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Sermon Message

"Do Not Love the World "

1 John 2:12-17
Theme: We walk in the light of Jesus' fellowship if obey Jesus' command to love one another.

(Delivered Sunday, January 13, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church.  All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)  


"Does money buy happiness?" That was the question asked in an MSNBC poll recently; the results of which were reported in the Today Show last Friday. Over 6,000 people took this web survey; and the results were very interesting.

Of those surveyed, 38% answered with a decided "yes" - that money does indeed buy happiness. One person sought to explain, however; "Money does not necessarily buy happiness, but it does buy things that can make you happy" (which is the same as saying that money buys happiness, without actually coming right out and saying it). This corresponded with a 10-year British study from the University of Warwick of 9,000 families; the results of which affirmed the belief that, in general, people with more money are happier than those with less.

38% of those surveyed also said that there is a precise sum that would make them happy. And of those who say this, 47% said that it would take more than a million dollars to do the job. This also corresponds to what one economist says - that a life-time of money-bought happiness would cost more than $1.5 million dollars (which, invested conservatively, would yield $100,000 of "happiness" annually).

But one of the follow-ups to the question "Does money buy happiness?" was very revealing. Of those surveyed, 78% said that if money buys happiness, the contentment doesn't last. One woman who was surveyed said, "I want to make some major life changes, but I'm afraid to leave the security of a good paying job that I hate. Having more makes it harder to take chances at finding happiness." Financial researchers explain that, even though the actual dollars earned in the average U.S. and British household has increased over the past few decades, the average personal experience of happiness in these countries hasn't increased in the same amount of time. The evident cause for this, according to researchers, is that having more money actually makes you want more than you have, and being worth more makes you expect more than you receive.

Interestingly, 34% of those surveyed admitted that seeing others with more money than they had would make them less happy. Researchers say that how we believe we're doing financially relative to other people is key to determining how happy wealth makes us. When the incomes of those surveyed come up short in comparison with friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers, they say that they felt deprived and less happy.

So, does money buy happiness? If the answer is "yes"; then it seems that the nature of that "happiness" needs to be significantly qualified. According to this survey, money does buy a kind of "happiness" - but it's apparently (1) a kind of happiness that depends on obtaining a typically unachievable amount; (2) a kind of happiness that, even if that dollar amount is reached, is wrapped up in things and circumstances that are uncertain; (3) a kind of happiness that appears to be temporary even best and is almost guaranteed to become dissatisfying over time; and (4) a kind of happiness that is all-too easily frustrated by other people becoming "happier" than us.

When I heard about this survey, I was struck by what a "strictly secular" view of happiness it presents to us. From the standpoint of those of us who look to God by faith and have entered into His kingdom, then the answer is 'no'; money cannot buy happiness. True, lasting happiness is available; but not through what can be purchased from this earth. But to those who have no place in their hearts for God or His kingdom - for those who live within the framework of a completely "secularized" system of values and priorities - then the only happiness available is the kind that can be bought with money. Many, according to this survey, have apparently embraced that system in their pursuit of "happiness".

This survey serves as a remarkable backdrop to our passage this morning. It reveals the spiritual issues that lie behind the commandment of this passage. When we read this passage, we discover why "money-bought happiness" will never truly satisfy. The apostle John wrote to his first-century brothers and sisters in Christ, and told them;

I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake. 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 wicked one. I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father. I have written to you fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.

Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:12-17).

* * * * * * * * * *

What does John mean by telling us to not love the world? I can imagine someone saying, "Aren't we supposed to be loving? After all, didn't John just get through urging us to love one another in the previous verses? And doesn't the Bible say that 'God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son ...'? Aren't we supposed to go out and tell all the world about Jesus' love? Is the Bible being contradictory in telling us not to love the world?"

An accurate understanding of John's intention in this command depends on how we interprets two words: "love" and "world". When John speaks here of the world, he isn't the word in the same way as he did when he wrote those well-known words, "For God so loved the world ...". Nor is he speaking here of the same kind of "love" as when he spoke of the command to "love one another".

The Bible makes reference to "the world" in a variety of different contexts. Many of different uses for "world", in fact, are found in John's letter. One way he uses the word, for example, is in reference to material things. John says, "... Whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in Him?" (4:17). Here, the "material" aspect of the world - the "stuff" we need for life - is what he had in mind.

