On Thursdays I have been sharing a little bit about what I have been learning as I read through 1 John.
1 John is a letter written to the believers in Asia Minor. John has been giving examples of what a believer who walks with God looks like. He has been contrasting these believers with those who say that they walk with God, but whose actions and beliefs do not support their claims. He calls these people liars and says they walk in darkness. John wants the believers to be able to recognize the difference between that which is true and that which is false. He pauses in this endeavor to encourage the believers he is writing to by reminding them of the joy, the power, and the faithfulness they have received from Christ.
Up to this point in 1 John I have been writing about a paragraph at a time. For the next three weeks, rather than one really long post, I am going to explore one verse at a time. I put all three here so that you can read the verse in context.
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If you love the world, love for the Father is not in you. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful people, the lust of their eyes and their boasting about what they have and do—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:15-17 TNIV
In this section, John resumes his use of contrasting language.
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If you love the world, love for the Father is not in you.”
When I read verse 15, I pause, because it seems like the language is rather strong.
Love the world or anything in the world? What is so wrong with that?
I love the beauty of the created world. Something about mountains and lakes and canyons and wildflowers just fills me with such joy and awe. I love it. I love sitting beside friends and laughing with them. I love hearing them tell a good story. I love watching the way they grow and change. I love them. I love curling up with a good book. I love getting caught up in a story or following the fresh ideas that inspire me to think or change. I love these things and consider them gifts from a good God. Am I wrong for loving them?
I admit there are also things in the world that I definitely do not love. I do not love the political stand-offs that it seems like I hear about all the time on the radio. I do not love watching the ways we pillage the earth in seemingly unsustainable ways. I do not love the physical and spiritual poverty that I see all over the world. I do not love the brokenness of this place.
So what is John trying to say? Is he trying to say all of these things are bad? Or is there something I am missing?
These questions lead me to explore the Greek words.
It is not a surprise to find the word for love here is agapaō (verb) in the first instance, agapē (noun) in the second. This is the word that is used in the New Testament "to describe the attitude of God towards his Son, the human race, and those who believe in Christ." This love is the kind that seeks the welfare of all. It works no ill to any and seeks opportunity to do good (VINES Expository Dictionary).
The word that is really helpful is the word for world. It is kosmos. There are a number of different definitions for the word. The one that makes the most sense for the context here is “the present condition of human affairs in alienation and opposition to God” (VINES Expository Dictionary).
It seems to me this definition captures the contrasting language that John has been using throughout the letter. It is also helpful for understanding what John is trying to say.
It isn’t wrong to care for the beautiful gifts from God in this world. It is the fallen condition of the world that I should not love. It is the things that draw me away from love for God that I should not love. It is the things that stand opposed to Him that I should not care for. It is when I love these things that love for the Father is not in me.
I think The Message translates this idea well: “Love of the world squeezes out love for God.”
I don’t ever want to become numb to the brokenness of the world. I don’t want to love the brokenness. I don’t want to seek opportunity for its good.
When I first read this verse I really think I don’t love the world. I don’t love the brokenness. I think it is an honest thought at the moment. On some level, I believe this is true. Yet, the more I reflect, I realize that this is not always true of me. At least some of my actions suggest that I do love the world. I hear of things like the wildfires in the west and the shooting in Aurora, CO and I find that I’m not as upset as I should be. I read the headlines on the gossip magazines as I wait in line at the store, too often, and find myself greedily eating up the tragedy in the lives of the famous on the covers. Too often, I choose to catch up on the television show I enjoy over spending time reading and talking, for just a few minutes in God’s Word, with my husband. These sorts of things are not true all the time, nor even most of the time, but enough to make me see it is easy for the love of the world to squeeze out love for God. And this is not even an exhaustive list!
Truly, love for both the world and God cannot coexist. We love one at a time—either God or the world.
What I really want is to let my love for the Father to give me the proper lens to understand and respond to the brokenness. I want to respond to Him. I want to love like Him in the midst of a broken place. I want to bring His grace and peace into places that really need them.
Instead of the love of the world that squeezes out the love for God, I want the love of God which fills up and pours out on the brokenness of the world. Because truly that is what a broken world needs. It needs the water that pours out over the cracked cement and causes new life to burst forth in the midst of brokenness, bearing hope.
He can do that in me. He can do that in us.
Let’s leave behind the love of the world. Let’s respond to the love of God.
Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we choose to love God, leaving love for the world behind. May we discover that in God’s love we better serve a broken world than we do by loving the brokenness in it. May we live joyously allowing God to fill us up and pour out of us causing new life to burst forth from brokenness.
P.S. A link to VINE's Expository Dictionary online is here if you would like to look up the words for yourself.