When Materialism Consumes

Week of February 17, 2019

The Point: Possessions never satisfy or last, but the love of God does.

 Do Not Love the World: 1 John 2:12-17

[12] I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. [13] I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. [14] I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. [15] Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. [16] For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. [17] And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. [ESV]

“The light shines in Christians’ convictions [12-14]. This section of the letter is a break-point at which John looks back on the instruction he has already given before moving into a more detailed set of warnings against the world and the false teachers. It is perhaps an opportunity for the readers to assess the practical application of these truths to their own life situation. The structure is clearly and deliberately symmetrical. Verses 12 and 13a address, in turn, little children, fathers and young men with the verb I am writing. Verses 13b and 14 follow the same order with the same three categories. But who are the little children? Some commentators have seen in these verses encouragement to three age-groups in the church, though suggesting that this may refer to spiritual maturity rather than chronological age. However, because little children is John’s favorite phrase for addressing the whole congregation in the letter, it seems to me preferable to take the little children to mean every reader. Fathers would then mean the older church members, perhaps particularly the elders in whose hands the government of the church lay, while young men would signify the next generation. In neither case should we allow the masculine terminology to obscure the application of what John says to the women and girls of the congregation as well. If we remember too that John has been dealing with the marks of real membership of the family of God, we shall see that the because clauses particularly highlight the convictions John wants each group within the churches to hold, since by these the light of God will truly shine in their lives. Every child of God therefore should know that his sins are forgiven for his name’s sake and that you know him who is from the beginning. He has those convictions about forgiveness and about fellowship, which have been the substance of much of John’s teaching so far. He is writing because of those convictions; not so much to declare them as to apply them and to underline the consequences which must follow a true enjoyment of them. We can be God’s little children only because our sins have been forgiven, and that has happened for his name’s sake. As always in the Bible, the name indicates the nature. When John talks about the name of Jesus he is talking about His nature revealed by that name as savior, rescuer. All God’s children know their Father and know that He has accepted them, in Christ. The mark of maturity (fathers) is seen as a deepening of that knowledge. Twice John says he writes to them because you know him who is from the beginning. This description of Christ takes us back to the opening verse of the letter and the prologue to the gospel as it underlines the preexistence and eternal deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ever since these leaders of the churches first responded to the gospel they have known that Jesus is God and that this is what enables Him to accomplish the work of salvation [see 4:14]. Their continuance in the light depends upon holding firm to their knowledge that Jesus is nothing less than God, whatever the false teachers may claim. They are to hold firm to the Word made flesh through whom all things were made, by whom all things hold together, who is the only light of mankind. There is no route to Christian maturity other than a deepening knowledge of Christ, and those who know Him love Him. For the young men John identifies other priorities. They have overcome the evil one. They are strong, and the word of God abides in them. Here the emphasis is on victory over Satan which characterizes the beginning of real Christian experience and discipleship. To know that we have been rescued from the devil’s grip, and that he has no more power over us, is part of the glorious assurance that God wants to give to even His newest children. Verse 14 adds the further explanation that the real strength they enjoy as they walk in the light and battle for the truth is not simply that of their own natural youthfulness, but that supplied by the Word of God. We derive our strength to fight and conquer the world, the flesh and the devil, from the truth of God’s revelation in Scripture. It is indeed the sword of the Spirit [Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12]. How important it is then that fathers in the church should teach the young men the Word of God. Nothing matters more for the future health and strength of Christ’s body. The ultimate weapon against the gnostic errors was this letter and others like it in the New Testament, Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit being in itself God’s infallible revelation. That is still our only guide in all we believe and in all our behavior. Yet how many churches and Christian groups today are neglecting the teaching ministry? They will have no defense against the erroneous teachings which still seek to infiltrate Christ’s church. They cannot be strong; they will not conquer. Such Christians will be borne away from their moorings by the prevailing currents. They may find themselves in darkness, rather than light. We need to share and hold these biblical convictions with integrity and enthusiasm if we are to remain true to our calling. This is how the true light shines.

