Imagine a medieval castle. In the midst of it sits a throne. The master of the castle sits upon the throne, giving orders and expressing his dominion. He is surrounded by guards, but also the structure of the castle itself. Its high walls, defensive weaponry, retractable door, position on a high hill, and moat all serve as protection for the throne.
Now imagine a challenger to the throne. This invader musters an army. He plots and plans, looking for a way into the castle. His desire is for the throne. He wills to oust the master. This enemy wants to be lord of the castle.
Day after day, these two lords strategize. Finally, a betrayal occurs, and a servant of the throne provides intelligence to the enemy. He gives the challenger a way into the castle. He allows access to the throne.
Now let that castle represent your heart. Won by Christ, you are His. Jesus is on the throne. But there is a challenger. How can this usurper get in? By appealing to a betrayer, a spy who should be allegiant to King Jesus, but who is often swayed to turn against Him. This spy is your body, or fleshly appetites, which are often ripe to betray Christ. The enemy uses his sinful world-system to try to stir up our rebellious desires. He tells us there is a better lord for our throne.
This is why, with vigilance, we must guard against the pull of the flesh. Paul said:
Romans 6:12 (ESV) — 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
Sin and Satan wills to use our mortal bodies' passions as a way to take the throne. We must not allow it to occur. Even though, as we saw last week, we are forgiven by the Father, in a longstanding relationship with the Son, and victorious by the Spirit, there is still a challenger to the throne of our hearts.
John calls it a love for the world or the things in the world. Rather than having the love of the Father, there is a danger of having a love for the world.
God wants you to guard your heart against this love. It competes with Him. It zaps your fruitfulness. It kills your spiritual reproductive system. It takes you out.
In our study today, we will ask a few questions of the text:
- What is this world we are not to love?
- What are the tactics the world uses to dissuade us from God? And are there strategies to overcome these tactics?
- What is our motivation for resisting these tactics?
Let's look at our first question:
What Is The World? (15)
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.
What The World Isn't
At first glance, the phrase sounds odd to us. John says, "Do not love the world or the things in the world." What does he mean?
Wasn't it Jesus who said, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16)? It seems God wants us to love the world. He certainly loves all of humanity, so much so that He sent His only begotten Son.
And this truth is backed up through simple interaction with the gospel. A mere glance at the cross tells us of God's love for the world. And a reading of the book of Acts shows us His evangelistic heart for the nations. And Jesus commanded us to take His message to all people everywhere (Matthew 28:18-20). So, quickly, we can dismiss the idea that we aren't to love the people of the world.
Secondly, it also seems clear God isn't asking us to dislike His creation, which is, after all, the world He made. Though broken and awaiting full redemption, He is the One who made the things in the world. Through sin, we have corrupted much of God's creation, using what God made for our sinful passions, but there is still much we are to enjoy. We eat and drink and pray and play in God's beautiful world. 1 Timothy 6:17 says, It is God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy, so it seems odd that we would be called to guard against love for His creation.
No, we are meant to love the people of the world, and it is assumed we will appreciate God's created world. So what does John mean when he tells us not to love the world or the things in the world?
What The World Is
Well, during Jesus' last night with His disciples before the cross, many times, John heard Jesus say things like this:
John 15:19 (ESV) — 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
This is just one sample of the way Jesus used the term world on His final night with His disciples. It seems John is using the word the same way. There, one that night, the world was portrayed as a system of everything opposed to God. It is human society under the control of evil. It is hostile to God.
And its prince is the devil (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). Later in this same letter, John would write:
1 John 5:19 (ESV) — 19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
So the world is not merely the earth's population, though it affects it. Nor is it creation. But:
The world is a system organized in operation against all that is of God. Its way is opposite to and incongruent with the Father's way.
Put another way, your Father in heaven has a plan for your life. So does the world. And they are opposite one another.
The World Is Incompatible With The Father
This is the point John makes when he writes, "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Earlier in this letter, John wrote, God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). In detailing that truth, John had a vision of what God's light would do in a human being. He was convinced: when God is shining brightly upon a human, that human will see themselves correctly.
