2. Don't Love the World (1 John 2:7-17)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (19:16)

St.John the Evangelist (12th century), fresco, St.John's Chapel, Village of Pürgg, Austria
"St. John the Evangelist" (12th century), fresco, St. John's Chapel, Village of Pürgg, Austria
The first section of John's letter talked about heavy subjects like sin, forgiveness, and obedience. Now he turns to perhaps the strongest theme in this letter, love, one to which he returns again and again.

Beloved Friends (2:7)

John begins with another term of  affection: "dear friends" (NIV) or "beloved"  (NRSV, NASB).1 The word is agapētos, “pertaining to one who is dearly loved, dear, beloved, prized, valued."2 The word occurs six times in 1 John (2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11). When you combine "beloved" with his other term of affection, "little children" (see on 2:1), it is apparent that John's heart goes out to his readers. He loves them dearly -- which is a great segue into his primary theme -- love.

A New Command (2:7-8)

"7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining." (2:7-8)

The command in this context is, of course, to love. While John's opponents are trying to entice followers through "new teachings" or "deep teachings," John assures his readers that the message he brings them is solid. Twice more he will refer to its foundational status:

"This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another." (3:11)

"I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another." (2 John 5)

This is the second great commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself," that underlies all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).

But it is not just an old command. Jesus had called it "new":

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34)

It is new because it is revealed in Jesus'own lifestyle, as well as in that of the believers. What's more, it is the wave of the future:

"... Because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining." (2:8)

Hating Your Brother, Living in Darkness (2:9-11)

Now John gets very specific -- probably because the enemies of the church were characterized by hate, not love. They claimed "new light," but their lack of love displayed the darkness in which they lived.

"9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him." (2:9-11)

Notice how hatred or lack of forgiveness makes us spiritually sightless. The verb is typhloō, "to deprive of sight, to blind."3 Hate blinds us.

What's more, an unwillingness to forgive cuts us off from forgiveness for our own sins:

"If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:15)

Many Christians struggle with hatred, aggravated hurt, bearing a grudge that they just can't seem to get beyond -- or don't really want to get beyond. Forgiveness is not optional, dear friends. It is at the very core of the gospel. In practice, this is what it means to love our neighbor.

Has your life been darkened and blinded by hate and unforgiveness? Let go of your bitterness  and walk out into the full wattage of the light of God!

Q1. (1 John 2:7-11) How does hate and unforgiveness blind us spiritually? If we have been darkened by hurt and hate, how do we come into the light?



Children, Fathers, Young Men (2:12-14)

Now John begins a series of interweaving encouragements to three groups: "little children," "young men," and "fathers."

"12 I write to you, dear children,
because your sins have been
   forgiven on account of his name.

13 I write to you, fathers,
because you have known him
   who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, dear children,
because you have known the Father.

14 I write to you, fathers,
because you have known him
   who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one." (2:12-14)

How are we to understand these three groups of little children, young men, and fathers? They have been variously understood:

  1. Literally, as three age groups in the congregation.
  2. Figuratively, as three levels of spiritual maturity in the congregation.
  3. Figuratively, the whole congregation addressed in three ways.
  4. Figuratively, as children referring to all the believers, with young men and fathers referring to leaders: deacons and elders.

There is no way to be certain, but #2 makes the most sense to me. According to this interpretation:

  • "Little children," probably refers to tender new believers.4
  • "Young men" are probably male and female believers who exhibit the enthusiasm and exuberance of youth. They can do great things for God, but sometimes get discouraged and off-track.
  • "Fathers" are probably mature believers in the Lord, both men and women.

