Exposition of I John 2:15-17

There is a fundamental and principal difference between the church and the world. The whole world lies in darkness; she lies in the Evil one. But the church is a different people. They are the children of God; the “little children”! 

Concerning these we might see in our former two articles that they are peculiarly addressable. And they are addressable on a threefold count. They are addressed as the “children,” “little children,” because their sins are forgiven for Christ’s Name’s sake and because therein they know God as their loving Father. They know the greatness. of the central benefit of redemption, so that they may stand in a new relationship to God. They are justified and know God by virtue of having an advocate with God the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. They are also addressable as “fathers” for they know Christ, as the one who is from the beginning. They see the deeper and eternal background of the redemption in Christ Jesus. They know that Jesus Christ has come into the flesh. Therefore, they are addressable and admonishable. Again they are addressable as the “young men” who are strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. They are strong as the militant Church in the world, fighting the good fight, because the word of God dwells in them, and thus they overcome the Wicked one, the Devil and his whole dominion! 

They are addressable! 

But they are also addressed—and admonished! 

In these verses 15-17 we read the following: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone love the world the love of the Father is not in him. Because all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not out of the Father, but is out of the world. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof; but he that doeth (the doer) of the will of God abideth forever.” 

This admonition follows from the fact that these “little children,” “fathers,” “young men” are such that their sins are forgiven, and they know the Son of God, who came into the flesh as their Savior, and because they are strong and can and must win the victory, day by day, in the midst of an evil world. 

The question is: What is the meaning of the term “world” in the text which we are here discussing? 

The term is employed six times in the text. And in each case it must have the same meaning and refer to the same object which must not be loved but hated. It refers, of course, to all that is not “out of the Father,” and, therefore, cannot be loved by those who are born out of the Father. 

But what is this world

There are three different terms in Scripture in the Greek language which are translated world. Firstly, there is the term which can also be translated “age.” This present evil age, evil world. It looks at the time in which we live from the viewpoint of time, and the development of the human race and evil under the wrath of God. It is this “age” in distinction from the “age” to come. See Gal. 1:4, and especially Eph. 2:2 which speaks of the “age” of this world (kosmos); when we walked according to the age of this world. Then there is too the term which refers to the earth, the world, as it is the inhabited world. We hear this term in our very popular word ecumenical, meaning the entire inhabited world, where history is made and recorded. This term we read in Heb. 1:6: “. . . When he brought the first-begotten into the world?” And, thirdly, we have the term “kosmos,” such as we see in our term cosmology, cosmetics, etc. And this latter term, the term kosmos (world), is employed six times in this text.

Kosmos is the world as a well-arranged whole, the entire universe, heaven and earth as it came forth from the hand of God, and brought forth by the Word of his power, the Logos. 

And, we may add, that this term kosmos is used both in a good sense and in a bad sense in Scripture; sometimes it refers to the good creation of God, the object of God’s love (John 3:16), and sometimes it refers to all that God hates, and what He forbids us to love, since it is not out of .the Father but is contrary to his holy will. 

And thus is the case here in our text. 

The term kosmos has a very evil sense here in I John 2:15-17

Let us try to understand this just a bit. 

How is it possible that this term Kosmos can have such a meaning that seems mutually to exclude the other? 

The answer to this question must be sought in the fact that we must not think of the seeming contradiction in the terms of nature and grace; we must not think that the creation is as such evil and that there must be another creation coming, destroying this creation. We must think of the scheme of sin and grace! Both sin and grace operate in the one creation of God. There is the prince of this world, the devil, and his dominion over all things in sin, as well as the dominion of the Prince of Peace, the mighty God who came to save this kosmos from sin and death. 

Sin and grace, therefore, in one Kosmos. 

And now the meaning of the term kosmos is determined exactly by the viewpoint of the Kosmos, whether that is from the viewpoint of sin or of grace! The wicked and the children of God have all things in common except grace! 

And here in I John 2:15-17 the viewpoint is exactly and emphatically that of sin, wrath, the curse, the dominion of Satan as he rules in the hearts of all evil men, and subjects all things under sin in this Kosmos! 

