WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XLV) 05/25/21

2:15 Do not love the way worldly people live nor any of the things with which they try to entice you. For when you love the world’s way of living, the love of our heavenly Father will be missing in you.

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) points to the Apostle John’s statement that those who walk in darkness do not have God’s love in them.[1] As such, he is referring to the particular kind of love found in a believer that fills them inwardly. It is more than an emotional factor; we must understand it in a purely spiritually moral sense. Therefore, it is not a virtue or achievement. Instead, it is a mode of being, originating in God’s love, and only those born of Him can develop such love.[2] In the final analysis, says Schnackenburg, respect toward the Father is only the flowering of the love granted by God to the believers both for Him and each other.[3]

Donald W. Burdick (1917-1976) feels that verse fifteen, “Do not love the world” (NIV), is better translated as “Stop loving the world.” (Living Bible). Burdick says that it appears the Apostle John assumed that his readers did have some affection for the world – one of those affections is feeling that being esteemed by the world for being Christian is a thing of value. It is undoubtedly permissible when we don’t seek after it or work to get it, but it comes on its own. The things of this world seem destined for destruction, but the things of God are everlasting. Attracting God’s attention is far more valuable than appealing to the world for applause.[4]

D. Edmond Hiebert (1928-1995) adds his thoughts to the Apostle John, using the word “world” six times in three verses (15-17). It is a favorite term with John, having a variety of meanings. The name denotes order and arrangement (the opposite of chaos), hence an orderly system. We often use it to designate the earth[5] or humanity[6] in its various organizations and systems. But because of the fallen nature of the human race, the term predominantly has an ethical condition, namely, the human race in its alienation from and opposition to God. John here had in view the world of humanity in its rebellion against God and dominated by evil.[7] John was calling not for monastic separation from the world but an inner attitude of departure from the sinful world and its practices. As those loyal to God, his readers are to be on guard against a friendly feeling toward the world’s evil and are not to establish intimate relations with it.[8]

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) finds several interpretations concerning those who have affection for worldly things, and what is it that they love? Some have concluded that love for the world is called “worldlinessimmorality, lust, and vanity. But others interpret it as love for the way the world lives. In other words, they speak the world’s language.[9] That’s because they have the world’s attitude and mindset. Christianity is like a hobby, something you do in your spare time to show how morally conditioned you are. After all, God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. And when Jesus came to earth to die, He died for the whole world. So, why not let God love you as part of the world instead of isolating yourself in a small group who call each other brother and sister? John is not bashful in demanding that they stop loving this evil world and all that it offers, for when you like these things, you show that you do not love God. It can’t get any simpler than that.

Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) says that the statements about a Christian’s standing as an adult, a young adult, or a child are followed abruptly by a vital warning. It is worth stressing that the signal is directed to the loyal members of the church, whose spiritual status is unquestioned, rather than to those known by John to be in real spiritual danger. Paul’s warning is always timely: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”[10]

It is predictable for those who are consciously and vigorously opposed to false teaching, says Marshall, and temptations to find that they are unconsciously affected by the things they criticize. For instance, a person who publicly condemns pornography yet secretly delights in it. As a good pastor, the Apostle John warned against such dangers. He was writing to people who enjoyed fellowship with God and who loved their fellow Christians. Now he found it necessary to warn them against an attitude that could ruin their friendship and drive them toward spiritual destruction, namely “love of the world.”[11]

William R. Loader (1944) renders the text of this verse as: “Do not set your hearts on the world.” It certainly recalls the words of our Savior, who said, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”[12] At first glance, says Loader, verses fifteen through seventeen seem to have little to do with the verses that follow or that preceded them. That’s why we must consider this block of three verses in their own right.[13]

Could it have been a thought that just happen to cross John’s mind at this point, or was it a word from the Lord? Whichever it was, it indeed warns believers to resist putting all their hopes and faith for a bright, endless future in this world and what it promises to offer. Such things are bound for the garbage heap of history. As an investment, they have no value. In fact, in the end, you will lose all that you have invested. Jesus said it best, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.”[14]