Another way John speaks of "the world" is with reference to the sphere of human activity - a sphere of activity that God's people share with ungodly people. He says, "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world [that is, into the human sphere], that we might live through Him" (4:9). John says that, "as He is, so are we in this world" (4:17). We are warned, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (4:1); and he speaks of "the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world" (4:3). He tells us that we have overcome the devil; "because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (4:4). "The world", in this case then, is simply the sphere of human activity - an arena of activity in which spiritual forces are at war against one another, and into which God sent His Son so that some in this sphere might be saved.

Another way he uses the word "world" is with reference to humanity itself (with, perhaps, particular reference to those that God had chosen from the beginning for salvation). John says, for example, that Jesus "is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (2:2). He says, "... We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world" (4:14). This, I believe, was what John meant when he penned those wonderful words about how "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son ..." In this case, "the world" (that is, fallen humanity) is the object of God's love; and as such, it should be the object of our love too.

But there is a fourth way in which John makes reference to "the world". In this case, he speaks of a system of beliefs and values that is diametrically opposed to God's way for us. It's a system - a philosophic world-view - that seeks to make life work out apart from God; a system seeks to "buy happiness" through the things of this earth, instead of seeking happiness through submission to God's commands. It is a system that is in fundamental rebellion against God, and that treats Him as if He wasn't there.

What are the characteristics of this ungodly system of beliefs and values? First, it neither gives acknowledgement to God, nor recognizes those who are His children. John says that "the world does not know us, because it did not know Him" (3:1). It only recognizes those who speak affirmingly of its values and priorities. Thus John speaks of false teachers and says, "They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them" (4:5). The attitude of this world system toward God and His children, then, is only one of hatred; "Do not marvel, my brethren," John says, "if the world hates you" (3:13).

The driving force behind this ungodly system of beliefs and values is the devil himself. Jesus called him "the ruler of this world" (John 16:11); and we're told in the Book of Revelation that he will deceive the whole world (Rev. 12:9). And so, John tells us, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world [that is, this evil system and everyone who operates within it] lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19). And yet, God's people gain the victory over this ungodly, satanically inspired system through faith in Jesus Christ. "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (5:4-5).

This, then, is the "world" John speaks of when he says, "Do not love the world or the things of the world". He's saying, "Do not love this evil, satanically inspired system of beliefs and values; nor love the things that spring forth from it, or that advance its influence in people's lives."

* * * * * * * * * *

And notice that John speaks differently of "love" in this command as well. In the verses just preceding, he says, "He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him" (2:10). In that verse, he's making reference to Jesus' command that we love one another as He Himself has loved us (John 13:34). This is a self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of love that seeks the highest good of the person being loved. John describes this kind of love when he says, "By this we know love, because He [Jesus] laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (3:16). "Beloved," he says, "let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (4:7-11). That's the sort of love that's meant when we read that "God so loved the world ..."

But the "love" John speaks of in our text this morning is not that kind of love at all. He speaks here of a love that neither has God as its source, nor follows the example of love that Jesus set for us. Instead, he speaks of a self-seeking, self-gratifying love for this ungodly world system because of the sinful lusts that can be gratified through what it offers. This, then, is the kind of "love" John speaks of when he says, "Do not love the world or the things of the world." He's warning against the development of even the slightest attachment to this evil, ungodly system of beliefs, priorities and values; and against letting ourselves become sinfully gratified by the things that spring forth from it.

And so, immediately after John gives us the command to love, he then qualifies this command by telling us what not to love. And there's one more thing you should know about this command from John. It's stated in a specific structure in the original Greek (a present active imperative verb, proceeded by a negative particle), which calls for the reader to stop doing an activity that is assumed to already be in progress. In other words, the command is really very much like the rendering in the New Living Translation; "Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you ..."

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; we have been rescued out of this sinful world system by God's redeeming grace. God has "delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (Col. 1:13). And yet, it's not God's intention to completely isolate us from any contact with this world system. Jesus prayed for us and said, "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:14-16). In other words, Jesus wants us to live in this "world" (in the sense of the sphere of human activity); but to live a life that demonstrates that we are, like Him, not of "this world" (in the sense of the evil, ungodly system that is ruled over by the devil). But sadly, we still have a bit of "the world" in us. Sometimes we're not only "in" the world; but we behave as if we're still "of" the world.

This is a exhortation, then, to keep on with the ongoing struggle to rid ourselves of any of that old, remaining "love" for this world system - with all of our former attachment to its ungodly values and priorities - that once characterized our lives. This is an exhortation to be on our guard against the devil's attempts to again place us into shackles he once used to bind us to this rebellious, self-seeking, Christ-hating set of values and priorities.

Let's examine this passage carefully, and heed its warning. First, look at ...


