15 Love not the world, neither the things in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.1 John 2:15-17
16 Because all that is in the world–the desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes, and the boasting of life–is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17 And the world passes away, and the desires thereof; conversely, he that does the desire of God dwells for ever.
There is a glorious movement here from the grand opening theology of redemption in 1:1-2:2 to the harmonization of OT commandments with Christ’s Gospel in 2:3-2:11, to the pastoral poetry of 2:12-14. In light of the cosmic import of the Word of life becoming incarnate, and after insisting that this is nothing new, but is rather the unfolding of the Old Commandment, we now arrive at the first imperative. This is the first time we come to an explicit instruction as to what we should do. Or more properly, what we ought not to do: do not love the world, or the things in the world.
We’ve already seen how John draws clear lines of division between those who have true fellowship with God, and those who merely pay lip service to this fellowship. Here again is another dichotomy: love for the world and the love of the Father. Loving the world and the things of it is at odds with the Father’s indwelling love. In chapter 4, John will build out this doctrine that God is love, and how this love permeates the true child of God. But for now, John pours the foundation of the Father’s love, upon which the whole structure might stand secure. John brings us up short by warning us against loving the faint glories of this world more than the true glory of the Father’s love. Do not build on any other foundation, in other words (Cf. 1 Cor. 3:11).
There are multiple layers we need to unpack here. God made the world good, of course. But man perpetually gets distracted by all the shiny things, and refuses to thank the God who gave us such good things.
In verse 16 we hear echoes of the original sin of Adam and Eve in Eden. The fruit was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and desirable for making one wise (Gen. 3:6). Israel in the wilderness is also brought into view, they succumbed to a similar covenantal failure; they lusted for the leeks and onions of Egypt and demanded gods they could see instead of rejoicing in their covenantal position as God’s chosen people. Most notably, this text rhymes with Christ’s temptation which is of course the foil for those OT types. Satan tempted Christ (Cf. Mt. 4:1-11) with the lust of the flesh (turning stones into bread), the lust of the eyes (being born up by angels after being cast from the temple height) , and the pride of life (all the kingdoms of earth).
Where Adam & Eve, and Israel failed, Christ resisted and overcame the Wicked One (the same Wicked One John has just explained that we overcome through Jesus in 1 Jn. 2:12-14). Thus, since we now have fellowship with the Father through the One who overcame, how can we desire the things which He delivered us from when He overcame? Lusting after the fleeting pleasures of this world exhibits that we have not tasted the eternal glories of our union with the Father. Paul tells us that “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things (Rom 8:32)?”
C.S. Lewis put this truth into wonderful perspective when he said, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”1 The long and short of it is this, these earthly trinkets pass away, but doing the will and desire of God ensures that we will “dwell forever.” Notice how John hearkens back to what he had previously stated: knowing God is evidenced in doing His pleasure (1 Jn. 2:3).
Remember that because the Word of Life has been manifested we have been united to that Eternal Word. This gives great assurance that we shall dwell forever. We shall dwell in the land our Lord God is giving us. But the boasting of life (the greek word here is bios), is fleeting in comparison with union to the Word (zoe) made flesh. John Newton’s hymn sums this all up nicely:
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show
Solid joys and lasting treasures
None but Zion’s children know.2
1 Lewis, C. S. The Great Divorce: A Dream. New York: Harper One, HarperCollins, 2000. Pgs. viii-ix
2 Newton, John. Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken. Compiled by Christ Church. Vol. Cantus Christi 2020. Moscow, ID: Christ Church, 2020. Song #484
- 1 John 5:20-21 | We Know
- 1 John 5:16-19 | The Sin Unto Death
- 1 John 5:13-15 | Big Prayers
- 1 John 5:9-12 | God on the Stand
- 1 John 5:6-8 | The Threefold Witness
- 1 John 5:1-5 | Swept Up Into Victory
- 1 John 4:17-21 | Bold Sons & Fearful Slaves
- 1 John 4:11-16 | The Offensive Love of God
- 1 John 4:7-10 | God is Love
- 1 John 4:4-6 | Overcoming Swarms of Devils