Remember that John's epistle is written to church members. Therefore, he frames matters in absolute terms, offering no middle ground regarding sin and one's relationships with God and fellow man. It must be this way because this is our one and only opportunity for salvation, and sin was what cut us off from God in the first place, causing us to need salvation. We do not want to fall into that position again. Sin is serious business!
Regarding our moral and spiritual conduct, we must recognize that there is no twilight zone, especially in our relationship with God. A Christian cannot muddle around morally or spiritually, thinking that sin is a rather minor affair. It cost Jesus His life! In this relationship, which is in reality preparation for a marriage, love and loyalty are extremely important.
John spells matters out as either light or darkness, love or hatred, all absolutes. Where love is absent, hatred rules in darkness. Where love prevails, there is light. Through the word "darkness," John is disclosing that, because of the sin or hatred, a lack of love for a brother, the relationship with God declines. Notice in verse 11 that the sin John mentions is against a brother, meaning a fellow church member. Hatred is not a trifling matter! Later, in I John 3:15, John says that one who hates his brother is a murderer. What is the result? A relationship is broken, and communication with the brother ends.
Even more serious, we find that the sin also involves one's relationship with God because the effect of that sin is a measure of spiritual blindness. The hater grows insensitive to or hardened against spiritual truth.
Paul reinforces what John teaches, writing in Hebrews 3:12-13, "Beware brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." He warns that sin has a deceptive quality. It promises so much even before it actually becomes an act of conduct, but it delivers far short of its promise. Its truly sneaky aspect is its powerful tendency to lure us into further sin, enslaving us and hardening our minds against righteousness. In other words, it shares characteristics with drugs in that it is addictive or enslaving, destroying one's well-being.
Herein lies the cause of the apostle John's concern in I John 2. God is the source of spiritual truth (light), and we are sanctified as His children and to His service by it because we believe it. However, under the sin of hating, communication with God begins to break down, and consequently, the sinner puts himself in peril of falling completely away. Notice in I John 2:13-14, John mentions that the fathers - those in the congregation older in the faith - have known the Father. He appeals to them to exercise their longstanding, mature leadership within the congregation in a right manner.
The word "known" ties John's thoughts directly with Jesus' words in John 17:3. Knowing God, having an intimate relationship with Him, is the key to living a life - called "eternal life" - which will be acceptable for living in the Kingdom of God. Hating a brother actually cuts the sinner off from the Source of the gifts and strengths necessary to live that quality of life. In other words, the sinner is not properly using what God has already given him and is showing disloyalty both to God and to another member of the Family.
Beginning in verse 15, John pens three of the more notable verses in his writings. When considered in context, they should be scary stuff for a Christian. Why does he command us not to love the world? Because the sinner's conduct exhibited in his hatred of his brother reveals the source of communication prompting his sin! John exposes the communication to which the hater is responding.
Under no circumstance would God ever communicate the sin of hatred toward a brother. Besides, James confirms that God tempts no one (James 1:13). John is warning that the person's affections are drawing him away from God and toward the world, and he had better do something about it before he slips completely back into the world.
This also connects to John 1:5. "And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." Darkness symbolizes the spiritual blindness of Satan's unconverted world. In the book of Revelation, this blindness is represented by Babylon the Great. Satan's world simply does not get it, that is, spiritual truth. Because it cannot grasp God's truths, the only spirituality the world can ultimately communicate is inducement to sin, which it does insistently and attractively.
This leads us back to God's illustration regarding Adam, Eve, and Satan. Satan is the god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4), and thus its spiritual leader and governing principle. He persuaded Adam and Eve to sin. So the only way we can come out of the world is to reverse the process that placed us in the world in the first place: to stop sinning. One can phrase it more positively as to yield to God's will rather than Satan's or to God's communication rather than this world's.
We could never leave the world on our own. God must mercifully deliver us by calling us. We do not understand the mechanics of what He actually does in our minds, but in calling us, He miraculously does something to begin leading us to think of matters in relation to God with a clarity of understanding and intensity that we never before experienced. It is almost as if we suddenly understood a foreign language.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)
These verses present a simplified illustration. Mankind is faced with two choices: On the one hand is the way of life that God proscribes for man, and on the other are the physical "benefits" that seem to be his if God is not in the picture. Without a divine Lawgiver in the picture, man would be free to pursue whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it, and to whatever extent.
According to commentator Adam Clarke, the lust of the flesh refers to "sensual and impure desires which seek their gratification in women, strong drink, delicious [foods], and the like." The lust of the eyes indicates "inordinate desires after finery of every kind, gaudy dress, splendid houses, superb furniture, expensive equipage, trappings, and decorations of all sorts." The pride of life implies "hunting after honors, titles, and pedigrees; boasting of ancestry, family connections, great offices, and honorable acquaintance."
