I John 2:15-17 Do Not Love The World.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world” (v. 15a). The word for world here is kosmos. It is an all inclusive term referring to the whole of creation. On the surface it seems to parallel what Paul said at Romans 12:2, but there Paul refers to aioni or age, which is certainly related but not the same.* When John refers to kosmon and then kosmo in the above instance, he intends to include the whole of the created order. Is it wrong to love what God has made? No, it is not. However, here again is another word in the English, namely ‘love’ that has several Greek words behind it.** The word that John uses here is agapate, a word reserved for our relationship with the Lord, which is not a devotion we should have for what he has made (Cf. Mt. 6:24). The word kosmon can also refer to the world of the sinfulness of man and Satan, and the opposition of this “world” to the Lord and his people.
It is about this world that Paul said we should not be conformed, but rather we should be renewed in our minds that we “may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2 Cf. Js. 1:27; 4:4). This is also where the word aionos or age can be described as an “evil age” (Gal. 1:4). John defines what he means by world in the next verse. “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). John may very well have had the words of Moses in mind when he recorded the temptation of Satan to Eve. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh), that it was pleasant to the eyes (the lust of the eyes), and a tree desirable to make one wise (the pride of life), she took of its fruit and ate” Gen. 3:6.
‘Epithumia’ refers to desires which in this context is translated as ‘lust’. This is how it is translated elsewhere (Mt. 5:28; I Cor. 10:6; Gal. 6:16; I Tim. 3:1; Js. 4:2; I Pet. 2:2; II Pet. 1:4; 2:10). At I Thessalonians it is modified by another word which can also be translated as lust, depending on the context-“ev pathei epithumias” or “in passion of lust” (4:5). The NKJV translates the latter as ‘desires’ at James 1:14-15, but in the context, these desires give birth to sin and death. In the KJV it is translated as ‘lust’ at Romans 7:7, which the NKJV translates as covetousness, which since it refers to the tenth commandment, would suggest that it is a better translation in that context. There are other instances of this word, that because of the context are translated as ‘desires’ (Luke 17:22; 22:15; Phil. 1:23; I Th. 2:17; Heb. 6:11; I Pet. 1:12; Rev. 9:6).
So context is important in translation. Some words cannot simply be translated from a dictionary definition when the context is necessary to determine the true meaning. In any case, John responds to this evil triumvirate in order in verse 17. “And the world is passing away” (v. 17a)-this is as a result of what James spoke of-evil desires giving in to temptation and thus enticed, which ultimately results in sin and death (Js. 1:14-15). This is “the lust of it” (v. 17b). In the same way, there is a proper use of this kosmo, and an improper one (I Cor. 7:31). In contrast to this pride in self, those who do “the will of God abides forever”(v. 17c). This was also Peter’s point when he wrote (quoting Is. 40:6-8), that our flesh is passing away, but those who are born again through the word, have a word that abides forever (I Pet. 1:22-25).
* The English Bible (Eg. NKJV) Words For ‘World(s)’.
When it comes to the topic of what our English bibles (N.T.) translate as ‘world’, one of the key places to go to is the Letter To The Hebrews. This letter is the most polished Greek in the N.T. There are three words which the writer uses for our word ‘world’. Immediately at the start of the letter we find this odd translation of ‘worlds’ (1:2), which is repeated again at 11:3, and these are the only two such occurrences of ‘worlds’. This writer can only surmise that the reason for this is that the usual translation of the Greek behind this word was not something that came readily to their minds. The word in both instances is ‘aion’. Everywhere else that this occurs it is translated as ‘age’ or ‘ages’. It makes sense to say ‘ages’, but it makes no sense to say worlds in the sense of kosmos, which is what they are trying to do with the word ‘worlds’.
Their difficulty seems to be that in 1:2 it would have to mean that the Son created the ages, but this is in fact what the author conveys. The Son created the ages in which the fathers merely spoke. The Son created history, which is what we learn in Genesis. This universal understanding of the word ‘aion’ is again born out by the context at the other occurrence, because at 11:3 he amplifies on and describes the ages in which these heroes of faith lived. In this case, he is drawing our attention to the reality that the Son made the ages, and in particular what we might call “salvation” or “redemptive history.” This is in fact how the word is translated (in the NKJV and others) in the two other occurrences of it at 6:5 and 9:26, the former in the singular and the latter in the plural as in 1:2 and 11:3.
