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STUDY TEN: THE WORLD – 1John 2:15 - 17

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

John has just written about overcoming the evil one. Later in the letter he will talk about overcoming the ‘world’ (5:4, 5), and will then say ‘the whole world is under the control of the evil one’ (5:19). In John’s mind the two – the evil one and ‘the world’ – are very closely connected.

Up to this point in his letter, John has not given any direct commands. He has pointed out at number of things that don’t fit with a claim to know Christ, but he hasn’t actually commanded anything. But he does so now. He says: ‘Do not love the world or anything in the world’ (2:15).

Read 2:15 – 17.
What reasons does John give for this command?

In verse 15:

In verse 16:


In verse 17:

Suggest what John means by ‘the world’:


Suggest the connection between ‘the world’ and ‘the evil one’:


By ‘the world’ John is not referring to the created world, which Psalm 19 assures us declares the glory of God, but to the ‘world’ of humans who live their lives alienated from God and rebellious against God: the human ‘world’ as it has been since that first rebellion in Genesis 3; to their hearts and their minds which love and lust after things that are contrary to God and to godliness – ‘the cravings of the flesh’, ‘the lust of his eyes’ and ‘boasting of what he has and does’ (1984 NIV).

John points out that a life characterised by love of ‘the world or anything in the world’ positions a person outside of the Father’s love. Such a person derives their values not from the Father but from the world, which has been deceived by the evil one.

If we look at what the New Testament teaches about ‘the world’ we will understand more clearly why John gives his readers, and us, this command.



The New Testament teaches that the unbelieving world is under the control of the evil one.

How do these verses connect the ‘world’ and the evil one?
John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11

2Corinthians 4:4

1John 5:19

Revelation 12:9


Jesus referred to the evil one as ‘the prince of this world’. Paul referred to him as ‘the god of this age’. John states that ‘the whole world is under the control of the evil one’. And in Revelation, we learn that Satan ‘leads the whole world astray’.

By aligning themselves with Jesus Christ and his teaching, believers have, as John has stated in the previous verses, ‘overcome the evil one’. By God’s sovereign power and grace they have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of God’s Son.

They walk in the light, no longer in the darkness, no longer blinded by the evil one (1:5 – 7)

They have believed the truth; they are no longer deceived by the lies of the evil one (1:8 – 10).

God’s truth is in them (in contrast to not being in those deceived – 1:8; 2:4).

Their relationship to the evil one has been severed. They now belong to Jesus Christ and are under his authority and in his kingdom.

When John tells us ‘do not love the world or anything in the world’ he does so because the priorities and values of the world are generated by the evil one. The ‘world’ is not neutral, even when it seems to be so. Even its apparent neutrality is evidence of its deception and control by the evil one. And even its ‘religion’ is similarly evidence of the evil one’s control and deception.



There is a huge contrast between Jesus Christ and ‘the world’. Although he came to the world as one of us, fully human, he did not embrace the mindset of ‘the world’. He was ‘holy, blameless, set apart from sinners’ (Hebrews 7:26). So different that ‘the world’ rejected him, even though it was to save the world that he had come. This great difference between ‘the world’ and Jesus Christ, and his purpose in coming into the world, helps us to understand the importance of John’s command ‘do not love the world or anything in it’.

B.1 The contrast between Jesus Christ and the world
Although fully human, Jesus was without sin. His knowledge of God and his relationship with God were perfect. He always did what pleased the Father. His purpose was to glorify the Father. In contrast, ‘the world’ is sinful; its relationship with God is one of rejection and rebellion. It values its own glory, not the glory of God.

In addition to Jesus’ sinlessness as a human being, he is also the eternal Son, who as ‘the light of the world’, is in stark contrast to the darkness of the world.

Read these verses. What do you learn about the contrast between Jesus and ‘the world’?
John 8:23

John 12:46

John 16:28

John 17:16

B.2 The world’s rejection of Jesus Christ
Such is the attitude/mindset of ‘the world’ that ‘the world’ rejected Jesus Christ.

Read these verses. What do they teach about the attitude of ‘the world’ to Jesus Christ?
John 1:10

John 3:19

John 7:7

John 15:18


B.3 The reason Christ came to ‘the world’
The great difference between Jesus Christ and ‘the world’ is made very clear when we look at his purpose in coming into the world. He did not become one of us to join us in our rebellion against God. He did not come to embrace our godless mindset. Rather he came with the very purpose of over-turning our rebellion, of bringing us to a new mindset: he came to save us from the darkness of our understanding and from our bondage to the evil one. He came to save us from our rebellion and from the results of that rebellion.

