God so loved the world … John’s gospel 3:16
Do not love the world … John’s first epistle 2:15
In my previous post I pointed out that Matthew 6:24 and Colossians 3:2, understood in context, do not contradict the larger themes of scripture that we teach at the DNA, themes like:
- The world God created is very good (Genesis 1: 31).
- Human beings, made in his image, are tasked with developing the earth, making it bountiful, and creating culture (Genesis 1:26-28).
- God is Lord of all creation, all life, and every sector of society (Colossians 1:16-18).
- The church is tasked with discipling nations (Matthew 28:18-20).
- Christ died to reconcile all things to himself (Colossians 1:20).
- At the end of time, when Christ returns in his glory, the kings of the earth will bring the glorious things of their culture into the City of God (Revelation 21:23-26).
Today I want to touch on one further text in the same vein, 1 John 2:15-17.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
This passage forbids us to love the world. Yet John 3:16 tells us that God loves the world! How is this seeming discrepancy to be resolved?
These verses (1 John 2:15-17) use the term world six times. The Greek word, kosmos, appears 187 times in the New Testament. Once, it is translated adorning (1 Peter 3:3). The other 186 times it is translated world. Those uses fall into four distinct meanings.
1) The Universe – an ordered structure (Matt 13:35; John 17:5; Acts 17:24; Romans 1:20; Hebrews 4:3; Rev. 13:8). This is the entire cosmos, what God created out of nothing.
2) The Created Realm – the “circle” of the earth where humankind dwells (Matt. 13:35; 16:15; Mark 16:15; 2 Corinthians 1:12; Hebrews 10:5). This is the home of mankind.
3) The Human Race – our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Adam and Eve (John 1:29; 3:16; 17:21, 23; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Hebrews 11:38).
4) The World’s System – the thought system of fallen men and angels (Matthew 4:8; John 8:32; Col. 2:8; 1 John 2:15-17) the kingdom of darkness, the strongholds of the mind.
The Apostle John uses kosmos more than any other gospel writer: 57 times in his gospel alone and 78 times all together. Consider, for example, Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17:13-25. In these 12 verses the apostle uses kosmos eleven times, in all four of its meanings.
I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world [meaning 2 above], so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world  has hated them, for they are not of the world  any more than I am of the world . My prayer is not that you take them out of the world  but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world , even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world , I have sent them into the world . For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world  may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world  will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world .
Righteous Father, though the world  does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.
In Romans 12: 2 the Apostle Paul says, Do not be conformed to this world. He clearly has in view the world’s system.
God calls us to a different response to each of these four meanings of kosmos. We are to
- Stand in awe at the wonder of the kosmos – universe that God has made.
- Dwell on, enjoy, and make bountiful the kosmos – the circle of our blue planet.
- Live among, love, and sacrificially serve the kosmos – our human family.
- Shun the world’s system, embracing rather the culture of the kingdom – truth, beauty and goodness – to attack the very gates of hell.
– Darrow Miller