We come now in our study of the epistle of 1 John to chapter 2, and we’ll be looking at verses 15 through 17. Let's come to the Lord together in prayer before we look at this passage.
Lord, we find ourselves on our knees, a needy people. We find ourselves disappointed. We find ourselves hurting. We find ourselves full of experiences of joy. We find ourselves longing to hear from You. We pray that you would illumine by Your spirit Your word. We pray that You would make our hearts and minds receptive. We pray that as a result of having been here together, we would be more like our Lord and Savior. We pray that as we discuss our relationship to the world, I would be honest–we would all be honest–that You would use whatever I say that is true to challenge head, transform hearts; and whatever I say that is not true, that it would fall on deaf ears. We anticipate Your presence and the reality of Your spirit in our lives, and we thank You for it. And we pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
1 John 2:15-17:
15Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
God bless to us the reading of His word.
I will never forget the day that I was taking the test. I filled up about three blue books, essay after essay after essay, University of Texas, a history exam, medieval Europe. I was just one of those strange people that liked things like that. And it came down to the very end of the exam and there was an extra credit question, or statement actually, and it said this: “For twenty points…for twenty points on your final grade, renounce the world and join a monastery.” Now it was meant as a joke, but sometimes it sounds kind of appealing, doesn't it? Now that shouldn't be our response as Christians to the world. I remember being picked up at the airport to speak in Texas, years ago, and I’ll never forget the man that was driving me to the church as he would look out the window on the way to the church. I remember his hostility to the world around him, the hatefulness that he had toward the world around him. One of my favorite historical figures, Simon the Stylite or Simon Stylites, who lived on a platform on top of a sixty-foot pole in Syria for 36 years–thousands of people came to hear him preach.
I know all kinds of questions come up when you think of him sitting up there for that long; I don't know the answers. Are we called to pull out? Are we called to renounce the world? Our 21st century is marked by its idolization of power, wealth, sensuality, artistic freedom–anything goes!
What about the church? One well-known, very well known, pastor in Texas says this about his church: “We’re all about building people up. We’re all about helping people reach their full potential. We don't push some kind of religion. All we push is joy and peace and victory through Jesus Christ. Our message every single week is through faith in God you can live an overcoming life of victory.” Sounds good, maybe, initially, sort of…but some sermon titles–“Holding Onto Your Dreams,” “Financial Prosperity,” “Developing Miracle Working Faith,” “Developing Your Potential”–in other words, embracing the world. One very popular female speaker who travels and writes and speaks–her recent book, Prepare to Prosper: How to Experience the Power and Prosperity of God in Your Life–in other words, how to embrace the world. Another popular minister, a very popular minister, claims that the Lord spoke to him in a vision in 1959 with the words, “If you will learn to follow that inward witness I will make you rich. I will guide you in all affairs of life, financial as well as spiritual.” He claims that later Christ told him, “Claim whatever you want. Claim whatever you want.”
What are we called to do? Remember that as John is writing this letter, he's writing to a group or group of churches. He's an older man; he's writing to his spiritual children. He calls them “little children.” He wants to make their joy complete. He wants to build them up in the faith. He wants to warn them against anti-Christs and false teaching. He cares deeply about his little children. And remember, there are two fundamental problems behind this letter: one is theological; one is ethical. There is a group of false teachers in the context of this church, these churches, who are teaching that matter is inherently evil. They are denying the incarnation: Jesus Christ simply appeared to be man. Matter is evil. He couldn't possibly have been fully man and fully God because matter is inherently evil. If matter is evil, if physical things are evil, if what we experience with our senses is inherently evil, what does that lead to? It leads to an ethical problem. It doesn't matter how we live if the goal of our lives is to escape this material world. We’re looking for no new heaven and new earth and no resurrected body; we're looking to escape this world. It doesn't matter how you live here and now.
