Avoiding Worldliness

[This is a message I preached to the young adults at Jenks Bible Church on December 12, 2018]

“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 desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

We come into a season that is super special. We celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. What a blessed celebration! I love this time of the year. It’s amazing!

And the Lord would have us to be intentional this Christmas to be reminded about what this time of the year is all about. But can I tell you, that gets more and more difficult every year here in America, it seems. Christmas has become commercialized. What do I mean by that? I mean this: Christmas season is a season for businesses to make money, and for us to indulge our desires for things. Now, hear me well. Giving gifts and getting gifts are not bad things. That whole tradition started with the intent to demonstrate charity to others. And that is good. But it has morphed into a beast. And while I hope we enjoy the gifts we receive this season, I want us to be careful to not get eaten by this beast. It’s the beast of worldliness. 

I don’t think there is a better passage to help us avoid the worldliness of this season or other any other season for that matter than 1 John 2:15-17. 

To help us avoid worldliness we’re gonna see three things: One, a prohibition to obey (v. 15a); two, an argument to adopt (vv. 15b-16), and three, an eschatology to maintain (v. 17). A prohibition to obey, an argument to adopt, and an eschatology to maintain.

A Prohibition to Obey (v. 15a)

We start with a prohibition to obey. John says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” This is a negative command, the technical term of which is prohibition. John is prohibiting us from doing something; he’s saying, “Don’t do this.” 

And what he’s saying is: “Don’t love the world.”

“But John,” someone may say, “isn’t it okay to have a little worldliness in us. After all, we’re still sinners.” To which John would reply, “Do not love the world.” And if we want to bring Paul in here we can, for he says, “Do not be conformed to this world.” We must avoid even a little stain of worldliness on our clothes. God is speaking to us today: “Do not love the world.”

Now, what does “world” mean? When he uses “world” he’s talking about a whole system of “worldly attitudes and values that are opposed to God.”[1] He’s referring to a worldview that that sees life through the lens of a person who has no concern for God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says it this way: 

[World] must mean the organisation of the mind and the outlook of mankind as it ignores God and does not recognise Him and as it lives a life independent of Him, a life that is based upon this world and this life only. It means the outlook that has rebelled against God and turned its back upon Him. It means, in other words, the typical kind of life that is being lived by the average person today, who has no thought of God, but thinks only of this world and life, who thinks in terms of time and is governed by certain instincts and desires.[2]

So, we are being commanded to not love the world or the things in it. That’s a prohibition to obey.

An Argument to Adopt (vv. 15b-16)

Here is an argument to adopt. He says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 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.” These are strong words. 

At a fundamental level a love for the world and a love for God can’t abide in the same heart. They are mutually exclusive. James 4:4 puts it likes this: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” In other words, to love the world is to hate God. So, again, love for the love and love for God cannot mix. We might as well ask: Can oil mix with water? Can two positively charged magnets stick together? Can a fish run with a rabbit? Neither can a love for the world and a love for God dominate the heart of man, for he will either hate the one and love the other or love the one and hate the other. 

Who does that sound like? Jesus said something similar about love for money and love for God. The two cannot have mastery over the same heart. This is simple ontology here. The human heart can’t love both the world and God. It’s an ontological impossibility.

And why is it that a person who loves the world doesn’t love God? John argues in v. 16, because the one who loves the world loves things that are not from God. “For,” John says, “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.” 

Now we’d do well to spend some time on these three things that John mentions here, not merely to identify what characterizes a worldly individual but to know what things we need to steer clear of. The first thing is “the desires of the flesh.” These are cravings that originate in the fallen human nature. They are those things that rebellious man lusts after. 

How about the second thing that is in the world? “The desires of the eyes.” These are those sinful lusts that are activated in our hearts when we SEE something. One commentator rightly notes from Scripture that “the eyes are the primary organ of perception and often the principal avenue of temptation.”[3] Examples include David who, when he saw Bathsheba making herself vulnerable, his sinful desire to sleep with her was activated. Eve too saw that the forbidden fruit was desirable. 

