Do Not Love the World – Pt. 3 | The Meaning of “World”

Tom Pennington |

November 22, 2022


Last time, we saw that John warned his readers to not love the world or the things of the world. The Greek word for “world” is kosmos, and it is by far the most common word for “world” in the New Testament, occurring over 180 times. Its basic meaning is “order or arrangement.” It describes an ordered system as opposed to chaos. This word, however, has led to serious misunderstandings, predominantly because kosmos, like our English word world, has several senses in which it’s used. This is even true in the New Testament. Here’s a brief list of its possible meanings:

  • The universe (Romans 1:20; Acts 17:24).
  • All intelligent life, including both men and angels (1 Corinthians 4:9).
  • The earth (Romans 4:13; 1 Corinthians 5:10).
  • All of humanity (John 3:16).
  • Fallen humanity in its opposition to God (1 John 5:19).
  • An organized system created and ruled by Satan, that dominates fallen humanity, and is alienated from and hostile to God (1 John 2:15).

John is mostly likely using “world” to describe Satan’s organized system. Donald Burdick writes, “The term involves all that goes into making up the organized system of evil on this earth. It includes such elements as all unregenerate men, their thoughts, attitudes, purposes and desires, all influences and forces that are opposed to God, and the patterns of evil practice that characterize life apart from God.” Everett Harrison in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology describes Satan’s world system this way: “It is the powers of spiritual evil, which have Satan as their head and appear to be organized on a vast scale and with great efficiency. These powers dominate the life of unredeemed humanity. Satan rules a kingdom, which is opposed to the Kingdom of God.” Everett is borrowing from Jesus’ words in Luke 11:18. In that passage, Jesus refers to two kingdoms. To paraphrase, Christ said, “There is Satan’s kingdom, and there is the Kingdom of God.” According to Christ, Satan has a kingdom. And that kingdom defines the “world” in 1 John 2. John Calvin, in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, writes: “Whatever is opposed to the spiritual Kingdom of Christ is the world.” 

What are the characteristics of Satan’s world system?

  • It is under Satan’s control. Our Lord called Satan the ruler of this kosmos (cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Jesus doesn’t mean the earth or universe; rather, He means the evil system that Satan has constructed and composed—Satan’s kingdom. 1 John 5:19 says, “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Here, John is not just speaking of unredeemed humanity, but that system that Satan has enslaved unredeemed humanity in.

    The evil world system appears to be chaotic and to be defined by massive conflict and confusion, as anyone can see from the news. This world doesn’t appear to have any organization whatsoever. But the Bible says there is a mastermind behind it. While the world appears chaotic, it is directed by Satan.
  • It lies in darkness and sin. The apostle Peter tells us that the world “defiles…entangles…and overcomes” (2 Peter 2:20).
  • Its lust corrupts the souls of people (2 Peter 1:4).
  • It hates Christ and His followers. Jesus says that the world hates Him and therefore it will hate His followers as well (John 15:18-19; 1 John 3:13).
  • Neither Christ nor Christians belong to the world. They are in the world, but not of the world (John 17:14, 16; 1 John 3:1).
  • Supported by satanically inspired human philosophy, religion, and pragmatic viewpoints (1 John 4:5). The world listens to those who are not from God, and if they are not of God, they are of the devil. Thus, anything that does not come from God, like philosophy, religion, etc., is satanically inspired. 
  • Does not know God nor does it know or believe in Jesus Christ (John 17:25; 1:10; 7:7).

When John says, “do not love the world,” that is the world he is describing. James adds, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is…to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). 

Now that we know what John means when he refers to “the world,” we will be able to understand the “things of the world.” Join us next time as we walk through John’s teaching on the “things of the world.”