This section of 1 John begins with a bit of an odd appeal. John admonishes his entire audience but singles out fathers and young people. In so doing, as you can probably notice, he’s pretty repetitive. But, the message he gives in those lines is pretty much summed up in verses 15-17 when John distinguishes between “love of God” and “love of the world.”
“The world” is a term that is thrown around a lot in Christian circles. If something is “worldly” then it bad and refers to any sort of sin that involves giving into your desires or pleasures or even the negative aspects of the culture around you. If something is “of the world,” then it refers to something that is contrary to God’s purposes and inhibits people from seeing or following those purposes. To be “not of this world” is a recognition that this world is not our home and we’re “just passing through” type thing. You see this on bumper stickers and t-shirts. But, is that what John is referring to here when he mentions “the world?”
I want to raise a question. Many of us are quick to refer to the descriptions of the world mentioned above in a negative context, but didn’t God create the world? Didn’t John also say “God so loved the world he gave his only Son” (John 3:16)? Why is the world all bad?
I think a distinction has to be made here. Sometimes, when the word “world” appears in the Bible, it is used in different ways. One of those ways carries a negative connotation to it, and that is when “world” is referring to oppressive systems or ways of thought that run contrary to what God intends for the world, or, the things that live within it. Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, John recalls Jesus mentioning Satan as the “prince of this world” (John 12:31). In other words, Satan manipulates a lot of the things that influence us, to do so in a harmful manner. Those are the things that aren’t to be loved. However, the people within the world and the things that people depend upon for survival and a full life, are the things to be loved and things to be fought for continually.
So, when John encourages his “children” to “abide in God,” “remain strong,” and to “conquer the evil one,” this is exactly what he is referring to. Love goes against how Satan uses the world to divide us. Love unites. It is worth mentioning that this type of love is not simply a feeling or emotion. Instead, it can be seen as a consistent devotion or commitment. If our desires or selfish ambition constantly influence us, that is contrary to the way in which God has created the world. But, if we remain, or abide, in God and are committed to loving one another for the long haul and with all our shortcomings as human beings, we’re “fighting the good fight” as Paul says (1 Tim 6:12). We cannot love God and love the tainted aspects of the world at the same time, or, as James says, “friendship with the world is hatred towards God” (James 4:4). Pretty strong words, there! And, as Jesus said regarding money, “no one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). It’s interesting that John connects those same things in verse 16, “for all that is in the world – the desire of the flesh, the desire for the eyes, the pride in riches – comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16).
Desires like this, says John, pass away. But a steadfast devotion to love and the will of God do not. This is why we must strip ourselves of these various things that we think define us (desires, money, vocation, possessions, affiliations, etc.) and come together under the Cross. Jesus also said, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world” (John 15:19). In other words, we’re “in the world not of the world.” And it is in these things we must, just like John’s audience, remain strong and continue to abide in God. That’s how we fight, that’s how we win, and that’s how the world becomes redeemed through the love of Christ.