“For God so loved the world… Don’t love the world.” What? What in the world is going on in my Bible? Both texts were written by the same man, the Apostle John.
The word “world” has lots of meanings – in English, Spanish, Greek, and (I suppose) many other languages. It’s a case where a dictionary may not be of much help. Context rules. Let’s take a brief look at some of the common meanings that are easily understood in their context.
The planet we live on.
“God who made the world and all things in it” (Acts 17:24).
“Since the creation of the world” (Rom. 1:20).
The abode after Jesus returns.
“The world to come” (Heb. 2:5).
“In the world to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:30).
All the people on this planet.
“For God so loved the world… that whoever believes” (John 3:16).
“He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31).
“Everybody” limited to the context.
We say, “Everybody was there,” meaning most people of a particular group. It is interesting that “everybody” in Spanish is “todo el mundo,” which translated literally is “all the world.”
“A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled” (Luke 2:1). Well, “everybody” under his rule.
“The world has gone after him (Jesus)” (John 12:19).
“The children of this world… the children of the light” (Luke 16:8).
“The world can’t hate you, but it hates me (Jesus)” (John 7:7).
What “Loving the World” Does Not Mean
Scripture challenges us: “Don’t love the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the Father’s love isn’t in him” (1 John 2:15). What does “world” in this context not mean?
It does not mean to not love people.
Not only did Jesus tell us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39), but He even said to “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44). You’ve probably heard, “Hate the sin but love the sinner” – not a Bible verse, but surely a Bible truth. “Don’t love the world” doesn’t mean we should not love the people of the world.
It does not mean that the creation is evil.
The fact that we should not “love the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15) does not mean that all the “things” in the “world” are evil in and of themselves. In the first and second centuries after Christ, many Gnostics believed that matter – all creation, including the human body – was not only evil but was created evil by an inferior god. I don’t know if any group believes that today, but there are related ideas going around.
God did not create evil, wicked, sinful things. Genesis 1 says six times that the things God created were “good,” and then a final time it says that it was all “very good.” Things are not evil of themselves. It is not evil to enjoy life, to have fun, to appreciate so many good material things that God has made or that men have fabricated using God’s creation. Paul speaks of “the living God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).
As one example, it does not mean that sex is evil.
Rome fosters the idea that sex is bad – or at least not that good – in several ways. Rome forbids popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests from being married, as if that makes them more holy. (All the scandal today powerfully disproves that!) The Bible, of course, teaches the opposite: “The overseer therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2).
Rome teaches that Mary was a perpetual virgin – which makes her sinful, not holy! Mary married Joseph, and 1 Cor. 7:5 tells husbands and wives, in the context of sexual relations, “Don’t deprive one another.” In the catholic culture of Central America, we ran across the common idea that the forbidden fruit was sexual relations, ignoring God’s command in Gen. 1:28: “Be fruitful, multiply.” We found believing women who had the idea that sex is a necessary evil. Sad. Yes, sex outside of marriage is evil. But sex in marriage is a blessing of God.
What “Loving the World” Does Mean
Context. What is the context of “Don’t love the world”? The passage goes on to say, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, isn’t the Father’s, but is the world’s” (1 John 2:15-17). So, the “world” we shouldn’t love involves “lust” and “pride.”
“Lust” is a desire, yearning, longing, usually for that which is evil. What makes it evil? When our Father says, “No.” In the Garden, Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6). So, Eve desired some delightfully good food. Fine. But since our Father said, “No,” she should have put the brakes on her desire. When John wrote about not loving the world, the Holy Spirit was talking about those physical things that are outside the boundaries that God has set – in other words, sin.
Our text says, “Don’t love the world.” Love. “I love this dress, I love that house, I love chocolate.” Really? Love things? It’s fine to like, appreciate, be thankful for, and enjoy things – but love? In Scripture, “love” is usually related to God loving us, us loving God, and loving one another. As the saying goes, “Love people, not things.” A proper love of things in the Bible is nearly always non-material things: such as loving truth (2 Thess. 2:10) and loving good (Titus 1:8). Bad love may also be of non-material things: love of men’s praise (John 12:43), preeminence (3 John 1:9), and lies (Rev. 22:15). The Scriptures almost entirely consider loving physical things as something bad. Number one, of course, is loving money (1 Tim. 6:10). Love of self, money, and pleasure is contrasted to loving God (2 Tim. 3:2-4). Demas deserted Paul because he loved “this present world.”
Matthew 10:37 condemns those who love relatives more than Jesus. And herein is a key. We are commanded to love both family and enemies. But when we love anybody or anything more than we love Jesus, we have a problem – that is loving the world as described in 1 John 2. Whether it is loving bad things (sin) or loving good things more than God (which is also sin), “If anyone loves the world, the Father’s love isn’t in him.” Who/what do you love?
For a related Insight, see Insight #251