What’s wrong with the world? [2:15-17]. If we are going to walk in the light with the God who is perfect holiness, we cannot sit loosely to sin in our own lives. We have already begun to realize that being a Christian calls for a thorough-going dedication to the will of God. We must actively enter into all that Jesus has made available to us through His death. We shall show the reality of our faith by obedience to God’s will in every part of our lives. This in turn will strengthen and develop the reality of fellowship with Him. Now John makes this same point in a different context, as he shows us that if we are going to love God, we cannot also love the world. The two are mutually exclusive as objects of our love. We must begin by asking what John means by the world. World has different shades of meaning in Scripture. Sometimes it stands for the natural world which God has created which includes the whole human race. But there is another meaning of the world in the New Testament. Sometimes the world is seen as an organized system of human civilization and activity which is opposed to God and alienated from Him. It represents everything that prevents man from loving, and therefore obeying, his creator. This meaning of world has much the same content as John’s term darkness in chapter 1. The contrast between light and darkness could hardly be more stark. For John this is developed in a series of contrasts, such as truth and falsehood, love and hate, love of the Father and love of the world. That is why verse 15 is such a direct command: Do not love the world. Our contemporary danger is that we tend to water down this radical demand. We think that we can love the world a little bit. John wants us to look to Christ and see that He is the one whom we are to be like, for only in Him can we find our real freedom. 1. The world – a deceptive attraction. In verse 16 John defines more clearly for us what he means by the things in the world. It is obvious that he is not thinking about things in themselves, such as money or possessions, which are morally neutral. Rather he is talking about our personal attitudes towards these things. Christians have often been content to define ‘worldliness’ as consisting primarily in the things that people do or the places they visit. But John is concerned to show us that the world affects us much more deeply than that. The motives and attitudes of our minds and wills are what ultimately dictate our actions. Our affections are set either on this world or on God. It is impossible to love them both. John highlights three elements in the temptation of the world which the devil still uses to lure us away from the liberty of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. This is how the deceptive attraction still works on us. First, John mentions the cravings of sinful man – all that panders to our appetites. Of course the physical appetites themselves are not evil; indeed, they are God-given and essential for the continuance of human life. The problem is that our fallen sinful nature so often demands a level of satisfaction which involves breaking God’s laws or running to an uncontrolled excess. John is concerned that we should realize that we cannot love the Father and live that way. The person controlled by his cravings for self-indulgence is not free; he is, in fact the devil’s prisoner. What we need to realize is that the world (and behind it the devil) cannot produce what it offers. Its attractions are fundamentally deceptive. That is why we all need to be warned of the heartbreak and misery that lie on the other side of every act of rebellion against God. Secondly, John mentions the lust of the eyes. Here John directs our attention to the chief bridge between the ‘flesh’ and the outside world. The world is characterized by the desire to see things for the sake of sinful pleasure. In our society with its increased technological capabilities this now reaches alarming proportions, as pornography begins to invade the homes and lives of many children through the widespread use of video. John is also referring to the covetous eyes that say, ‘I see it, I want it, I’ll have it.’ As Christians living in a wealthy consumer society we need constantly to be judging our own reaction to the covetousness which is characteristic of the world and which so often infects our own attitudes. Thirdly, John speaks of man’s boasting of what he has and does. This phrase has at its heart the idea of the illusory glamour of the world, with its concentration on material possessions that decay and empty human glory. It is true that God gives us all things richly to enjoy; but they are His gifts, and we are to use them as stewards responsible to Him for the way we use our master’s resources. We dare not boast about them. Yet we Christians are often curiously blind to this form of worldliness. Concern about possessions, status, our image, or perhaps that equally deadly form of pride that apes humility – all these are forms of the pretentiousness of human life apart from God. In such a situation, people are eager to impress. They never let pass a chance in a conversation to make a point that exalts themselves and puts the hearers a little bit lower down the ladder. But that is no way for a Christian to live. It is characteristic of the world, and the world cannot satisfy. Its attractions deceive. This is why we have to be careful of where our daily behavior is leading us. Too often, when facing temptation, we ask, ‘What’s wrong with it?’ As Christians we really ought to be asking, ‘Is there anything right in it?’ This leads us to John’s other great constraint which he voices in verse 17a. Not only do the world’s attractions fail to satisfy, but they cannot last. All of these desires feed on their own fulfillment, but ultimately none of them will remain. So why should those who are heirs of the eternal world concentrate their interests and ambitions on something that is so fleeting and unreliable? We need to realize the brittleness of this world. So John challenges us to make Christian decisions about the way we are living today. If we love the world, we cannot love the Father. If we ally ourselves with this world, we live for what cannot last, and condemn ourselves to be identified with its decay and ultimate judgment. Such choices are part of our human responsibility. John challenges us to ask whose friend we really are: the world’s, or God’s? 2. A distinct alternative. But whoever does the will of God abides forever. Clearly, for John, doing the will of God is loving the Father. The antithesis is made very plain. The world attracts and ensnares so many people. They love it and follow its ways, fundamentally because they love themselves and want to indulge themselves. But over against that stands the God who is a loving, heavenly Father, and with Him those who show their love for Him by their obedience to His will. The world and those who live for it will pass away. The Father and His obedient children will live forever. All that Satan can offer is desires which will never be satisfied. God has a perfect will that will never be thwarted. The followers of the world share the condemnation and death of its system. The children of God share His eternal life. The challenge that we each face is whether the guiding principle of our life is doing and getting what we want, or obeying God’s will and following His purposes. That is the difference between heaven and hell. But we need also to remember that none of us will get to heaven by trying to do God’s will, as though by our own unaided efforts we were able to love God sufficiently to be worthy of being received into His presence. John’s Gospel again puts us right on this, when Jesus Himself declares, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent [John 6:29]. Rightly to understand God’s love for this world involves surrendering every part of our own lives to Jesus Christ as Lord. Only such a thorough-going commitment can adequately express the love we owe Him for all that He has done for us.”   [Jackman, pp. 55-66].

