by Pastor Keith Graham
Please read 1 John 2:15-17, and keep your Bible handy. Thank you!
Some of you remember television before the days of color tubes and remote controls. Black and white TVs had a knob that helped make the picture more viewable, by the use of contrast. In an age that loves "gray areas", John's timeless message is one of contrast.
He compares love for the world versus the love of the Father, that is, God. As surely as we cannot serve both God and Mammon, neither can we love both the world and God.
We are going to delve into three aspects of comparison: Priority, Passion, and Perspective.
Before we go any further, John's expression "the world" should be defined. What does he mean by "the world"? The term in the original language is KOSMOS. One meaning of this word is simply the universe, the whole of the creation of God. This Greek word, with this same meaning, has been absorbed into the English language, along with derivatives like cosmic and cosmogony.
KOSMOS also can refer to the realm of human beings who do not know God in a saving way. This is how John uses it here. The world is the territory not yet conquered by the risen Christ. Of course in one sense, the Almighty One is absolutely sovereign over all things...He has foreordained whatever occurs. Yet, in another sense, His kingdom has not fully come. Hence the Lord Jesus instructs His disciples to pray that God's kingdom would come, and His will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. In the world of which John writes, God's kingdom has not yet come, and His will is not yet done as it is in heaven. This world is, in fact, at enmity with God.
John also tells us not to love "the things in the world". The things in the world are those with which people living in that unconquered territory occupy themselves: lusts of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life - the pride which says in the heart that God is unnecessary.
Let us then begin our consideration of the three aspects of comparison by contrast which fall out of this text of God's word the Bible. First, PRIORITY. The apostle writes, "If any one loves the world, the love of God is not in him".
John is saying that if that on which we spend our time and energy, what we dream of, what we are devoted to...pertains to that realm outside God's kingdom, we don't love God as we should!
Jesus' parable of the banquet in Luke 14 illustrates. In that parable, a man invites many to a banquet. When the time comes, the invited guests begin to make excuses about why they cannot attend after all. One says he just bought a new piece of property. Another protests that he must try out his new team of oxen. Another begs off because he just married. The host becomes angry, invites others, even strangers, and declares that those on his original guest list will never taste of his banquet!
In this parable, the host represents God, and the banquet represents fellowship with Him. The salvation which the Lord Jesus purchased for His people is not merely deliverance from facing God's wrath in hell, although God be praised that He has accomplished that! Christ's salvation also procures the unspeakable privilege of enjoying God's grace and presence; living in relationship with Him as His child!
What do we learn from the parable? The manifold nature of our Lord's wisdom is manifest in the lessons He teaches from an ordinary event like a host "being stood up". One thing we see is that the invited guests put other things above the banquet. The banquet was a low PRIORITY on their agendas. Now as to this life, excuses for breaking social engagements between friends can be fully acceptable. But when we're talking about the banquet of eternal life, there is no acceptable excuse. The host is the One Who provides us with all things, and the alternative to coming to His banquet is eternal starvation.
The second aspect of our comparison is PASSION. John writes of "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life". We often associate the word lust only with sexual matters. In the Bible it includes them, but is not limited to them.
Being greedy for money and possessions is a form of lust of the eyes. The account of what occured between the prophet Elisha's servant Gehazi and Naaman the Syrian commander in 2 Kings chapter 5 illustrates. When (by the prophet's word) he was cured of leprosy by dipping himself in the Jordan river seven times, Naaman sought to give Elisha what he called a blessing - a material reward. Elisha refused Naaman's unfitting "blessing", for as surely as Jacob blessed Pharaoh, it is the lesser man of the world who should be blessed by the better man of God! Such considerations found no place in the greedy mind of Gehazi, who with a vain oath ran after the worldly man with eyes full of lust for his baubles. This lust of his eyes drove him further into sin as this Gehazi (who should have been an Israelite indeed in whom was no guile) spoke deceitfully to the Syrian for gain, and deceitfully to his master Elisha upon his return. By the word of the prophet, the leprosy from which God had delivered Naaman came upon Gehazi. What a spiritual leprosy comes upon those who passionately love money and things more than their heavenly Master!
Desiring to be in control of others, or to be considered greater than others are forms of the boastful pride of life. The disciples of our Lord display this attitude in Luke 9, where we find them arguing about who will be the greatest. The Lord Jesus rebukes them by "setting a child" in their midst as an example, thus teaching them that "he that is least among you all, the same shall be great..."
What a burden we take on when we constantly seek to establish and defend our own imagined greatness! Forsaking this boastful pride of life, we are commanded to take His yoke upon us, and learn of Him; for He is meek and lowly in heart. In this way we find true rest for our souls. It is the meek who inherit the earth, while the world's mighty empire builders come and go.
What need has the Christian to lust for pleasures? John's expression "the love of the Father" goes both ways. Not only does it refer to our love for God, but to God's love for His children . When we love God, it is because He has first loved us, as John proclaims later in this epistle, at 4:19. Because the Father loves us, He wants us to have a life filled with the true riches and pleasures! The Lord Jesus has told us that He came that we might have life, and have it abundantly, John 10:10. The lusts that are in the world tell us to seek abundance without reference to God, but as Solomon teaches us in the book of Ecclesiastes by way of his own experience, these lusts simply don't deliver.