9:26 is particularly interesting, because it also uses that other more common word for ‘world’, that being ‘kosmos’. Speaking of Jesus, and these words, he wrote that, “He (Christ) would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the kosmos; but now, once at the end of the ages (not worlds), He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” His argument is that He only had to offer Himself up once for all, but is clear that these two words can not possibly be translated with the same English word. The kosmos is the whole of the created order, buts ‘aiov’ is an ‘age’ or ‘ages’ in the flow of history. However, the writer to the Hebrews has a third word which only occurs in his letter and once in Matthew’s gospel, and it has a clear distinction from that of the other two.
This third word is ‘oikoumenen’, which occurs at Hebrews 1:6, 2:5, and Matthew 24:14. This word means the whole inhabited earth. It is an expansion, as it were, of ‘oikos’, which refers to a dwelling, house, home, family, or temple. So in chapter one, after introducing the son as the creator of the ages in which the fathers spoke, and they spoke of Him, he then says that this same Son was brought into this inhabited earth. Furthermore it is this same inhabited earth that he is speaking about in the next chapter as well. “For He has not put the world (the inhabited earth-oikoumenen) to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels” (2:5). Instead, the new inhabited earth will be in subjection to human beings, made as His image bearers. The context of Matthew 24:14 also bears out the understanding of this word.
** Love-Phileo And Agape.
The N.T. contains a couple of Greek words that in English are translated as love. A good place to go is where we find more than one of these Greek words used in the same context. For example, this difference is brought out most significantly in a passage that concerns Peter, in John’s epistle. Near the end of his epistle, John records the following conversation with Peter. Jesus asked Peter if he had ‘agapas’ for him. Peter responds by saying he had ‘philo’ or brotherly love for him. Again Jesus asks Peter if he had agapas for him, and again Peter says that he had philo for him. Then after giving him an example of agapas, namely to shepherd his sheep, he then asks Peter if he had phileis for him. We then read that Peter is grieved by this, and he then says again, “you know I philo you” (v. 17). Agape love is something more than phileo.
Then in his first letter Peter uses both ‘philadelphian’ or brotherly love, and ‘agapesate’ at 1:22, and it also emphasizes this distinction. “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love (philadelphian) of the brethren, love (agapesate) one another fervently with a pure heart. As Peter began the work of feeding Christ’s sheep, Peter came to understand what it meant to have ‘agapate’ for him (1:8). Agape involves sacrifice. He later says that we must have ‘agapesate’ for the brotherhood (2:17). Interestingly he also refers later to what appears to be a poem or hymnal abstract when he talked about those who ‘agapan’ life (3:10). Paul also made this point. “But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to ’agapen’one another” (I Th. 4:9).
There are more occurrences in John’s first letter than in any other book. When the apostle John wrote that we should not love the world (that is, the kosmos, or the whole created order), he uses the word agape. The reason we are not to agape the kosmos is because agape is reserved for our relationship with the Him. To agape the kosmos is to make an idol out of what the Creator has made. However, we are to have agape for his church, because it is agape that we share with Him. This ‘agape(s)’ is in Christ Jesus (I Tim. 1:14; II Tim. 1:13). ‘Agapev’ is what the man of God must pursue (6:11). ‘Agapes’ is what we have been given, along with power and self-control (II Tim. 1:7). Husbands are to have ‘agapate’ for their wives (Eph. 5:25), but wives are to ‘philandrous’ their husbands (Titus 2:4). Phileo is affection, agape is sacrifice.
John, in recording Jesus’ words to the church at Ephesus, criticizes them that they had left their first ‘agapev’ (2:4), and it is this ‘agapen’ that the church in Thyatira is commended for (3:19). Jude prays that ‘agapen’ along with mercy and peace, might be multiplied for his audience and us (Cf. II Jn. 3). He also exhorts them to keep themselves in this ‘agape’ (v. 21). Endurance and sacrifice is what James refers to in his reference to ‘agaposiv’ (1:12). This is also what characterizes the believer’s relationship to God (2:5). ‘Agapeseis’ also characterizes what we are to have for our neighbour (2:8). This also is emphasized by Paul in his letter to Philemon (vv. 5, 7). However, there are more occurrences of agape in John’s letters than the rest of the NT put together, not including its occurrence in Revelation and his gospel.
John’s references in his letters to agape begins with I Jn. 2:5 where the agape of God is perfected in those who keep his word. Agappate is what we are not to have for the kosmos (2:15). The agapen of the Father is seen in that we are called his children (3:1). Again, it is agapomen that we should have for one another in his family (3:11 Cf. vv. 14). He then gives the best definition and understanding of agapnv we will find. “By this we know agapnv, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (3:16 Cf. v. 17-18, 23; 4:7-12, 16-21; 5:2-3; II Jn. 1, 5-6; III Jn. 1). Agape is something only made possible among humanity, because God had agape for his people, seen most clearly in the sending and sacrifice of His Son.