2017 01 01 am 1 John 2:15-17 The Believer’s Practice

It is very easy for us to see ‘the world’ as a few gross sins that we should avoid. What we see though is that much more is in view. And we must be alert to this!

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Most of you will know that here in NZ every car has to have a regular warrant-of-fitness. And this means the car gets a thorough check from a trained technician to make sure it is roadworthy. And sometimes the report is good and you get the WOF and you drive out and carry on your way. But other times you drive in with a car that you think is roadworthy, only to learn that there is a problem. And this problem has to be remedied before the WOF can be issued. Well, the beginning of a new year is the perfect time for a SPIRITUAL WARRANT OF FITNESS. And in the Lord’s providence, the beginning of a new year coincides with our arrival at this passage of 1 John. So that means that you and me are about to be driven over a ‘pit’ so that the Holy Spirit can shine the light of Scripture into the hidden part of our being to assess our spiritual ‘roadworthiness.’

And congregation, this is most necessary. On Christmas morning we looked at Joseph’s response to the birth of Christ. And we noted that among the people of God there was a general lack of readiness for the first coming of the Lord Jesus. And we took this as an opportunity to consider our own readiness for the Second Coming of Christ. Using the language of Jesus from Matthew 24 & 25, we must ask ourselves and each other if we are ‘ready’ and ‘watching’ and ‘on guard’ and ‘awake’ for His coming?
 In Matthew 24, Jesus compared His second Coming with the Flood of Noah’s time. He said, “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man … Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” And for many of us, especially in the Western world, we live in plenty and prosperity. Are we awake?
 In addition, passages such as 2 Thessalonians 2 speak of the time before the Lord returns as a time false signs and wonders, and wicked deception while people have pleasure in unrighteousness. Are we ready and on guard against false signs and wicked deceptions?
I trust that none of us want to be among those who are unaware and deceived and lead astray. And yet, Scripture is quite plain that many will be in this category. Many will think they are in good spiritual health when the truth is that there are serious problems and they are unprepared for the return of Jesus. We do well then to pay close attention to these words from 1 John.

Last time we were in 1 John together, we called vv12-17 A PASTORAL PAUSE. Chapter 2 contains three ‘profession of faith tests.’ But before John gives the last one, he pauses to speak a direct word to believers.
 And vv12-14 we described as THE BELIEVER’S POSITION. They are words meant to encourage believers by reminding them of who they are and what they possess in Jesus Christ.
 But they are also the basis for the passage before us today. In v15 we come to the first command in 1 John. And it is given to those who profess faith in Christ. It is only they who can understand this command and strive to keep it. That is why we call these verses THE BELIEVER’S PRACTICE. And it is crucial that all of us hold this in our thoughts as we consider this command – I am to do this and I can do this because I have been united with Jesus Christ.

Now, we will have opportunity to say more on the subject addressed in these verses. So our key aim today is to make sure we have a general understanding of this command.
And what we have in these verses is the command and then an explanation for the command; we have a “do not…” and then we are given an explanation why we should do not. So we will start with a few comments about the SUBSTANCE of the command, and then we will consider the EXPLANATION for the command, which will put us in a better position to return to the SUBSTANCE of the command and the main message of these verses.

I. So we begin then with a few comments about the SUBSTANCE of the command. The command is “Do not love the world or the things in the world.”
A. Now, the word “WORLD” is a very important word in John’s epistle. We shall come across it and what it represents many more times. So, what exactly is the “world” and “the things of the world” that we are not to love?

B. Well, it probably wont surprise you to learn that there is a DICTIONARY OF CHRISTIANESE on the internet. It explains all the words and sayings and phrases that you are likely to hear if you hang around Christians for any length of time. Well, one of the Christianese sayings goes like this: “I don’t smoke, and I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls who do.” Have any of you ever heard that one before? It comes from North America. The reference to chewing is about chewing tobacco. Worldliness, according to that Christianese, is about smoking and chewing and being friends with those who do those things. But even if you haven’t heard that phrase, I am sure you get the picture. There is the idea among Christians that things like smoking, doing drugs, watching movies, sex outside of marriage, gambling, pornography, and other things like that, are “the world” that we must avoid. So as long as you don’t do the things on a particular list then you have avoided worldliness. What we are going to see today though is that SOMETHING MUCH BIGGER IS IN VIEW WITH THIS COMMAND.

