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TEXT: I John 2:15-17
SUBJECT: I John #6: What the World Needs Now
Here's a name you didn't expect to hear: Jackie DeShannon. If you're as old as I am, you know that she was a pop singer in 1960-70's with a (short) string of hits, including the one I heard just the other day-
What the world needs now is love, sweet love;
It's the only thing that there's just too little of.
To her way of thinking, a world so full of hatred, bigotry, contempt, and violence had to be sorely lacking in love. On one level, of course, she was right. But if you think more deeply about it, you'll see that she was wrong. There was no lack of love in 1965, in 2018, or when John wrote his Epistle back in the late First Century. In fact, every age has exactly the same amount of love, differing only on...the objects of that love. According to the Bible, man's problem is not that we don't love enough, but that we love the wrong things! Paul is not celebrating people when he says, for example, that they are-
Lovers of themselves, or
Lovers of pleasure.
He is sharply criticizing them, but you notice, not for failing to love, but for failing to love the things that ought to be loved. Thus-
Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.
And so, with all due respect to Jackie DeShannon who sang it, Hal David and Burt Bacharach who wrote it, the world is not the way it is because there's just too little love, but because the love we have is devoted not to the Father, but to the things that are-
Not of the Father, but are of the world.
This is what today's brief New Testament Lesson is about: not loving more, but loving less. We'll get to that in a moment, but first a reminder.
According to the first chapter, John wrote his Epistle to people in fellowship with him, God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, to Christians-not people who said they were Christians (as the heretics did), but people who were Christians. People, whom he has just said-
Have had their sins forgiven, who know Christ, have overcome the wicked one, have known the Father, and are strong.
John is old enough to be your grandfather, but he's not sweet old man, who always thinks the best about everyone. Taking his cue from the Savior, John knows good and well that-
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, but [only] he who does the will of my Father in Heaven.
There's the thing. He has looked carefully at the people to whom he wrote this letter, and he's convinced they're the Genuine Article-disciples in deed and not just in word.
But, for all this confidence, John is painfully aware of their temptation to love things they shouldn't love, or love them more than they ought to. How did he know it? Well, of course, we mustn't the special role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring him, but I don't think he needed 'A Special Revelation from God' to feel their temptation. Because he felt it too! We all do! The holiest Christian in the world has often loved wrongly.
Knowing this, John doesn't say, 'Well, nobody's perfect' or 'Boys will be boys', but something a little more stringent. Scholars differ on exactly how the first part of v.15 should be translated. My Bible says-
Do not love the world.
Others, however say-
Stop loving the world.
The incomparable AT Robertson says both are possible, and the context should make the decision. Reading the whole Epistle, and thinking through my own life, I think the second option is better. John tells them-and us-to-
Stop loving the world.
The Bible word is repent! The Lord wants us to stop loving the world so we can start loving the Father. Or, to ratchet it down a bit, to reduce our love for the world so that we can increase our love for God.
It would be flattering to think no one needed this command expect these poor saps in the First Century, but it would not be true! We all need it.
Starting with me, every one of us needs to look carefully at his true loves, and see whether they are ordered in the same way God would have them be. Believe me, this will not be a pleasant experience; a close look at ourselves will reveal just how little love we have for God and our neighbors, and how much love we have for ourselves, and yes-
The lusts of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.
What John wants us to quit loving is-
This is the verse I always point my Ariminan brothers to when they insist, 'world means world; it always means everybody'. Is that what it means here? Is the Apostle of Love telling us to stop loving people? No.
He is also not telling us to stop loving material things. The heretics of that time were Gnostics, who believed that material things were evil, and that, therefore, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ did not create them. A bit later, John calls such people-
Why? Because he knows the Bible and he knows the Gospel. The Bible teaches that God did create everything, including the material world, and that the uncreated Son of joined the material world by becoming a Man, and that, one day, the whole material world will be re-made into what it ought to be.
Thus, John is not telling us to hate.nature or television, cats, meat, wine, or any other created thing-as created.
What he means by the world is the world that has forsaken God. Or, perhaps, the world as God's Rival. He doesn't want us to hate food, but gluttony; not wine, but drunkenness; not sex, but fornication; not speaking, but lying; not dancing, but lewd dancing. And, certainly not hating our families, work or country, but idolizing them! This is what John means by 'the world'.
Just to be sure we're getting it, he spells it out for us in v.16-
For all this is in the world, the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not of the Father, but of the world.
Here, I think, the flesh means physical desires, for food, drink, sex, sleep, exercise, relaxation, and so on. Is there anything wrong with desiring these things? Should a Christian stay up as long as he can, for instance, and only sleep when he's overcome by it? Or is it all right to take an afternoon nap? Or to sleep in on Saturdays?
The word, desire is neutral (sometimes even used of our Lord), but here it means what our English word means: Lust! Excessive desire; the kind of desire that makes everything secondary to it. Many years ago, a woman asked me to talk to her husband about wanting to make love too often. 'How often' I asked? 'Five times a day'. Of course, the Bible doesn't specify how often husbands and wives should be together, but, this was plainly wearing the poor girl out physically, and keeping her from doing other things she needed to do.
Martin Luther was a manly man, but he knew sex wasn't the only thing we're tempted to overdo-
The lust of the flesh is that pleasure which I indulge such as adultery, fornication, gluttony, ease, and sleep.
This is what John means by the lusts of the flesh: Putting otherwise lawful physical desires love for God or neighbor (or, in the case of the man I just referred to, wife).
The second thing we're to stop loving is-
The lust of the eyes.
