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Reasons for Writing
12 I am writing you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for the sake of his name. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God remains in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Do Not Love the World
15 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. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and its lusts; but the one who does the will of God remains forever.
Those Who Love God Must Not Love the World (1 John 2:12–17)
SUPPORTING IDEA: Your sins have been forgiven, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world, for if you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you.
2:12–14. These verses are difficult to understand, and they do not have a strong connection with what went before or what comes after. After the stern warning up to this point, these verses seem to be reassuring us that we are in fact Christians. They contrast the spiritual status of the believers with the assessment of the self-praising false teachers. Apparently, these teachers claimed that ordinary believers did not really know God because they had not received special knowledge of him through mystical means. If so, the following warning not to love the world (vv. 15–17) might also be prompted by these same false teachers who did love the world.
John addressed three sets of readers, dear children, fathers, and young men. Some believe this to be a division by chronological age, and others think it to be a division by spiritual maturity. Still others find both of these interpretations inconsistent, since “fathers” is out of expected sequence, being in the middle. Elsewhere the letter addresses all readers as “children” (2:1, 28; 3:7, 18; 5:21). As a result, many Bible teachers believe that each of the terms refers to all the readers. They were all “dear children,” “fathers,” and “young men.”
This interpretation has more support. Often, when a Bible author contrasts ages (young/old), he does so as a figure of speech to denote young, old, and everyone in between. Joel, quoted by Luke in Acts 2:28, speaks of old men dreaming dreams and young men seeing visions—a poetic way of saying that dreams and visions will be experienced by young, old, and everyone in between. If this principle of interpretation is accepted for verses 12–14, then whatever is said of each age category is intended to be true for all believers.
If so, then like children, all of them had experienced the forgiveness of sins and all of them had known their heavenly Father. Like fathers, they had all known him who is from the beginning. That is, they had truly known and experienced fellowship with God. Like young men, all of them had engaged in spiritual warfare and had overcome the evil one, the devil, and had grown strong, perhaps because of the Word (you are strong, and the word of God lives in you).
2:15–17. To summarize, John seems to make it clear that his readers were Christians. They were my dear children (2:1) and dear friends (4:1). Verses 12–14 again call them dear children, fathers, and young men, who have experienced forgiveness, knowledge of God, and victory in spiritual battle. Far from calling into question their salvation or expressing dissatisfaction with their spiritual growth, John seems to reassure them of their salvation. Having reassured them, he then warned them against false teaching and dangers from the world.
Not only are they to love God and their brothers; they are not to love the world. The world (kosmos) in this context refers to the attitudes and values that disregard God or are blatantly against God. It certainly does not refer to God’s natural creation or even humanity (we are to love the people in the world for whom Christ died, as God does, John 3:16), but to that part of human affairs that are under the authority of the devil (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19; Eph. 2:1–2). We love the people of the world, but we do not love the sinful attitudes and values they may embrace.
If we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us. This is a difficult statement. Does it mean that if we do love the world, God does not love us (love of the Father = the love which God has for us), or does it mean we do not love God (love of the Father = our love for God)? Good Bible students stand on both sides of this question. The context leads me to favor the latter. If we love the world, we are not loving God. We cannot love the world and love God at the same time. This interpretation is strengthened by James 4:4, “Friendship with the world is hatred toward God.”
2:16. The reason we are not to love the world is that the world’s values are in opposition to God. The cravings of sinful man are the sinful interests and desires that draw us away from God. The lust of [the] eyes refers to sinful desires that corrupt us. The eye is often used as a figure of speech to refer to sinful passions (Matt. 5:28).
When Eve looked at the forbidden fruit, it was “pleasing to the eye.” David’s sin with Bathsheba started when he looked on Bathsheba taking a bath (2 Sam. 11:2). It might be translated, “the desires that originate in what we see.” The boasting of what he has and does refers to the arrogance and pride that can overtake us as we try to “get ahead of the Joneses” and when we rely on ourselves rather than God for our material possessions and worldly positions.
These values are foolish for two reasons. First, they do not come from the Father. Therefore, they interfere with our fellowship with the Father. Second, we are all going to die, and what we are living for will come to nothing. The well-known saying of slain missionary Jim Elliot seems appropriate here: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to get what he cannot lose.”
We might paraphrase this whole passage: “Do not embrace the world’s ways or goods. When you do, it squeezes out your love for God. When you live for ‘getting your own way,’ and for ‘getting everything you want,’ and for ‘looking good compared to others,’ you are not living for God but for the world. This is foolish because it suffocates your relationship with God, and in the end, it will all go up in smoke anyway.”
By David Walls and Max Anders