So John gives them three tests. Consider these three tests. A moral test: genuine Christians long to obey their Savior. They long to obey the Word. Their desire is obedience because they love their Lord and they have new hearts, hearts of flesh. They’re born again; they’re regenerate. A second test, a social test: genuine Christians, genuine Christians love each other. They love the church; the love they body of Christ; they love each other. A third test, a doctrinal test, belief: genuine Christians affirm that Jesus is who He says He is. He is fully God and fully man, the incarnate second person of the Trinity. The immediate context for these passages we just read is the social test. This test of love (genuine Christians love one another) we see in chapter 2 verses 7 through 11. Following that in chapter 2 verses 12 through 14 we see the Christian standing in the church. ‘This is who you are as a member of the body of Christ,’ John tells us. In these passages, verses 15 through 17, we come now to addressing Christian behavior. We can't escape it…the behavior of a Christian. John is moving in chapter 2 from a description of the church to a description of the world and the Christian's attitude toward it…the Christian's behavior. I want to focus on two meanings and three marks–two meanings, three marks.
First meaning: What does John mean by world?
First meaning: What does John mean by world? We hear it all the time in the context of churches and other ministries, the word world or worldly or worldliness. What is John talking about? The New Testament at times refers to the world as the earth, the universe, the created order. Matthew 16:26, “For what will a man be profited if he gains the whole world,” the whole universe, the whole created order, “and forfeits his soul?”–earth, universe, created world. Secondly, world can mean “the inhabited earth,” “human beings.” John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”–the inhabited earth, all peoples. It can mean, thirdly, “age or time period with a beginning or an end.” Matthew 13:22, “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world,” this age, “and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful”–age, time period. But, fourthly, world, as in this passage…world, as in John's usage in these verses, means “evil men over against God”–the sum total life of human life, human culture, the ordered world considered apart from, alienated from, hostile to God with Satan as its head.
We see in this letter, in chapter 3:1, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” Chapter 3:13, “Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you.” Chapter 5:19, “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” For John, there is a sharp dichotomy between two sides: between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, love and hate, love of the Father and love of the world. One cannot profess to be a Christian…one cannot be a Christian if one habitually, continually, time after time, invests his or her time, effort, energy, in the things of the world, in the things that are hostile to Christ and the gospel. This is something that is black and white.
Second meaning: What does John mean by love?
A second meaning: love–what does John mean by love? He is referring here to a fondness and affection for an object because of its value, an appetite, a desire, something that I take pleasure in, something that I set my heart upon; what I am emotionally, physically, spiritually invested in; where I get my comfort, hope, and security. We’re not talking about things in and of themselves but our attitude toward things. What is the ruling principle, in other words, of your life? What drives you from the deepest part of your heart? Those of you who are familiar with The Lord of the Rings, the books or the movies, that dangerous little word when someone, anyone is tempted by the temptation of the ring…that dangerous, single word, precious. What do we find precious? And what drives us in what direction?
First mark: The lust of the flesh
Three marks–this is not a comprehensive list but John does give us three marks, three characteristics of infatuation with this world, with the world that's hostile to God. The lust of the flesh…If there was ever a meddling sermon, this is it. I always get these wonderful sermons. The last sermon I preached was on was what women can't do in the church, here in the church. I told Ligon I have my resume already ready for following the sermon. Lust of the flesh, appetite, appetite… something we think of bodily…or sensual sin…That's not the complete story because John would be giving in to these proto-Gnostics by saying matter is evil. That's not what John is saying. The phrase is referring to any and every desire of man in rebellion against God for the things of the world, all that panders to my desires, to my appetites.
Many years ago, in a land far away it seems like now, I used to…people don't believe this, but…I worked with horses for many years, taught people how to ride. I broke and trained horses and I have the back problems to prove it. And I remember every morning during the week…I don't know what happened to them on the weekends, but…every morning during the week about 10:30, something happened: two dogs would come running up to the barn. I don't know where they came from and I don't know where they went on the weekends, but every morning about 10:30 they would come running up to the barn. And one of them, the shorter one, everyday would come into the barn and look for something dead and go roll in it. Why? It was her nature. It's what nature told her to do. It's what her instinct told her to do. It was her deepest desire and she wasn't even sure, but she knew in some foggy way that “I roll in something dead so that I can hide my scent so that I can prey upon something.” Hits kind of close to home, doesn't it? So often it's as though I am living my life looking for something dead to roll in to cover my tracks, to cover what my deepest desires really are.
What are your appetites? How are you directing them? It's that one small taste that leads to being controlled by this lust, that leads to an idol, making an idol out of it, that leads to even ordinary pleasures being destroyed, that leads to an openness to betray even my closest friends for this idol, whatever it happens to be. And we can go on and on about misdirected appetites or appetites gone wrong–drugs, alcohol, sex, money, power–you can fill in the blanks yourself. Appetites gone wrong–John is saying you can't live like that and be a Christian. You can't live like that and claim to love the Father.
