The good news this morning is that I can sum up the message of this part of 1st John in just 8 words. Conveniently, the 8 words in question are the first 5 and the last 3 of the passage: DO NOT LOVE THE WORLD… REMAIN IN ME. Why don’t we sing our last song… . Or perhaps not. Just because we’ve read the headline doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading every word of the article! So this morning, we’re going to weigh up carefully what exactly the two commands which top and tail the passage are asking of us, as well as sifting through the whole bunch of reasons (we’ll look at 5) that John gives us to live like this in between. So yes, this is a seven point sermon, so there’s no time to waste. We start with those 5 words in verse 15:
John writes Do not love the world or anything in the world. The world here is shorthand for every value, every instinct, every pleasure, every activity, every aspiration that opposes God. To love the world (or anything in the world) is to prize or choose anyone or anything over God. And to state the obvious, it’s an issue for all of us.
The world is like a deadly beast that changes shape instantly and constantly and undetectably to allure us all. In the book (and movie)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling describes a lesson in which the wizarding students are taught how to handle a creature called a Boggart. The Boggart, is a creature which assumes the form of your greatest fear (and is to be overcome by the use of the Riddikulus charm, just in case you were worried). So for some, it appears as a giant spider; for others, a huge snake and so on. The Boggart confronts every person in precisely the way they fear most. John’s depiction of the world here is similar. Except the world has the ability to present itself to us not in the form we find most scary, but that we find most attractive.
When we hear those words ‘do not love the world or anything of the world’, it may be calling out our longing for praise from other people, or our need for respect. It may be exposing our deep desire to look good and feel good. It may be a jarring call to break with our need to be financially secure or to come first or to lose ourselves in a box set and a glass of wine. There’s a sense in which if we don’t feel uncomfortable as we read this opening command – if we don’t feel the pull of the world even as we’re told not to love it, then we don’t get the scope and seriousness of what John is talking about. The world is everything that is not of God – it is everything that isn’t light and truth. And John warns us not to get sucked in.
John uses the word ‘love’ over 50 times, and this is the only time he tells anyone not to love anything – and he tells us not to love the world, for this is the very opposite of everything God has rescued us for and is calling us to. For loving the world is the antithesis of living a gospel-shaped life. That becomes even clearer in verse 16.
His definition of what loving the world looks like in verse 16 describes an ‘unholy Trinity’ of inner turmoil. What does it mean to love the world?
It’s all about the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and pride of life.
For all of us, there are some physical appetites that just demand to be satisfied – whether it’s the adrenaline rush of danger, or the post-exercise flood of endorphins, or the synapses that are triggered by the first, bittersweet draught of good coffee in the morning; or the peerless sensation of chocolate melting on our tongue, or chips crunching between our teeth or the numbing bliss of pressing ‘next episode’, or even better, just lying there waiting for those lovely Netflix people to take the decision out of hands. These lusts or desires of the flesh are constantly wooing our hearts.
As are the lusts of the eyes. The eyes here are the gateway to our minds, and so our choices. John’s point is simple -simply by opening our eyes in the morning, we invite a barrage of suitors into the bedroom of our minds. Oh – I’d really like one of those. Oh – he’s nice. She looks terrible – note to self – make sure you never wear anything like that. Look at how he treats her because of that – I’d love to be treated like that – perhaps I should change the way I act… Simply by looking around us, we unlock all kinds of possibilities for happiness apart from God. It is no accident that the language here is worryingly like that of Genesis 3:5, where Eve sees that the fruit is to be desired to make one wise… It’s also very like the tragic narrative of 2 Samuel 11: 2 Sam 11:2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. The love of the world is the desires of the flesh, and the eyes. That’s why from the very beginning of the Bible, God makes it clear that we are to be people who live by listening to God’s words, and are to resist making or being drawn away by images. The power of the image bypasses our decision-making faculties, by accessing our flesh directly through our eyes – which is why we should be so very careful about what we look at as well as what we long for.