John says, "I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake. 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 wicked one. I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father. I have written to you fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one" (vv. 12-14).

When I read these words, my mind immediately goes to a wonderful group of men I meet with regularly. Once a week, a group of local pastors meets downstairs in our church, to pray for one another, and to share concerns and ideas with each other. This group of pastors has been meeting together for several years; and we all enjoy one another greatly. We delight in the way God has formed our group of diverse men together.

We have some men in the group who are relatively new to the ministry. They are struggling with the challenges that come from being new pastors in small churches. They're full of questions and very eager to be taught. Their enthusiasms is contagious.

And then, we have pastors in the group who have had a few years of experience. They've served in their churches for a decade or two, and have faced many of the challenges that the younger pastors are only beginning to experience. They offer great encouragement and 'battle-front' insights to our group.

And then, there are the older pastors. These are typically men who have retired from the ministry, and are serving the body of Christ as "elder statesmen" for the faith. We treat these precious men as father-figures; and deeply relish the way they are aglow with a deep, abiding love for God. They're like solid rocks of faith; and the rest of us in the group want to be like them when we grow up.

That group of pastors is a little picture of the different levels of spiritual maturity John speaks of in this passage. This isn't an matter of the distinctions of age or gender among us; but it's simply a way of describing where we are in our growth together in the Lord.

In the church, we find "spiritual children". John uses two different Greek words to describe them. The first one, teknion, refers to a child who is viewed as a little one born into a family. The second one, paidion, refers to an infant or small baby - very tender and in need of loving care. John doesn't refer to these saints as "children" in order to put them down, but rather to emphasize that they've been recently born into the family of God and need particular care and nurture as they grow in the faith. They've just recently come to embrace the fundamental truths of the faith - that their sins have been forgiven them for Jesus' name's sake; and that they now rejoice that God is their Father.

Also, we find "spiritual young men" in the church. John uses a word in the Greek for them that speaks of a man in the prime of his life. This speaks of those who have grown beyond the basic fundamentals of the faith, and have entered into the battle for that faith. They have become rooted and grounded in the teaching of the Scriptures. They're convinced of the authority of the Gospel message, and have grown strong in the practical experience of Christian living. They have faced the challenges of the enemy - and have won the fight. Thus, John says of them that they are strong, and that the word of God abides in them, and that they have overcome the wicked one.

Finally, we find "spiritual fathers" in the church. These are the seasoned saints (I believe both women and men are intended) whose depth with God represents many, many years of experience. They've grown beyond a mere theological conviction of the truth that characterize the "young men", and have settled into the deep, abiding, loving fellowship with God that can only come through long-term fellowship with Him. They bring a great deal of wisdom and godly counsel to the church family. John characterizes them by saying that they have "known Him who is from the beginning."

It's tempting to read this list and ask ourselves where we are personally in the growth chart. And though I'm not completely sure of this, I suspect that that's something better left for others who observe our lives to determine of us, rather than for us to determine of ourselves. But I believe this list does help us to recognize and appreciate the differing abilities and needs we all bring to the body of Christ; and I believe it inspires us to all grow beyond the basics, and on to maturity.

* * * * * * * * * *

But this leads us to the question of why John mentions these differing groups in this passage. Why does this list come between an exhortation to love one another, and an exhortation to not love the world? I certainly believe that it's because John wants these differing groups to be sure that they love and appreciate each other. But I also believe that he mentions these three groups of saints because, no matter where we might be in our growth in the faith, we need to be warned not to love the evil world system. It might be that John describes each group twice for purposes of emphasis - saying first, "I write to you..."; and then re-emphasizing, "I have written to you ..." as a way of calling our attention to what he is about to say. And it might be that he mentions the "young men" last both times, because falling into the trap of loving this ungodly world system is a particular danger for those who are most often in the front lines of conflict with it.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; this is an exhortation for every one of us. It doesn't matter where we are in our spiritual growth -whether we're brand new babies in Christ, or strong and doctrinally sound soldiers for the Lord, or seasoned saints with many years of experience in walking with God - we all must be on guard that we "do not love the world or the things in the world." We will never outgrow the need of this warning. The Bible gives us this perpetual exhortation through the words of the apostle Paul;

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).

* * * * * * * * * *

So; all of us who are in Jesus Christ are the recipients of this command - no matter where we are on the spiritual growth chart. This leads us, secondly, to ...


John goes on to say why we're to cease from loving the world or the things of the world: "If anyone loves the world," he says, "the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:12-17).

