1 John 2:15-17 | Do Not Love the World
15 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. 16 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. 17 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 his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus said, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” Jesus was going to the cross and leaving the world. He was the life made manifest, who was seen and heard and touched. He was the one to pay for the sins of the world—to accomplish the single most important event in history, far greater than anything the world had ever seen or would ever see again. And he did it.
But the evil one says what Jesus did wasn’t that impressive. He says the world and all that’s in it matters more. And as long as we’re in the world, we’re tempted to believe him. And he’d be right if Jesus stayed in the grave. But he didn’t. His resurrection changed everything.
Our passage today is important because we cannot love both the world and the Father simultaneously. Love for the world crowds out love for the Father, and love for the Father crowds out love for the world.
The main point of this passage is “Do not love the world; love the Father.” But that’s much easier to read than it is to live. We can see the world. We can’t see the Father. And given those two options, we tend to gravitate toward what we can see.
John recognizes the danger, so he commands us not to love the world. Then, he gives two reasons why: the world is opposed to the Father, and the world is passing away.
Let’s consider first the command in verse 15.
Verse 15: Do not love the world.
“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.”
This is not a suggestion. It’s a command. “Do not love the world.”
Through his Apostle John, the God of the universe is speaking. With his authority as ruler and creator, in his sovereignty, he has the right to command us.
But God’s commands never come apart from his grace. Whatever he commands, he grants the ability to obey. That’s why we believe gospel doctrine (what we believe about God) creates a gospel culture (how we live before God). He always creates what he wants to see.
John mentions “the world” six times in these three verses. What is the world? It’s the entire system of rebellion against God and his rule. Commentator F.F. Bruce says, “Worldliness…does not lie in things we do or in places we frequent; it lies in the human heart, in the set of human affections and attitudes.” This is so important. If you don’t get this, you won’t get the passage. John is not saying the world God made was bad. He’s saying the way we relate to what God made can be bad. To John, worldliness is thinking the world is all that ultimately matters—placing it above the Father. What makes the world bad is not the stuff in it—which came from God—but how we treat that stuff. We cannot love the world (view it as ultimate) and love the Father (view him as ultimate) at the same time. One comes first in our heart. John says it should be the Father.
My guess is we know we shouldn’t love the world. But its pull is strong, and we are tempted. The world never stops making offers, and our flesh never stops window shopping. John recognizes this. So, he gives us reasons not to love the world.
Let’s look at the first reason now, from verse 16
A) Verse 16: Do not love the world because the world is opposed to the Father.
“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.”
The mindset that says the world is ultimate originated from the world. When sin entered in, we replaced God for God’s creation. We distorted and twisted God’s good gifts into our ultimate hope.
To help us understand, John gives three categories of worldliness: “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life.”
Notice the word desire. This matters so much in understanding this passage. What we love is all about what we desire. The Greek word John uses is epithumia. It means “an intense desire for some particular thing.” It’s not simply a preference but a deep-desire for something—desiring it above everything else.
This word is used 38 times in the New Testament. It’s a word that can have both a positive or a negative connotation. But on three of the 38 uses are positive. That’s interesting to me. I wouldn’t expect John to use this kind of word here. Some translations use the word “lusts” instead of “desires”. That’s more like what I expect. I can’t think of a good connotation of lust. But the ESV uses desires. So, I looked up the three good uses of this word, and here’s what I found.
The first is from Luke 22:15. Jesus’s last supper before he goes to the cross. He says to his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” In other words, Jesus deeply desired to dine with them before his suffering. Why? Their presence reminded him of his mission and became to him the joy set before him to endure the cross.
The second instance is Philippians 1:23. Paul says to live is Christ and to die is gain. He’s hard pressed between the two. He says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Paul’s deep desire is to be with the Lord. And that deep desire propels him to submit his circumstances to Jesus and obey him, whatever the cost.
The third instance is 1 Thessalonians 2:17. Paul says, “Since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face.” He’s been separated from the Thessalonians and longs to see them again. His deep desire is to be with God’s people.
Here’s why I focus on this. John isn’t using this word on accident. The fact that we are capable of such desires means something. What does it mean? The Puritan pastor, Jonathan Edwards, said “to create men with a capacity [for great happiness] which [God] never intended to fill..would have been to have created a large capacity when there was need but of a smaller…hence we learn that there is undoubtedly a future state after death, because we see they do not enjoy so great glory in this world.”
