Log Off - Distracted
Log Off - Distracted
The world in this passage does not mean the world in general, for God loved the world which he had made; it means the world which, in fact, had forsaken the God who made it.
It so happened that there was a factor in the situation of John’s people which made the circumstances even more perilous. It is clear that, although they might be unpopular, they were not undergoing persecution. They were, therefore, under the great and dangerous temptation to compromise with the world. It is always difficult to be different, and it was particularly difficult for them.
To this day, Christians cannot escape the obligation to be different from the world. In this passage, John sees things as he always sees them—in terms of black and white. As B. F. Westcott has it, ‘There cannot be a vacuum in the soul.’ This is a matter in which there is no neutrality; a person loves either the world or God. Jesus himself said: ‘No one can serve two masters’ (Matthew 6:24). The ultimate choice remains the same. Are we to accept the world’s standards or the standards of God?
JOHN has two things to say about those who love the world and who compromise with it. First, he sets out three sins which are typical of the world.
(1) There is the flesh’s desire. This means far more than what we mean by sins of the flesh. To us, that expression has to do exclusively with sexual sin. But, in the New Testament, the flesh is that part of our nature which, when it is without the grace of Jesus Christ, offers a point of entry for sin. It includes the sins of the flesh but also all worldly ambitions and selfish aims. To be subject to physical desire is to judge everything in this world by purely material standards. It is to live a life dominated by the senses. It is to be gluttonous in eating habits, soft in luxury, slavish in pleasure, lustful and lax in morals, selfish in the use of possessions, heedless of all the spiritual values and extravagant in the gratification of material desires. The flesh’s desire is heedless of the commandments of God, the judgment of God, the standards of God and the very existence of God. We need not think of this as the sin of the gross sinner. Anyone who demands a pleasure which may be the ruin of someone else, anyone who has no respect for the personalities of other people in the gratification of personal desires, anyone who lives in luxury while others live in want, anyone who has made a god of comfort and of ambition in any part of life, is the servant of physical desire.
(2) There is the eye’s desire. This, as C. H. Dodd puts it, is ‘the tendency to be captivated by outward show’. It is the spirit which identifies lavish ostentation with real prosperity. It is the spirit which can see nothing without wishing to acquire it and which, having acquired it, flaunts it. It is the spirit which believes that happiness is to be found in the things that money can buy and the eye can see; it has no values other than the material.
(3) There is life’s empty pride. Here, John uses a most vivid Greek word, alazoneia. To the ancient moralists, the alazōn was the man who laid claims to possessions and to achievements which did not belong to him in order to exalt himself. The alazōn is the braggart; and C. H. Dodd translates alazoneia as pretentious egoism. Theophrastus, the great Greek master of the character study, has a study of the alazōn. He stands in the harbour and boasts of the ships that he has at sea; he ostentatiously sends a messenger to the bank when he has very little to his credit; he talks of his friends among the mighty and of the letters he receives from the famous. He details at length his charitable donations and his services to the state. He only lives in rented accommodation, but he talks of buying a bigger house to match his lavish entertaining. His conversation is a continual boasting about things which he does not possess, and all his life is spent in an attempt to impress everyone he meets with his own non-existent importance.
As John sees them, the men and women of the world are people who judge everything by their own appetites, the slaves of lavish ostentation, boastful braggarts who try to make themselves out to be far more important than they really are.
Then comes John’s second warning. Those who attach themselves to the world’s aims and the world’s ways are giving their lives to things which literally have no future. All these things are passing away, and none of them has any permanency. But those who have taken God as the centre of their lives have given themselves to the things which last forever. The people of this world are doomed to disappointment; the people of God are assured of lasting joy.