1 John 2:15-17'Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the
world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings
of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes
not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but
the man who does the will of God lives for ever.'
'Do not love the world'
The phrase 'the world' is common in the New Testament. You need to know that it can
mean three quite different things:
1. Planet Earth, the world of nature
In spite of the harmful effects of the Fall, this remains a beautiful place and speaks
to us of God's creative power (Romans 1:20). You can therefore love it—though not
2. Humanity, the world of people
This is what John means when he says, 'God so loved the world that he gave his one
and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life'
(John 3:16). You can love the world in this sense, too, reaching out to needy people
with the message of the gospel.
3. The world-system that's opposed to God
This is what we, as Christians, are forbidden to love, because it is Satan's domain:
'The whole world is under the control of the evil one' (1 John 5:19). Its entire
way of thinking and acting is anti-God. It crucified Jesus because he exposed its
evil (John 7:7), and it will hate you, too, because you're on his side (John 15:18-19).
It's 'the world' in this third sense that we're considering in this lesson.
1. The world's master
The world is masterminded by Satan, the devil, who is called 'the prince of this
world' (John 12:31). It seems he was originally one of God's top-ranking angelic
servants, but when he became proud and rebellious God threw him out of heaven (Luke
10:18). He now operates on earth, ruining human society and drawing people away from
Satan does not work alone. He has an army of demonic spirit-beings at his service.
These help him in the business of ruining lives and filling the world with bitterness,
cruelty, suffering and death.
At worst they can take over a person completely—as they did with the man called Legion
(see Mark 5:1-20)—so that the person can be described as 'demonised' or 'demon-possessed'.
This cannot happen to a genuine Christian because Jesus 'keeps him safe, and the
evil one cannot harm him' (1 John 5:18).
2. The world's attitudes
Satan is intent on making people think in ways that ignore God, and this is normal
in human society. Most people assume, for instance, that 'looking after Number 1'
is priority; that death is the end of everything; that God doesn't exist; that pleasure
is the main purpose of life; that survival of the fittest is inevitable; that 'might
is right'; that there's no absolute right and wrong; that the human mind is its own
master; and that life is cheap.
It is such thinking that, as a Christian, you reject and replace with godly thinking
as you undergo 'the renewing of your mind' (Romans 12:2).
3. The world's institutions
Ephesians 6:11-12 'Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand
against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but
against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world
and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.'
Notice the words 'rulers… authorities… powers' in this verse. There are many groups
of words like this in the New Testament. They refer partly to demonic spirits, but
they can also refer to religious traditions and cultural norms in society. These
include government, economics, science, art, law, ideologies, education and the family.
All these institutions were originally given by God for the good of the human race,
to be exercised under his rule. But with the Fall they became open to corruption
and manipulation by evil forces. So now, for instance:
The God-given authority of governments can be corrupted to support the systematic
oppression of sub-groups within society.
The God-ordained structure of the family can be misused to abuse children.
The God-given powers of the mind and creativity can be misdirected to produce philosophy
and art that are evil and destructive.
'Aliens and strangers' here
John 17:14-16 'I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they
are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take
them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of
the world, even as I am not of it.'
This prayer of Jesus reminds us that, though we live in this world, as Christians
we are not 'of' it, that is, we don't belong to it. We're misfits here, the people
of God in a worldly society, 'aliens and strangers in the world' (1 Peter 2:11).
That's why, now that you're a Christian, you don't seem to fit into the world's ways
as comfortably as you did before. You're like a member of the French Resistance during
World War II, living under Nazi rule and feeling like a stranger in their own country.
So why didn't the Lord solve the problem by taking you straight to heaven when you
became a Christian? Because he has good reasons for leaving you here for a while:
1. To shape your character
The conflict-situation in which you live here is designed to shape your character
and make you what God wants you to be. Standing firm for Christ in the face of ungodly
standards and unrighteousness can make you strong. But there's always the temptation
to give up that stand and lapse into the world's own ways to avoid the conflict.
