WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XLVIII) 05/28/21

2:16 This is all there is in the world: wanting to please our sinful passions, wanting the evil things we see, and being too proud of what we have. But none of these comes from the Father. They come from the world.

D. Edmond Hiebert (1928-1995) explains that the words “We know love by this” can be more literally rendered as, “In this, we have come to know love.” It points to “direct attention” as the needed test for the manifestation of genuine love. Also, “By this” or “In this” looks back to the Anointed One’s crucifixion. The perfect tense, “we know,” indicates knowledge gained through recognizing the significance of that historical event. Through contemplation of the Anointed One’s cross, a person comes to understand the meaning of love. In the Anointed One’s self-sacrifice, believers possess the supreme manifestation of “God’s love,” the kind of love of which John was speaking.[1] In other words, understanding love takes focus, knowledge, being open-minded, and having a model to follow. God’s Son and God’s Word give the believer all of this.

Greek philosopher Thucydides (431 BC) made an insightful statement we can apply here to know why we as Christians should avoid engaging in the world’s ungodly activities. Thucydides writes: “For these reasons, the Peloponnesians fear our unsuspected offense more than they would ever have done a more traditional preparation. Besides, many inferior weapons have overcome superior weapons because of the lack of skill or sometimes courage. We have none of these defects.”[2] In line with this thinking, Judith Lieu says that it was commonplace in Philosophy that desire constantly threatens to overturn the rational mind and needs to be controlled with regular practice.[3] In other words, never accept an invitation to join activities with those who live by worldly standards, used for evil and good without giving it a lot of thought.

In speaking about boasting, Douglas Moo (1950) says that one of the most common and perhaps basic of all sins is “illegitimate pride” – what Paul calls “boasting.” The tendency of finite, weak, and sinful human beings to overthink their significance is widespread, and to get rid of it is a challenge. John calls it “boasting of what [a person] has and does.” We can effortlessly bring such boasting into our supposed relationship with God. In addition to being sinful, it carries two great dangers. (1) It stifles our worship. As long as we think, however subconsciously, that we have contributed something to our salvation, we will not put God on as high a plane as we should. We will loom too large, and He will seem too small— and (2) we will not worship with the absolute sense of humility, dependence, and thanksgiving that always marks the best worship.[4]

Daniel L. Akin (1957) tells us that worldliness or “being of the world” is often misunderstood. It involves cultural issues that are of particular concern to us. The Apostle John is not telling us to reject all aspects of culture, much of which reflects the glory, goodness, and gifts of God. He tells us that we are not to love and idolize thoughts, values, and behaviors contrary to God’s Word (verse 14) and His will (verse 17). Things that appeal to our sinful flesh (for example, drug abuse, drunkenness, gluttony, the abundance of possessions, sexual perversions, etc.) are fleeting and passing are not the things for which we live our lives.[5]

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) looks at the last three nouns in this list of sinful tendencies here in verse sixteen. Instead of “pride” of life, he terms it “pretense” of life, one of the immoral activities of the heart and mind. The word “pretense” denotes pridefulness or arrogance within a person’s heart. But many who have this egotistical attitude do not believe it is pride and arrogance that drive it. That’s why such miserably misguided pretenders offer a boastful display of presumptuous ability and/or accomplishment. They often look at some heroic deed or talented physical power seen in others and claim, “I could do that!” or “I’ve done stuff like that!” without being specific to time and place. Even more, what they have been able to accomplish, they exaggerate into something far more significant and more extravagant than it is.[6] Here in America, we usually label this as “another fish story.” In other words, when describing the size of the fish they caught, fishermen showed its length with their hands. Instead of specifying an eight-inch fish, they widen their arms to indicate a sixteen-inch fish.

David Jackman (1973) says the Apostle John builds on the three stages by which Eve yielded to the sin of disobeying God. She desired to partake of the forbidden fruit. It looked so good to her; the first woman found it hard to resist. And she wanted to tell the devil that she could make her own decisions and did not need God telling her what to do. So here, John introduces it as Lust and Pride, involving the appetite, eyes, and ego. You ask anyone on a strict diet if it’s hard for them to walk past a bakery shop window, and they’ll admit it is. Or, ask someone who loves automobiles if when they see a luxury car speed by, they look at it with a desire to have one of their own, and they will not doubt say “Yes.” Then, when they see a person getting an award for an outstanding accomplishment or an Olympic gold medal, they feel envious because it could have been theirs if only other things had not gotten in the way.