But when a believer falls in love with the way of the world, God's light and love are blocked. So that person cannot see. They are blind. They are stumbling, awkwardly trudging along in worldliness.
A Word About Worldliness
But what does it mean to be worldly? Unfortunately, in different eras and cultures where Christianity has blossomed, different believers have put various definitions on the term. Worldliness has been twisted and pulled and stretched to condemn areas of Christian liberty. And, throughout the church's history, the oddest things have garnered the "worldly" label by even well-meaning believers.
Things like dancing, drum sets, and wine have been called demonic. Scientific research, the findings of psychologists, or advancements in architecture, have been decried as worldly. Fashion, sports, cinema, and literature have all received the ire of Christians who have called them carnal. There was even a time translating the Bible into languages people know and speak - rather than unused Latin - was once decried as ungodly.
But neither John nor Jesus is talking about the common-grace creations of humankind or culture or society. Instead, they are rebuking something much more severe.
Don't let Satan distract you from true worldliness by making you paranoid about imitation-worldliness. If he can get you to feel godly when you remove your television or exclusively listen to Contemporary Christian music, he'll do it, as long as he can blindingly lead you into real worldliness.
So, again, what does it mean to love the world? How do we fall prey to this anti-Christ system? For that, we must go on to the next verse:
What Are The World's Tactics? (16)
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.
Remember your castle. You want Jesus seated firmly on its throne. But the devil tries to appeal to your sinful desires with the world system he controls. He hopes you'll surrender to one of his tactics. And, though he carries out these tactics in billions of ways, he only has three temptations he uses over and over again. Let's look at each of them, in order, while thinking about how they particularly affect us, and how we can overcome each.
I should note, before moving forward, that though I've read and listened to countless expositions of this passage over the years, and will use the research of many while teaching this passage, I have been greatly aided by a message I heard Pastor Rick Warren give at a pastors' conference on this next verse. I review this particular message once or twice each year. It helps this text serves as a check for my heart.
Desires Of The Flesh
First, John mentions the desires of the flesh. Many of you have Bible translations which call it the lust of the flesh, which is accurate. The New Living Translation calls it the craving for physical pleasure, which also conveys the idea well. The desires of the flesh are those things which our body wants to engage in.
Our bodies, though redeemed by Christ, have not yet been glorified. One day, in a moment, we will all be changed, and our mortal bodies will put on immortality, but this event has not yet occurred. Therefore, we still experience strong desires to fulfill the urges of the body in a twisted or sinful way.
God, of course, made the body with the capacity to feel. It is part of His goodness and creation. But, through the fall of mankind, we now love to use these bodies to feel things out of the bounds He has designed for us. So we take natural desires like a sex drive or hunger pains and turn them into immorality or gluttony. And this particular line of temptation appeals to that part of us. It longs to get us to engage in or experience something outside God's will for our lives.
Think of the desires of the flesh as the temptation to feel. As we pass through life, we want to feel things.
We want the feelings attached to substances. We turn to alcohol or marijuana or prescription meds or harder drugs for a high, a nearly out of body experience. Or we might overeat, or eat in chronically unhealthy ways, as a means to get a different kind of distracting feeling.
We also want the feelings attached to passive consumption. Isn't this the case after a long day at work? In their proper place, things like television, social media, or video games could provide healthy distractions, but many often become consumed with the feelings of escape these outlets provide.
And it would be wrong for me not to mention how we want the feelings attached to sexual experiences.
Many will turn to the digital world in an attempt to satisfy sexual urges. The ease of screens often replaces the honest hard work of pursuing married sexual love, which requires commitment, transparency, and openness. Many people are ill-equipped to give themselves to another in this way. All they really want is sexual release, so they turn to the ease of the screen.
And many will give in to an emotional attachment. Men and women alike will enter into affairs of the heart. It's not only a female temptation. Men, too, find that level of affirmation intoxicating.
- And some will turn to the actual act of infidelity or immorality, believing it will bring them satisfaction.