John is assuring the true believers of their status in Christ against the false claims of his opponents. Look at the promises and inducements that John offers:

  • "Your sins have been forgiven on account of his name" (2:12). One of the early battles for new Christians is to receive forgiveness after they have sinned.
  • "You have known him who is from the beginning" (Fathers, 2:13a and 2:14a). Fathers and mothers in the faith may have a senior status, but the One they know is older than they -- "from the beginning." Their faith is solid in him!
  • "You have overcome the evil one" (Young men, 2:13b and 2:14d). "Overcome" (NIV, KJV) or "conquered" (NRSV) is nikaō, a military term, "to overcome someone, vanquish, conquer, prevail over."5 Nikē, the Greek goddess of victory, is derived from this verb.
  • "You have known the Father" (Little children, 2:13c). For little children to know their father's love is a wonderful, precious, and health-producing relationship, for when children know their father, they begin to know who they are in relation to him.
  • "You are strong" (Young men, 2:14b). Here's another encouragement to "young bucks" in the Lord. You are strong! You have the strength of Christ. You don't have to fear.
  • "The word of God lives in you" (Young men, 2:14c). Finally, the young men and women in the Lord can rejoice that the logos of God lives in them. This could refer to Christ himself ("the Word of life," 1:1b), but probably refers to the Spirit who reminds us of Jesus'words and interprets them to us, who allows us to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Q2. (1 John 2:12-14) John encourages "children," "young men," and "fathers." Why do you think he takes time to encourage them? In what ways does he encourage them?




Don't Love the World (2:15-17)

These are words of encouragement. But John's next exhortation is convicting and difficult, for it is a strong rebuke to those of us who are too enmeshed in the present age:

"15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world -- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does -- comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (2:15-17)

What does John mean by "the world"? The word in Greek is kosmos (from which we get our word "cosmetic"). Its basic meaning is "adornment, orderly arrangement." By extension, philosophers used the word to describe the orderly universe. It can refer to:

  1. Planet earth.
  2. Humanity in general.
  3. The system of human existence in its many aspects.

In our passage and in Paul's letters, "world" is often used in the third sense, to refer to human (and demonic) existence that is at odds with and hostile towards God -- the worldly realm that is in rebellion against the heavenly realm.6 In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to Satan as "the prince of this world" (John 12:31a; 14:30; 16:11). Later in this Letter, John says that "the whole world is under the control of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). Other apostolic letters refer to the world in this way, as well:

"You used to ... [follow] the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." (Ephesians 2:2)

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is ... to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27)

"You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4)

"He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2 Peter 1:4)

John isn't talking about your love of nature, the wonder of God's creation, or your involvement in action to make this planet a better place to live in. By "worldly" and "worldliness" John is describing the devil-may-care rejection of godly values and of devotion to the Lord that abounds in secular society today.

Jesus also talked about love that kept a person from loving the Father fully:

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." (Matthew 6:24)

"Love" (agapaō) in this verse means something entirely different than the usual New Testament meaning of outgoing, caring, compassionate love mentioned in verse 10. Rather it means here, "to have high esteem for or satisfaction with something, take pleasure in."7 While pleasure itself isn't wrong, when our mindset is consumed by the pleasure we can derive from a person or thing, we are no longer loving, but become selfish hedonists.

Q3. (1 John 2:15-16) What is "the world" in verses 15-16? What kind of love of "the world" keeps us from loving the Father?




Examples of Worldliness (2:16)

John gives three examples of worldliness.

"For everything in the world -- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does -- comes not from the Father but from the world." (2:16)

1. "The lust of the flesh" (KJV), "the cravings of sinful man" (NIV). The word used for "cravings / lust / desire," in examples #1 and #2, is epithymia, "desire, longing, craving," either good or bad. Here it carries the negative idea of "a desire for something forbidden or simply inordinate, craving, lust."8 The Greek word translated "sinful man" (NIV), "flesh" (KJV, NRSV) is sarx, "the physical body."9 In John's writings, "flesh" seems to stress the human in contrast to the divine or the spiritual.

So probably the "desires of the flesh" refer to the desires of the body or the desires of human beings, as such, "any and every desire of man in his rebellion against God."10 The Phillips translation puts it: "Men's primitive desires." The Message paraphrases it: "Wanting your own way."