Romans 12:2 'Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed
by the renewing of your mind.'
These are the twin options: you either give up the conflict and conform, letting
the world squeeze you into its mould, or you stand strong and let the conflict transform
you into greater strength of Christian character. You know which is the right one!
2. To be Christ's ambassador
The Bible talks about two kingdoms. One is the kingdom of this world, under Satan's
rule. The other is the kingdom of God, under Christ's rule. By new birth you are
a citizen of God's kingdom but you live here on earth, surrounded by Satan's kingdom.
You're an ambassador for Christ, representing him here, telling Satan's slaves that
there's a takeover on the way and appealing to them to change sides now in readiness
2 Corinthians 5:20 'We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making
his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.'
3. To demonstrate a new society
You 'advertise' God's kingdom to the world's citizens by your individual witness
and godliness. But you also help to do it at a corporate level by being part of a
local church. The church is a society within society, shaped by love and forgiveness,
honesty and compassion, and sometimes it is this, rather than the witness of individual
Christians, that makes an impact on non-Christians.
If we let those standards slip, of course, our corporate witness becomes ineffective.
This is what happened at Corinth. Paul said to the 'worldly' Christians there:
1 Corinthians 3:3 'You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling
among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?'
Note what it was that made them worldly: 'jealousy and quarrelling'. In other words,
bad relationships. The new society of the church is to demonstrate good relationships.
4. To introduce God's standards here
People need Jesus, and they only change at root-level when they come to know him.
That's the aim of your being among them: to lead them to Christ.
But change is also possible at a more superficial level, and non-Christians benefit
to the degree that they accept the standards of God's kingdom. One reason God has
put you in the world is to influence society so that it falls more into line with
For example, suppose you work in an office where everybody is grumpy, dishonest and
gossipy, so that the atmosphere is terrible. Don't let yourself get pulled down into
it. Instead, quietly begin to talk more positively, give praise where it's due, refuse
to gossip, maintain a cheerful demeanour and be scrupulously honest.
Gradually, after a period of strong resistance and resentment, you'll begin to see
a change take place in the atmosphere. That way, you'll be 'salt' (a preservative
in biblical days) and 'light' in a decaying, dark world (Matthew 5:13-16).
Conquering 'the world'
Scripture commands us not to 'love' the world (1 John 2:15), not to be its friend
(James 4:4) and not to be conformed to its ways (Romans 12:2). How can you do this?
How can you conquer the world?
Not by rules and regulations, like wearing a hat to church, carrying a Bible everywhere
or not eating pork. This is the legalistic approach of the Pharisees, who tithed
even the leaves of the herbs in their gardens but overlooked major issues like righteousness
and love (Luke 11:42).
Not by dealing with the externals; you have to go to the root of issues. If you've
slipped into stealing office envelopes and notepaper it's no good saying 'Amen' more
loudly in the meetings.
Not by escaping from the world. Becoming a monk or nun and living in a cloistered
setting is no answer to conquering the world. Jesus wants you in the world, sinful
though it is, not out of it. He prayed, 'My prayer is not that you take them out
of the world but that you protect them from the evil one' (John 17:15).
How, then, can you find victory over the world?
1. By a growing, active faith
1 John 5:4-5 'Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that
has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only
he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.'
Hold fast to Jesus, the Son of God, by prayer and meditation on his Word. Remember
that you're 'born of God'—you're in God's family. Move forward in faith.
2. By leaning hard on the Spirit of God within you
1 John 4:4 'You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the
one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.'
3. By viewing the world from the cross
We looked at this in Lesson 6. Consider yourself dead to the world and its ways and
face them in the power of resurrection life, like Paul, who said:
Galatians 6:14 'May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through
which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.'
Learn by heart
1 John 2:15'Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the
world, the love of the Father is not in him.'