"Do Not Love the World"
1 John 2:15-18
Introduction: Recently the Evangelical Environmental Network sponsored an ad in Christianity Today that asked the question, " What would Jesus Drive?" Admittedly their ad was a bit over the top but its purpose was to get Christians to think about their relationship to the environment. Implying that what car you drive is a moral choice. You and I both know that the ad campaign has become more fuel for late night show monologues than to create serious questions about the choices we make as Christians. Yet is it so wrong to ask the question? It may very well be that we could ask the question of not only "What Would Jesus Drive?" but would Jesus watch what I watch on TV, the movies I see, what I look at on my computer, what I read for pleasure-books, magazines, what would Jesus listen to on the radio or CD?
Maybe the question we should ask is, "What in the world would Jesus love?" That question isn’t answered easily. That question brings into consideration a believers relationship to the culture and to think once again about the moral choices we make. Yet to ask it is very much in line with what John draws our attention to this morning.
When John penned this epistle the Roman Empire, with not only its army, but also its culture had swept the western provinces. There were many things that could allure a person away from a sincere devotion to Christ. There were sexual religious festivals, circus events in the coliseums, sporting events, accepted immoral relationships, poetry and literature that fanned eroticism. To be Christian was to seem, as Roman writer Lucian would claim, that Christians were obsessed with, "disdaining things terrestrial" and uniting with "the dregs of society." John knew the dangers of the world’s system were a threat to the vitality of the church. Therefore, he inspired these believers to resist all that would make God’s will for them secondary!
We live in no less a day than John’s. The truth is that we have no shortage of things when it comes to exposure to things that are polar opposites from the will of God. The recent glut of more and more so called reality shows are nothing more than a blatant attempt to whet our appetite for more and more so called reality. There are many things that can pull a person away from absolute commitment to Christ. Yet to even call into question these areas is to label you as an immature believer, legalistic or unwilling to deal with the "real world". I truly believe it is our responsibility to say first to ourselves and to those under our influence, "I’m saying no to the influences of a world that desires to draw me down into the sewer of its soul!" I share with you that in our text today we find clearly presented the responsibility we have to resist all that would try to replace the supremacy of God’s will for us.
John commands these believers and us as well to not love the world. He gives us three reasons for this warning.
I. First, he says don’t love the world—that’s what those who don’t love the Father do. (v. 15)
John’s point is that to be Christian is to not love the world. To love the world is only a proof that you do not possess the love of the Father. The Message Bible paraphrases this, "Don't love the world's ways. Don't love the world's goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father." (1 John 2:15)
These words are for Christians. John uses a verb form that means "Stop and stop now" a love relationship with the world. He then says that the person who has a progressive love for the world will gradually squeeze God and love for God out of their life. It is true that a Christian will have struggles of loving the world more than the Father at times. It’s not that we don’t love the Father anymore, it’s that something else has become more important!
What is "the world?" The word is used by John to mean different things. Here it means the result of all human activity. It is to take a look around you and believe that all there is that is real or valuable is all that we can see or sense. John would not command us to not love the creation that God has made. What John would command us to do is to stop loving only the creation without loving or to the exclusion of the Creator. Loving the "world" is seeing that which is tangible, transient, and temporal as all there is! It is somehow forgetting that there is another dimension to our existence. John Wesley said, "Whatever cools my affection toward Christ is the world." A definition might be anything that causes my love for God and His will to take 2nd place is what it means to love the world. Loving the world is living life as if all that is matter is all that matters!
More than anything else loving the world is an attitude of the heart. To describe the depth of love that is possible for a person John uses the word "agape" which we know as the word for sacfricial love or unconditional love. John speaks of a love for this world that will sacrifice anything in order to possess the object desired! When we let anything cause our love for God or the will of God to take second place we have become worldly in that area; we become guilty of loving the world. Loving the world doesn’t lie as much in the things we do or the places we go as much as it does in the heart.
Loving the world happens to us over time. It happens when our values lose their clarity. It something similar to the term used in law enforcement called the Stockholm Syndrome. The term Stockholm Syndrome first occurred in 1973 at an attempted bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. A man tried to rob a bank, and the police caught him inside. He took three female hostages and one male hostage and held them for 131 hours, during which time he terrorized them. He fired his Russian automatic assault weapon at them, threatened to kill them, and put nooses around their necks and threatened to hang them. But he didn't harm any of them.
