“We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” – 1 John 5: 19
The world was created good. The world and all that is in it was created for our enjoyment and pleasure, and points us to a good God who loves us and desires our good pleasure. However, something is wrong.
Often we hear that the world is evil and that we should avoid it and remain separate from it. As followers of Jesus, we can be confused by the notion that the world Christ created and came to redeem is evil. Are we not to be in the world? What do the scriptures mean when they speak of “not loving the world, or the things in the world?” What does “friendship with the world is enmity with God” look like? How do we make sense of “not being in the world,” or “not being friends with the world,” in light of God placing us here in this world at this specific time? Something must be wrong in the world.
The Apostle John, who speaks of not loving the world, defines his terms in First John 2:15-17 when he says, “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. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
Several observations can be made from First John 2:15-17. The first observation, John defines what he means by “the world” in verse 16 of First John 2. John describes three specific categories of sin that must be avoided “in the world.” This sin is what John is referring to as “the world.” The first sin is the lust of the flesh, the second is the lust of the eyes, and the third is the pride of life. These three sins are similar to the temptations that faced Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which destroyed their relationship with God, and destroyed all that was to be right and good in the world. First, they were tempted by their physical needs, eating the fruit, above their relationship with God. This was the lust of the flesh. Second, they were tempted by desiring that which would harm them because it looked pleasurable. This was the lust of the eye. Third, they were tempted to be their own god. When the serpent said that they would be “like God” if they ate the fruit, this was the pride of life (See Genesis 3).
These three sins, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” are depicted in Jesus’ own temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4 as well. Here, Jesus is tempted to sin against God by pursuing “worldly things” above God. He is tempted by his physical needs, the lust of the flesh, when He is tempted to turn the stones into bread. Next, Jesus is tempted to do something spectacular by throwing himself off the temple and having his angels recue Him, the lust of the eyes. Finally, Jesus is tempted to receive all the kingdoms of the world if he worships Satan; this is idol worship and this is the pride of life (See Matthew 4:1-11). These three temptations that Jesus resisted in the wilderness mirror Adam and Eve’s temptations and sin in Garden, and reflects what John defines as “loving the world,” the sins of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”
The next observation we can make from John is from First John 2:17, “the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” John is warning us against sins that are leading to death, and about pleasures in sin that are not eternal. He is telling us that these pleasures will not last and they will lead to our death. John is contrasting clearly the differences between the temporary sins and pleasures in this life and the pleasures of eternity to come. John’s concern is that the believer has an eternal perspective and does not place stock in the temporary pleasures, which will all pass away in the end. The pleasures of this temporary world are not comparable with the pleasures and blessings to come in eternity with God. God has our best in mind.
The final observation we can make from John is from the context of John’s whole letter. From the context, we find that John concludes his letter with an appeal to his readers to “keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).” John is saying here that loving the world and the things in the world above God is idolatry. Simply put, John is speaking against idol worship. John goes on to say in 1 John 5:18-21:
“We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (1 John 5:18-21).
John is not the only Biblical author who defines his terms like this. James also defines “loving the world,” or “friendship with the world,” as idol worship. In James 4: 4 and 5, James speaks of pride and unfaithfulness to God as unfaithfulness and adultery, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?’” (See James 4) James emphasizes that our God is a jealous God and desires our worship and well-being.
This world was created good. The world and all that is in it was created for our enjoyment and pleasure. However, sin has marred the world’s goodness, and its charms have strived for our affections under the influence, or “sway of the wicked one.” God desires us. God yearns for us jealously and desires to give us so much more than what “the world” can offer us. As far as we see beauty and goodness through sin’s shadows in this world, that goodness is pointing us to someone better, the author of life itself, God. God knows that the pleasures and sin in this world can lead us away from Him and can harm us or hurt us. God also knows that this world is passing away and He knows He is going to make all things new. God desires our best and wants our good pleasure in Him, in this lifetime and in the next.
May we not be led astray by “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Would we come to the author of life and receive life eternal from Him.
The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. 1 Jn 2:15-17