In order to illustrate this, I got in my car recently and drove down the local highway to a large roadside billboard. It was a "twin", so to speak - advertisements for two different products, side by side.
These are the up front promises those huge signs made:
Buy this new car NOW and your headaches are over!
Smoke THIS cigarette and be a wonderful person!
This was the reality behind the signs: Bottles and other garbage were strewn on the ground. A rusty old hub cap was the closest thing to a new automobile that I found on the scene. Pieces of rotting wood typified the sense of decay. There was a certain eerie silence. My fellow motorists were passing by on the highway, seeing only the false promises and none of the sordid reality. In the midst of my experiment, I was strangely alone...unseen.
Moreover, this billboard with flashy but shallow messages on one side was blank on the other side. That is, it was even more meaningless from behind!
So it is with the world: all hype, no substance. John Bunyan compared it to a carnival called Vanity Fair. The worldly pleasures and trinkets that easily fill us with passion as they promise so much satisfaction give us only garbage, decay, frustration, and meaninglessness, once we get behind the showy surface. Those that plunge into the world ultimately find that real life...the life that is hidden with Christ in God...leaves them behind.
Yes, the lusts that are in the world tell us to seek fulfillment without reference to God, but God tells us that in His presence is fulness of joy; at His right hand there are pleasures for evermore, Psalm 16:11.
The final aspect of comparison is PERSPECTIVE. "...the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides for ever", writes John.
Another of our Lord's teachings illustrates this aspect, the well known parable of the rich man and his barns, Luke 12. After a life of following his lusts for possessions, the man had accumulated many. "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry", he said to himself. But that night, God required his soul of him. Suddenly, his life was over...in light of eternity, what was the value of his worldly pursuits?
Having the proper persective means we don't look at our lives the way the world...those outside of God's kingdom...look at life. We look at all things in light of eternity. We are living in this world, but we are not of this world, as the common saying goes. We don't settle down here; we hold and possess things with a light touch.
Paul expresses this in 1 Corinthians 7:29 -31. "But this I say, brothers, the time is short: from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use this world, as though they did not make full use of it: for the form of this world is passing away."
We are beginning a new year. What is your perspective on it, and on the years ahead, be they few or many? Are you living in light of eternity?
Perhaps you have heard of the ant and mountain illustration of eternity. Suppose a solitary ant had to move an entire mountain a distance of 100 miles. Moving one grain of sand at a time, how long would it take the ant to complete the project? If the ant had to move the mountain not once, but 10,000 times, the resulting stretch of time, which we cannot even begin to grasp, still doesn't even scratch the surface of ETERNITY!!!
Moreover, no Bible honoring view of man's eternal destiny makes it merely a matter of endless duration, or "timelessness". We must recognize that every human being will have one of two eternal conditions. According to God's word the Bible, every one of us human beings will either be an heir of eternal life with God, or eternally bear the just wrath of God in the fires of hell. There is no other eternal destiny for any person. According to the Bible, it's either eternal life or the second death, Revelation 20:14.
In the one case, God's people see His face, and dwell in utterly perfect righteousness of mind, body, and soul with Him. They participate in an unbreakeable peace with with one another, and with Him Who wipes away every tear and sorrow. They enjoy unending bliss, joyfully worshipping and rendering meaningful service to the One Who is their heavenly Father and King, forever and ever. Praise be to God!
In the other case, those who loved the world more than God, who served the lusts of their flesh and of their eyes, who vaunted themselves in that boastful pride of life, undergo everlasting shame and contempt. They know only incalculable loss, and suffer unspeakable torments of mind, body, and soul in utter loneliness and darkness...and it never, never, never ends.
Now, God offers a way of escape from facing His just wrath; a way of entering now into that banquet of communion with Him! The way is He Who said "I AM the Way...and the Truth, and the Life": the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus not only said that He came to give the truly abundant life. He also said that He did not come to be served, but to serve - and to give His life a ransom for many. Jesus lived a perfect life; not because He Who had ever been with His Father needed to come to earth to do this for Himself. He did it for those who will trust in Him, that they might be given His perfect righteousness...AS A FREE GIFT! And when He was executed on the cross, He was not paying the penalty for His own wrong doing, for He had done no wrong. He way paying the penalty for those same ones who would put their confidence in His perfect, substitutionary sacrifice of Himself. He was paying for their crimes against God and man! And when He rose from the dead, He conquered death forever on behalf of those same people of faith. His real, bodily resurrection showed that the Father had accepted the perfect and infinitely precious sacrifice which His Son had made of Himself, through the Holy Spirit of God.
Should we love the transitory world and its empty promises more than this altogether lovely Lord? What higher priority than coming to His banquet by His own gracious and loving invitation could we have? What worldly passion can give us the fulfillment He provides? How can this dull moment we call our earthly lives be compared to the bright eternity God has in store for those who love Him more than anything?
How do we love God? By keeping His commandments. What is His commandment?
God never fails to keep His promises. "He that does the will of God abides forever".
originally preached January 5, 1997
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