Before we examine the issue of worldliness, we must consider John’s previous insights about love: the divine priority of love and the believer’s commitment to love. These truths are given in 1 John 2:7–17. John’s point is that you can know that you are a Christian and have eternal life because you have a new love for God and a new love for His people.
The divine priority of love, found in verses 7–8, is an old commandment, but it’s also a new commandment, as well as an eternal commandment. The believer’s commitment to love produces a new love for God’s people (v. 9–11) and a new love for God (v. 12–17). The message of verses 12–15, the verses we are considering in this blog series, is that the true Christian knows and loves the Father and everything the Father loves. If you’re a Christian, you know that your sins have been forgiven. You’ve come to know the Almighty God as Father, and you are growing in your knowledge of His Word to the goal of a full, mature, experiential knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the goal of the Christian life and experience, and it’s accomplished through the Scripture and the Spirit (1 Cor. 2).
In 1 John 2:15–17, John teaches that the true Christian does not love the world or everything the world loves. Phrased negatively, the false Christian does love the world and everything the world loves.
The structure of these verses is clear; John begins in the first part of verse 15 with a categorical prohibition. Notice the command he gives: “Do not love.” In the original Greek, the structure of this imperative could have two meanings. First, it could carry the idea of stopping a pattern that is already being practiced—you already love the world but need to stop. Second, and more likely, John is commanding his readers that they should never start this pattern of loving the world; don’t let loving the world be something that is in your life. John is not saying, “Stop it!” Rather, he’s saying: “If you’re a Christian, don’t ever start a pattern of loving the world.”
The word for “love” is agapao, the Greek verb from which we get the Greek noun agape. Why does John use the word agape for loving the world? Because it has a nuance that fits this particular context. This word is not an uncontrollable emotion that comes over you. It is primarily used for a decision of the will. Often in the New Testament it’s used for loving God, loving others, and loving Christ. But John uses it for loving the world. He does so because it conjures up, not something that just happens to you, but a decision you make.
The key elements of this word in this context are affection and devotion. That’s the key point of what John means when he says, “Do not love the world.” Believers must not have affection and devotion to the world.
Next week, we’ll consider what John means when he says that you must not love the “world” or the “things” of the world.