The temptation to feel is strong. God made this good world for us to experience. And there is a way, in Christ, to appropriately engage with our desires. But discouragement or depression or distraction will come, and in those moments, we must not give in to the desire to feel.
None of us is immune. Life is hard, and the temptation to feel, the desires of the flesh, cry out to us, asking us to take a break from our struggles, perhaps even telling us we deserve to do so.
Antidote #1: Integrity
This is why we need the antidote of integrity. Think of the word integer when you think of integrity. An integer is a whole number, not a fraction of a number, and a person with integrity is a whole person, not fractioned off and divided. Someone with integrity is not perfect, but what you see is what you get.
A person with integrity has not succumbed to hypocrisy. They know they should not claim to be one thing when actually another. They strive for congruency. I'm sure you've all been disappointed to learn of a Christian, maybe someone you knew personally, who turned out to carry major secret sin. Somewhere along the way, they lost their integrity.
You see, with integrity, we refuse to believe the lie we can take on a little water without sinking. They call that the Titanic myth, where we compartmentalize our lives, thinking one compartment can flood, yet the boat will still float. This person says: This is my church segment. Here is my friend segment. Here is my work segment. Here is a segment of sin.
No! The man or woman with the love of the Father in them, with the light of God shining upon them, wants every segment to have consistency and wholeness.
Be on guard! Refuse segmentation!
Are you on guard? Are there areas of your life you keep tucked away and hidden? Is there an unhealthy attitude or practice which is beginning to take root in you? As quickly as you can, get it in the light.
"Confess you sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." (James 5:16)
Have you ever seen a field of grass completely overrun with weeds? It didn't happen overnight. I want you to think of this whenever you drive by Mt. Toro. You can see it from the church. Just below Mt. Toro is Black Mountain. The reason for its dark appearance is the manzanita bush, which you can also find in Fort Ord. It's a coastal shrub which worked its way from the ocean all the way up the mountain. Slowly, it consumed everything else in its path. And now you have a black mountain.
Let this be an illustration of the way a lack of integrity works. One little desire of the flesh gets in, and soon your entire person is consumed. Instead, we must carefully work to keep ourselves free of this weed.
Think on this truth:
Proverbs 4:23 (ESV) — Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Let's have vigilance. Let's protect our hearts from the temptation to feel.
Desires Of The Eyes
Next, John mentions the desires of the eyes, which is likely the desire to have what you see. If the first was a desire to feel, this is a desire to have.
In this temptation, Jesus is on the throne of someone's heart, but their eye-gate sees something which endangers Christ's rule. The tempted person begins thinking, "I see it, and I want it." Soon, Christ is asked to give up His supremacy.
It isn't hard to imagine how the desire or lust of the eyes, the temptation to have, invades our everyday experience. Feelings of greed and covetousness are constant battles.
When thinking about money, we want copious amounts of security, flexibility to do tons of fun things, and the ability to take it easy. When thinking about possessions, we crave bigger and better housing (or features in that housing), nicer clothing, the latest technology, and the latest and greatest of whatever hobby we're into at the moment. When thinking about experiences, we long for Instagram-worthy vacations, nice dinners at the freshest restaurants, and the hottest seats at the hottest sporting events.
I mean, we hear the voice of Jesus saying things like:
Luke 12:15 (ESV) — 15 Be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
We also read Jesus' description, in the same passage, of the foolish man:
Luke 12:21 (ESV) — 21 ...the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."
But amid Scriptural warnings such as these, our discontented hearts often get the best of us. Soon, the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches choke out any potential fruitfulness from our lives. Mortgages and loan payments and maintenance and 80-hour workweeks all begin to take up the space we could've used for God's kingdom. The world has gotten the throne it desired.
Antidote #2: Generosity
This is why we need the antidote of generosity. When you tell money where to go loses its power over you. The chase is on for bigger and better, but the generous person is able to get out of that race. They know they can give without loving, but that he cannot love without giving. Generosity helps awaken his love and care for others.
Matthew 6:21 (ESV) — 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
This means the generous man, one who gives the treasure of his time and energy to God and His kingdom, will have a passionate heart for God and His kingdom. His heart will follow his money. His heart will follow his calendar. This heart helps protect him from the inevitable temptation to have.
