The World

Dear Schuyler:

In 1 John 2:15 we read: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Who/what is the world? If I live the antithesis, does the world become bigger to me? If we may not be friends with the world, who is this world?


The “world” is a concept in Scripture with different meanings. It can mean the physical creation, the inhabited earth, the world of men, elect humanity, or the world of the ungodly. Therefore, when God’s word commands us, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” the questioner brings up an important point. What does this mean?

Clearly, we are not called to hate the creation, to hate the trees and flowers, the mountains and valleys, and the animals that God has made. We are also not to be misanthropes, that is, haters of humanity. We are also not called to live as do the Amish and have nothing to do with modern “worldly” technology. The error of the Amish is to equate what the world does with worldliness. The world uses electricity, TV, and computers. Therefore, these things are worldly. But that cannot be true. Why is it worldly to drive a modern automobile but not worldly to ride a horse and cart? Why is black a non-worldly color, but red, green or pink are worldly colors? Is there something more spiritual about living in a pre-industrial age? Would Calvin, if he were alive today, not use a laptop computer to write his Institutes? Modern legalists often fall into the same error: worldliness is not found in things per se; worldliness is an attitude.

The Greek word translated “world” is kosmos. We can readily recognize words derived from it: cosmos, cosmetic. The basic idea of kosmos is that of an orderly and unified system. But the issue with kosmos in the New Testament is that it refers to the world system ordered and unified in opposition to God. The whole world, writes John, “lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). This happened when Adam fell into sin. Remember that Adam was the head of the human race. When Adam fell, therefore, he dragged the world and humanity down with him. Immediately after the fall, God created the antithesis between the church and the world (Gen. 3:15). In Scripture there are two kinds of people: some are “of the world” (John 15:19; 1 John 4:5) and others are “chosen out of the world” or “of God” (John 15:19; 17:6, 14–16; 1 John 4:6). Those who are “of the world” hate those who are “of God.”  They are spiritual enemies, having different lords, different aims, and different loves. The world serves sin and the Christian serves Christ. The world then in 1 John 2:15 is everything that opposes Christ and the Christian: its philosophy, its worldview, and its wisdom (which is foolishness).

About this world John commands, “Love not the world” (1 John 2:15). Love in Scripture means devotion, allegiance, fellowship, and friendship. Do not love the world but stand against it because its entire system is opposed to Christ. James writes that those who love the world are spiritual “adulterers and adulteresses” (James 4:4), and there he uses the word “friendship”. Since the world is the enemy of God, friendship with the world is enmity against God. To love the world is a kind of spiritual adultery, as the Old Testament often describes it, a whoring after other gods.

The apostle sums up the things of the world in three expressions: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). The world appeals to our totally depraved flesh. The lusts of our flesh demand to be gratified. We must mortify, crucify, and deny the flesh (Col. 3:5; Tit. 2:12). It would be tempting for us to list the things which are “worldly” in this sense (books, magazines, websites, music, etc.) but the Bible does not spell it out. Since the Bible is a timeless book, applicable to all ages, we must apply its principles to the modern age. Worldliness for one might not be worldliness for another. This principle applies: whatever feeds our lusts through the eyes (or even the ears) and thus turns us away from God must be rejected.

The way to drive out the love of the world is to love God. Love of God and love of the world are mutually exclusive. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). The questioner asks, “If I live the antithesis, does the world become bigger to me?” I do not know what this means, but I would say this: the more we love Christ, the less attractive the world is to us, so if anything, when we live the antithesis, the world becomes smaller! Besides, the more we live in opposition to the world, refusing to adopt its worldview, principles, and philosophy, the more the world will hate us, and that will make loving the world even more difficult for us, which is surely a good (but painful) thing. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19).

This means too that we cannot be friends with worldly, ungodly people. We will have to work with them. They will be our neighbors and acquaintances and we will be kind and considerate neighbors. But we cannot befriend them in the Biblical sense. We have nothing in common, and the only way we can befriend them would be for us to compromise with them, and that is impossible. “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (Ps. 119:63). Let us find our friends and companions in the church.

Therefore, young people, “set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2) for “the world passeth away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:17).