1 john 2:15-17 [do not love the world]

greed, love the world

Written by Sheila Lagrand

Sheila lives with her husband, Rich, and their two dogs (J.D. and Doc) in beautiful Trabuco Canyon, California. She enjoys serving at Trabuco Canyon Community Church, gardening, cooking, boating, and most of all, spending time with her children and grandchildren. She has lived her entire life in southern California, except for a year spent in French Polynesia as she conducted research for her dissertation. She doesn't understand boredom and is passionate about words, their power, their beauty, and their care and feeding.

March 23, 2012

greed, love the world

[serialposts]Read 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV, NIV, The Message).

Love people; use things. Never confuse the two.

Ever heard that expression? This helpful instruction for life restates the heart of these verses in 1 John. The gist of this passage is that all the wonders of God’s creation can be expropriated for sinful uses. We are not to be seduced by these corruptions of what He meant for our good. We’re to use things, not abuse them. I’m not sure quite what to make of the end of this passage, though. Let’s take a look, verse by verse.

Verse 15 reads: Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (NASB, as are the other verses to follow)

It’s easy to understand the instruction not to love “the things of this world.” It’s a little harder to get a handle on the instruction to “not love the world.” God created the world. God loves the world. We are not to love His creation, which He loves? This instruction, taken alone, doesn’t resonate.

But when we move on to verse 16, John elaborates on what he means by “the world”:
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

This verse illuminates the meaning in verse 15. We are not to love gluttony, or sexual lust, or laziness (“lust of the flesh”). We are not to envy the family, position, or possessions of others (“lust of the eyes”). We are not to be enamored of, nor dazzled by, our own prestigious stations or accumulations of wealth (“boastful pride of life”).

Finally, verse 17 explains why we’re not to become so attached to the things of the earth and its seductive attractions.

The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

All this worldly stuff—titillating films and impressive titles and fancy cars and decadent feasts and big balances in our 401k accounts—is temporary. God wants us to concern ourselves with His will—and to focus our energies on things that endure eternally.

I struggle with understanding the last bit of this passage. The final few words could be read to support a works-based salvation, yet I believe that nothing I accomplish could earn me a place in heaven. Christ’s sacrifice for me is my assurance of a heavenly home.

I consulted seven different translations and Matthew Henry’s Commentary; none of them illuminated the meaning of 2:17 for me. Wycliffe’s Commentary helped: “Doing the will of God proves the possession of eternal life, which means abiding forever.” I’m not satisfied, though, that I truly understand what is meant by the tail end of verse 17.

Pondering this, I’m convicted: I remember, again, that I see through a glass, darkly–my understandings are imprefect.

How about you? What does this passage say to you?


  1. Whitefrozen

    The term ‘world’ has two different uses in the New Testament – one is the present fallen order ruled by the powers of the age, and this includes the chaos, violence, suffering, and death that we see. This is the ‘world’ that the various Apostles refer to when they say ‘In the world, not of the world,’ or any of the various places where ‘the world’ is viewed negatively. This is the world we are supposed to hate, oppose and pray against with all our might.

    The second way is when the world is referred to as the glorious handiwork of the Creator, and the object of His infinite love and redemption. This is the world in which the heavens declare the glory of God, the world He loves and cares for and the world we are to love and care for. I find that keeping these thoughts in mind help to better understand the seeming tension between the attitude we are supposed to have towards the world.

    With regard to verse 17 – I think it has to be remembered that the early church operated within a synergistic framework – cooperating with the workings of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The one who does the will of God is working alongside the Holy Spirit – but not in a way where we ‘earn’ our salvation, since it is only by God’s grace that we are able to work with Him at all. Apologies for my over-sized comment – but this is a subject I’m quite fond of 😉

    • Sheila Seiler Lagrand


      Thank you for taking the time to make your “over-sized” comments. I appreciate them. Dualism always trips me up. It’s hard for me to bend my brain around the hated world and the glorious world being the same place. 
      So the reference to the one who “does the will of God” in v. 17 is suggesting that our good works are the sign of our salvation, is that what you mean? Or is it something different? 

      • Whitefrozen

        That’s a tricky question – while they are a sign, they are much more than that. Good works are what we were saved for – and Christ commands us to do His work if we love Him. I don’t think it’s a matter of works being just what happens if we have faith – good works are the reason for our faith.

        Being the synergistic that I am, I’m always truck by the Biblical passages that depict a final judgement according to works – they have, apparently, eternal weight and significance.

      • Ayomide Akinkugbe

        Sheila, Laughing really hard @ “Over-Sized” comments. I’m outta here 😀

        • Sheila Seiler Lagrand

          I’m glad you got a laugh, Ayomide. Whitefrozen coined that “over-sized” term.

  2. Nikole Hahn

    There’s other verses that refer to that last one in the Bible. Faith plus works doesn’t mean Salvation, but if we have faith we do good works. Don’t ask me to quote which phrases. Anyone curious can look of fruit of the spirit and other verses. 


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1 john 2:15-17 [do not love the world]

by Sheila Lagrand time to read: 3 min