When he finally surrendered, something very unusual happened. It was expected that the hostages would be antagonistic toward the hostage taker. But instead they said they feared the police more than the hostage taker. They also said they didn't hate the hostage taker. They even refused to testify against him. One of the women even became engaged to this hostage taker..."
Psychologists were asked, ‘What happened? What causes this?’ They said in hostage situations, with a high level of life-threatening stress and positive human interaction, the people's ego-defensive mechanisms come into play. There is denial of what is happening and regression to a different emotional state. The hostage will eventually begin to transfer his hatred; This guy doesn't really want to hurt me; and begins to hate the policemen. And something else very important begins to happen; a love relationship begins to take place. And this love relationship is like what happens between a young child and a parent. The parent is protecting the child from the terrifying world and providing all its needs. (Adapted from: Ted Childress, former FBI hostage expert, speaking as part of Donald Hoke's sermon, "The Stockholm Syndrome," Preaching Today, Tape No. 30.)
That is what happens to a believer over a period of time. We lose contact with reality and imagine that God who comes to save us from the world is really our enemy only wanting to keep us from enjoying life. The world in turn becomes our way of deliverance. The truth is we don’t realize until it is to late that we’re trapped. What is your attitude about the world we live in? Is it all that matters? Has it come to matter more in some areas of your life than before? I say to you don’t love the world! That’s what those who don’t love the Father do!
II. John has a second reason for us not to love the world. He says: "Don’t love the world! None of its temptations are from God!" (v. 16)
Here John moves from attitude to actions! From the heart to the hands! These phrases describe in general the specific ways the world’s "things" can lure us away from devotion to Christ.
The first temptation is to live for "whatever I want". John calls it the "lust of the flesh" Lust means desire that is out of control. The word flesh refers to the basic physical bodily desires. What John is describing for us is the desire to fulfill any God-given bodily need or desire in a way that God doesn’t intend. When we yield to the desire to give ourselves whatever we want, any way we want, regardless of God’s will—we are guilty of loving the world!
The next temptation is a further expression of the first, only more specific. Instead of "whatever I want," it is "whatever I see." John calls it the "lust of the eyes." The lust of the eyes would be to want something we see even though we know we would have to violate the will of God to have it! Our focus may be on something beautiful or worthy, but if it so captures our heart that it ruins our fellowship with God, then "whatever I see" is taking over!
The next temptation is a result of the previous two! A love for the world drives us to possess it. Whatever I want, whatever I see becomes, when we possess it, "pride in our possessions". It only follows that we will boast about our record of the world’s possessions! Whatever I want becomes whatever I see, which then becomes pride in whatever I have! This is an arrogant spirit of what we have or what we do! It’s prideful self-sufficiency. It’s when a person gets his sense of security or meaning in life from the things he owns! Remember that worldliness is primarily an attitude, as well as an activity. The worst worldly attitude is pride! We can be prideful because we think we’re not worldly! The temptations of the world are: Whatever I want, whatever I see and then we boast about whatever we have!
The power of a lust for the things we want, see and the resulting pride is a danger that captivates us until it is too late. What we want and see can appear so beautiful and fascinating that we lose all perspective. Joe Gutierrez tells five stories from his 42 years as a steelworker in the book, The Heat: Steelworkers' Lives and Legends. In one story, called "Snow Danced in August," he describes a scene of silvery dust flakes that frequently floated to the floor in an area of the mill where steel strips rolled over pads in a tall cooling tower. For years, workers and visitors alike flocked to the sight, which was especially picturesque at night. Then they discovered the dust was asbestos. "Everybody breathed it," wrote Gutierrez. He now suffers from the slow, choking grip of asbestosis, as do many plant workers. "Who am I? I'm everybody. Can't walk too far now. I get tired real fast and it hurts when I breathe, sometimes. And to think we used to fight over that job." ("Steelworkers Break the Mold," Chicago Tribune, 6-27-01)
How many things in our culture resemble the silver flakes in that steel mill? Enchanting but deadly. The temptations of the world look so good but they are deadly to our spirits and even our life. Don’t love the world. None of its temptations are from God!