And from this viewpoint all that is in the kosmos is not out of the Father, but is out of the kosmos. When you look at “all things” in this world from the viewpoint of the dominion of the prince of this world, you will notice that there are three things which are representative of all. They are the spiritual ethical root from which all the manifestations of “all that is in the world” proceed. And there is no exception to this rule. 

They are: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life! 

These arise out of the hearts of men who are not the little children, who are not born of God. These do not fit with those whose sins are forgiven, who have confessed and do confess their sins, sins of, lust of the flesh and of the eyes. This is all from below, and does not have its origin in God his grace, nor is it prescribed by the law as the expression of his will. 

What are lusts? They are the intense and directed desires of man as these are contrary to God’s holy will. These desires are the very motive and starting point of all sin. They start in the flesh, that is to say, they have their starting-point in the ethically depraved nature on the heart, whence are the issues of life. They have their start in that flesh which cannot subject itself to the law of God, and in which there dwells no good at all. Out of the heart come evil thoughts, envy, adultery, fornication and all the things that make a man corrupt and ethically common. Matt. 15:19

Lust of the flesh. And these lusts of the flesh reveal themselves. Lust of the eyes. Think of Eve in Paradise. When lust had conceived, she looked at the tree. Think of David upon the house-top when he saw Bathsheba. Or think of the word of Jesus: He that looketh at a woman to desire her. It is not for naught that we are told that if our eye offend us we are to pluck it out and cast it from us. It is ever the lust of the eyes, in pictures—television—that the world portrays its lust; she does not only do this but has a delight in those who do it. Think of the modern theater, the modern, shameless dress on the streets, especially of the women. It is based on the root: lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes. But such is also the case with the sin of all idolatry, covetousness. It is not for naught that Paul adds the admonition in I Tim. 2:9: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety . . . . but, as becometh women professing godliness, with good works.” 

And these lusts of the “flesh” find their highest expression in the lust of a certain pride of this present world of things, riches, honor, achievement, power. It is being rich in worldly things, and not being rich in God, as is so graphically portrayed in the parable of the rich farmer—the fool whose soul was required of him, but who was not rich in God. This is fundamentally idolatry, God is not in all their thoughts. Such is the entire world in its life, its politics, its “scold” war and hot wars, its business and industry, its art and culture, its education and philosophy, its ethics and entire conduct. It is nothing but this: all that is in the world is not out of God. It is out of the world. And this world has, indeed, natural light in so doing; but it keeps even this down in unrighteousness, even in things natural and civil, and therefore becomes inexcusable before God. 

Here is the antithesis. He that is not for Christ is against him, and, he that does not gather, scattereth. It is either—or. Here is no “common grace” by which the natural man, though depraved by nature, is improved so that he is not as evil as he would otherwise be. Here it is stated: The entire kosmos lies in the evil one (I John 5:19). And such is also the experience of man. And in this very evil world the church must be victorious with the word of God dwelling in her heart and life. She must be strong in the confession of the forgiveness of sins and of her knowledge of the heavenly Father; she must ever know him more and more, who is the eternal Son of God and thus walk holy as He is holy. 

The scheme here is sin and grace

And they who walk in the former, the world with all its lust perishes, is passing away, is constantly the opposite of that which abides. There is nowhere anything that is abiding and stable in the world. Their songs, their philosophies, their education, their joys, their riches and achievements, their power and glory, it all vanishes as the mist before the morning sun, 

But there are some who abide. They are those who do the “will of God.” They believe in the Son. They confess their sins and cling to Christ the Head of the church. And they live the life of the battling and fighting “young men,” the militant church in the world, conquering in the strength of God, the strength of those in whom the Word of God dwells. 

It is the battle cry. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. It is ever a needed cry, also for us as parents as well as for us the children. 

This is the straight and narrow way that leads to life. 

Few there be that find it, but for those who do find it and walk upon it, the victory is certain and they abide forever!