C. Having just said that, though, the middle portion of v16 reveals that there are thoughts and behaviours that are from the world. Three categories are mentioned there, “THE DESIRES OF THE FLESH AND THE DESIRES OF THE EYES AND THE PRIDE OF LIFE (and you will see in your ESV footnote that life can also be translated as possessions, which probably gives us a better idea of what is in view).”
1. What is meant by the flesh, the eyes, and life (or possessions) are those things that have to do with our bodies, the material objects that we can see with our eyes and covet, and earthly things like our possessions or our status. We are talking here about those things that can be touched and felt and seen and experienced as a part of this world and this life.
2. Colossians 3:2 says to believers, “Set your minds on things above, not on EARTHLY THINGS.” Our thinking and our behaviour is to be dominated by the Holy Spirit and the things of heaven and eternity, not by earthly things. So, we need food, we need drink, we must work, we need shelter and transport, and God has given us sexual desire. And it is OK to pursue a promotion at work. It is OK to have a hobby or play a sport. And leisure and entertainment are not evil things in and of themselves. But believers should have nothing at all to do with ungodly and unlawful versions of these things. And even the earthly things that are OK and needed are to be enjoyed only in the place and in the measure that God allows. When we seek these things in the wrong place, or they become our addictions, or the way we measure ourselves against others, when our time and energy and focus is absorbed by these things at the expense of growing in the fruit of the Spirit or our participation in the life of the church or our personal devotions, then we are breaking this command.
a. Illustration – Hosting a party used to be easy. You would offer tea and coffee, Coke and Fanta, chips and dip, and you would fry some steaks and sausages on the Barbie and have a salad. But not now! One person is gluten intolerant, one person is lactose free, one person only drinks Darjeeling tea, and has brought their own tea bag, one person can only have decaf, one person is on the no-carbs diet, another will tell us all how evil sugar is, one is a vegan, one is a vegetarian, one person only eats paleo, and the other is asking you if the eggs in the salad are free range? And I am talking about us as church folk. Could it be that we are overly absorbed with our food? Could it be that we are attaching too much in terms of our wellbeing too what we eat and drink? Is this one of those areas where we are very much like the world in that we have set our minds on earthly things?

II. I trust you can see then that this is a very practical command. Earthly things are a huge part of the moments and hours of every day for everyone of us. And the sinful nature that remains in us has a strong attraction to the magnet of the world. But again, we want to see that this command has much more in view than just our behaviour. So let’s look now at the EXPLANATION for the command in these verses. And the explanation for the command has three parts to it:

A. First, we must not love the world because, as we see at the end of v15, “IF ANYONE LOVES THE WORLD, THE LOVE OF THE FATHER IS NOT IN HIM.” Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” So the question needs to be asked: Are you trying to love God and the world? Because the implications of this verse are clear, if you love the world, you do not love the Father. Now, Christianity is not about living a perfect life. That will only be possible once we are in heaven. But there is a difference between falling into sin and loving the world. Galatians 5 talks about the person who is “caught in a sin.” The image there is someone walking on a tightrope who falls off into the mud. The person who loves the world, though, is the person who constantly walks in the mud and likes it down there. Is this you? Do you like the mud of your sin? Do you love the cravings of your sinful nature that you indulge in again and again and again. Do you excuse your sinful passions? Are you looking forward to the next episode? Is the majority of your time and focus given to earthly things rather than things above?

B. Well, let the second part of the explanation for the command guide us further as we think about these things: It is found in the part of v16 that we have not considered yet. For there we see that “all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life – is not from the Father but from the world.” We have already seen in ch. 1:5 that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” So if this God of light and holiness has given you His Spirit to live within you and to grow holiness in you, then two passages of Scripture become very helpful with our spiritual WOF checklist.
1. The first is Philippians 4:8-9. It says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Are these the sorts of things you think about? Are these the sorts of things that guide your entertainment choices, for example? Do you find yourself troubled by things that do not measure up with that list, and more troubled by them as the years go by?
2. The second passage is Galatians 5:22-24. It tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Are these the qualities and behaviours and attitudes you love and that you are eager to grow in? But in terms of all that is in the world, that passage continues with these words, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Is that a good description of your attitude and practice when it comes to all that is evil? Are you a continual crucifier? Some of you will have heard me use this image before. But the flesh with its passions and desires keeps trying to get off the cross. Are you busy whacking the nails back in to keep it there or are you lifting it off and giving it CPR and bandaging its wounds?

C. But let’s look also at the third part of the explanation for this command. We see it in v17 where we read that “the world is passing away along with its desires.” In MATTHEW 6, the Lord Jesus devotes a significant part of His sermon on the Mount to the things we treasure. He warns us against storing up earthly treasures, because they are destroyed by moths and rust and are easily stolen. He tells us that where our treasure is, that is where our hearts will be. He tells us not to be anxious about our earthly needs. He says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” I am sure that many of you have heard it said that you never see a trailer behind a hearse. We get it. The problem with that saying though is that death is not the end. The grave is not our final resting place. For we will all stand before the Judgment throne of God. And what we are being told here is that if our focus has been on earthly treasures and pleasures, if we have tried to serve two masters, if the kingdom of heaven has not had first place in our lives, we are fools because this material and physical stuff is for a short time while eternity in heaven or hell is forever. The most pleasurable feeling we can experience on this earth is nothing compared to the pleasure of being with Jesus and the delights and joys of the work we shall enjoy in the eternity of heaven.