Look, God is a giver. He gave Himself for us. And if you emulate Him, you'll discover great reward flows from Him.
Regarding giving, Jesus said:
Matthew 6:4 (ESV) — 4 Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
When secretly generous, God will reward you. How so?
God will provide for all your needs. Jesus would point this out later in this same passage, saying, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). We saw this same principle at work when we concluded our summer study through Philippians. God provides for the generous.
But secret generosity yields many more rewards than God's provision.
For one, generosity yields victory over the power of money. When we are generous, with our fellow man, our local church, or another ministry, we will find a release on the grip money has on us. Money is neither good nor evil but a tool. Generosity keeps it from tooling us.
Second, generosity yields victory over the power of possessions. Commercialism has engulfed our society, but the generous person gains victory against the constant pull of wanting bigger and better.
Third, generosity yields victory over the pull of comfort. We often want to trust money rather than God. Generosity helps us trust in Him, because we have less to trust ourselves with.
The list could go on, for the reward of the Father for generosity is endless. Suffice it to say, here though, that generosity will help you overcome the desire of the eyes, the temptation to have.
The Pride Of Life
Lastly, John mentions the pride of life. Other translations call this the pride of one's lifestyle (HCSB), the boastful pride of life (NASB), or pride in our achievements and possessions (NLT). It is also translated as:
- Pretentious pride
- Inflated self-assurance
- Empty show
These are cringeworthy phrases, but that doesn't stop us from succumbing to this temptation. If the desire of the flesh is the temptation to feel, and the desire of the eyes is the temptation to have, then the pride of life is the temptation to be. We want to be loved or famous or envied or worshipped or admired or widely respected. In short, we want others to think we're great (even if we're not great).
As theologian J.I. Packer wrote:
In this fallen world, where original sin in the form of pride, ambitious independence, and deep-level egocentricity has infected everyone, we all crave to be admired for strength in something... - J.I. Packer, Weakness Is The Way
And this desire to be seen tempts us to project something about ourselves, which is untrue, to highlight our best features so others will see us as successful, strong, independent people. This temptation even thrives inside the local church, because the temptation to be known as spiritual, as victorious over sin, as ultra-godly, is found inside the church.
So much of this is for show, a mask to cover our sense of inferiority. Remember the Peanuts comic strip? One from way back has Lucy asking an anxious Charlie Brown what he is worried about. Charlie said, "I feel inferior." "Oh," says Lucy, "you shouldn't worry about that. Lots of people have that feeling." "What, that they're inferior?" Charlie asks. "No," Lucy replies, "that you're inferior."
We know we're not all that, but we like to project as if we are. Men, particularly, struggle with the pride of life. We don't show our need. We are often competitive by nature, and this follows us into comparing salaries, the square footage of our homes, or our spiritual service.
And this competitive spirit can keep us from honesty about where our lives are really at. In short, the pride of life can blind you, causing you to walk around in the darkness. And the saddest part is that as you stumble through life, you might even begin believing the lie you've projected. The pride of life is a killer.
Antidote #3: Humility
This is why we need the antidote of humility. And I'm not talking about a "woe-is-me-I' m-so-worthless" faux-humility. I'm talking about biblical humility. Let me explain it in a few ways.
First, consider the Latin word humus, from which we get our word humility. It means, of the earth or the ground. You see, humility requires we remember our origin. We like to think of ourselves as self-made, the champions of our own destiny, but reality will tell us this is a lie. God is the Creator, and He made us from the dust of the earth.
As Andrew Murray said:
Humility is simply acknowledging the truth of our position as creatures, and yielding to God His place. -- Andrew Murray, Humility
Remember your origin. We came from dust. God is the only One who hasn't. He gets the glory.
Second, consider the word honesty. Humility doesn't require some crazy twisting of reality. You might have to work yourself up quite a bit to admit, "I'm not that big of a deal." But if you say it to a friend, they'll reply, "I've known that from the first day I met you!" The honest truth is that our very lives are dependent upon a million factors of God's grace. This honest look kills pride.