What’s the lesson? Seeing can lead to sinning. Seeing can lead to sinning. It’s for this reason that Jesus reminds us that the “eye is the lamp of the body,” and “If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matt. 6:22, 23). This is why we have to protect our eyes. “Be careful little eyes what you see” is not just a jingle for juniors. It’s a good principle for all of us. And we need to protect ourselves from looking at this thing and that thing this season and lusting after them as if to act like, “If I don’t have this I’m going to die.” No you won’t! You’ll be okay. Seeing can lead to sinning. [next slide]

And finally John mentions the “pride of life.” Various translations are offered here which shows the difficulty of translating this phrase. It most likely refers to the arrogance produced by material possessions (see the NET). So John is talking about the pride that we have in our belongings. 

In Luke 12 Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who had an abundant crop one year, and since he didn’t have enough room to store all of it he tore down his existing barns and built new ones. And what was his attitude about all his abundance? He said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry” (v. 19). But he was called a fool because he took security in himself but not God. And so God said, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you . . .” (v. 20). Here’s an example of a man who took pride in his possessions, but in the end was eternally sad that he did.

Things aren’t much different today. Whether we’re talking about storing up grain or selfishly storing up money, men have always boasted about what they own. In our day, men are measured as to their worth according to dollars. I’ll never forget the first time I learned this. The Dad of a friend of mine was talking about the owner of the local bank who also owned a golf course and this and that. And he said, “Yeah, he’s worth about 900 million dollars [or something like that].” That was a revelation to me. The worth of a man is the dollar amount attached to him. 

We also ascribe worth to ourselves in other ways: how many shoes she owns; how many fishing poles he has; how many square feet his house is; how may animals he has hanging on his walls; how many sports trophies he has; we could multiply examples, but the point is the same, sinful humanity manifests an insatiable desire to find worth in material things. 

Along with the desires of the flesh and desires of the eyes, God wants us to avoid the pride of life. Those are the things of the world.

So that was an argument to adopt.

An Eschatology to Maintain (v. 17)

Finally, we are challenged with an eschatology to maintain. We’ve seen a prohibition to obey, an argument to adopt, and we end with an eschatology to maintain. John says in v. 17, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” John gives us here a quick, mini-study of the end-time: the world and the things in it won’t last, but those who obey God will last forever. There is a bus that is travelling on the road that leads off a cliff, and all its passengers are subject to the same fate. There is another bus that is travelling on the road that leads to paradise, and all its passengers are subject to the same fate. It’s that simple. 

But what is simple is not always easy on this bumpy ride of life. That’s why we need reminders like this from Scripture, reminders that point us to the end of all things. And John is trying to remind us that there is no lasting value to the world or the things in this world. There may be temporary pleasure in giving into its devices, but that pleasure, like the world, is on a collision course with finality. 

To quote Lloyd-Jones again: 

You may be proud of your personal appearance, but you will soon be old and haggard. You will be dying, and then you will have nothing to boast of, it is all passing. Oh fool, to glory in something that is so transient! Wealth, riches, learning, knowledge, social status and all these things, they are vanishing, they have the seeds of death in them.[4]

Let us not be foolish and chase after the world. It’s passing away. We must chase after Christ. Jim Eliot’s sensibility is apropos at this point when he famously said: “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Remember, the U-Haul won’t follow your hearse to the grave. But your soul will last beyond the grave. So, you better spend your life resisting the urge to pack the U-Haul. You ought to instead invest in your soul.

Who’s the one who invests in his soul? It’s the one about whom John speaks at the end of this verse: “the one who does the will of God.” It’s the one who has entrusted his soul to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and given up everything to follow him. That’s the one who invests in his soul. And he will have no shortage of treasure, because as John says he will abide forever. 

And that treasure is Jesus. Don’t forget that this Christmas season. Enjoy the gifts, yes. But there is only gift that will not pass away. And it’s Jesus. Enjoy him above everything else this Christmas.

Do not love the world. It’s passing away. Love Christ. And last forever. That’s the message of 1 John 2:15-17. Let’s commit ourselves to it this Christmas season.

[1] Colin Kruise, The Letter of John in “The Pillar New Testament Commentary,” gen. ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, 2000), 94.

[2] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002), 216.

[3] David Allen, 1-3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family in “Preaching the Word Commentary Series” (Wheaton, Crossway: 2013), 100.

[4] Lloyd-Jones, 222.