Do you remember the story in the book of Genesis about how the devil tempted Eve in the garden? He asked the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree in the garden'?" (Gen. 3:1). He asked this, not to inquire about the freedoms and liberties she had been given by God, but in order to call her attention to the command through which her obedience was tested, and by which the rest of her freedoms were protected. This is one of the devil's strategies, by the way; he seeks to get our attention drawn off of the multitude of God's gracious "yes's" in our lives, and gets us bitterly obsessed with the relatively few "no's". That way, the devil makes God's laws - intended for our good - seem like unfair barriers to our "liberties".

"We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden," she said; "but the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, or shall you touch it, lest you die'" (vv. 2-3). As far as we can tell, God never said, "Don't touch it." He just said, "Don't eat from it" (Gen. 2:17). Eve seems to be the one who added the "don't touch" rule. The devil's strategy apparently worked.

Now, the devil sets the bate by calling God's character into question. "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (vv. 4-5). He persuaded Eve into believing that God didn't have her best interest at heart, but was really holding out on her. She began to think that she could get a better deal for herself than what God was offering to her. She began to explore the idea of making life work without God, and finding happiness from the things in this world. By tempting Eve in this way, Satan introduced - for the first time - the values and priorities of this evil "world" system into the human experience.

And that's all that the devil had to do. "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food" [that is, it had the potential of gratifying the desires of her flesh], "that it was pleasant to the eyes" [that is, that it had the potential of gratifying the covetous longing to possess what she saw], "and a tree desirable to make one wise" [that is, that it could make it possible for her to boast of being like God - knowing good and evil], "she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate" (v. 6).

Notice very carefully that Eve was drawn toward a love for this world through three kinds of temptations: "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." These are the three basic ways this evil, ungodly world system exercises its pull on us. Every temptation you ever feel falls into one of those three categories - the craving to satisfy your fleshly desires; the craving to possess what you see; and the passion to have power and elevate yourself over others. They are the three passions that inspire this world's three favorite slogans: "If it feels good, do it;" "Whoever dies with the most toys wins;" and "I did it my way."

Jesus felt the same temptations we faced when He walked upon this earth, though He never surrendered to them. Just prior to embarking on His earthly ministry, He was led by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He had been fasting for forty days; and the devil came to Him with the temptation, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread" (Matthew 4:3). The devil made his appeal to Jesus through the lusts of the flesh. "If Your hungry, You can eat! You're the Son of God; aren't You? Just turn these stones into bread, and satisfy your fleshly desire! Obey Your body! If if feels good, do it!"

Jesus resisted that temptation. But then, Satan changed his tactic. He took Jesus up to Jerusalem, set Him on the high pinnacle of the temple, and said, "If You're the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and "In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone'" (Matthew 4:6-8). Here, the devil made his appeal to Jesus through pride. "Jesus; why go about this program of Yours through the weak and painful way of the cross? That's the slow way of going about it. If You want people to follow You, then really show them Your stuff! Leap off, and let the angels of God carry You to the ground before the wondering eyes of all! It'd be a sensation! Think of what a star You'd be! It'll create a media frenzy! Make Your entry into the public with a bang, Jesus! You can drift down to the ground upon angel's wings, before the cheering crowds, singing, 'I Did It My Way'!"

Again, Jesus resisted this temptation. Finally, the devil tried one more temptation. He took Jesus up onto an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Then, he told Jesus - in what has to be the most outrageously blasphemous proposal of all - "All these things I will give you if You will fall down and worship me" (Matthew 4:9). Here, the devil was making his appeal to Jesus through the lust of the eyes. "Jesus, look at it all! Isn't it all beautiful? Don't you just want it all now? Right this very minute? Well; you don't have to wait. You don't have to go the way of the cross. These kingdoms are mine to give to whomever I wish. I will give all the glorious riches of all the kingdoms of this world to You right now, if You - my Creator - will just bow down and worship me - the one You created. 'Whoever dies the most toys wins' - and better still to have them and live! Why endure all that suffering, when you can have it all right now?"

Jesus resisted all these temptations. But they all came to Him in the same categories that they came to Eve; and they all come to us in the same way too. Do you feel those same temptations? Do those slogans pop into your mind in one form or another at such times? There's certainly a sense in which we feel their pull internally; because of the principle of sin that wages war within us (Rom. 7:23); and we must resist that internal pull. But we also feel the pull of these things as they come to us from outside ourselves. That's the pull of this world system; and it's that pull that John is urging us to resist.

