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The wrong kind of love

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Love for the things of this world and the values in it cannot coexist with a love for God.



Do you remember the famous 1967 Beatles song, All you need is love? It quite a memorable song with a very unique sound and of course, lyrics that are easy to remember. Did you know that according to one count, the word love was sung 102 times in just under 4:00 minutes? That’s a lot of love! Another count says that the Beatles used the word love over 600 times in all of their songs put together. They sure loved love. That particular song was released in the summer of 1967 which was also the same time as the Summer of Love, which saw upwards to 100,000 descend on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. This movement encapsulates the Hippie Movement and all of the values that accompanied it. Love was the buzz-word in that movement but looking back it seems that in this ideology, an unqualified-love was the highest good. So much so that the Beatles remind us that all we need is love. That’s a rather all-encompassing statement if you really want to parse it and take it literally. Even today that mentality still exists and we are reminded of it by a phrase such as love is love or love wins. In one sense, it seems right. Even in the book of first John, we are told that God is Love and we are called to love one another, which tells us that love is quite an important word in the Bible. However, is the word unqualified? Do we simply just love whatever our hearts desire or does the object of our love actually matter? Is there a kind of love that we shouldn’t have? Yes, as we shall see in 1 John.
Let us read 1 John 2:15-17

Love for the things of this world and the values in it cannot coexist with a love for God.

Do not love the world

We have been reminded so far in 1 John of important theological realities as well as some practical implications that stem from these deep truths. You cannot read the first two chapters of 1 John and not be hit hard with the glorious truths of who Christ is and what He has done. John has been hammering home the truth that Jesus is everything to us, he is the Word of life, He was God in the flesh, He is our propitiation, our advocate, our model, our savior. He is the center of our faith. When you read this and you realize who Jesus is it seems that it would be a no-brainer that Christ would be everything to us and that he would be our highest treasure that we would seek and live for in this life. Yet, John knows something that we all know but we don’t care to admit: we are always tempted with divided loyalties. We are enamored with the little trinkets that this world has to offer and we are continually being lured in to accepting the values of this world. So John does something in the Greek language that speaks volumes; he used an imperative. An imperative is a command. John is going to command his readers something, which is important: Do not love the world or the things in the world. The imperative is supposed to cause us to sit and pay attention. This isn’t some theoretical talk, this is something serious. This is a command. Now, I must say a quick word about the word world or Kosmos in the greek language. When we first read this passage, it may seem in conflict with another famous verse from the hand of John, “For God so loved the world…” John uses the word world in three different ways: to refer to the created universe(John 1:10), the place of humans and human activity (John 3:16), or an organized system of evil led by the devil (1 John 5:19). In this verse, which will become obvious in a moment, John is referring to the world in the last category, a place of sin and evil. John is going to explain his imperative by showing us three things that we ought to know.

To love the world is to be in conflict

Have you ever seen one of those flags or maybe stickers on a car that says something similar to we live in a divided house and has the logos or mascots of two rival teams or schools? Some divided loyalties are innocent but others are much more serious. I want you to imagine for a moment a soldier in a war. A soldier cannot fight for both sides, can he? He can’t pledge allegiance to this nation and then turn around and pledge allegiance to the enemy and help them in battle. To do so would make him a traitor guilty of treason. In some cases, treason could carry the death penalty. John says that to love the world is to not love the father. This seems very strong and we might cringe a little bit, but it is a very important point: because we are at war there are no divided loyalties when it comes to God. To love in this way is to set your affections on something which shows where your heart is. You cannot give your heart, life and loyalty to the world (the place of evil) and then also love God. God and the world can’t stand in the same box, to love the one is to push out the other. God allows no rivals in our worship. Think of the first of the Ten Commandments: you shall have no other gods before me. To love the world is idolatry. This does help us to understand what it means to love the world, it’s not simply enjoying something in the world, but it is staking where your loyalty is. It is also to love things in the world that are in direct opposition to God. To love the world is to be in conflict with the One True God.

