Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone love the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and its lust; but the one who does the will of God abides forever, 1 John 2:15-17.
I think this passage ranks among those Biblical passages that are often misappropriated, misunderstood, or ignored. There are those who know this passage well and who use it in their preaching and conversation without understanding it – their image of obedience to this passage is not always the Biblical understanding. Then there are those who explain away the passage so that it does not apply to them. I think a sign of spiritual life and growth is a life-long engagement with this passage, an engagement characterized by tension. This passage is particularly difficult to respond to (at least it should be difficult) in a society that has so much of everything; this is not to say that those who live in poverty are immune from the toxic temptations that John portrays because sin, like water, finds its own level – one can drown in a bathtub as well as in an ocean. I confess to being no farther along with this passage today than I was over forty years ago – unless progress can be measured by tension and an awareness of how utterly I fall short of obedience to its warnings.
Consider the parallel between 1 John 2:15 – 17 and Genesis 3:6; When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate, Genesis 3:6.
1 John Genesis
the lust of the flesh the tree was good for food
the lust of the eyes it was a delight to the eyes
the pride of life the tree was desirable to make
Those who ignore or explain away 1 John 2:15 – 17 ignore or explain away the portal by which sin entered humanity; that which was then our downfall continues to be our downfall, and the serpent’s words continue to be, “Has God really said?...You will not die!...You will be like God.” We witness the crescendo of our folly and of God’s grace in John’s book of Revelation – those who insist on living by the words of the serpent will die, those who repent of their sin, who trust in Jesus Christ, who learn to live by Him (the Tree of Life) will abide forever.
A third passage helpful to our interaction with John’s text is James 1:12 – 15: Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished it brings forth death.
The Apostle Paul equates covetousness and greed with idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5) – the lust and pride of which John, James, and Paul speak is not sexual, though it can have sexual elements – these things are matters of the heart, they go to the root of who we are and who we worship and where we will spend eternity – to trivialize the Bible on these matters, whether by gross legalism, by “name it and claim it” libertarianism, by mainstream and respectable materialism, or by outright rejection of the Biblical text is an act as foolish as Eve’s – indeed it is more foolish, for we have only to look around us to see the carnage such choices unleash, this is knowledge Eve did not have.