And then there’s the pride of life. Calvin says this covers ambition, boasting, contempt of others, blind self-love and headstrong self-confidence. That’s more than enough to be getting on with! It’s basically just living for ourselves, loving ourselves more than God. Not pleasant, but a clear and present danger for all of us. And the main question for us to ask is where do we routinely feel the tug? What is the familiar battle-ground for you – self-indulgence? Self-promotion? Self-interest? Self-preoccupation?
I’d suggest that before we go any further, we take a minute to face – and name – the particular form that the many-headed worldliness monster is taking for us right now. And as you name it in your head, hear the word of God – Do not love the world or the things in the world.
Of course it should simply be enough for God to tell us that. But it isn’t. We are still broken, vulnerable, flawed people whose instincts and consciences and impulses are still all over the place, and we need all the help we can get to love God rather than the world, which is why God through the apostle has given us what comes next. Here are at least 5 reasons to persuade slow learning, thick-skinned, emotionally impaired, morally inconsistent people like you and me to love God rather than the world. Here’s the first reason not to love the world…
Because it’s incompatible with the love of the Father 2:15b-16)
Look with me at what John says in the second half of verse 15 –
If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-comes not from the Father but from the world. If we have tasted the love which the Father has lavished on us, that we might become his children and heirs – then love for the Father will be stirred up in us so that we love our Father back. The problem is that his love just can’t exist in the presence of love for the world. Either we love the world or we love God. It’s that simple.
I confess that I am an Apple guy. MacBook Air, iPad Pro, iPhone, Apple Watch and Apple TV. Everything in my life syncs seamlessly and effortlessly. I live in an Apple Ecosystem. Do not try to tell me that your Android Phone is better. Or that I should try using a Microsoft Surface. Why would I bring something into my world which doesn’t belong? If I started using Windows, I know everything would crash. For John, loving the world is completely incompatible with loving God. It wrecks everything.
Later in this letter, John exposes just how stark the difference between loving God and loving the world really is, as he describes the way in which cross of the Lord Jesus embodies and encapsulates this divine love: 4:10 – In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. This love is completely at odds with love for the world which hated Jesus and ultimately crucified him. These two loves cannot exist together. To know and enjoy the exclusive love of the Father, is to embrace the message of the cross and to reject the love of the world.
Cyprian of Carthage wrote in the 3rd century ‘Since the world hates the Christian, why do you love that which hates you? And why do you not rather follow Christ, who both redeemed you and loves you?’ Good question Cyprian, which sums up the first reason not to love the world – because it’s incompatible with the love of the Father. And the second?
Verse 17 reads: The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. One of the problems with allowing our desires to drive us is that there’s no future in it. And in fact, it’s not even that the world delivers in the short-term, but can’t pull it off over the long haul. The ‘world’ can only deliver pleasure and satisfaction that starts evaporating the moment it is experienced.
I think this is the single most overwhelming, most depressing fact of human existence. That no matter what we experience, no matter what we achieve, none of it really endures. From the first bite of chocolate, the pleasure gradually seeps away, even as the craving increases. From the moment the final whistle blows, first copy rolls off the presses, the last vote is counted, the summit is reached, the new-born is held, the all-clear is given, the elation diminishes. We are time-bound creatures, and for us, the clock is always ticking. There is no future in trying to sate our desires.
So what should we do? We should do the will of God, for the one who does the will of God abides forever. John clearly got this idea straight from Jesus; Matt 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven; John comes up with another way of describing a new covenant life, life to the full lived with and for and in the Lord Jesus Christ himself. It is simply to do his will – but what’s really striking here is that John says this is the way to abide forever.
It’s really hard to capture the nuance of Johns words in English – abide is good but sounds a bit old fashioned – Eugene Peterson in the Message gets pretty close with ‘whoever does what God wants is set up for eternity’. But it’s even more than that – as we’ll see in a few minutes – to remain or abide in Christ forever is to fill our lungs with his love, to bask in his security, to feel his energy coursing through our veins, to know that we are his and he is ours. This is what we are swapping for fleeting sensations of pleasure when we choose to love the world- how dumb is that. So don’t love the world, because the world doesn’t last. The third reason ups the ante even further.