2. "The lust of the eyes" is next. Eyes are sometimes spoken of positively in Scripture, such as "the apple of the eye," that which is most dear, "the eyes of the heart" (Ephesians 1:18). But often, eyes are what lead one into temptation and sin. We read of "haughty eyes" (Proverbs 6:17), the "evil eye" (evil thinking towards a person, Deuteronomy 15:9), "bad eyes" (Matthew 6:23), "eyes full of adultery" (2 Peter 2:14), the eyes as a cause of sin and hence should be gouged out (Matthew 5:29), the eye that is tempted to "look lustfully at a girl" (Job 31:1, 7).

It may refer to sexual lust incited by seeing, such as viewing pornography or undressing a person in your mind. But it can also refer to any kind of seeing and wanting, of the sort that drives impulse buying. Phillips words it, "their greedy ambitions," The Message says, "wanting everything for yourself."

3. "The pride of life" (KJV), "the pride in riches" (NRSV), "the boasting of what he has and does" (NIV). There are two keywords in this phrase. "Boasting" (NIV), "pride" (KJV, NRSV) is alazoneia, "pretension, arrogance."11 "Life" (KJV) is bios (from which we get our word "biology"). It can refer to "life and activity associated with it," as well as, here, "resources needed to maintain life, means of subsistence."12 Bios appears again in 1 John 3:17 as "the world's goods" (NRSV, cf. KJV), "material possessions" (NIV).

So "the pride of life" refers to a boasting or arrogance in one's wealth or outward circumstances. The Message puts it, "wanting to appear important." I especially like Phillips'rendering, "the glamour of all they think splendid."

The World Is Passing Away (2:17)

John concludes this section with the reminder:

"The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (2:17)

"Pass away" is paragō, here used in the sense, "to go out of existence, pass away, disappear,"13 which we saw earlier in 2:8:

"The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining." (2:8)

Discipleship Lessons from John's Letters, e-book or paperback book
The study is available as a free e-mail Bible study, or as an e-book or paperback book at a modest cost.

Christians who are spiritual see the world and all its powerful strivings for what they are, passing phenomena that will soon be out of date, passé. There is a new world order that is coming, the Kingdom of God. We are already part of it and can see it from afar. But one day this vision will be seen as the predominant reality around us.

People on Wall Street get rich by seeing trends and investing in shares of stock when they can get them at bargain prices. People of insight invest in the future, in what they see taking place in days to come. In a similar way, insightful Christians accumulate treasure in heaven, not treasure only here on earth. How is your most important investment portfolio doing these days?

Q4. (1 John 2:15-17) What kinds of sins are covered by the three examples of worldliness that John gives? Why are these sometimes so difficult for us to discern in ourselves? Why is worldliness so harmful to our future?




Father, it's so easy to get distracted from clear spiritual sight. It's so easy to get my priorities out of whack and spend all my time and energy in the things that are passing away. Forgive me. Help me to see you more clearly and love you more dearly, so that my life will be on track and count for your Kingdom. In Jesus'name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness." (1 John 2:9)

"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world -- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does -- comes not from the Father but from the world." (1 John 2:15-16



1. The KJV “brethren” (adelphos, “brother”) has weak manuscript support.

2. Agapētos, BDAG 7, 2

3. Typhloō, BDAG 102.

4. The first reference to "little children" is teknion, which occurs six times in the epistle (see comments on 2:1). The second reference is to "young children," paidion, "a child, normally below the age of puberty" (BDAG 749, 1b).

5. Nikaō, BDAG 673, 2 (transitive).

6. Kosmos, BDAG 562, 7b. "Mankind organized in rebellion against God" (Marshall, Epistles of John, p. 142.)

7. Agapaō, BDAG 5, 2.

8. Epithymia, BDAG 372, 2.

9. Sarx is used especially in Pauline writings to describe the body which is under the control of sin and in opposition to God.

10. Marshall, Epistles of John, p. 145.

11. Alazoneia, BDAG 40. The word is also used in James 4:16.

12. Bios, BDAG 177, 2.

13. Paragō, BDAG 763, 4b.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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