The same is often true with Christians as they view the world and its freedom, pleasures, and indulgences. How nice it would be if they could just dabble in it now and then. They feel it would be better not to go overboard or become addicted; they just want to get a taste now and then. These worldly people seem to have all the money, get all the attention, never seem to be punished for their luxurious lifestyle, and don’t try to hide it. It also appears they can do anything, eat anything, enjoy anything, and have anything their heart desires, and God pays no attention. Oh, say some believers, if I just wasn’t such a conservative and fundamental Christian, I could have a much richer and enjoyable life.

Meanwhile, they claim to live by a strict holy, sanctified standard. These notable Christians mostly associate and fellowship with other Christians, except when invited to be part of society’s in-crowd. Jackman says this is the bait the devil puts out to get them into his trap. All they need to do is stop and remind themselves of the destiny of these socialites with Christian sentiments. That should settle the question of to do or not to do what is tempting them.[7] I wonder if Jackman was referring to people in the category of today’s Christian TV stars or megachurch pastors who fly first class and never go anywhere without bodyguards. We will let him answer that. In the past, some have fallen, and many believers felt the pain it caused.

2:17a Yet, this world and all it offers, and the things people have been craving for so long, is fading away. Only those who do God’s will live forever.

EXPOSITION

John had every reason to say that the fads of this world get old after a while because people quickly lose interest. But the Psalmist said, God’s goodness is higher than the tallest mountain and deeper than the lowest part of the ocean.[8] In fact, one Psalmist wrote that when it comes to what joy and satisfaction the world offers, it’s like waking up from a dream only to find out it was all a fantasy.[9] And while we show no interest in God, only the things of this world, God does not back our choices, and our lives end with nothing more than a whimper.[10] And when it’s all over, they will be discarded as though God gave the earth a change of clothing.[11] The prophet Isaiah likened people to grass growing in the field. Any glory they enjoy is like a wildflower. When a wind from the Lord blows on them, the grass dies, and the flower falls. Yes, all people are like grass. Grass dies, and flowers fall, but the Word of our God lasts forever.[12]

Didn’t the Apostle Paul tell the Corinthians that those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them because this world as we know it will soon be gone?[13] And the Apostle James puts it in a different context by saying that well-off believers should be glad when things happen that humble them. They will disappear as quickly as wildflowers in a field. As the sun rises and gets hotter, its heat dries up the plants, and the flowers fall off. The flowers that were once so beautiful are now all shriveled up. In the same manner, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.[14] It, says James, should tell us that we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. So, wake up and ask yourself, what is life after all? It is like morning fog. It’s here a little while, and then it’s gone.[15] And the Apostle Peter must have read what John wrote because he quotes it in his first letter.[16] On the other hand, says John, those who put their faith and trust in God will face no such up and down future. It echoes what the Psalmist said about learning to follow God’s ways, resulting in His Spirit leading them forward on level ground.[17] Not only that, but John heard the Master say that anyone who desires to know what God wants for their life will learn that His teaching is from God and not something He thought up by Himself.[18] The Apostle Paul framed it well in his letter to the Romans.[19]


[1] Hiebert, D. Edmond: 1 John, Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., p. 306

[2] Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Bk. 4, Ch. 13

[3] Lieu, Judith, I, II, III John, op. cit., p. 94

[4] Moo, Douglas J., Romans (The NIV Application Commentary Book 6), p. 142

[5] Akin, Dr. Daniel L., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John, op. cit., Kindle Locations 772-776

[6] Schuchard, Bruce G. 1-3 John, op. cit., pp. 227-228

[7] Jackman, David, The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., pp. 62-65

[8] Psalm 36:6

[9] Ibid. 73:20

[10] Ibid. 90:9

[11] Ibid. 102:26

[12] Isaiah 40:6-8

[13] 1 Corinthians 7:31

[14] James 1:10-11

[15] Ibid. 4:14

[16] 1 Peter 1:24

[17] Psalm 143:10

[18] John 7:17

[19] Romans 12:2

About drbob76

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