Look again at verses 18-19: 1 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. In John’s writings, the ‘hour’ is an important idea. Initially, Jesus uses it to refer to his own death and resurrection. Then a second ‘hour’ is introduced when John’s talking about the outpouring of the Spirit. Now it’s the last hour. The final phase of history, which has already started and will culminate in the return of Christ in judgment. And here, as in most NT passages, the focus is not on the date of Christ’s return, but whether or not we will be found ready. In 1 John 2, that means making sure we on the right side – on the side of Christ rather than antiChrist!
The language of ‘antichrist’ is only used only by John, and only here in these letters (although Paul’s ‘man of lawlessness’ in 2nd Thessalonians is a similar figure). For John, once Christ appears, it is inevitable that sooner or later, people will show up who oppose his legacy. And he coins a phrase to describe them – he calls them antichrists – and he introduces them here because loving the world means lining up with them, rather than Jesus and so puts us on the wrong side of the coming judgment.
Really recently, there had been a massive, catastrophic split in the churches John was writing to. It had been over the message of the gospel itself – and a whole heap of people had left. Now John has strong words for them:
19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. By walking away from church, these people basically unmasked themselves. They have shown their true colours, demonstrating that they loved the world rather than loving Christ. Like Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10, they showed by their actions that they loved this present world, and walked away from the gospel. This is a clear and powerful warning. To choose pleasure, to choose to satisfy our desires will eventually lead to denying the truth, which in turn will take us to hell.
We don’t often link loving the world and denying the truth, but we should. Tragically, I have to say that over the years when I have seen people drift and wander away from Christ, sometimes it has been the case that becoming more worldly has eventually led people to deny the truth. Sometimes it has been the other way round – denying the truth has led people to love the world more. But whichever comes first, the path leads to great danger. That’s why Augustine suggests that ‘each person ought to question his own conscience, whether he be an antichrist’. The seeds of apostasy are hidden in each of us. We need to take this seriously. Which takes us to the 4th reason… Loving the world is foolish…
One of John’s great concerns is to remind us of who we are, and what God has already given us in Christ – and that’s what he does in verses 20:
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.
John is quick to point out that we really should know better than to love the world, because when it comes to life with God, we are already in the know. The word ‘know’ comes 15 times in 13 verses in this middle section of John – here, to ‘know’ basically means to be ‘in the know’ – to know all that we need to know for life and godliness, which should lead us to live a joined-up life. Because according to John, we have been anointed by the Holy One.
Again, John’s language here is fresh and creative – nowhere outside this chapter are we said to be have anointed like this. John is using this ‘anointing’ language to describe what has happened to those of us who have been drawn into the New Covenant described in Jeremiah 31 and elsewhere
33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD..” We shouldn’t love the world because we have already been introduced to the world of love that is life with the Father, Son and the Spirit. To love the world is a denial of who we are through the New Covenant.
Don’t love the world, because we really have no need to – we really do know better than that. Which, by extension takes us to the fifth reason. Don’t love the world…
Look with me at what John writes from verse 21
I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist-denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
John says we know the score – and to love the world is to embrace a lie. It is not a new lie – it has been around since the beginning of the world. The lie is that it’s better to sin than to obey. It’s better to do our thing than what God says. And every single time we chose to love the world above God, we are falling for that lie.
Stop and think for a moment – do you realise just how compelling and persuasive that lie is in the heat of the moment? No-one chooses to sin to make themselves more miserable. No one chooses to love the world rather than loving God because we think we’ll be better off – we do it because at that moment, the lie is more persuasive, more attractive than the truth. This is where the battleground is. But we need to realise that behind the lie that loving the world is good – even the best – stands the lie and the one whom John describes as the liar.
I think the background to what John writes here can be found in an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees in chapter 8 of John’s own gospel –
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies… 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” Believing the lie that loving the world delivers makes liars of all of us. And, as we’ve seen, it actually sucks us into the ultimate lie that Jesus is not the Christ, which in turn denies the power and goodness of the Father. To reject the Son is to reject the Father.