* * * * * * * * * *

Many surrender to those three powerful external temptations; and many do so thinking that it will lead them to "happiness". Yet, those things will never lead to the happiness we really seek. John explains the reason why by giving us three principles that stand behind this command to not love the world.

The first principle behind his command not to love this world is that a love for the world is exclusive of a love for God. He says, "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (v. 15).

Some folks might be able to convince themselves that they can be in a committed love relationship with God and still flirt with the world now and then. Jesus, however, tells us otherwise. He says "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [or riches]" (Matthew 6:24). These two loves can't be made to coexist. To be devoted to one is to be disloyal to the other. The apostle James puts the matter even more bluntly:

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself and enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, 'The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?'" (James 4:1-5).

From God's standpoint, then, we must make our decision: Who gets our complete devotion? Where do we place our complete loyalty? Who has our heart? Whose voice do we obey? Is it going to be God and His ways, or is it going to be to this world and it's ways? It must be one or the other; because it can't be both. And if our heart's devotion belongs to God, then we must cease from loving this world or the things in it.

* * * * * * * * * *

A second principle behind John's command not to love the world is that the things of this world do not come from the Father. Instead, they spring from a sinister source. John says, "For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world" (v. 16).

We must learn to evaluate "happiness" in the light of its true source. The Bible tells us that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights ..." (James 1:17). God, our heavenly Father, is immeasurably good; and the things He gives are always good for us. But this evil world system can't make this claim. It's in opposition to God, and is hateful toward Him. It's under the rule and authority of the devil, who - as Jesus has told us - "does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy" (John 10:10).

Only God loves you infinitely. Only He has your best interest in mind. Only through a relationship with Him can you obtain ultimate, lasting happiness; because He's the one who designed you for ultimate fulfillment in Himself. Any "happiness" you might obtain from this world through the gratification of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is "happiness" obtained through that which is in fundamental enmity with your heavenly Designer, who most longs to do you good. This would be a "happiness" you will have obtained through a system that is under the auspices of the devil - someone who is a incurable thief, murderer and destroyer; and who hates your living guts. How can any "happiness" obtained through the world - associated is it is with the enemy of your soul - be anything, in the end, but sadness, frustration and loss? That's why John makes that seemingly superfluous statement: that the things of this world are not of the Father, but are of the world! He's simply reminding us that the things of this world come from a source that's in fundamental rebellion against God, and that's hostile toward His people.

This principle teaches us, then, that we must commit ourselves to seek our happiness from the only sure source of that happiness. As the psalmist writes;

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the LORD, and in His law he mediates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper" (Psalm 1:1-3).

* * * * * * * * * *

A third and final principle behind John's command not to love the world is that to love this world is to choose the temporal over the eternal. John writes, "And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (John 2:17). We must not only consider happiness in terms of its source, but also in terms of its endurance.

Whenever someone chooses the world's sinful options for happiness, there's something to be gained. We'd be foolish and unrealistic if we denied this. If someone gives in to the lust of the flesh, there's pleasure to be enjoyed. If someone gives in to the lust of the eyes, there's riches to be obtained. If someone gives in to the pride of life, there's power and influence to be grasped. But the devil's dirty little lie in all this is that the gains are always short-lived; and they're always followed by a long-term loss.

God's way to happiness is always unattractive at first, because it always involves a short-term loss. If you follow after God's path to happiness, you'll must deny the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; and it feels like you're missing out. But in this case, the short-term loss you suffer for obedience to God involves losing that which will only harm you in the long run; and the loss is always followed by long-term gains that far exceed those losses.

Jesus put it this way:

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each one according to his works (Matthew 16:24-27).

That's Jesus' serious words about the loss-side of the equation. But as to the gain side, Jesus said this:

Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospels, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time - houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions - and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:29- 30).

Yes; there are losses to be suffered in refusing to "love" this world. But the losses are things that won't last; and the gains are things that will never fade. The Bible tells us that "the form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31); but the man or woman who does the will of God, as it's revealed to us in His word, will live forever. And as the great missionary Jim Elliott once said, "He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose."

* * * * * * * * * *

In the end, the real question isn't "Does money buy happiness"; but rather, "Where do we find the true, lasting happiness God designed us to enjoy eternally?" That happiness is not found in this evil world system, or the things that spring forth from it. In fact, this world system is militantly opposed to the happiness God wants us to enjoy.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, carefully obey God's command to you: "Do not love the world or the things in the world."

‡From the Today Show broadcast of January 11, 2001 (http://www.msnbc.com/news/685507.asp#BODY). The information was provided courtesy of Jean Chatzky and Money magazine, 2001.

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