Last time we met, we discussed the new commandment which was really not new, but was the one which we have had all along. Even though John did not elaborate further on what this command was, it was obvious that it was closely tied to the command to love. Loving God with all one has is to joyfully keep His commandments as well as to love one’s neighbor as well. It is as the song, the “Old Time Religion” says: “Makes me love everybody.” If this is true, then I cannot hate anyone. Some of those who had left had left for selfish motives and despised those they left behind. In this, they proved that they really weren’t in touch with God like they thought but were stumbling around in the dark.
John goes on to tell them and us that those who are truly victorious, are victorious and strong because of our relationship with the Father, which was made possible by the sacrifice of the Son. So our strength is never in ourselves, but in God. So the victory we win is a victory we win together. We are crowned as a church, and not until the least of our brethren cross. If we only would arm ourselves with this attitude, we would not go off to our own monastery to enjoy our perfection in solitude while leaving our younger and weaker brethren to fend for themselves. Nor we would we form a Holy Club to boast with others of our individual accomplishments.
Exposition of the Text
1 John 2:15—Stop loving the world and the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, then the love of the Father is not in him.
The verse begins in the Greek with Μὴ ἀγαπᾶτε (Me- ah-gah-pa-teh) which is best translated “Stop loving the world.” This is because the verb is an imperative (command) in the present tense. If one wanted to say “Do not fall in love with the world”, he would have used the past (aorist) tense of the imperative. What this means is that the love of the world and worldly possessions were still in the hearts of the believer. This is inconsistent with the truth of the gospel. Either God or mammon will, rule as no one can serve two masters.
What John is describing here is that the believer has been sanctified, or set apart, from the world and unto God. The things of the world belong to the past life. And until this affection for the world be removed, one cannot enjoy the love of the Father, nor really love the Father. There can be no divided loyalty. There can only be one God.
In terms of understanding the word “world”, it would have been the Roman Empire in the days of John. It is not, God’s creation, but the world human beings create, such as culture, politics, society, infrastructure and the like. These things give human beings structure and identity. The Greek word here is κόσμος (kohs-moss) from which we get the word “cosmetic”. To get one’s sense of identity and reason for being from a manmade world is to deny God’s rightful place as the source of all meaning.
Whenever the phrase “love of the Father” or “love of God” appears in Scripture, we have two possibilities of interpretation. This is especially true in John’s writings. Is it the Father does not love that person? Or is it that the person does not love the Father? I would suggest that love which is not a mutual love cannot truly be called “love”. Love is a shared reality. So in a sense it is both the love god has for us as well as our love for God. In order of priority, God has to love us before we are able to love us. The natural man hates God and cannot love God until God changes that person’s heart. But when the offer of God’s love is rejected, then love ceases to be at all.
So when a believer lives as though this world were more important than God, the love life between us and God breaks down. This cannot but have devastating consequences to the one who rejects God.
1 John 2:16—For all worldly things, the desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes and the pride of life does not come from the Father, BUT the world.
John here is describing what a Christian is not. The goal of the Christian’s life is not to acquire goods, as though the purpose of life was to get lots of money, a large house, worldly recognition and security. The preposition ἐκ, eck, (“out of” or “from”) is often used to describe the source from which someone or something came. For example, it might be used before the name of a city to describe the place he/she was raised, such as Jesus of Nazareth indicated that Jesus was from the town of Nazareth. What John is saying here is that no one can claim that worldly ambition and a worldly heart comes from God. Perhaps the people who had left had prided themselves on their sophistication. And there are a lot of “sophistication” in Christianity today. But John clearly lets us know where this all comes from. It comes from the world. The use of the strong word for “but”, ἀλλ᾽, ahl, makes this crystal clear.
It seems that the “buzzword” today going around the church is “relevance”. Churches are tempted to change they way they worship as well as to tailor the “Good News” to make the church “relevant”. They say if we keep on going the way we ware going, we will be extinct. We need to adapt or die.
On the surface, this looks like a plausible argument. But what if we ask the question, “Who determines what is relevant, the world or God?” Or to say it in a different way: “Which is worse, to have the world declare you irrelevant or for God to call you irrelevant in the Day of Judgment?” If we look at things God’s way, perhaps we might think twice before catering to the world. Our relevance and source of life must come from Christ, not the world.