John has raised the stakes pretty high here – his contention is that loving the world shows that we don’t get who Christ is, and if we don’t get who Christ is, then we don’t get who God is – in fact, we are effectively declaring God to be a liar. And so, once more, we are lining up on the antichrist side of the argument. John is less interested in identifying an individual who fits the bill, as warning people like you and me to face up to our inner antichrist and reject it, killing it off in the power of the gospel. Which, incidentally, goes a long way to explain the passage in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the doctrinal standard of the PCQ to which all elders must sign up, which has caused most controversy down through the years.
In the chapter on the church, we find this statement:
VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God. The Reformers and those who followed were not trying to suggest that successive popes were the liar – but they were saying that the decadence, the love of the world, and the detraction from Christ which had become institutionalised in the medieval church, were exactly the kind of thing that John was talking about. Loving the world is built on a lie and makes liars of all of us.
Perhaps we should pause there for a second however, and before we say amen too loudly to the condemnation of 17th century popes. This is not just about those who walked away from the apostle John, or those who lost the gospel in a morass of power, decadence and theological error hundreds of years ago – this is about us. This is the path that loving the world sets us on – it makes liars of all of us. Which is why our overwhelming, pressing need is to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ.
So John has called us not to love the world, because it is incompatible with God’s love, is passing, because it puts us on the wrong side of judgment, because it is a pale shadow of what we have already been given in Christ, and because it’s built on a lie. He says don’t so it – but instead, abide in Christ. In the final part of this section which runs from verses 24-27, John says we are to makes sure that the gospel of the Lord Jesus abides in us – that is takes deep root in, dominates and shapes the way we think and live – so that we abide in Christ, and through him, in the Father.
1 John 2:24 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.
Once more, there is nothing particular new in this – it is building on the words of Jesus himself in John 15:
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you… .. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. We avoid loving the world by allowing the gospel to sink in, and abiding in Christ. But what does that actually involve?
JC Ryle, who was a 19th Century English Anglican, sums it up like this: “To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with Him-to be always leaning on Him, resting on Him, pouring out our hearts to Him, and using Him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best Friend. To have His words abiding in us, is to keep His sayings and precepts continually before our memories and minds, and to make them the guide of our actions and the rule of our daily conduct and behaviour.” You see the two interlocking parts to this? One is personal devotion to Christ, and the other is constant soaking up and soaking in his word. Separate those two things – neglect either of those things – and we’re in trouble. All Christ and no Bible and we’re not abiding in Christ. All Bible and no Christ and we’re not abiding in Christ. But if we do both? Look at verse 25 –
25 25 And this is what he promised us-eternal life.
I hope you’ve got this – abiding in Christ – knowing God – being a Christian is theological, personal and experiential. We can only know God through the gospel – our only access to God is through the announcement of what he has done through Jesus. The only way of to abide in Christ is theological – we abide in him by believing and consuming and savouring the gospel, through which we are united to Christ. But we immediately have to qualify that to say that it is also personal – this abiding involves relational trust – and to trust someone, one has to know them. And it then follows that this abiding in Christ is also experiential. Not that our feelings are entirely reliable – the way we feel is not a sure guide to the state of our relationship with God. But our relationship with God is a real thing – God is not a block of wood and neither are we, so within the confines of our personality and temperament and maturity, abiding in Christ will change the way in which we experience life.
To abide in Christ then is to live the beautiful new covenant, gospel-shaped life – and to live it with him – which is basically how John sums up his point in verses 26-27
1 John 2:26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As for you, the anointing you received from him (as the Spirit brought you to new life through the word) remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit-just as it has taught you, remain, abide in him. John’s point is not complicated – he says
Don’t love the world – abide in Christ.
So how’s that going for you this morning? How’s your ‘abiding’ going? At the same time the hardest and the simplest challenge we face as human beings is simply to run away from the world and run to Christ and rest on him. But that’s exactly what Jesus himself invites us to do this morning – to reject the love of the world, and to abide in Christ.