Do you understand what he’s saying? If we have the capacity for such strong desire, it must be because God himself created it. Why did he create it? To go unmet? Of course not. To be wasted on the passing things of the world? No way! He created it to fill it with himself. Why? Because he’s the most satisfying being in the universe. And by creating us with desire, he gave us the capacity to really experience him and find the deepest happiness of our lives.
So, to focus our desire on the world rather than on Father is to focus on what could never satisfy. We need to stop dumpster diving for the treasures of the world and mine the immeasurable riches of Christ. It’s in him that we’ll find our desires satisfied.
When John says “the desires of the flesh,” he’s talking about the wrong focus of that desire on things you can see, touch, and feel—things like food, drink, leisure, sex, rest, enjoyment, comfort—anything that appeals to how you feel in the body.
By desires of the eyes, he means beauty, attractiveness, glamour, what appeals to our sight—when you see something you just have to have. For some, it’s pornography, lusting after what we should never look at. For others, it’s the “Instagrammable” life, looking great on the outside even if you’re dying inside.
Then there is the pride of life—self-exaltation, thinking what you have and what you are is of your own doing, pride in possessions, financial means, property, livelihood.
Pride of life is the result of the other two, and becomes the means by which we keep the other two alive. It is the culmination of the sin of idolatry, when we love what we’ve accomplished or accumulated or attained more than anything else.
The more we focus our desires on the world, allowing the world’s mindset to take root and grow, the more we push God to the edges of our heart.
You might be thinking, “Ok, I get it. I shouldn’t desire the world. But how do I stop desiring? I can’t change what I want!” No, you can’t. But God can. He created your heart. You think he can’t change the desires of it?
If helping us diagnose our desires isn’t a good enough reason, John gives us another: if we love the world, we’re going to pass away with the world. Look at verse 17.
B) Verse 17: Do not love the world because the world is passing away.
“And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
In the world, it’s those who reach the top who make a splash. By design, it’s exclusive and hard to reach. Not just anyone can make it. But no matter how high you climb, the world’s ladder is always wobbly. One bad investment, one big mistake, and it’s all over. And when you die, as the Preacher of Ecclesiastes said, all is left to another. Every worldly desire turns into a dead end.
But in the Kingdom of God, whoever does the will of God abides forever. You don’t have to reach the top of this world. You can be on the bottom. The world hates the lowly and humble, but God loves them. Whoever comes to God with a heart longing for his grace will find it. Every godly desire ends up in heaven.
Don’t misunderstand me. You can be wealthy and close to God and you can be poor and close to God. This is not about material wealth. It’s about how you relate to material wealth—what you’re building your identity on. If you build your life on the passing things of the world, you will pass along with it. You’ll waste your life. But if you build your life on the will of God, you and what you lived for will abide forever.
Jesus taught this in John, chapter 6. He fed the five thousand, and after he leaves, they come looking for him the next day. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
The crowds liked Jesus for their full bellies. But a full belly is only a pointer to the grace of God, it is not God. Their desire was for more than bread. It was for God. They just couldn’t see that yet. Here’s the point. When we make the world ultimate in our heart, we grow hungry and thirsty no matter how much we eat. When we make the Father ultimate in our heart, he gives us Jesus who said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
What is the will of God that abides? It’s treasuring Jesus and believing in him for eternal life—looking to him for everything: all satisfaction, all worth, all joy, all peace, all hope.
John isn’t asking you to evaluate over a period of time and make a plan for change. He’s calling for immediate response. Why are you looking to Jesus? To give you more bread or to give you himself? What do you believe matters most?
You can know by looking at what you do. For example, how do you spend your money, your time, your effort? How much of what you have do you attribute to Jesus vs yourself? How much energy do you spend on the things of God?
If you’re like I was this week, realizing you love the world far too much, what is the path forward? It helps to go back to verse 15. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The phrase, “the love of the Father,” occurs only here in the NT. It means love toward the Father generated by the Father’s love toward us. John is not calling us to create love for the Father on our own. We could never do that! Our love for God is generated from his love for us. “We love because he first loved us.” It is the Father’s love coming down to us through the person of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that transforms us from world lovers into God lovers.
