What does John mean by “Do not love the world”?


Do Not Love the World

The New Testament that we hold in our hands today contains five books written by John the apostle – one gospel, three letters to the early Church, and the book of Revelation.


Tucked away in his first epistle to the early Church is this provocative command:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.”[1]

If you’ve been a Christian for some time and you’re semi-familiar with the Bible, then you’ve most likely come across this verse or at least heard it before. The questions spring forth, such as, what does it mean? What is John referring to when he writes “world”? How does this apply to my life?


Let’s read the verse in its context,


“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17


First, notice that John uses the word “world” 6 times in these three verses. The Greek word that we translate into “world” is kosmos, which can describe both the people of the earth and their thoughts and behaviours. In 1 John where we find the verse we’re studying, John uses kosmos 17 times. In fact, in the gospel that John wrote he uses it 57 times! This is more than any other New Testament writer.


Almost every time John writes kosmos in this short letter, it’s negative. The kosmos is personified as this being who is lost in sin, is passing away, doesn’t know God, hates believers, has earthly goods/possessions, welcomes false prophets, listens to false teaching, is overcome by the faith of believers, and lies in the power of Satan.[2]


Even from this quick definition, we can get the idea in which John uses the word kosmos.


Secondly, John explains what’s in the kosmos pretty clearly in our verses, “…the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life…” The word desire can also be translated as “lust.” The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes are not innocent. These are the kinds of desires brought on by the temptation to sin. John makes it clear that these desires do not arise from the Father. These are desires birthed from our sinful nature. What about “pride of life”? This “life” is not simply referring to life. The “life” John writes here seems to be referring to the life of possessions, goods, and money. In essence, John is saying that the kosmos is full of lusts of the flesh, lusts of the eyes (specifically visual), and the boasting and false-security of material things.


No wonder John commands “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” What godly teacher wouldn’t?

Fill Yourself with the Love of the Father

How can we apply this to our life? Notice that John writes “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” John is showing us that you can’t have a genuine love for both the Father and the kosmos at the same time. It seems to me that the best way to apply this text to our lives is not by trying to be not like the world, but by loving the Father.


How do you grow in a relationship with someone? You spend time with them. You talk to them. You let them talk to you. You find out what they love, hate, enjoy, etc. You let them speak into your life. Do these things with the Father! Spend time with Him, talk to Him, let Him speak to you from His Word, discover what He loves, hates, and enjoys (you’ll find that you’re incredibly valuable to Him). Allow the Father to speak truth into your life.


What’s our motivation?


Firstly, the Father loved you first, with a love too amazing for words. The world did not love you first, and is definitely not able to love you with the kind of love the Father loves.


Secondly, look at the last verse, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” The world is passing away! That’s your motivation! No lust will eternally satisfy. No material gain will last forever. “But,” John writes, “whoever does the will of God abides forever.” We automatically do the will of the Father when we allow His love to fill us. When our thoughts, words, and actions are in response to His love, we’re in His will.


Hopefully in this brief article you’ve been able to catch a glimpse at what John meant when he wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in this world.” He didn’t write this because he didn’t want Christians to have fun or enjoy life. It’s actually on the contrary. He wrote this because he wants Christians to life the best life they can.


The best life we can live, is one that’s not caught up in the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride in material things, but rather, one that’s filled with the love of the Father.


[1] 1 John 2:15

[2] 1 John 2:2,17; 3:1,13,17; 4:1,5; 5:4,19


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