Judith Lieu (1951) sees John’s commandment of not loving the world as a two-edged sword. We can love the world in the same way our heavenly Father loves the world in that we yearn for their conversion and coming to God for forgiveness and inclusion in His family. But we are not to love the “things” of the world. Jesus made it clear that they were no more of the world than He was of the world.[15] So, it is not the world that we hate; it’s the evil and sin and power of Satan we despise that is ruining the world.[16] In the same way, we can tell a person who sins, “I don’t hate you; I hate what sin and the devil are doing to you.”

Douglas S. O’Donnell (1972) cautions us that while the movie industry is commonly a cesspool whose films desensitize us to sin, the glow of the idiot box dulls our brains. The world outside us beckons with an omnipresent seduction; John takes us inside ourselves. The beast is within! That is what the Apostle John outlined here in verse sixteen. Those are the “things” – extreme attitudes, interests, ambitions, affections, or actions – that we also must not love. And while these are not a comprehensive catalog of every vice, they do embody “every kind of wickedness which exists” and characterize what we all know is natural to everyone.[17] Thus, they exemplify the core of our daily struggles.[18]

2:16a For the world only offers a longing for pleasures that satisfy our sinful-self, desiring everything we see and being so proud of the things we can show off. These are not from the Father but are from this sinful world.

EXPOSITION

No doubt, John remembers what Torah said about how some worldly people who left Egypt with the children of Israel began to cause disharmony because they grew greedy for a more comfortable life. The Israelites joined in with complaining and said, “If only we had some meat to eat![19] The Psalms retells this sad occurrence.[20] With this in the background, the Apostle Paul warned the Romans not to live like the worldly mob around them. They had joy in the Lord out in the open during the day while these people sought their pleasures in the darkness of night. They wore the toga of unlicensed, sinful, immoral living, while believers clothed themselves with the robe of righteousness given to them by the Lord Jesus the Anointed One. Acting like sinners should never come to their minds.[21]

For professor Alfred Plummer, John emphasizes the command not to love the world by defining this negative statement. Everything that is in the world has as its source, not the Father, but the world. This shows clearly that it cannot mean material objects capable of being desired; these have their origin in God who created them.[22] But God did not create the evil dispositions and aims of mankind; these have their source in the sinful tendencies of His creatures, and ultimately in “this world’s ruler.”[23] The three genitives which follow are subjective, not objective. The lust of the flesh is not merely the lust after the flesh, but all lust that has its seat in the flesh.[24] The lust of the eyes is that lust that has its origin in curiosity, greed, etc. The vain-glory of life, or arrogant living, is exhibited in one’s lifestyle where empty pride and pretentiousness is displayed. It includes the desire to gain credit which does not belong to us to outshine our neighbors.[25]


[1] See John 5:42

[2] Cf. 2:5

[3] Schnackenburg, Rudolf, The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 120

[4] Burdick, Donald W., The Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 38

[5] John 21:25

[6] Ibid. 3:16

[7] 1 John 5:19

[8] Hiebert, D. Edmond, 1 John, Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., p. 433

[9] Brown, Raymond E., The Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 323-324

[10] 1 Corinthians 10:12

[11] Marshall, I. Howard. The Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 141-142

[12] Matthew 6:21

[13] Loader, William R., The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 24

[14] Matthew 6:33

[15] John 17:14, 16; See John 8:23; 15:19; 18:36

[16] Lieu, Judith, I, II, III John, op. cit., p. 92

[17] See Mark 7: 20-23; John 2: 24-25

[18] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean, 1-3 John, op. cit., (Kindle Locations 1501-1507)

[19] Numbers 11:4

[20] Psalm 78:17-18

[21] Romans 13:13-14

[22] John 1:3

[23] Ibid 8:44

[24] Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 2:3

[25] Plummer, Alfred, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, 1 John, p. 24

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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