What did Jesus say in John 6? “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” He gives us what we need. Everything in the world has a price. But in the gospel, God says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” All we have to do is come to him. Will we?
Here’s how we can. Go back to 1 John 1:7. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Our path forward is not bootstrapping it. It’s confessing it. When the pull of the world grows strong, cut the chains with regular and earnest confession.
If we confess our sin to Jesus, how will he respond? Will he beat us? Will he cast us out? No! He’ll cleanse us. When we bring our mess ups to the world, it shames us. When we bring our sins to Jesus, he saves us.
Are you starting to see how important this passage is?
Martin Luther said we need to live from the perspective of eternity. We need to live today in light of what we will experience ten billion years from now. In ten billion years, you’re not going to care one lick about what you looked like on Sunday, September 3rd, 2017. You’re not going to care that your house needed a coat of paint or that your car is run down or your bank account is empty or that you couldn’t take that vacation to Hawaii or that you’re unknown to most of the world. You’re not going to care that you purchased your dream house or that you finally got the promotion at work you spent all those hours accruing.
You’re not going to care about any of that stuff in ten billion years. Why do you care so much now? Because it’s what you can see and feel and touch. And our fixation on it grows our desire for it. And if you don’t have it, and others do, what will come of your life!
Well, if you belong to God, glory awaits. The world and all that’s in it possess away while the crown of glory shines brightly forever. Missing out on this world’s best will feel like suffering in the present. But the Bible says the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
What do you love most? The world or the Father?
Remember in Acts, when Luke tells us about the early church? “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They devoted themselves. They were living for Christ in the midst of the world. And what happened? “Awe came upon every soul.” And “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Christians ask themselves, “What am I doing, what am I a part of, what am I involved in that will still matter ten billion years from now?” A leisurely pancake breakfast on Sunday morning after a world-filled week tastes good, but if it tastes better to you than worshiping God with his people, you need to ask yourself, “Do I love the world or the Father?”
That sounds radical, doesn’t it? Well, it is! The gospel is radical! The death of Christ on the cross is radical! The resurrection is radical! God’s salvation is radical. Who but God would love us?
The world teaches us to de-radicalize, to fall in line. But when a church let’s gospel doctrine create a gospel culture, Jesus sets the rules, not the world. Christ’s massive weight of grace leads us out of the land of slavery into the land of freedom. We become a different kind of community—one centered on Jesus and rooted in joy, where confession of sin is common, repentance is a way of life because we have nothing to hide anymore, and loving one another is the natural outflow of our deep desire for the Lord. The world doesn’t understand it because it’s not of this world. It’s of God. We will look a strange to them. Who cares? We have God! And you know what? Some will find that attractive, because God gave them a desire so big that only he could fill it.
Not loving the world means we won’t get our best life now. That’s ok. That was our plan, not God’s. Why? Because to give us our best now, while we’re battling sin, is to give us a living hell. And God loves us too much to do that. He wants more for us than we even want for ourselves. We would settle for everything we desire in this world right now but God won’t let us have it—and that’s grace.
We’re all looking for a miracle to make our life complete. And the miracle we’re looking for has come. “For God so loved the world he gave his only Son.” God did not leave us on our own, wandering our way through life, hoping we’ll find what we need. He entered in. We fell in love with what we could see and touch. So he became see-able and touch-able. He looked at us and said, “I don’t care what they’ve made of themselves. I want them! But they’re blinded by the evil one and the world and their own flesh! They can’t come to me. So I’ll go to them!” The world and its temptations offered him everything and he turned it down. Why? He was on a mission to save. For too long, we wasted our God-given desire on the world, never finding what our heart longed for. So Jesus obeyed the Father on our behalf, and when he triumphed over the world, brought us to the One who could satisfy our heart.
He gave himself for you. What has the world given for you?
We will lose everything we have at the end of our life, but if we have Christ we will have everything we longed for for eternity. Our path out of worldliness is to travel further into the love of God. Jesus is not asking us to sacrifice joy. He’s commanding us to enter it. The Bible promises us that whatever it may cost us in this life, it’ll be a trade we won’t regret for all eternity. As we obey this command, we will face tribulation in this world. But take heart; Jesus has overcome the world!