So, if you have taken this spiritual WOF and concluded that you love the world and the love of the Father is not in you, or if you see that the love of the Father is in you but that there is still too much of the world in your life, the solution is the same: 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Go to God and confess your sins in humble and sorrowful repentance. And then resole within yourself, and seek the help of the Spirit of Christ to turn around and walk the pathway of godliness. And walk this pathway as part of a congregation. We cannot do this alone. We need preaching and the sacraments and Bible study and prayer and fellowship. We need to have our attention drawn to passages like this one, again and again, because of the influence of the world.

III. And the influence of the world is why we end by returning again to the substance of the command. We are not to love the world or the things of the world. What we need to understand then is that much more is in view with the world than a list of behaviours.

A. Earlier in the service, we read from Revelation 17&18. And remember that Revelation was written by the same John who wrote 1 John. And we read about BABYLON the Great. She is described as a prostitute. And she is a symbol of all that is evil in this fallen world. She is the system, the way things are, in a sinful creation. Babylon is worldliness. And three things are particularly noteworthy about the prostitute Babylon:
First, she is very attractive. She is decked out in royal clothes and fine jewellery. She is alluring and seductive.
Second, her influence is pervasive, which means everywhere. We are told that she sits on many waters (Rev. 17:15). And this is a symbol of influence. Babylon is connected and powerful. She is not one kingdom in one place at one time but the worldliness that saturates every country, every culture, and every government.
And finally, Babylon is impressive. The Apostle John himself said, “When I saw her, I marvelled greatly.” He was astonished at her influence, her power, and her hold on the inhabitants of the earth.
Now, why do you think so much attention is given to Babylon in the Book of Revelation? Because she is real and dangerous and close by to all of us. Every day she is inviting us to taste her delights. And what she offers seems attractive and impressive.

B. Let me try and illustrate this. 1 Cor. 10:31 says this to believers, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Because you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you do the most ordinary and simple tasks of life to the glory of the Triune God of the Bible; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this means that those who do not follow Jesus Christ give no thought at all to the glory of God. So, Babylon is all those who ignore God and live a life independent of Him, a life that is based on this world and this life only. Babylon is the average person you meet each day. Your neighbours over the road, Bob and Jane, who put your wheelie bin out for you when you go on holiday, and feed your cat, and always say Hello and How are you?, and who wouldn’t hurt a fly, because they ignore God and live a life independent of Him, are of Babylon, are of the world.

C. And while that might sound rather benign and not really such a big deal and Why is John making such a big fuss about the Bobs and Janes of the world, listen to what we read in 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Ephesians 2 tells us that those who do not belong to Jesus Christ follow “the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
1. People of God, there are TWO KINGDOMS in this world – there is the one ruled by Jesus Christ, which includes all those who have embraced Him as Saviour and Lord, and there is one ruled by the devil, which includes all those who have not embraced Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. So if Jesus is not your king, then the devil is your prince – there is no neutrality, there is no middle ground; you are either in the kingdom of Christ or you are in the kingdom of the devil. If you are not for Jesus, you are against Him.
 Bob and Jane, your neighbours, are servants of Satan; they are against Jesus.
 The person writing the article in the newspaper, who does not believe in Jesus Christ, is a servant of Satan.
 The person teaching your child at school, who does not believe in Jesus Christ, is against Jesus Christ.
 The person who controls what comes onto your social media feed, who does not believe in Christ, is a servant of Satan.
 The person who directed the movie you are watching or who wrote the novel you are reading or who composed the song you are listening to, who does not believe in Jesus Christ, is against Jesus Christ.
Brothers and Sisters, young people and boys and girls, you go about your life each day surrounded by those who follow Satan and are against Jesus Christ. And their opposition to Him directly influences what they think and say and do.
You will remember that John began his letter by referring to light and darkness, and that he has continued to mention light and darkness. To be a follower of Jesus is to be in the light. To not follow Jesus is to be in the darkness. And darkness is the kingdom of the devil. And the kingdom of the devil is the world. The “world” then is all that is not of God, Christ, truth, and light; it is everything and everyone that is opposite to God and His revealed will; it is the comprehensive sphere of human life that is under the control of the evil one.
D. But a well-known military proverb goes like this: “FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED.” If you know that Babylon or the world is a real and dangerous entity, and if you come into contact with Babylon all the time, if you know that those who belong to Babylon are busy trying to entice you to taste the ‘delights’ of Babylon, you are well placed to discern everything and to resist Babylon. If you know, using the language of Ephesians 6, that you are in a daily battle with the schemes of the devil, then you know why you must “take up the whole armor of God,” and you know how to use the armour of God “so that you can stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
Right in the midst of Revelation 18’s description of Babylon, we read these words: “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins.” Those words are the same as the command here in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” The world constantly beckons us and invites us to eat poison dressed up as Pavlova. But the Lord Jesus has given you a poison in pavlova detector (the Bible and the Spirit). That is why you can Be alert, and watching, and on guard, and awake, and Ready when He takes you to be with Him in heaven or comes again. Amen.