by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 JOHN 2:15-17)
WE FIND HERE THE Apostle resuming the list of practical injunctions and exhortations which he was giving to these people, after having interrupted this list in order to remind them of their resources. He is anxious that they should understand clearly that he is not asking the impossible, nor is he raising the standard too high. Their sins are already forgiven them; they have the strength and the power whereby they can overcome; and they know God and have fellowship with Him and the Lord Jesus Christ. So it is in the light of these things that he exhorts them in this way to put certain principles into practice.
Now here in these verses we have a great negative exhortation. Having told them what they are to do, he here reminds them of something that they are to avoid—‘Love not the world.’ As we are to love God and keep His commandments, as we are to love the brethren, so, equally definitely, we are not to love the world, neither the things that are in the world. And this is something that follows quite logically and inevitably from what he has already been saying. This negative is vitally important; it is quite as important as the positive, and I think we can agree in saying that there are no more solemn words addressed to Christian people anywhere in the Scriptures than these.
It behooves us, therefore, to approach them carefully lest we misunderstand them, because I believe it is equally true to say that there are perhaps no words which have been so frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted as these. I think the explanation of that is that we all have a tendency to engage in self-defence, and the danger is to approach these words and to interpret them in such a way as to make me all right and probably condemn other people. We are all experts at rationalising our sins and explaining away what we do, and it is interesting to hear how people often quote these verses, fondly imagining that they are perfectly all right themselves with regard to these words and yet who often display in their lives that they have certainly completely misunderstood one of the main emphases of this particular injunction. We must approach it, therefore, with an open mind, and we must take the words as they stand.
There have been two main misinterpretations of this injunction. The first is what I would call the ascetic interpretation, which says that these words mean that Christians literally have to go out of the world and segregate themselves from society. This is the misinterpretation which led to monasticism and to the whole tendency to go out of the world and to live what is called the ‘religious life’—people divide Christians up into the ‘religious’ and the ‘lay,’ or the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular,’ as if living within the confines of some kind of institution or order were a guarantee that one would no longer love the world or the things that are in it.
The second misinterpretation is the one I would describe as the incomplete or partial interpretation of these words. Instead of taking John’s words as they are, people say, ‘We must not be guilty of worldliness’ and then they proceed to define worldliness as they think of it and not as John thinks of it. Their conception of worldliness is a small one, and they fail to face John’s full exposition of it here.
There are two main subdivisions of this incomplete or partial interpretation. The first says, ‘We will not go to dances or to cinemas. We will give up smoking, we will not go to theatres, we will give up gambling and a few other things like that.’ The moment these people talk about worldliness, that is all they think about; they are not guilty of the charge of worldliness.
Secondly, there are those who really seem to think that worldliness just means being interested in politics and social activities. They say, ‘No Christian should ever be concerned about political matters because that is of the world, and the Christian is not to love such things.’ So as long as they take no interest in political and social questions, they feel they are not guilty of worldliness. But they ignore completely, as I hope to show you, the Apostle’s interpretation of what exactly is meant by loving the world and the things that are in the world.
Now I feel that this is of very great importance. One often hears people talking eloquently, and with much feeling, about worldliness and denouncing it, and one realises at once that they have only taken one little section and have completely ignored the remainder. I say again that the cause of that—and we are all subject to it—is this instinct of self-defence; we introduce our definition to guarantee that we are all right and others may be wrong, but that is not the Scriptural definition of what is meant by worldliness. So we must face these words with unusual interest; we must come before them as they are; we must allow them to search and examine us in order that we may know truly and exactly what worldliness really is. As we do so, of course, we shall discover exactly where we are and where we stand. It is a searching and very serious word as I have said; there is no word that so examines us down to the very depths of our being as a word like this.
Not only that, it is a word that again reminds us of something that is absolutely essential to the enjoyment of the fellowship of the Father and of the Son. There are so many people within the Christian world who are unhappy in their Christian life and who are not getting the benefits and enjoyment simply because they have not faced a text like this; they have not allowed it to search them and influence their whole life. So let us approach it in this way.
