Love Not the World
1 John 2:12–17
In 1 John 2:3–11, the apostle John provided three tests his readers could use to examine their personal commitment to Christ. The tests offered Christians assurance that they knew God and were walking in fellowship with Him. John’s purpose for writing was not to make believers question their spiritual states but, rather, to teach them how to detect false brethren.
In this section, John assured his readers of his confidence in their salvation (vv. 12–14); and he instructed them to guard against loving the world and becoming part of its evil system (vv. 15–17).
Recipients of the Writing
In two sets of three statements, John addressed readers as “little children,” “fathers,” and “young men” (vv. 12–14). There are three parts to each statement: an assertion (“I write to you” or “I have written”); an addressee; and an affirmation of the addressee’s commitment, beginning with the word because (used six times).
Commentators differ on the composition of John’s audience. Some believe he was addressing three specific categories of spiritual growth within the church. Others believe he was affectionately addressing all of his readers as “little children” first, then dividing them into “fathers” and “young men.” This view seems to have the most scriptural support since John used the phrase little children throughout his letter (cf. 2:1, 28; 3:18; 4:4; 5:21).
John said, “I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake” (2:12). The phrase little children (Greek, teknion) was a term of endearment for small children and always appears in the plural. John used it to refer to all born-again believers as children of God.
He then added, “Because your sins are forgiven” (v. 12). The apostle already dealt with the confession and forgiveness of all believers’ sins (1:9). Their sins were forgiven “for [on account of] His name’s sake” (2:12). That is, people were forgiven their sins because they believed in Christ and His sacrificial work on the cross (cf. 2:2; 4:10). This truth is the basis of fellowship with God for all Christians.
After John’s general opening to all believers, he addressed the fathers: “I write you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning” (2:13). The fathers were spiritually mature, having walked with the Lord for years. This qualified them to be leaders within the fellowship and instrumental in leading others to the Lord.
The apostle was confident in their commitment to the Lord “because [they] have known Him who is from the beginning” (v. 13). The phrase have known indicates the fathers acquired this knowledge in their past and still possessed it in their senior years. They had known “Him who is from the beginning.” This is not a reference to God the Father but, rather, to the incarnate, divine Son of God, Jesus Christ (cf. 1:1–2). Jesus Christ is the only person in Scripture referred to as being “from the beginning.”
Second, John addressed young men: “I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one” (2:13). Here John clearly referred to men of younger age. The phrase young men (Greek, neaniskos) in the New Testament always speaks of physical, not spiritual, age.
John’s purpose in writing to young men was to commend them for overcoming the “wicked one” (cf. 2:13; 3:12; 5:18–19), that is, the Devil. Even though more battles lay ahead, John was sure these men would be victorious because of their strong, vigorous faith in Christ.
Reasons for Writing
In the second of the three statements (2:13–14), John used the same form of address: children, young men, and fathers. Although he still used the word children (v. 13), this time he used the Greek word paidia, denoting they were older than mere infants. He had confidence in their spiritual stability but indicated they still needed to be under supervision and instruction. John then addressed the “fathers” and “young men” (v. 14). In this second triad of statements, John repeated the same message to the fathers but expanded on the message to the young men.
First, he said, “you are strong” (v. 14), speaking of their power and ability, characteristics most young people possess.
Second, he said, “The word of God abides in you” (v. 14), indicating they were continually incorporating the Scriptures into their lives and growing stronger spiritually.
Third, John told them, “You have overcome the wicked one.” The indwelling Word of God strengthened them to overcome the Devil’s temptation and provide victory over him (cf. Mt. 4:1–11). Abiding in the Word is the key to maintaining fellowship with God and gaining victory over Satan.
Revelation of Worldliness
Abruptly, John switched from complimenting his readers to giving them a negative command, urging them to separate from Satan’s world system: “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 Jn. 2:15).
He used the phrase the world (v. 15) six times in verses 15–17 to refer to the invisible, evil, spiritual system of this world governed by the Devil. The “things in the world” (v. 15) can be material, but here they refer more to worldly values, attitudes, evil thoughts, and evil practices that oppose God. Love for the world and love for God are mutually exclusive (cf. Mt. 6:24).
The command is twofold. First, “Do not love the world.” That is, never give your affections to this world’s system. Second, do not love “the things in the world.” John urged believers not to become involved in this evil world’s system. The apostle again reinforced the fact that a Christian’s faith is linked to his or her walk (conduct) in the Lord. He appealed to his readers’ wills to guard their minds and souls against becoming caught up in the world.
“If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (v. 15). The word if indicates a hypothetical situation where one habitually makes the world an object of his or her love—indicating “the love of the Father is not in him.”
The phrase love of the Father has three possible meanings: (1) love emanating from the Father, (2) the Father’s love for an individual, or (3) an individual’s love for the Father. Here it means the individual’s love for the Father is absent. Therefore, people who love the world do not love the Father. Love for God and the world cannot coexist.
Next, John provided three descriptions of what it means to love the world:
- Lust of the Flesh (v. 16). Scripture uses this term most often to describe the sinful desires of man’s fallen nature to satisfy selfish cravings. Flesh refers to the depraved disposition of man’s inner fallen nature that is at enmity with God.
- Lust of the Eyes (v. 16). This phrase refers to what enters the mind. Lust of the eyes can be expressed two ways: A person may see an image or object and then develop a craving to possess it, or intentionally look at images or objects he or she will never possess and then lust and fantasize about them.
- Pride of Life (v. 16). This sin is an outward expression of haughtiness or arrogance, boasting about possessions, talents, abilities, and achievements in life instead of giving glory to God.
These three things are “not of the Father, but [are] of the world” (v. 16). Since everything within this world’s evil system is contrary to God’s nature and purpose, believers must guard against loving possessions, positions, and pleasures.
The final reason to avoid becoming entangled with this world is because it “is passing away, and the lust of it” (v. 17). All the lustful attitudes and pleasures under Satan’s control are transitory (cf. Mt. 24:35). All creation groans in pain under God’s curse and the bondage of corruption (Rom. 8:21–22). The world is already decaying back into the dust from which it was created, destined for judgment and destruction at the return of Jesus Christ. All who enjoy this world’s evil system are destined for destruction as well.
But there is hope. Scripture promises, “He who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:17). God’s will is for sinners to repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ, and then He gives them the grace and power to follow the teachings of God the Father through Christ. (See John 6:40; 8:51; 14:21; 15:10.)
Christians who follow Christ’s teachings and no longer willingly serve the lusts of this world demonstrate their fellowship with the Lord and can rest assured that they abide in Christ forever. What a promise to be treasured.