True Love: 1 John 3:16-18

[16] By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. [17] But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? [18] Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. [ESV]

“Verse 16 depicts the representative action of a child of God, seen in the person of the beloved Son. If hatred ultimately reveals itself in murder; love, taken to its conclusion, reveals itself in sacrifice. Love does not destroy another’s life, whether in thought or deed. Love gives its own life so that another may live. Jesus Christ laid down His life for us demonstrating God’s definition of love. It is not mere sentiment or emotion, not simply words, but deeds. And the deeds are not empty gestures; they actively transform the situation. Jesus laid down His life as a ransom price, so that we might be set free. And when we have been liberated, what then? We ought to lay down our lives for the brothers [16b]. This does not mean that a Christian can die for his brother or sister in the sense that Jesus did, in order to purchase forgiveness. His death was unique, and was totally sufficient for every sinner’s forgiveness and every captive’s release. But if love like that really wins our hearts and brings us to repent and to trust our lives to Christ, we shall want to express that same quality of love in our devotion to our fellow Christians. It is a love that gives without counting the cost, without any thought of return, without first weighing up whether or not such love is deserved – a love that is entirely without self-interest. It is the nature of God’s love to give, just as it is the nature of the sun to shine. And that love is the mark of a faith that is real. It touches our bank accounts and our diaries. It governs the stewardship of our time and talents, our energy and our possessions. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends [1 Cor. 13:7-8a]. What we need to grasp is that love like this is always available from Christ, who is its only source. We do not have to look into our poverty-stricken selves to generate a love like that. The more we are open to receive it, the more Christ’s love will flood into our lives and overflow to others. John soon brings us down to earth, however, with another practical application of these lofty principles in verse 17. We may never be called upon to risk our lives for another Christian, but what about the comparatively minor opportunities we do have for showing love? If we ignore them, how can we believe that our love for God is genuine? After all, this is where it really counts. Every time we come across a genuine case of a Christian in need, our love for God is tested. If we have more than he has we shall want to share what we have with our less fortunate friend. It may be a gift of money, but it may equally be a gift of time, or work on his behalf. So John exhorts himself and us [18] not to be loving with the empty evidence of words, but with the genuine evidence of actions. It is easy to love in words – to express sympathy, to promise to pray, to exhort and encourage – but it is actions that confirm or deny their truth.”  [Jackman, pp. 100-102].

Questions for Discussion: 

  1. In verses 12-14, John uses the word because six times to write five things that are true of the three groups he is writing to. Who are the three groups? What are the five truths? Why does John write these truths to the three groups? Why is it important for the members of the three groups to hear these truths? How do these statements apply to you?
  2. World is a favorite term for John. The word has many shades of meaning and John shifts from one to another without warning. He repeats the word six times in 2:15-17. What is the meaning of world in these verses? What warnings does John give concerning the world? What does he contrast with the world? How can a believer overcome the influence of the world? What role does “the word of God abiding in you” play in your ability to fight off the influence of the world in your spiritual lives?
  3. In 2:16, John gives us a three-fold test that we can use to evaluate the degree that we still love the world. This test is meant to be continuous in our spiritual lives as we seek to grow in our love for God and not for the world. To what degree does the desires of the flesh, of the eyes, and the pride in possessions still control you? John tells us that the way to overcome these worldly desires is by having the will of God abiding in you. What are you doing in order to continue to grow in obeying the will of God in your life?
  4. According to 3:16-18, what is the nature of true love? How does it differ from the world’s concept of love? How do we know that God’s love abides in us? How are we to grow in having God’s love abide in us?


The Message of John’s Letters, David Jackman, Inter Varsity.

1, 2, & 3 John, Karen Jobes, Zondervan.

1-3 John, Douglas O’Donnell, REC, P&R Publishing.

1-3 John, Robert Yarbrough, ECNT, Baker.

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