1 John 2:17 And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the one who does the will of God remains for ever.
John now tells us that it is foolish to ground our life in this world. It is only temporary. Yet if we compare the amount of time we spend in this world pursuing our dreams to the amount of time we spend seeking after God, studying His Word, worshipping, and coming to meeting, what would that ratio be? I shudder to even ask this question. Jesus said that your heart is where your treasure is. If we take this measure, most people who call themselves Christians consider the world to be far more important than God. But all this is passing away. There will be no Tennessee Volunteer Football in heaven or the like. For some people, that would make going to heaven seem like hell. “An eternal worship service, how boring” many would say. But if that is your attitude, then you need not worry about that possibility. But there will be no Tennessee football in hell either.
So why does the vast majority of this world including, unfortunately, a lot of “so called” Christians spend the overwhelming amount of their time and energy pursuing interests that are going to soon pass away and so little time pursuing the things of Eternal importance? Some might say, “Preacher, aren’t you getting a little too heavenly minded to be any earthly good?” Perhaps, but I wonder how vast the number who are too earthly minded to be any heavenly good.
And many have a very earthly idea of what heaven will be like. They see it like the ultimate pleasure palace. They want it to be like life on earth, without bad consequences for their actions. If it isn’t, then they don’t want to go. I remember hearing Hank Williams Jr. sing a song “If Heaven Ain’t a Lot Like Dixie, then I Don’t Want to Go”. This expresses the thought precisely. They would rather go to Hell-- if they only could see the truth!
The one who does the will of God abides for ever. The one who is truly a Christian delights to do God’s will. The Westminster-Shorter Confession of Faith states than the chief purpose of man “is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This ought to be the goal of our life. The Father knows you have need of food and shelter. And He has provided a day of rest to refresh the body. But even so, Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we should not be anxious for these things and that the God who provides for the sparrow and clothes the lilies of the field will take care of these needs. But even when we do take time for recreation, is it to fulfill the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye or is it to rest the body and mind to prepare for the battle ahead.
If one were to look at all the books sold at Pathway Christian Bookstore, or any Christian bookstore for that matter, one would notice that the vast majority of “Christian Books” fall into the “self-help” category. Far too few are of any eternal value. The concern seems to be getting along in this world rather than confidently expecting and preparing for the next. They are centered in getting God to do your will rather than the way it ought to be.
We have noticed in our study of this epistle that a group of people had left who would probably have fit this category and that they were selfish. Selfishness is the root of all sin. Should we cater to this? Some would think so. What if Jesus had been selfish?—there would have been no cross. He was tempted to be selfish. He was tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger. No one would have though evil of Him if He did. In fact, some would condemn Him for not having done so. Neither was He selfish in seeking the glory of the world when Satan offered them to Jesus in return for worship. The gifts of God and the Power of the Holy Spirit are to be used for others, not self, if we are to be true disciples of Jesus.
How is your love life? This would be a good title for one of those self-help books. But the word, “love”, points to a greater than self. Love has to have an object to be real. If the object of love is one’s own self, then this is selfishness. And everything and everyone else becomes an object to fulfill this love. If one takes this into a marriage relationship, one does not have a marriage at all. If both are selfish in marriage, then each is using the other as an object. And when one partner feels they could love themselves more by upgrading the partner they are with, guess what?—That’s right, divorce! I would even go further and say that it is not even technically a divorce. They lied about their vows. In a sense, they were never married.
How much more it this sad fact true than among God’s people? Jesus, when He offered up the cup at the Last Supper was actually making a proposal of marriage. By our accepting the cup, we are supposed to be reciprocating this love. Are we? If we are as selfish as we were before we came to Christ, one could rightly question whether we are the truly the bride of Christ. And as far as we as individuals are concerned, one could rightly question whether we ever were Christians at all.
John often addresses the believers as “children” (Παιδία, peh-dee-ah, a child undergoing instruction). Parents who have found out they were expecting a second child knows that the first child is going to have to make a serious attitude adjustment. When we were very young in the Lord, we acted selfishly as though we were an only child. Some never adjust to anything else. But the truth is, God has many children. We are not an only child. We must learn to share the affection of God together as His church. Not only this, but older children often have to assist in raising their younger siblings, including perhaps, yuk!, diaper changes. The relationship we have with God exists in the context of family. We need to care for and look after one another. And our Father loves to adopt all who will come to Him. Are we willing to extend out the hand and say, “Welcome?” Or will we be like Cain who selfishly wanted all of God’s attention?