The world has these things to offer; they are the glittering gems that seem out of one's reach when constrained by laws and rules. Why should a man let anyone tell him what to do? Why should he be required to abide by laws? Why can he not live by his own rules? They are good enough for him, so they should be good enough for everyone else. These arguments have convinced mankind to reject the Creator God in favor of an ideology that utterly lacks proof but gives a certain peace of mind—that man is in control of his own destiny and that nobody is going to tell him what to do!
David C. Grabbe
What Evolution Really Means
The will of God is the driving principle of life—indeed, of all of creation because our Creator is gradually imposing His will on the whole creation as He works His purpose to His ends. Those not in harmony with that will are doomed; they will simply cease to exist! Permanent value, reality, abides only in God's purpose and His will. Everything else is vanity. We belong to eternity only as far as we attach ourselves to His will and conform to it.
If we live according to the lusts of the flesh, we are not living according to God's will. We will pass away and be destroyed. Life beyond the grave is bound up in the life we live here and now (Romans 2:5-10). This is because the blood of Jesus Christ and the way we live prepare us for walking with Him eternally.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Six): Eternal Life
In verse 15, “Love not the world,” should more accurately read, “Stop loving the world.” It is an admonition, actually a commandment, against an action that was already in progress. It was ongoing when John was writing this to the church in the first century. “Love” is being used in the sense of “love for a thing,” not a person, taking delight in something like an automobile, clothing, jewelry, or a house. The specific thing in this case is love for the world. This word does not carry the sense of affection that one would show with, say, a kiss, like the word phileo, but indicates more the inclination of the will.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian and the World (Part 2)
I John 2:15-17 warns us that there is a profound gulf between the Father and the world, and that a Christian is faced with making a choice between them. Spiritually, morally, and ethically, Christianity does not allow for neutrality. God is bringing us into a position where we recognize truth, admit it is true, and make it a part of our lives.
We are learning a new way of life, so He does not want us to be ensnared by the attractiveness of many things that are in the world. We cannot presume that because something appears to be harmless, it would be fine to do "just this one time." Therefore, we have to learn to resist the urge to think and conduct our lives as the world does.
"World" in I John 2 is the Greek cosmos, and its basic meaning is "an ordered system." Because of the disparity between God and this world, it cannot possibly be the world for which God gave His only begotten Son. The world He created He called "very good." Nor is He referring to mankind, also part of His creation. He loves people and desires to save them.
Nevertheless, He does not like man's way of life. This ordered, human-centered system is anti-God and anti-Christ, and Satan sits at its head. This system occupies His creation and consists of people that God loves so much that He sent His Son to die for them, but He does not love the system! It produces people that need to be rescued, and it tends to make them worse and worse.
When God speaks of "the world," He is identifying all of man's purposes, pursuits, pleasures, practices, and places where God is not wanted. Much of this world is religious, cultured, refined, and intellectual, but it is still anti-God and anti-Christ.
Through His calling, God puts us into a position where He forces us to choose between disparate ways of life, and both of them are realities. We must choose either the eternal and worthwhile or the temporal and vain. God is not saying that this world is unpleasant, unattractive, or unappealing, but we have to choose between that reality and His. The sum of this passage is that this ordered system—anti-God yet appealing and attractive—has the power to seduce the believer, to ensnare him and turn him from God. We have to be vigilantly on guard against it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Christmas, Syncretism, and Presumption
John is not the only apostle who called upon the children of God to keep themselves from being spiritually contaminated by the world. James urges us "to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). The apostle Paul makes a strong appeal in Romans 12:2, saying, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
This world is not God's world! Some have such a difficult time grasping the practical ramifications of this concept, perhaps because we think of God as Creator, Owner, and Ruler and marvel at the staggering beauty of what He has made. In that sense it is His world.
Nonetheless, the systems that operate our cultures are not His. The Greek word translated "world" in I John 2:16 is kosmos, which has a moral connotation and means "the world apart from God." William Barclay in his commentary on this verse writes, "To John the world was nothing other than pagan society with its false values and its false gods" (p. 56).
The world's systems generate and sustain our government and politics, entertainment, fashion, religion, business ethics, medicine and health care, culinary tastes, social programs and institutions, education, science and technology, economics, and use of power. The world's systems have formed much of our belief systems and attitudes, and these in turn have shaped our conduct.
These are the things we must overcome. And this world and its systems are so appealing! But God says not to waste our love on them because they have no future! In fact, this world is so bad that other prophecies show the whole thing will be destroyed and replaced when God invokes the restitution of all things (II Peter 3:10-11; Revelation 21:1).
