The Forbidden Love
Reformed Free Publishing Association
John says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” The meaning of this commandment is not, “Do not start loving the world,” but “stop loving the world.” The saints to whom the apostle writes had already begun to love the world.
There is much confusion here.
Love for the world is not the same as merely living “in” the world. Since this is the case, it is impossible to avoid worldliness by leaving the world or by abstaining from modern society. Some have tried that: the monks of the Middle Ages sought to escape worldliness by asceticism, an extreme form of self-denial, but a monk has worldliness in his heart which he cannot escape in a monastery. The Amish have tried to escape worldliness by avoiding the use of modern conveniences, by a simple unindustrialized farming lifestyle, and by not having electricity, but that is not the answer to worldliness. Electricity or the lack thereof has nothing to do with worldliness! Electricity can be used to the glory of God or it can be used in the service of sin. Jesus prayed, “I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:14–15). The solution, therefore, is not to depart from the world.
Love for the world is not the same as using or even enjoying the good gifts of God’s creation. There are some Christians who feel almost guilty if they enjoy pleasure. They seem to think that it is a Christian’s duty to be miserable and to make others miserable. Christians, for example, may enjoy food and drink, art, culture, and leisure with a clear conscience. There is nothing sinful in pleasure itself. Pleasure only becomes sinful when it satisfies the lusts of our flesh, the lusts of our eyes, and the pride of life. We must not love pleasure rather than God (2 Tim. 4:4), but God has given us all things richly to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). If one forgets that principle, one can become self-righteous and legalistic, proud that one is holier than the Christian who uses a TV or computer, or who reads certain books, or ___________ (the reader should fill in the blank).
Love for the world is a worship of the creature rather than the Creator. While we may possess the things of the world, and even enjoy them, we must hold loosely to the things of the world, and even be prepared to lose them for the sake of Christ. When we find that the world’s treasures and pleasures are a distraction from our devotion to Christ (and each of us has a different limit), we must be prepared to give up the enjoyments of this world. We may possess the things of the world, but the things of the world must never possess us. They must never possess our heart.
Love in the Bible is devotion to and affection for something. When we love the world, we devote ourselves to the things of the world: we seek the things of the world so that they will satisfy our desires. If we love the world for its own sake we will devote our time, our energy, our money and our life to the things of the world to the exclusion of God.
For example, a person who has a nice car may not be worldly, but if he spends every waking moment devoted to his car, because it appeals to his lust and pride, he is acting in a worldly manner. Sports are not necessarily worldly activities, but obsession with sport bordering on idolatry certainly is. If the enjoyment of the pleasures of this world requires us to have an alliance with the world, we prefer to suffer than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Heb. 11:25). Often the pleasures of this world come with a cost: forsake Christ and you can enjoy the pleasures of the world.
The danger in loving the world is outlined in verse 15, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” “The love of the Father” is not the Father’s love for us, but our love for the Father. John is saying that love of the world and love of the Father are incompatible. Sometimes we flatter ourselves that we can have both God and the world, but the Bible contradicts that foolish notion. The one who loves the world is the enemy of God, that is, he hates God, because he loves the world that hates God. Quite simply, a love for the world will drive the love for the Father out of your heart.
There is a fine line between stewardship of our bodies and possessions and obsession and even idolatry. When we love the world, we do not seek our satisfaction in God, in Christ, in his truth. To love the world means to seek after the things of the world because they can satisfy something in you that the things of God cannot satisfy. A man who loves the world fills his heart and life with the things that the world offers to him, and at the same time he does not fill his heart and life with the things that God gives.
How does lovelessness caused by the love of the world manifest itself? It begins with a decreased interest in fellowship with God because of an increased interest in sinful pleasure. The worldly Christian will pray less, meditate less on the word, and become infrequent in his attendance at public worship. If it requires him to neglect God to have the world, the worldly Christian will be prepared to pay that price. The worldly Christian will show a preference for worldly activities, some of which are not sinful in themselves, but his desire for them will consume his time and his affections so that he will not have time and a heart for God. The worldly Christian will have a preference for worldly companions who are as worldly as he is becoming. He will begin to find the fellowship of God’s people irksome because they make him feel guilty. The end of a worldly Christian is often apostasy (v. 19).
Worldliness is a major contributing factor to apostasy because a worldly church member, whose heart the world has stolen, will be impatient with the holiness of life demanded by the church. The worldly person will be a member of a church and contribute to its life only insofar as the church does not interfere with his sinful pleasure. But the one who loves the world will be repelled by holiness and will eventually give up all pretense of Christianity all together. Or the worldly person will join a false church, which is basically the world with a religious mask. The false church will allow him to desecrate the Sabbath, to date unbelievers, to get drunk, to fornicate, to divorce his spouse, and to enjoy the sin of the world while promising him God’s blessing. The true church will call him to repentance. The worldly person does not like the call to repentance.
Here is a test by which you can examine yourself.
- If you can spend hours watching TV, on your computer, playing sports, and hanging out with unbelieving friends, but little time in devotion to God, the world may already have seduced your heart.
- If you find yourself enjoying the company and the sins of the ungodly so that you even find yourself defending the sins of the ungodly and preferring their sins to the godliness of the saints, the world has certainly seduced your heart.
- If you find yourself angry when you are confronted by a fellow believer and you seek to justify why you are not living like a Christian, then I urge you, examine your heart. Who or what has your allegiance and your heart? Do you love the Father or the world, or are you trying and failing to love both?
To be continued...
This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. If you have any questions or comments, please post them in the comment section on the blog.