First of all, let us ask what John means by this injunction. Well, the first thing to ask, obviously, is this: what is ‘the world’ in this case? Now I think it is important that we should agree that he is not referring here to creation as such; he is not thinking of the mountains and the valleys and the rivers, the streams and the sun and the moon and the stars; he does not mean the physical world in that sense. There are people who have even thought that to ‘love not the world, neither the things that are in the world’ means to shut one’s eyes to the glory and the beauty of nature.
But it does not mean that; neither does it mean the life of the world in general. It does not mean family relationships, though there are people who have misinterpreted it like that; they have often regarded marriage as sinful. Not once but very often in my ministerial life have I had to deal with nice, sincere Christian people who have solemnly believed, through misinterpreting a text like this, that Christian people should not marry. Their reason is that marriage involves certain relationships which they regard as sinful; they would regard the very gift of sex as being sinful in and of itself.
So the ‘world’ does not mean creation; it does not mean family relationships; it is not the state; it does not mean engaging in business or a profession or all these things which are essential to life; it does not mean government and authorities and powers, for all these have been ordained by God Himself. So there is nothing so grievous as to misinterpret ‘the world’ in some such terms as that.
What, then, does it mean? Clearly the very text and the whole teaching of the Bible shows that it must mean the organisation and 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. It is the whole outlook upon life that is exclusive of God.
What, secondly, are the characteristics of that kind of life? Well, fortunately John answers that question in verse 16. First, verse 15 says, ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For’—there it is—‘all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.’ Now ‘lust’ means an inordinate affection or desire; lust means the abuse of something which is naturally and perfectly right and legitimate in and of itself. Paul, I think, puts this perfectly in his first letter to the Corinthians when he tells us to use this world and not abuse it (1 Corinthians 7:31), and to abuse it means we are guilty of lust. Lust, in other words, means that instead of controlling our desires and using them as we ought to, we are controlled by them; they master us and they control us. There are certain desires in us that are perfectly legitimate, they have been given by God. Yes, but if we are governed and controlled by them and our whole outlook upon life is circumscribed by these things, then we are guilty of lust; that is the meaning of the word.
The Apostle mentions ‘the lust of the flesh.’ What does this tell us? Well, here John is talking about lust in the sense that it arises from and appertains to nature, belonging as such to our physical bodies. Now we are living in an age when people say they believe in plain speaking; therefore let us put it quite plainly. This is his definition of sensuality; he is talking about the kind of person who lives only for sensual gratification. That includes the kind of man or woman who lives to eat; the lust for food, people whose whole outlook seems to be just that—their interest in food and drink—the expert knowledge they have on drink! How they delight to talk about it and call themselves connoisseurs and experts in tastes and flavours, living for eating and drinking. Now the hunger instinct is perfectly legitimate; we have to eat in order to live; but if you live to eat, you are guilty of the lust of the flesh, and it is exactly the same with drinking. If it is your controlling and main interest in life, it is a lust.
The same applies to sex. I need not labour these things; you have only to look at the newspapers and journals and you see the whole thing shouting and blaring at you; the world seems to be full of it. These clever, subtle businessmen who produce the newspapers and magazines know exactly what appeals to the public palate, so they put these things always in the forefront, and they all belong to this lust of the flesh—the abuse of certain natural instincts and desires that are a part of human nature and life. Do not love that, says John, do not be guilty of that, do not be controlled by that sort of thing; that has nothing to do with this godly life, it is the very antithesis of it.
But let us go on; not only ‘the lust of the flesh,’ but also ‘the lust of the eye.’ The best way of defining this is to say that it is the kind of man or woman who lives according to false values. They judge by appearances and by outward show. This, of course, often leads to the one we have already dealt with. It is through the eyes that so often sin arises; it is what we see and what the world makes us see that so often makes us sin. That is a large subject, and I can only just touch upon it in passing, but it no doubt includes sin when it is in the intellectual stage. Our Lord put it in this way: ‘Whosoever looketh on a woman . . .‘ (Matthew 5:28). The lust of the eyes includes that; it is a kind of invidious looking, sin in the intellect, the toying and playing with it in the imagination and thought. But it does not stop at that; the lust of the eyes means also a kind of vanity which delights in pomp and mighty splendour, in an appearance, in anything that appeals to the eyes. How full the world is of this kind of thing—mighty pomp and show, merely the appearance, giving an impression.