The basic reason all must be destroyed is because at its very foundation is a destroying and antagonistic spirit, Satan the Devil, the god of this world. Henry David Thoreau grasped an important principle when he stated, "An institution is but the lengthened shadow of one man." As Jesus phrases it, "A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit" (Matthew 7:18). Satan is a destroyer, and his way is at best a bad mixture of good and evil. James confirms this when he asks this rhetorical question, "Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?" (James 3:11).
John W. Ritenbaugh
This Is Not God's World
God is mostly concerned about the world's ideals, its standards, its concepts of right and wrong. These influence the way we look at everything, and produce inclinations, attitudes, feelings, and the purposes for which we live. In the final tally, the world's standards are short-sighted and selfish—unlike God's, which are eternal and outgoing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Love of the world is forbidden by God, and conforming to it shows that a person loves it (Romans 12:2) and therefore hates God. Much of the time, the world equates lust with love, but nothing could be further from the truth. Lust is self-centered and destructive. The person who has God's love perfected in him cannot fear because he has no dread of punishment and no torment from sin.
Martin G. Collins
If any New Testament verse summarizes the theme of Ecclesiastes, it is I John 2:17. God calls things that are not as though they are. To God, the world is already dead, so He says, "Love not the world, for it is passing away." "Passing away" is a euphemism of dying. To God, the world is a putrefying corpse, but it has not yet been buried. It is a system in the process of self-destructing as a result of the course of vanity and meaningless self-centeredness, and it cannot be any other way because men and demons are operating it.
Think of this in terms of the main conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes, of the priority that a person ought to set in his life, which is to fear God and keep His commandments.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 1)
The word translated "world" is cosmos in Greek. John uses it six times in three short verses, emphasizing its importance to us. It literally means "an orderly arrangement." In other words, it means "a system." The apostle refers to the environment and lifestyle system into which we were born. Our values originated from this source, and those values are a confused mix of good and evil, specifically designed to entrap us in a web of death.
Cosmos identifies the system on earth established apart from the Creator God. Since the system's source is Satan, it cannot produce life. The problem for us is that this system is quite appealing to human nature, and it is continuously exerting pressure on us to return to it. Yet, if we love the world, it precludes love for the Father. The Father is then pushed to the background of our lives.
John points out that love for the world is essentially meaningless because the world is passing away. If it and its values pass away, what will a person following that system have to show for his life?
The basics of that system's values are contained in the words "flesh," "eyes," and "pride." Flesh indicates a self-oriented outlook that pursues its own ends independent of God, a focus that clearly produces idolatry. Eyes suggests being captivated by everything that entices the sight, drawing attention to the human attraction to covetousness, which is idolatry. Pride indicates a pretentious hypocrisy that glories in self, possessions, and accomplishments. This too is idolatry because pride focuses devotion on the self.
So, to whom or what are we loyal? II Corinthians 4:3-4 identifies the source of the spiritual beliefs and values of everybody in the world prior to his calling:
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
This system is the source of much of what we believed, and its author, Satan, has been our god, though we did not realize it. Because Satan has been clever enough to include some of the true God's system, beliefs, stories, and practices within his, the Devil's system has an air of righteous authority. We can feel good, even joyous and inspired, while doing evil—like committing idolatry—in submitting ourselves as servants to his way.
Romans 1:18-32 provides us with a compelling history of mankind's efforts to avoid God as the source of their values, and it shows what this has produced. Satan has made strong and persuasive efforts—seemingly doing everything in his power—to diminish the importance of obedience to the Ten Commandments. Mankind's failure to keep these godly standards is responsible for the condition of the world.
The undermining of their importance began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan's persuasions were so enticing that they submitted to his values despite having seen God literally eye to eye! None of us has been blessed with that gift. However, in God's judgment that does not let us off the hook. Yet, mankind cannot plead complete ignorance of God because He is revealed by His handiwork. Since men will not seek out and obey the true God on their own, the best they can do in regard to a standard of values is their own experience, and that has produced this perverted and violent world. That is the story of idolatry in Romans 1.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment
Jesus calls upon His followers to reject the natural human inclination toward self. The first step is to submit and surrender to God our will, our affections, our bodies, and our lives. Our own pleasures and happiness can no longer be primary goals. Instead, we must be willing to renounce all and lay down our lives, if required. Peter admonishes us to "no longer live . . . in the flesh for the lusts of men," meaning we should no longer pursue wrong desires. Are we willing to forsake all, to give up everything including our lives? Our Christian duty is to deny our lust of the flesh.
Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 1 John 2:17:
2 Peter 3:10-13
1 John 2:17