – why would we turn elsewhere?
David writes in Psalm 36:7-8, “How precious is Your steadfast love O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They feast on the abundance of Your house, and you give them drink from the river of Your delights.”
God is not a killjoy! God is absolutely passionate about your joy – God has designed the plan of salvation, conversion, relationship with Him and our eternal future to maximize our joy to the fullest extent it could possibly reach! This is the thing that the world and those ensnared by it do not understand – God is not offering a boring alternative to real life, but a far superior alternative to the life empty of all lasting happiness experienced by those outside the Church of Christ.
As God’s People rise up and join the Trinity in their eternal dance of everlasting happiness, the world shall see and wonder – how come they’re all so happy?
But Secondly, John reasons that we shouldn’t love the world because it and it’s lusts are passing away.
The World’s hatred for God and it’s sorry, sinful substitutes for satisfaction are all coming to an end. None of them last – none of them endure and provide everlasting joy. Lust gives a fleeting pleasure – soon young women grow older and their charm and beauty fade. Soon young men become older and their physique and power wane. Money soon disappears as we spend it more and more. Power cannot truly be held on to, as others rise and take our place. Relationships with others are destroyed either by hatred for each other or by the unstoppable power of death. Drugs only enslave and become terrible taskmasters. Drink only confuses and exposes the sinful innards of our wretched selves – there is nothing in this present world that can bring any true or lasting satisfaction.
And one day God will bring an end to it all. The final trumpet will sound and the dead will rise and be carried off to judgment – what will become of the sinners pleasures then? What man will dare to imagine that anything could make him happy then, as he stands exposed before the piercing gaze of Jesus Christ, who knows all the sinful things he has ever thought or done?
The problem with humans, my friends, is not that we want too much out of life, but that we want far too little. C. S. Lewis puts it this way:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We… are far too easily pleased.”
What then, is the Apostle’s instruction? How does he motivate us? He decided not to write an extended list of prohibitions – what did he do instead?
Here we move to our third point.
3. What to Love Instead.
John sets up a contrast – a contrast between the way that this present evil world is passing away, and the fact that “Whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
What’s the natural question to that statement? Ok John, so you’ve warned us of the foolishness of loving the world, in all it’s rebellion against God – you’ve made it clear that these things don’t come from God and therefore implied that good things come from God you’ve hinted at the fact that God is going to bring a terrible end to this world that has turned against Him – but what now? You tell us to do the will of God. The natural question is – “What is the will of God?”
Interesting question that. If you were to sum up the whole of God’s will in a single statement, what would say? What springs first to your mind when I say, “the will of God”? The Ten Commandments? The Sermon on the Mount? A Prayer a Day keeps the Devil away?
Here is how the Lord Jesus Christ answers that question: “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Here then, my friends, is the pathway of eternal life. God calls us to trade in the false gods of this world – He bids us lay down our weapons and stop fighting against Him and says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest!” He tells us to fight our love for sinful things with a love for Him! When we taste the greatness and power of His love towards us, in the giving of His own Son to save us – and when we live our lives in sweet harmony to the symphony of His perfect will – and when we dance with joy at the thought of being with Him forever and behold His beauty – then, and only then, will we have all the power necessary to say, “How Could I Ever Want to Sin Again??!?”
So let’s summarize and conclude.
John’s commandment, “Do not love the world” is not a commandment to abstain from involvement in the everyday life of society and humanity – it’s not a command to become a monk. It’s a call from God to rebel against the system of this world that hates Him, and fall in love with Him as the truest delight of your soul.
We do this, practically, by meeting with Jesus through prayer and His Word, so that God might transform us as we renew our minds and set Him before ourselves.
This will lead to us seeking to live our whole lives governed by an attitude of love for Christ – asking ourselves in every situation and temptation, “How do I most love God in this moment?”
And the only way we can hope to do this is by trusting in His promise to give us all things necessary and be enough for us to do such things.
Our God is very gracious – and He knows the great weakness that lives in each of us. He knows that we often desire our sin and the fallen things of this world, but He is patient with us, and will change us, as we fall more and more in love with Him.
Did you remember our quote from Polycarp? “He that has love is far from all sin.” Friends, when we have in our hearts a love for Christ, sin will no longer seem desirable to us compared to His sweetness and beauty. He is altogether lovely – and came that we might share in His eternal happiness.