We Love the World Correctly Only When We Love the Father Completely
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)
What does the beloved apostle mean when he writes, “Do not love the world or anything in the world”? John does not mean by “love” merely enjoying the good things in creation. He does not mean you love the world if you enjoy God’s good gifts properly.
The reason he does not and cannot mean that is because the gospel John preaches actually frees us from the world that we might properly enjoy the world. Consider Acts 14:15-17. In the context Paul and Barnabas have been mistaken for Greek gods and the people have begun to worship them. Paul speaks to correct the crowds. Notice how he argues that the gospel produces right enjoyment of God’s creation.
15 “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news”—[that's gospel]—”telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earthand sea and everything in them—[that's how the gospel reorients to the Creator away from the creation]—16 ”In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” [Once we worship the one true God who created everything and gives blessings in creation, then we can have our hearts properly filled with joy by His gifts in creation]
But there’s more. The gospel not only frees us to think about and enjoy the creation properly, the proper enjoyment of creation may contribute to our assurance of salvation. Look with me at 1 Timothy 6:17-19.
17 Command those who are richin this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. [Do you see? That's the gospel reorienting us to faith in God instead of the present world and freeing us to enjoy everything]. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. [That's the proper use and enjoyment of God's gifts---good deeds and sharing. Notice how they lead to assurance of our salvation:] 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold ofthe life that is truly life.
So, when John says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world,” he is not saying that God’s people should not enjoy and use God’s gifts in a proper way. They should. Proper enjoyment and use of God’s blessings even contributes to our confidence of eternal life.
What John means by “Do not love the world” is do no place “the world” before God himself. Do not be attached to the world in a way that weakens and can destroy faith, obedience and loyalty to the Father. That is John’s concern.
Which leads us to an important principle: We cannot love the world correctly until we love the Father completely. I write this with some fear and trembling. I know that this simple phrase can work in the heart in a couple different ways depending on what spiritual condition you’re in right now.
You may be someone who professes to be a Christian, but you really are not. You’re like the man in 1 John 2:15 who loves the world and does not have the love of the Father in him. But you’ve told yourself you do, or you’ve told yourself “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with having things” and so on. If you’re that person, here’s what just happened when you read “You cannot love the world correctly until we love the Father completely”: You checked an “I love the Father box” without even thinking about it and you immediately thought of the cravings, desires, things, and activities that you can go on doing in the world. Rather than hear the statement as an exhortation to more complete love of God, you took that saying as a permission to continue your sinful path. You’re using the truth of the Bible as an excuse for loving the world more than God. You’re thinking like the world.
Now, if you’re thinking about this like a Christian, you’ve been asking yourself, “How can I have a more complete love for the Father?” Your thoughts, desires and actions are drawn not to loving the world correctly but to loving the Father completely. You might draw assurance and hope and longing just from the statement itself if you’re a Christian that justifiably feels assured of your salvation. Your entire inside just nodded in agreement and rejoiced at the idea of loving God completely.
But you might be in a third category. You might be a Christian who struggles with doubt and Christian assurance. You may have heard that phrase and thought to yourself, “I don’t love the Father completely.” You might think of the weaknesses in your love, the imperfections. You want to love the Father more completely but you despair and feel discouraged at ever doing so. Be encouraged because your heart and mind are in the right direction. Pay attention to the direction in which your heart does truly lean—toward God. If you were not Christ’s, you would not even have the desire to love the Father. If you were not Christ’s, you would not mourn over weaknesses in your love. A weak love is not the same as zero love. Take heart—the desire to love God that you possess comes from God. Rest your confidence not on the perfection of your love, but on the perfection of Jesus Christ, who loves you and has loved the Father for you.
How do we know whether we truly love God instead of the world? We know we love God and not the world when we deny our fallen motivations and desires and seek God’s way of living and God’s glory in everything. Is that you?