Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
John 11:17-31; 1 John 2:15-17; Job 9:21-35; Ezekiel 16
Interpretation of this passage requires careful attention to the words John uses. He begins by saying, ‘Do not love the world or anything in the world’ (1 John 2:15). But elsewhere he writes that God does love the world (John 3:16). In his letter John says that love for the world is incompatible with love for the Father. The key to reconciling these apparent contradictions lies in the range of meanings that a word can have and examining the context.
This is the first time John mentions the world in this letter, but he discusses it many times in his letters and his gospel. He sometimes uses it more factually to refer to the universe (John 1:10) or life on earth (1 John 4:17). More often he means the set of beliefs and passions organised against God and under the control of Satan (1 John 5:19). The context provides the appropriate meaning of this passage, as he elaborates that he has in mind the base and passing desires and boasts that the world offers (1 John 2:16).
The other important term in this passage is love, and again this can have a range of meanings. Love here is not simply a feeling, but our consuming devotion of heart and mind to someone or something. Some commentators focus on the things we can be drawn to, and call on Christians to avoid or reject these things. Boundaries are called for to protect Christians (and society) from unethical practices. While there are things we are to reject, John is addressing something much deeper and invasive: our hearts’ desires and the focus of our minds. These can be drawn to many things that we cannot escape from, things that are part of living in the physical world.
Jesus has made it clear that Christians are not of the world (John 17:14-19). But we can be sucked into focusing on what the world loves as contrasted with what God loves. When we long for the pleasures of the body, for material things, or for an overly high view of ourselves, we love the world. What we long for may be good in and of itself, such as food, health, or success. But even good things can be pursued with selfish ambition or boastful pride. We need to ask ourselves: What consumes our thinking? What upset us most when we fail to attain it? It is overly simplistic to develop a list of worldly things to be avoided. As always, God is more concerned about our hearts. He wants us to be passionate about what he loves. Our primary concern should be the will of God (1 John 2:17), which boils down to loving him and loving other people (1 John 4:12).
John elaborates in this letter and in his gospel on how this is developed. Prayer is needed to protect us from the schemes of the evil one (John 17:15). We need to examine our motivations and desires to distinguish which are from God and which from the world (1 John 2:15-17). We need to go out into the world and love those caught up in it (John 17:18). Much of the rest of 1 John discusses how loving others deepens our love for God. We also have the Word of God to guide us in how we love others and how we should live (John 17:14). As we live in accordance with Scripture, we will be transformed, so that our characters better reflect the love of God and our lives become more ethical (John 17:17, 19).