To love the world is to have wrong desires

In some ways, verse 16 is a further explanation of the values of the world, so that we will have a fuller understanding of this world we are not supposed to love. Essentially what John is going to say here is that the world is made up of wrong desires. It is interesting to note that the word translated desire isn’t necessarily negative. Paul uses that word to describe the way he desires to be with Christ in Philippians 1:23. Yet, in this particular context, the word is being used to highlight the wrong kind of desires, and therefore it could be appropriate to translate them as cravings or lust depending on what translation you are using. The problem with the world is the wrong desires that make up the values of the world. First, we see the lust of the flesh. The things that the sinful man craves. At first glance, we might see in this phrase as primarily referring to things of a sexual nature, which obviously could be true in context. We recognize that sexual desire that is misplaced or is not in accordance with God’s creation plan would characterize the sinful world. However, we would be remiss if we allow that to be the only thing this passage refers to. The desires of the flesh could be anything that our flesh, our body craves and desires to fulfill in the wrong way. There are lots of things that our flesh can desire. John is saying that the sinful world is characterized by the overwhelming desires that appeal to our flesh or our body. Marketers know this well and we see that in our commercials that come on screen. He also says that the world is made up of the lust of the eyes, which is sometimes the means by which we have desires of the flesh. The world is made up of things that entice the eyes. We see something and it sort of excites the flesh. Remember David? 2 Samuel 11:2 says that he saw Bathsheba bathing and then we know he had a desire for her that led to adultery. In today’s world I cannot think of anything more insidious that deals with the eyes than the issue of pornography. There are few things that I despise more than pornography because of the overwhelming destructive effect that it has had on men and women through the years. This industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and may bring in more than many of our major sporting industries. One estimate says that there are 28,258 users watching pornography every second![1] This is one of the evilest desires that the enemy has introduced into this world because of the way that it has destroyed people, families, and relationships. If you are struggling with this issue, please turn to the Lord first but there are organizations that can help you with this issue. Of course, that isn’t the only thing that can be classified as the lust of the eyes. Anything that we see that entices us, that pulls us in. The other part of it is the pride of life. This is sort of a difficult phrase to have the right translation but it is the prize or boastfulness that comes from possessions, acquiring more possessions and overall prestige. This is the spirit of the world isn’t it? People spend their lives to just get more and more stuff and what does it bring them? Usually not much. This year’s Christmas present will one day find it’s way on the trash heap. Or they spend their time on energy on prestige, importance, and power so that they can puff out their chest and be noticed in this world. The pride of life can look different but it is a distinguishing mark of this world. It is important to note here that these three things that John mentions correlate to both the fall of Adam and Eve and the temptation of Jesus Christ. In each of these cases, there was the lust of the flesh (what Eve wanted), the lust of the eyes (the fruit was pleasing to look at), and the pride of life. This is one of the oldest, most classic tricks in the devil’s book.

To love the world is to focus on the temporary

John’s last reason for not loving the world focuses on the foolishness of loving the world. John recognizes that one of the draws of the world and the lusts therein is the feeling of permanence that is promised to us. The world and the systems of this world offer perpetual happiness, pleasure, security. So what happens? People feed into the lie. They work harder. They give their lives to something that doesn’t exist! It’s this sort of illusion or mirage that looks like it exists but it doesn’t. Yet, we are so blinded that we keep pursuing these false things. John is trying to offer a wake-up call to everyone. The world is passing away. None of what this world offers is real. Yes, there may be a momentary pleasure. Yes, you may have what you want for a moment but it won’t last forever. It’s all passing away. Doing the will of the world is a foolish decision compared to doing the will of the Father. This is very reminiscent of what Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 6:19-21): “
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Imagine living your whole life, thinking the things of this world will give you purpose and meaning and you realize at the end of your life that this wasn’t the case. This passage is meant to reorient our way of thinking and to serve as a warning to Christians. You see, we are always tempted to focus on the temporary at the expense of the eternal. I don’t know about you, but I am more interested in living in such a way that has an eternal impact. You and I could work our whole lives to build up little kingdoms that will simply pass away when we die. John is warning us not to live that way!


In some ways this is a hard passage, right? There are things in this world that we do love and enjoy. Is John telling us not to enjoy anything in this world? No! Not all pleasure is bad. I enjoy watching baseball, Bluebell Icecream, and sitting in my recliner, usually at the same time! First, John is talking about the things of this world that are contrary to God’s law. The things of the flesh that are easily recognizable as sinful. Second, it is also possible that we take certain things of this world and we use them in excess, therefore abusing things that aren’t necessarily bad. My Bluebell icecream habits could border into gluttony, baseball could become an idol, and my recliner could fuel laziness. Anything that we can do on this earth can be turned into a sinful desire and action. So we must evaluate our lives and our desires and we can do so by giving ourselves several tests. First, the time test. Am I spending an inordinate amount of time on something in comparison to spiritual things? This isn’t just about hours because people do work and people do sleep. Do you spend all your time working around the house on projects, or going fishing, or golfing, or shopping, or watching TV, and then you realize, “Oh no! I haven’t read my Bible in a week.” Warning flag. Second, the money test. Am I spending an inordinate amount of money on something rather on things of God? Do my extracurricular activities crowd out any sort of giving towards God and His purposes? Warning Flag. Third, the attachment test. Have I grown so attached to something that the possibility of removing it becomes a major source of internal conflict? Can I conceive of my life without something? Am I willing to suffer spiritual consequences as opposed to ridding my life of things that are in opposition to God or have become unhealthy? Warning Flag. Fourth, the relational test. Is there something in my life that has taken precedent over important relationships in my life? I have seen people that have been willing to lose precious relationships rather than give up something that is detrimental. Has someone close to you urged you to rethink something that you are doing because it isn’t honoring to God? These tests aren’t foolproof and there are other things that you can ask, but they are a help to me as I evaluate my spiritual walk. At the end of the day, I want to rid my life of anything that doesn’t honor God or bring Him glory because Love for the things of this world and the values in it cannot coexist with a love for God.
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