This recalls the tremendous power visible things can have over us. Eve ate the forbidden fruit, after all, when she-
Saw that the tree was good for food.
At the battle of Jericho, Achan nearly aborted the Conquest of Canaan when he-
Saw a Babylonian garment, a wedge of gold, and a bag of silver.
The great sin of idolatry is always the result of lusting for a God you can see with your eyeballs-
Behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!
Most Christians today are not overly tempted to bow down to Golden Calves or burn incense to Caesar's Genius, but.are Images no longer a threat to our souls? Pornography, for example? Or the Images pushed by the fashion industry? Or the automakers?
There's nothing wrong with buying a dress because it looks good or because you think you'll look good in it. But the desire can easily get out of hand, especially in the ever-changing climate that advertising brings us on us. Think of the money that could be put to good use-from missions to charity, to paying your bills!-that are, instead, spent on things, only because they look good!
The third thing we're to stop loving is the thing everyone can see in others, but hardly anyone can see in himself-
The pride of life.
This is the desire to stand out, to be well thought of, to be praised. In other words, it is the opposite of the mind of Christ, who deserved to be praised, but chose the life of a servant, a Man nobody noticed, nobody celebrated, nobody envied or wanted to be!
This is what John means by the world, not just the icky desires of a pervert or the pompous desires of a peacock, or even the secret desire of the Pharisee, but every desire that is inconsistent with God or out-of-step with Jesus Christ!
John knows that we love these things, and he wants us to stop it! He knew whereof he spoke, too, because, when he was young, he was full-more than full-of the pride of life, the all-consuming desire to be a Master in the Kingdom of a Man who chose to be a slave!
Sometimes this word, life, refers to possessions. It is easy to feel smug about the 'nice' things you have compared to the 'tacky' things other people have. And this can refer to your BMW over my old Mazda, but also my old Mazda over the bus you have to ride!
We can also be very inordinately proud of our intelligence, our education, our career, our looks, our thinness, our good taste, or the fact that I've got a wife and you don't!
Worst of all, we can be proud of our spiritual possessions, from being a Christian compared to the poor benighted infidel to be a 'good' Christian (whatever that means!) or a well-read Christian, even a super-humble Christian!
We ought to be thankful for the life and possessions God gave us, but we mustn't think we have them because 'we're all that!'-
What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
John knows the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are universal and perennial temptations, but he's not okay with them! You shouldn't be either. The gentlest old man can only thunder-
Stop loving the world!
Then he tells us why, two reasons:
Firstly, loving the world is inconsistent with loving God, v.15-
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
I can't help wondering if the people who first read/heard these words were as disturbed by John's bluntness as I am. Really? Loving the world means I don't love God? Right, that's exactly what he means. Or, to put a finer point on it, the more you love the world the less you love God; or the other way around: the greater your love for God, the less your love for the world.
If the words shock us, they shouldn't, because John got them straight from the Lord Jesus, who put it so memorably-
No man can serve two masters; for either he will love the one and hate the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other: you cannot serve God and Mammon!
If this sounds too rough, you ought to hear what James thinks of such people. He says they're (or it is we're?)-
Adulterers and adulteresses!
He wonders why we don't know-
To be friends of the world is to be the enemy of God!
These words ought to rouse us from our worldly slumbers, and move us to painful self-examination, embarrassing confession, and a real change of life! In other words, they ought to bring us to Repentance!
If they don't maybe John's second reason will: Loving the world is stupid!, v.17a-
The world is passing away and the lusts thereof.
Who would invest his money in a company on the verge of bankruptcy? Imagine a man in, say 1980 pouring his life's savings in IBM's typewriter division! Or mortgaging his home to get in on the ground floor of a business selling.pagers! Or mimeograph machines, 8-track tapes, carburetors, or VCR's! You'd say he was a fool! These things are now defunct! You might have invested in mimeograph machines in 1967, but if you knew then what you know now, you'd have waited for.Xerox!
Here's the thing: John is telling us that the things of the world are passing away-as he writes, they are on their way out. So why pour your life into things that are about to become obsolete? Things like-
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
The life of Christ has already exposed these products for the cheap junk they always were! But it was hard to see how low their quality was until we saw what a Real Life is, what it means to be a True Man, a Genuine Bearer of God's Image. Jesus didn't give into to physical desires; He didn't gawk at pretty women, and He certainly didn't pine for respect and admiration! His life on earth was a foretaste of the Life to Come, what we all ought to be, and by God's Grace, what we all will be!
This is where the Gospel comes in. He who does the will of God abides forever. The people who invest in God will inherit God! Amen!
But who does that? Most people don't appreciate the ways of God, and the few who do, cannot muster the power to follow them.
But One Man did, our Lord Jesus Christ! Only He, in the fullest sense of the words-
Delights to do God's will, yea, God's law is written in His heart!
Not only did He approve of God's will, but He did it, in exacting detail, every day of His life, including the day He laid down that life for the Salvation of the World!
The Father is so pleased with Him that He raised Him from the dead, thus granting Him Eternal Life, eternal both in its length and its fullness.
Here's where we come in. By putting our faith in Christ, God accepts us as though we were Christ, and being accepted by God enables us-however imperfectly-to stop loving the world and the things in the world. And to be filled with the love of God and for God.
This is the Promise of the Gospel: You don't have to be the way you are! You can change, no matter how set in your ways you are, no matter how disordered your love!
You can be made right. And will be. But only in Christ. To whom be praise and glory now and forever. Amen.
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