15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.1 John 2:15-17
I am glad to be back at our 1 John study after a bit of a mental break. Instead of writing a devotion last week, I took the opportunity to get some extra time in the Word – reading and listening, not to study but to spend time with the Lord. Those who support me closely in writing these were relieved and glad I took the break; I am, too.
I was all geared up to write this devotion last week, so it has been simmering in my thoughts longer than usual. Time and again, my thoughts returned to Demas.
If you have no idea who Demas is, do not feel bad. He is typically limited to random Bible trivia since his name only shows up three times in the Bible. The first two times mention him being with Paul on one of his missionary journeys and sending his regards to the Colossian church and Philemon (Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24). The final reference tells us that Paul was alone at the end of his life, partly because “Demas, in love with this present world…, deserted [him and went] to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10).
That is all the information we have about him. He was with Paul until the world came calling. Then he left.
Demas’ story fits well with today’s passage. Here, John transitions from reminding us to love one another to warning us to “not love the world or the things in the world” (v. 15a). When he talks about the world here, he is not talking about the earth and caring for it as a part of God’s creation. He is talking about the ways of the world – the ways of the flesh. It is similar to Paul’s words in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The ways of the world are contrary to the Way, that is Christ (John 14:6). We are to conform to Christ and imitate Him – not the world.
John continues his warning in verse 15 by explaining that “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him”. There is a firm line drawn here. One cannot give their love – their allegiance, faith, and trust – fully to two things. The Way and the world – the Father and the flesh – are polar opposites. Jesus explained that no one can “serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Luke 16:13). James asks his original audience (and us), “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4)? What could be more serious than finding oneself on the opposite side of God Most High? Do we love Him or the world? Depending on our answer, we are either a friend of God or His enemy. There is no middle ground.
At this point, you may be wondering where the refreshing and restoring has gone. My answer is simple: nowhere. These truths are tough, but needed. This is not a stepping-on-toes moment. No, this is a soul-evaluation moment. This has been a call for me to look at my own life and evaluate my priorities – to evaluate my worship. I have had to repent of my worldly focus in some areas. You may need to also.
Thankfully, John does not just spiritually sucker punch us and move on; he helps us to see what it looks like to love the world. Danny Akin has written that verse 16 “is one of the most important verses in the Bible” because it “identifies in vivid terms the weapons the world uses to seduce men and women into joining its side.” This is good news for us because it shows us areas to look at so repentance can occur – so refreshment and restoration can occur.
Perhaps the scariest thing for me about verse 16 is that all those weapons of the world reside inside of me – “desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life”. They originate in my sinful heart. And they are in yours as well.
The Bible gives us clear examples to see how these weapons have defeated people in the past and how God Himself overcame them.
These weapons were first used on the very first people. Genesis 3:6 shows how all three of these weapons were used to bring sin and death to Adam and Eve: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (desires of the flesh) and that it was a delight to the eyes (desires of the eyes) and that the tree was desired to make one wise (pride of life), she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was there with her, and he ate.”
Satan, in the form of the Serpent (Revelation 12:9), came and helped the first humans bring sin and death into the world. He twisted the Word of God, and Adam and Eve let him. But Satan cannot bear the blame. James 1:14-15 makes it quite clear what happened to them and to us:
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Sin and death continued from that point onward.
If we were left to Adam and Eve to save us, we would have no hope. The way that temptation and a love for the flesh worked in their lives is the same way it works in our own. Thankfully, we have a better example in the way that Jesus handled the same temptations.
In Luke 4:1-13, we see Jesus being tempted by Satan. He had been in the wilderness, eating nothing, for forty days. Luke 4:2 tells us Jesus was “hungry”. Satan told Jesus that He should “command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3), appealing to the desire of Jesus’ flesh. But Jesus reminded him of what the Word of God says in Deuteronomy 8:3 – and did not sin.
Next, Satan “showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time”, offering to give Jesus “authority” and “glory” if He would only bow down in worship (Luke 4:5-6). But Jesus reminded him of what the Word of God says in Deuteronomy 6:13 – and did not sin.
Finally, he took Jesus to the highest point on the temple and tempted Jesus to jump (Luke 4:9). He even quoted some Scripture himself, reminding Jesus that Psalm 91:11-12 promise that no harm would come to Him – that angles will “guard” Him and keep even His foot from striking “against a stone”. But Jesus reminded him of what the Word of God says in Deuteronomy 6:16. He did not sin.
It is in Christ’s handling of temptation that we find hope. We are all very susceptible to fail because of the desires of our flesh and eyes and our pride. Jesus is not.
The desires of our flesh are powerful because they come from what we want deep down in our hearts. But, if we are in Christ, we do not have to fear our sinful hearts because “He also put His seal on us and [has] given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:22). And, remember, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1)!
The desires of our eyes are powerful, too, because it is through them that we find many opportunities for sin. Rather than spying out opportunities for sin, we should be “looking to Jesus, the founder and protector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and seeking “the things that are above, where Christ is” (Colossians 3:1). Then, we may see God answer the cry of the psalmist in our own lives: “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37).
The pride of life is powerful, too. It also hits a bit harder than the first two. This is the part of us that thinks that we can do some things better than God. It is when we think too highly of our own power and possessions and position. It is when we want to receive worship and glory that is only due to God. And, just as God gives us a way out of the first two temptations, He takes care of us here as well. Let us look at the last verse that Jesus quoted to Satan – the one that made him tuck tail and run away: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test…” (Deuteronomy 6:16).
I draw your attention to this command because it reminds us that hope in Jesus is eternal when this world is “passing away along with its desires” (v. 17). You see, Satan was reminded of something that scared him and should give us courage. He was reminded that Jesus is God and is not to be trifled with or tested! And so long as we trust Christ as Savior and Lord – so long as we love and worship Him, Satan and the desires of our flesh will be kept in check!
We looked at some tough words from James 4 earlier. Let us look now at the good news he brings later in that same passage:
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”James 4:7-8a
You and I do not have to meet the same end as Demas. Our story need not end with us “in love with this present world” having deserted Christ. He is “rich in mercy” and loves us with a great love (Ephesians 2:4). The world cares only for itself. Jesus “loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The world brings only the wages of my sin – death (Romans 6:23).
I pray that this reminder finds you looking to Christ as your hope and away from the world – and that repentance is granted where we need it (2 Timothy 2:25).