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?