This pleases also the people whose main interest in life is their personal appearance. I am trying to speak of these things dispassionately, but it seems to me that there is nothing which is sadder in the world than people who just live for their own personal appearance and the impression that it makes. Clothing—oh, the time and the energy and the enthusiasm that goes into this! The talking and the writing; again you see it shouting at you everywhere. But you get it equally with certain people in the matter of their house and home. The lust of the eyes—how pathetic it is that human beings, endowed with the faculties that God has given, can live for things like that, this outlook of pomp and appearance and show. It is sad, too, to think how this often enters into the realm of the Church; you find people are dressing up in vestments all for processions and appearances—the lust of the eyes, the outward show.
The next step that John introduces is what he calls ‘the pride of life.’ The best way to define this is to call it self-glorification, a very subtle thing. This is something that perhaps we can divide into two sections; it includes ambition, and it includes contempt of others; ‘the pride of life’ means a pride in oneself generally at the expense of someone else, glorifying in something that is true of oneself in this life and world, something, in a sense, that has nothing to do with the soul and spirit of man. Let me analyse it a little: pride of birth, pride in your family, pride in your industry, proud that you have a particular name or that there is particular blood in you, so-called pride in social status. How men brag about this! Pride in influence, the people we know, our acquaintances! People love all this sort of thing; they are anxious to get into certain circles, anxious to belong to a certain club; but it has nothing to do with the soul, nothing to do with the spirit, nothing to do with God and His honour and glory! How men and women give their thought to this kind of thing; and oh, the money they spend on it, the time and the energy, the way they suffer, the jealousy and envy which arises—the pride of life!
Then there is the question of wealth, the way people pride themselves on their wealth and their material possessions. The pride of life as it shows itself in the school to which you went—a little better than somebody else’s school—the college you attend, the university you belong to—how this influences life! There is a sense of superiority and a despising of others, feeling rather sorry for others. ‘Where do they come from?’ people ask.
Now I go into these things in detail because this kind of thing creeps into the life of the Christian Church. This is the sort of thing one often hears in Christian circles; these are the standards of judgement rather than spirituality—pride in knowledge and learning, ability and culture and erudition. Man boasts of his brain, his knowledge and his understanding; it is just a part of this pride. It is a striving for worldly honours, and, let me be quite honest again, not only worldly honours, but often ecclesiastical honours also. It is part of the pride of life, this ambition to get on and succeed, to be greater than someone else, this idea of self-glorification in some shape or form. And that, according to the Apostle John, is what is meant by ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.’
Now I do not know whether he intended to give a comprehensive definition, but it does seem to me that in his third statement John really does cover the entire field. But let me emphasise this. There is an order in the three steps–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life—the body, the soul and the spirit—and I am putting it like this in order to bring out this particular emphasis, that there may be no question whatsoever that the most serious and the most terrible of the three is the third, the pride of life. It is not for us to make comparisons in these things, but I think the Bible does teach us that the sins of the spirit are always worse than the sins of the flesh. There is something more or less natural about the sins of the flesh in one sense, but the sin of the spirit is the thing that is most opposed of all to the life of Christ and that which was manifested in Him. Let us be careful, therefore, that in denouncing the sins of the flesh we are not at the same time guilty of the pride of life, which is worse. Let us be careful, when we say we are not guilty because we do not do certain things, that we are not proud and despise others because of birth or position or university or one of these other things. It is as you go up in the scale from the body to the spirit that the sin becomes more and more subtle and more and more harmful to the true Christian life.
Next, why should we not love the world and the things that are in the world? Why is it of vital importance that we keep this injunction? John puts it like this: not to obey this commandment means a denial of our love to God and of our knowledge of Him. ‘If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,’ says John; ‘if you love these other things, they are incompatible; you cannot serve God and mammon; you cannot love God and the world at the same time.’ ‘Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God,’ says the Apostle James (4:4). It is an utter denial of what we claim to believe.
