"We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" 1 John 5:19
The world was created good. The world and all that is in it was created for our enjoyment and pleasure and points us to a good God who loves us and desires our good pleasure. However, something is wrong.
Often we hear that the world is evil and that we should avoid it and remain separate from it. As followers of Jesus, we can be confused by the notion the world Christ created and came to redeem is evil. Are we not to be in the world? What does Scripture mean regarding "not loving the world or the things in the world"? What does "friendship with the world is enmity with God" look like? How do we make sense of "not being in the world" or "not being friends with the world" in light of God placing us here in this world at this specific time? Something must be wrong in the world.
The apostle John, who spoke of not loving the world, defines his terms in 1 John 2:15 when he said, "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 lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever."
Several observations can be made from 1 John 2:15-17. The first observation: John defines what he means by the world in verse 16. John describes three specific categories of sin that must be avoided in the world. This sin is what John is referring to as the world. The first sin is the lust of the flesh, the second is the lust of the eyes, and the third is the pride of life. These three sins are similar to the temptations Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden—succumbing to which is what destroyed their relationship with God, as well as destroyed all that was to be right and good in the world.
First, they were tempted by their physical needs and ate the fruit, choosing it above their relationship with God. This was the result of giving in to lust of the flesh.
Second, they were tempted by desiring that which would harm them because it looked pleasurable. This was the lust of the eye.
Third, they were tempted to be their own god. When the serpent said they would be like God if they ate the fruit, this was the pride of life (See Genesis 3:1).
These three sins, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life," are depicted in Jesus' own temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1, as well. Here, Jesus was tempted to sin against God by pursuing worldly things rather than God. He was tempted by His physical needs, the lust of the flesh, when He was tempted to turn the stones into bread.
Next, Jesus was tempted to do something spectacular by throwing Himself off the temple and having His angels recue Him, the lust of the eyes.
Finally, Jesus was tempted to receive all the kingdoms of the world if He worshiped Satan; this is idol worship and the pride of life (See Matthew 4:1).
These three temptations that Jesus resisted in the wilderness mirror Adam and Eve's temptations and sin in Garden and reflects what John defines as loving the world, the sins of "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life."
The next observation we can make from John in verse 17: "the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" is that he was warning us against sins that lead to death and about pleasures in sin that are not eternal. He was saying these pleasures will not last and instead lead to death. John was contrasting clearly the differences between the temporary sins and pleasures in this life and the eternal pleasures to come. John's concern was for the believer to have an eternal perspective and not to place stock in temporary pleasures, which all are fleeting. The pleasures of this temporary world are not comparable with the pleasures and blessings to come in eternity with God. God has our best in mind.
The final observation we can make from John is from the context of his whole letter. From the context, we find John concludes his letter with an appeal to his readers to "keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).
John was saying that loving the world and the things in the world above God is idolatry. Simply put, John was speaking against idol worship. John goes on to say in 1 John 5:18:
"We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him. We know we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. We know the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen."
John is not the only biblical author who defined terms such as this. James also defined loving the world or friendship with the world as idol worship. In James 4:4, James speaks of pride and unfaithfulness to God as unfaithfulness and adultery, "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think the Scripture says in vain, 'The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?'" James emphasizes that our God is a jealous God and desires our worship and well-being.
This world was created good. The world and all that is in it was created for our enjoyment and pleasure. However, sin has marred the world's goodness, and its charms have strived for our affections under the influence or sway of Satan. God desires us. God yearns for us jealously and desires to give us so much more than what the world can offer. As far as we see beauty and goodness through sin's shadows in this world, that goodness is pointing us to Someone better, the Author of life itself, God. God knows the pleasures and sin in this world can lead us away from Him and can harm us. God also knows this world is passing away, and He knows He is going to make all things new. God desires our best and wants our good pleasure in Him, in this lifetime and in the next.
May we not be led astray by "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." Would we come to the Author of life and receive life eternal from Him?
Robbie Pruitt is a high school Bible teacher in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, where he lives with his wife, Irene. Robbie loves Jesus, youth ministry, the great outdoors, writing poetry and writing about theology, discipleship and leadership. He has been in youth ministry more than 17 years, since volunteering after high school. Robbie graduated from Trinity School for Ministry with a Diploma in Christian Ministry and from Columbia International University with a B.A. in Bible and General Studies and a minor in Youth Ministry. Follow his blogs at robbiepruitt.blogspot.com and robbiepruitt.com.