Read these verses. Why did Jesus come to the world?
John 1:29

John 3:16

John 4:42

John 6:33

John 9:39

John 12:46

John 18:37

1John 4:14

Given the strong contrast between Jesus Christ and ‘the world’, and given the attitude of ‘the world’ to Jesus Christ, John’s command in 2:15 to those who believe in Jesus Christ is entirely logical. The values and the purpose of Christ are at loggerheads with ‘the world’s’ values and purpose. ‘The world’ does not understand Jesus Christ. ‘The world’ hates Jesus Christ. Why then would those who have confessed allegiance to and acknowledgement of Jesus Christ ‘love the world’?

John put it this way: ‘If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’



Throughout the New Testament (indeed throughout the whole Bible) there is a clear and continuing distinction between people of faith and ‘the world’. This distinction is expressed not only in the ultimate eternal destiny of these two contrasting groups, but in their values, their priorities and their mindset. Jesus and the apostles consistently call the Christian away from a life lived according to the way of ‘the world’ to a radical new way of thought and life that is appropriate for those who have fellowship with the Father and with the Son.

From these verses, explain why it is inappropriate for Christians to love ‘the world’ and the ‘things of the world’?
Matthew 13:22

Matthew 16:26

Luke 12:29 – 34

John 14:17

John 15:19

John 16:33

John 17:6, 14

John 17:25, 26

Romans 12:2

1Corinthians 2:12 – 14

Galatians 6:14

Ephesians 2:2, 3

Colossians 2:8

2Timothy 4:10

Titus 2:11 – 12

James 1:27

James 4:4

2Peter 1:4

Turning to Jesus Christ in faith means a turning away from ‘the world’ and the things the world values. John says that ‘everything in the world ... comes not from the Father but from the world’ (1John 2:16), and as we have seen, is therefore from the evil one. John summarizes this ‘everything’ as (2011 NIV):

The lust of the flesh.
The lust of the eyes.
The pride of life.

The noun translated ‘lust’ in 2:16 is epithumia (in both phrases), from the verb epithumeo which means to long for, to earnestly desire, to covet. It is often used in the New Testament to refer to wrong desires, but not always. In Luke 22:15 we read that Jesus said ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer’. In saying this he used both the noun and the verb. Literally – ‘with desire I have desired ...’

Here John confronts us with the question: ‘What are you passionate about? What is the focus of your goals? What are you pursuing to give you a sense of worth and fulfilment? What is the centre of your life?’

Typically ‘the world’ gets its self-worth and its sense of identity from popularity, from power and position, from physical brawn or beauty, from possessions or wealth, from sex, from family, race or culture, including religion. It pursues these things, it desires these things, it values these things, because they give some kind of status or significance. But John says ‘the world and its desires pass away’ (2:17). These things can never give permanent satisfaction, permanent fulfilment. They are all uncertain. They are all fallible. They are all temporary. They are substitutes, sought because God, who alone can meet our needs, has been abandoned; God has been left out of life’s equation. In the supposed absence of God ‘the world’ avidly pursues meaning and purpose elsewhere. [The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes ponders the emptiness of this quest for meaning and significance apart from God.]

John states very clearly about a person who loves the world: The love of the Father is not in him – 1John 2:15. He has neither received the love of God, nor does he live in the reality of that love. John also states that the person ‘who does the will of God lives forever’ (2:17). This is the person who has acknowledged Jesus Christ, the Son of God, centring his life on the Son. Jesus said:

‘... the Father ... has entrusted all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him’ (John 5:22, 23).

‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (John 6:28).

C.1 The role of the Christian in the world
John commands us as Christians to be radically different from the world, and to love the Father rather than the world. But how does this fit with the love of God for the world that is stated as the motivation for the Father sending the Son into the world to save the world?

The things about the world that Christians are not to embrace (its godlessness, its rebellion against God, its self-conceit, and so on) are the very things that necessitated God’s saving action in Christ.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son .... (John 3:16).

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).

And, as John has written later in his letter: ‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us’ (1John 3:16).

While John, and the rest of the New Testament, make it clear that we are not to ‘love the world or anything in the world’ they also make it clear that God loved the world, Jesus Christ loved the world – not its values, not its actions, not its mindset – but the people. And those who align with the Father and with the Son, are, as John will stress later in his letter, to also love.

As part of their union with the Father and the Son they are incorporated into the passion and the mission of the Father and the Son:

What do these verses teach about the role of the Christian in the world?
Matthew 5:13 – 16

Matthew 24:14

John 13:34, 35

John 17:18 – 23