Some people are being controlled by desires, by appetites, by what they see as precious and these things will eventually destroy them. I knew a young guy that was involved in youth ministry for many years, started out with good intentions, very, very gifted speaker. Kids flocked around him in this particular ministry and he could speak and move people. And he would weep and he cared deeply, but he caught up in the adulation, in the attention, in the glory, in the pride, in his misguided appetites and now he's out of the ministry completely. You can think of examples on your own. What does–? Let me ask you this: What does what you have an appetite for reveal about who you are and what you love? What does what you have an appetite for reveal about who you are and what you love?
Second mark: The lust of the eyes
Secondly, lust of the eyes, what a person sees–lusts that are triggered by sight, triggered by what a person sees, the seductive lure of things. In his recent book, The Post-Christian Mind, Harry Blamires says this:
Current, secularist humanism, a mish-mash of relativistic notions negating traditional values and absolutes, infects the intellectual air we breathe. There is a campaign to undermine all human acknowledgment of the transcendent and to whittle away all human respect for objective restraints on the individual self. The hold of this campaign on the media is such that masses are being brainwashed as they read papers, listen to radio, watch TV.
They are taken in by what C.S. Lewis called “the sweet poison of the false infinite.” It looks so good but it’ll kill you. It looks eternal; it looks as though it will last…It will end; it will pass away. Leading to the “needing-things-I-don't-need” syndrome…I refer to it myself over and over and over. “Honey, I really need picture-in-picture so I can watch both of my teams and be a loyal fan. I have to have that.” We just got back from Scotland last week. How can a country call itself civilized when it doesn't have a Wal-Mart? Maybe it is civilized because it doesn't have a Wal-Mart.
And, of course, one of the saddest manifestations of this particular lust is my response, your response, to the material wellbeing of your closest friends, to your sister, your brother, your aunt, your uncle, your grandmother, your neighbor. And they’re blessed materially, things that you can see. What's your first response? “Why them? Why not me?” Typically, often, that is our first response. We can go on and on. Ultimate examples of this we see in the advertising media. Surfing through TV channels and not stopping when we should. Pornography, those lusts, those characteristics of the world that are triggered by sight that are always, always, always fundamentally deceptive and they can never produce what they offer. And yet we see everywhere people abusing, finding security in them. Let me ask you a question? What does what you look at and how you look at it reveal about who you are and what you love? What does what you look at and how you look at it reveal about who you are and what you love?
Third mark: The boastful pride of life
Finally, thirdly, the boastful pride of life–outward show, outward display as my security. I take my security in my name–what I own, my power, my gifts, my talents–and I stand like the Pharisee in the parable and I thank God that I'm not like other people. “God, thank You that You've made me the way I am and that I'm not like those people sitting out there, but that I'm not like those people down the street or that I'm not like those people in that other country, across the world.” I'm looking for my self-sufficiency and my independence in possessions and in external circumstances. I'm reminded of a poem I read a couple of years ago by Shelley, short, Ozymandias. Percy Shelley writes this:
I met a traveler from an antique land who said, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, a half sunk, shattered visage lies,” a face, a head, “with a frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command. On the pedestal these words appear, ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”’ Nothing beside remains, round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.
…A neglected, lifeless, broken stature, strewn in pieces across the desert who once declared, “Look at my works…and despair.” ‘Look at my power and despair.’ Proverbs 8:13: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil, pride and arrogance and the evil way.” Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Proverbs 29:23: “A man's pride will bring him low but a humble spirit will obtain honor.” What does what you find security in reveal about who you are and what you love?
Several weeks ago, Cindy and I got a phone call from some friends and we went to go see them in the hospital, and they had just lost their fifteen-year-old son. And we walked into Children's Hospital over here, and through the doors and up the stairs and through the double doors, and they walked out. And we hugged and we wept and we prayed, and we hugged and we wept and we prayed. And in that poignant moment, it kept surfacing, what is really important in life? What is really important? What do you have an appetite for? What do you desire? What do you look at? How do you look at it? Where do you find your security? Do you love things that are hurting you? Do you have an appetite for things that are destroying you? Do you love the world? “This world is passing away. The one who does the will of God abides forever.”
© First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.