We are beginning a short series of sermons in 1 John, but the messages are of a topical nature. Although these messages will revolve around particular topics, I believe that when we are done, we will have apprehended the larger message of the book via a somewhat different route—different, that is, from a verse-by-verse exposition. So over the next few weeks I would like to ask you to read and reread this short letter, and to do so with the following words in mind. As it happened, they all begin with the letter L, but that was more or less an accident. The words we will be considering are lust, liar, life, light, and love. The first of these is lust.
“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).
Summary of the Text:
We are sometimes tempted to think that certain verbs are inherently virtuous. But the virtue or vice in any transitive verb is found, in the first place, in the direct object, and secondly in the adverb. Take the verb love, for instance. What do you love, and how are you loving it? If you love evil things as opposed to righteous things, then that is a direct object problem. If you love God and the Bible, but in a spirit of self-righteousness, then that is an adverb problem.
In our text here, we are directly commanded not to love the world. Not only so, but the word is that world-famous Greek verb, agapao. Do not love the world, John says, or the things in the world (v. 15). This kind of prohibited love is exclusionary. If a man has it, then he does not have the love of the Father in him (v. 15). No man can serve two masters—one love will expel the other. John then gives us a list of the things that are in the world, the things that he had in mind with his earlier broad prohibition. First is the lust of the flesh (v. 16), then the lust of the eyes (v. 16), and then third, the pride of life (v. 16). These are not of the Father, but rather of the world (v. 16), which is why the one excludes the other. The world is transient, it passes away. The lusts within the world are also transient, and they too pass away (v. 17). But the one who does the will of God abides forever (v. 17).
The Heart of Worldliness:
So these three things are what characterize the world, in the sense John is using it here, and taken together, they are the very definition of worldliness. So in order to have this thing called “worldliness,” you do not need Times Square bedecked in neon, or downtown Babylon on a Saturday night, or Vanity Fair. All you need is one prohibited tree. Please note the italics.
“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”1 John 2:16
“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat”Gen. 3:6
What This Lust Actually Is:
When we moderns use the word lust, we usually mean desire in the sexual sense, although we still have the older sense in modern English in words like wanderlust. And while John’s usage would include that sexual sense, he is not limiting it that way at all here. The word is epithymia, and simply means craving or intense desire. The word thymia means desire, and eipthymia means heap big desire, intense desire.
The World We Are Not to Love:
Now of course, we know from the most famous verse in the Bible that God loves the world (John 3:16). We see the same thing repeated here in 1 John (1 John 2:2; 4:9). Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. When God loved the world. He was loving sinners in need of salvation. When we are told not to love the world, we are being told not to love the way these sinners have locked themselves into their need to be saved.
So there is a world system, still sunk in sin, and that system of worldliness has certain defined characteristics. First, it passes away (1 John 2:17). The world does not recognize us as the sons of God, and they fail at this recognition because they did not understand the Lord for who He was (1 John 3:1; 4:17). The world hates genuine believers (1 John 3:13). The world is filled up with lying prophets (1 John 4:1). The world has the spirit of antichrist, which denies the Incarnation (1 John 4:3). The world wants to listen to its own (1 John 4:5).
But this world is nevertheless overmastered by believers, who have the great God with them and within them (1 John 4:4). And so the world is overcome or conquered by us, using the instrumentality of faith (1 John 5:4). What is it that conquers the world? Is it not our faith?
The Great Sin of Worldliness:
When it comes to moral theology, it is a commonplace to say that the cardinal sin is the sin of pride. And considered from a certain vantage point, I believe that this is certainly true. Quite right—pride can be found at the center of every motion of every sin. But if we zoom out, and consider our lot as interconnected individuals, I would want to say that the cardinal sin is that of worldliness. We are prideful individuals, certainly, but we are worldly together. Worldliness is our mortal enemy because it pits one rule against another—the rule of God in Christ over against the rule of whatever is in fashion according to all the regnant non-Christs.
So the biblical view here is binary. There are two roads you can walk, and only two. There are two tables you may eat from, and only two. There are two houses where you may live, and only two. They are Christ and the world. You are either in Christ or you are in the world. And if you get to know Christ well, you will recognize that world in an instant, whatever get-up she put on this time. Her makeup changes, her tattoos are all temporary, her outfits change, but it is always the same allure.
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God”James 4:4
But beware. When John writes to us about turning away from lust, he is not talking about a weekend on Bourbon Street in the first instance. He is talking about a lust for respectability—although it is a respectability that always make room for a little sin on the side. Sin is always included in the annual budget. Some of it is out in the open, while some of it is tolerated with a wink and a nod.
Your desires reveal who your father actually is. Lusts are always inherited from your father, and desires are always passed down to sons and daughters.
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do”John 8:44
The alternative is Christ. Always Christ, and only Christ—Christ crucified, Christ buried, Christ risen, Christ enthroned, and Christ in you. He is the only one who can bring you a new Father. No one comes to the Father, He said, but by me (John 14:6). New Father, new desires. Born into a new life, you find that new life wants new things. All your tangled lusts are taken away, and are replaced with a hunger and a thirst for righteousness. Not a thirst for Pharisaism. Not an eagerness for laws of hammered tin. Not a hunger for religious bread made out of legalistic sawdust. Not an intense desire to become a self-righteous fop. Not all screwed up in the adverbs. Not a faux-holiness.
No. A few Father gives you the desire to be truly holy, which is to say, He gives you a deep desire to be happy. This replaces the old desire, the old lust, which, while it pretends to want happiness, actually wants to be unhappy on its own terms. We would much rather be unhappy on our own terms than to be happy on God’s terms. That, in fact, is the heart of all our problems.
But when He becomes your Father, when you are born anew, you have gladly surrendered the point. And when you have surrendered that point, you have said your farewells to the world system of lust and striving.