III. The final reason John gives us for not loving the world is: Don’t love the world! It’s disappearing! (I John 2:17)
There is a fatal flaw inherent in any desire to possess the matter of this world as all that matters. The fatal flaw is that it will not last. John says it is "passing away." What matters to the world is temporary, transient, impermanent and of no ultimate value! Whatever you want is passing away! Whatever you see is passing away. Whatever you have—by the time you have it—is passing away! To place one’s hope on life or what matters to the world is to build on a temporary foundation. It will not last! John replaces that need for security by telling us that what really matters is doing the will of God. The one who does that lasts "into the forever"!
In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, author J. R. R. Tolkien portrays the classic conflict between good and evil set in a mythical land called Middle Earth. After a great battle in ancient times, the Dark Lord Sauron was temporarily defeated and his most dreaded weapon, the Ring of Power, was lost for many ages. A Hobbit from the Shire named Bilbo Baggins finds the ring and, unaware of its true identity, passes it on to his nephew, Frodo, as part of an inheritance. Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), the hero, is full of humility and uncertainty as he embarks on an epic quest to destroy the Dark Lord's most powerful tool—the Ring.
In one scene, Bilbo converses with his wise and trusted friend Gandalf about departing on a long journey and leaving his inheritance behind for Frodo. The Ring is part of that inheritance, and ever so subtly the Ring begins to exert itself on Bilbo, as it does with everyone who comes near it. As Gandalf encourages Bilbo to leave behind the Ring, Bilbo grasps it and clamors, "It's mine! My own! My precious. What business is it of yours what I do with my own affairs?" Bilbo casts a suspicious eye on Gandalf and accuses, "You want it for yourself!"
Firmly, Gandalf responds, "Bilbo Baggins, do not take me for some conjurer of cheap tricks. I'm not trying to rob you. I am trying to help you. All your long years we've been friends. Trust me, as you once did. Let it go." Gradually Bilbo's defiance fades, and he embraces Gandalf, saying, "You're right, Gandalf, the Ring must go." (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, New Line Cinemas, 2001)
There will be a need in our life to ask the question about the relationship we have as a Christian to the things we see around us. It will be a choosing between the world and the will of God. If we try to cling to the world it will destroy us. If we cling to the will of God it will give us life, life now and life forever. John says, " Don’t love the world—it is disappearing.
Conclusion: There are three things from this passage we need to leave with today:
For eleven years a man named Merhan Karimi Nasseri was a man without a country. For eleven years he lived in a Paris airport. He had no passport. He had no citizenship. He had no papers that enabled him to leave the airport or fly to another country. He had been expelled from his native country of Iran. Then he was sent away from Paris, France, because he lacked documentation. He said his Belgian-issued refugee document had been stolen. He flew to England but was denied entry and sent back to Paris. When he was returned to the Paris airport in 1988, airport authorities allowed him to live in Terminal 1, and there he stayed for eleven years, writing in a diary, living off of handouts from airport employees, cleaning up in the airport bathroom.
Then in September 1999 the situation reversed. French authorities presented Nasseri with an international travel card and a French residency permit. Suddenly he was free to go anywhere he wanted. But when airport officials handed him his walking papers, to everyone's surprise, he simply smiled, tucked the documents in his folder, and resumed writing in his diary. They found he was afraid to leave the bench and table that had been his home for eleven years. As the days passed and Nasseri refused to leave, airport officials said they would not throw him out of the airport, but they would have to gently and patiently coax him to find a new home.
Can you imagine a more unnatural home than an airport? It is bustling, it is interesting, but it is not home. When we come to Christ, we have a move to make that can be as frightening as the move Nasseri had to make from the airport. We are beckoned from the unnatural home of the ways of this fallen world to our new home: the ways of the will of God. Don't hold on, your life may depend on it. (Adapted from: Ray Moseley, "At Last, Airport 'Prisoner' Gets His Walking Papers," Chicago Tribune (9-21-99); Suzanne Daley, "11 Years Caged in an Airport; Now He Fears to Fly," N.Y. Times, 9-27-99.)
Sunday, February 16, 2003
Dr. Bruce Tippit, Pastor
First Baptist Church