Consider, then, the second reason: Love of the world and the things of the world is a denial of the life that is in us. ‘For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world,’ and the word ‘of’ there means that it is not derived from, it does not originate in the Father. Christians, according to the Apostle’s definition, as we have seen, are people who have in them the life of Christ—Christ dwelling and living in them. Therefore, says John, if you claim that Christ is dwelling within you, you cannot be guilty of loving the things that arise from the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Look at Him; He was never guilty of those sins of the flesh. He did not believe in outward pomp and show and appearance. No, He was meek and lowly; He was someone who was the very antithesis of all the loudness and vulgarity of the world and its delight in appearance and mere show. And when you come to this question of the pride of life, why, you see it still more definitely. He lived with very poor parents; He was born in a stable, and His cradle was nothing but a manger. He worked with His hands as a carpenter, a manual labourer, and that is the Lord of glory, the Saviour of our soul! That is the life which we claim is in us.
And what was His teaching? ‘Blessed are the meek’; the very opposite of the so-called worldly type of person. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’; not those who are proud and arrogant and ambitious and who look down upon others because of certain things. No, ‘poor in spirit,’ feeling that they are unworthy and that they have nothing at all. ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness’—that is His teaching (Matthew 5:5, 3, 6). ‘The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:28). In the world the great lord it over others; it is not so in His kingdom: ‘. . . he that is greatest among you shall be your servant,’ said our Lord (Matthew 23:11) He was the friend of publicans and sinners, and He was much misunderstood because of that. In other words, the great characteristic of our Lord was that He was interested in people’s souls. He did not look at their clothing, or at their birth or ancestry or possessions. He valued the soul that was there, and that is true of all His followers. Paul puts it like this: ‘Henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more’ (2 Corinthians 5:16). Or again, he said, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28). All these things are demolished; the soul is what matters, not these other things.
In other words, Christians have an entirely different conception of all these things from the man of the world; the birth that Christians know is the rebirth, not natural birth; the wealth they are interested in is the wealth of the riches of glory; the knowledge they aspire after is not human knowledge, but the knowledge of God. The associations of which they are proud are not those which you find in noble circles; it is the people of God, it is the Christian Church, the saints, however humble and lowly they may chance to be. The honour that they crave for is not the honour of a great name amongst men, but the honour of being known by God and of anticipating the day when they shall hear the blessed words, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant. . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord’ (Matthew 25:21).
All that is the very opposite, the antithesis, of that which is so true of the world. Christians can say with the Apostle Paul, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6:14). God forbid that I should boast of anything but that; not my birth, not my appearance, not my knowledge, not my understanding, not my wealth, not my social status, nothing! ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.’
But the last reason given by John for not loving the world is that if we love the world, it means we do not truly understand this great gospel of salvation. ‘The world passeth away,’ says John, ‘and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.’ What he means is this: if you still love the world and the things that are in it, then it is clear that you have never understood the principles of sin. Cannot you see that all that belongs to the world is passing away? All these things, says John, are disappearing, they are dying. 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. Christian people, how can we glory in things like that? It means we are blind to our own gospel which starts by telling us that all that is under the wrath of God and will be destroyed. It is all going to perdition and eternal destruction; so those who live for these things, therefore, are utterly inconsistent and show that they have never understood that if they belong to that realm they will be destroyed to all eternity. They must come out of and escape from it, and they should glory in the fact that there is a new life and realm, a new kingdom, and if they belong to this, they will abide for ever.
‘So,’ says the Apostle, ‘that is my injunction to you; realise these truths; do the will of God; do not be concerned about your own desires. Do the will of God, and if you do that, you will abide for ever. You will be building up a firm foundation, a building which will be tried and tested as by fire, but because it consists of gold and precious metals and not of wood, hay and stubble, it will last and it will stand the test. And when you arrive in glory, your works will follow you and you will rest in eternal joy from your labours.’
Taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John.”