Be honest about your life, including your successes. For me, I know everything I am and have is a gift, starting with my salvation. The wife and children I have, the home I own, the church I pastor, the building and land it occupies, the gifts and knowledge I have, the fruit we're seeing -- all of it has been a gift of God. And, often, those gifts came from Him through others — everything I have I have received. And I bet, if you took a look at your life, you'd see the same thing.
Third, consider the word humor, which also comes from humus. Think of it like this: stop taking yourself so seriously. Laugh at yourself. You aren't that impressive. When talking about yourself, if all you admit to is your successes, you won't help anyone. People need to hear the honest truth about your weaknesses and failures.
My daughters love hearing stories of my failures. As we laugh at decisions I made, attitudes I've had, or embarrassing moments in my life, they rejoice. They know I'm just a regular guy. This helps them put things into perspective.
So, consider humility. It must help us against the enemy of the pride of life. As an old devotional said:
The truth is this: Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you. -- Spirit Of Prayer, Moreton Edition
And you can't handle the pedestal which the pride of life is trying to build for you anyhow. If you give in to the pride of life, when failure and criticism inevitably come, they will decimate you. But when humility rules the day, neither failure or criticism comes as a shock. You already know you're not all that, and that Jesus is the only one worthy of praise.
Eve And Moses
So John has shown us what worldliness looks like. These three temptations have had their way with us for humanity's entire existence. Perhaps you thought of this in looking at all three.
Eve experienced this temptation -- in Genesis 3 -- when she "saw that the tree was good for food" (the temptation to feel/taste), "that it was a delight to the eyes" (the temptation to have), and that it "was to be desired to make one wise" (the desire to be). And Satan has been using these temptations in countless ways and on countless people ever since.
But we aren't destined to give in. Moses was a man who withstood all three forms of the pull of the world. Hebrews 11 tells us he chose mistreatment with God's people over the "fleeting pleasures of sin" (the temptation to feel), embraced the reproach of Christ rather than "the treasures of Egypt" (the temptation to have), and would not allow himself the privilege of being "called the son of Pharaoh's daughter" (the temptation to be).
And I mention Moses because his victory over the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life led to victory for millions. His resistance to worldliness blessed his entire family, the people of Israel. And Adam and Eve's failure cursed their entire family, all of humanity who has flowed from them.
In seeing them contrasted, which would you rather be? Would you rather bless everyone or harm many? I think it is essential for us to have a vision for how our lives impact others. It's a sad day in a believer's life when they realize how their sin has hurt people, perhaps even keeping them from the kingdom. Perhaps Moses and Eve will serve as an aid, giving us a motivation to let the love of the Father, not the world, grow in us.
Let us determine this is the life we want to live, one free of the encumbrances of sinful and worldly desire. Let us not be driven by passion, possession, or position. O Lord, keep us free from the trappings of sex, salary, and status. The blood of Jesus set us free, so let's run in His freedom, refusing to allow the shackles and chains to take hold of us once again.
This life is the wisest life anyways. Notice what John says next:
What Is Our Motivation For Resisting The World? (17)
17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
It's simple really, and I don't need to belabor this point. The world is passing away. All its desires will go with it. That evil system which is anti-Christ, against God, and a corrupting influence on the souls of men, it will perish. But God's way, the will of the Father, is going to last forever.
It's like this: loving the world and the things in the world makes God's forever kingdom an awkward place. If your life is a pursuit of sinful passions, or a covetous collection of things, or a boastful broadcasting of your life to others, heaven will be strange for you. There, in glory, purity, holiness, contentment, and worship will be the standard. Worldliness is incompatible with God's forever world.
John isn't saying we should live for later rather than live for now. No, instead, he's saying we should live for what's forever -- and forever starts right now. The kingdom, with Jesus, has already begun, to a degree. The love and joy and community found in heaven have already started here on earth. We might as well spend our lives today on all they'll be spent on tomorrow.
So I hope John's words have helped you come to a greater determination that you'd like to avoid the love of the world and embrace the love of the Father. If so, I would like to conclude with some applications for your consideration.