What does 1 John 2:15 mean when it says 'Do not love the world'?
The admonition not to love the world or the things in the world is directed to Christians by John the Apostle in the Word of God: "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).
Before defining what it means to not love the world, let us consider what it does not mean. Not loving the world does not mean we should not love the people in the world; God clearly commands us to love everyone in the world, including our enemies (Mark 12:31; John 15:12; Matthew 5:44). Not loving the world does not mean that we are not to enjoy or utilize the good gifts that God has given us in the world (James 1:17). God provides us with many good things to enjoy and we ought to receive them with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4).
So, what does it mean that we are not to love the world? Firstly, we need to understand that it is not the created world itself that is sinful, but the rebellious anti-God system of the world. The spirit of this world which comes from the god of this world (Satan) is set against God and His ways (Ephesians 2:1–3; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 4:4). John makes it clear specifically what he is referring to when he forbids us from loving the world; namely, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. All of these attitudes are sinful and rebellious against God and His will for us.
The lust of the flesh includes sin such as sexual immorality, gluttony, and other indulgences. The lust of the eyes is the root of covetousness. It is the greedy desire for the material riches and possessions of this world. Finally, the pride of life is boasting of ambition and achievement, a thirst for the honor bestowed by and the applause received from the world. The pride of life leads to boasting about what we have or do. Jesus was tempted by Satan in all three of these areas and was victorious over each one (Matthew 4:1–11). Notably, Jesus quoted the Word of God in response to each temptation. In contrast to these manifestations of the love of the world (lust of the flesh/lust of the eyes/pride of life), Christians are commanded to imitate Christ and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives (Titus 2:11–14).
When a person is converted to Christ, he or she becomes a new creation with new desires. The old, selfish, sinful nature is put to death and the new nature brought about by the Holy Spirit comes to life. Worldly passions belong not to our new nature but to our old nature and as such are to be denied (1 Peter 1:14–16). Instead of living to ourselves, we now live for Christ (Philippians 1:21). Instead of seeking to follow our selfish will, we now seek to do God's will (1 John 2:17). Instead of being conformed to the values and attitudes of this world we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
Even though we ought to love the people in the world and enjoy the good gifts God bestows on us, we must always be careful not to elevate any of them to first place in our hearts and lives. If we do this, we make a good gift into an idol. Our God is a jealous God and He forbids idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:24; 1 John 5:21). This is why it is so important for us to love God first and foremost. There is a reason the first and greatest commandment is first. In part, it keeps us from making idols out of who we are called to love secondly. While we enjoy and use the good gifts God has given us in this world, we must never make them preeminent. Jesus said that whoever loves their mother or father, son or daughter, or even their own life more than Him is not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37–39). Our love for Jesus must be greater than our love for anyone or anything in this world. If we love the world predominantly then the love of God is not in us. To love God above this world we must continually renew our minds with the Word of God and set our minds primarily on what is spiritual instead of what is earthly (Colossians 3:1–4).
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