Loving the World
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – I John 2:15
On its face, this text presents a problem for teachers in Christian schools. If we are not to love the world or anything in the world, then what should we study in school? Only otherworldly topics? Some say yes. They say we should flee the world and focus on communion with God, as the monastics have done through the centuries.
Others say we should study the world but not love it. The reason for the study of science and history and literature is to use the knowledge to live in the world, but definitely not to enjoy these things of the world.
When John tells us not to love the world, is that what he means? Use but not enjoy the things of the world? Certainly love of the Father is primary, but we need to be sure about what it is that opposes the love of the Father. Does the love of music oppose it? Does a sense of accomplishment in mastering the names of the bones in the human body oppose the love of the Father?
John answers these questions in the next verse: “For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” Our sinful hearts abuse and despoil the things of the world, thus perverting the proper use of what God intends for our good. How we engage the material world — our craving, our lusting, and our boasting – is what John is speaking against, rather than the material world itself.
Michael Wittmer helps us understand that when the Bible refers to the world, it does so in more than one way. Here John is speaking of the world, explains Wittmer, in an ethical way. He is warning us against sinful behavior. God did not give us talent and beauty so that we should boast about or lust after such things, and John wants us not to love the world in this way.
Other biblical references to the world, continues Wittmer, are ontological in character. Ontology is the study of the nature of things, and the Bible declares that all things come from the hand of God. Genesis speaks ontologically when it describes the formation of the world in the days of creation. And Paul tells us that what God has made is not to be rejected. He says to Timothy: “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”
Teachers need to understand these two ways of describing the world and employ both in their teaching. They need to study and celebrate God’s good creation with their students, but also warn against the sinful use of what he created.
Here’s a personal illustration of the difference: I love chocolate. God created it, I firmly believe, for my enjoyment (yours too). Why else would he make it to taste so good? But if I over indulge my taste for chocolate so that I become a glutton, then I have perverted God’s good gift, and made it into an object of ungodly desire. Gluttony is loving the world in the unethical way that John speaks of, and we shouldn’t do it.
O Lord, we are full of loves because you are love and you have made us in your image. Forgive us when we love amiss. Help us to love chocolate and the other good gifts from your hand in the right way. Help us to love what you love. For the sake of Christ and his kingdom. Amen.