Quick! Stop and make a list of ten things you love. What's on your list?
Now read today's passage.
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life- comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
I John 2:15-17
Now evaluate your list of loves in light of this challenging command from God. Where is your heart focused? Do you love this world and the things of the world or do you love the things that come from the Father? Well, to answer that question you first need to understand that Scripture often uses the term "world" as a metaphor for all the things, people, actions and attitudes in this life that are set against God in rebellion. The term is sometimes applied in such a way as to include all that finds its origin in this posture of rejection of God and all that is tainted by it. Thus, when the Apostle John says "do not love the world or anything in the world," he is not speaking of the planet Earth, as though we would be safe from this sin if we lived on Mars. Nor is he saying that it is wrong to love physical things in this world like dogs or Dr. Pepper (my current indulgence of choice). Rather, he is telling Christians that we must not love this attitude of opposition to God or the many sinful things that often accompany or spring from it.
The Apostle John taught a lot about the love a Christian should have. And rightly so! The Bible says a lot about it. In a sense John is urging believers to do nothing other than what the book of Proverbs said so long before: "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it" (Prov. 4:23). Jesus also spoke of the importance of loving the right things. He said that the greatest commandment is for us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). It makes perfect sense, then, that loving rebellion against God and those things which find their source in this rebellion is wholly contemptible to God. Christians must be wary of the seduction of this world. If we are not careful, then little by little, our enemy draws us in with promises of entertainment, threats of missing out on something good, hints of endless pleasure, and hopes of a relaxing escape from the daily grind of life. Before we know it our hearts are captive to sin.
It is a terrible thing when something so noble as love is degraded by having lit upon something so debase as sin. Love is the noblest of all emotions. The Apostle John himself says that God is love and that we know true Christian love only because we have seen it personified in Christ's death for us. This helps explain why loving the right things is the greatest command. We love God first and our neighbors (especially our brothers in Christ) next. Having a heart that is bent towards these things in love not only makes obedience easy but is admirable. In the same way it is bad enough to participate in sin, to willingly reject and mock God, but to actually love these things, to have a heart that longs for them- what could be worse? Nothing.
This brings us back to what challenges me most about this passage, the second half of verse fifteen. "Do not love the world or anything in the world." Can I really say that I do not love anything in the world? Is my heart completely free of love for sinful entertainment, sinful behavior, jokes that make light of sin, sexual misconduct, the glorification of violence and killing. It saddens me to admit that there are still parts of my heart in love with sin. Thankfully there is hope in this passage as well. The command to love rightly presupposes that Christians have the ability to exercise control over what we love (presumably through the Spirit's help within us). So I lift my diseased heart up to the Lord in prayer and pray with King David,
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Psalm 51:10, 1-2