Meditations for Troubled Times
“Do not love the world or the things in the world.” (1 John 2:15)
In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Vanity Fair is described as an old place, but you wouldn’t know this by how it looked. There was a lot of freshness and opulence. Merchandise and games filled the streets, but so did moral decay. Thievery, adultery, and deceit characterized it. It was where many weary travelers were dragged away and enticed. They would stop and find false comforts, never to leave again. This is part of the reason why the Apostle John cautions us about the modern equivalent of Vanity Fair—the world. He says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” It can’t give us what we need.
Notice a few things about this command. First, it’s forcefully given. Think of it this way: Moms, you’re walking in your neighborhood with your children. And then, suddenly, one of them bolts into the street, and a car is coming. What do you do? Do you just calmly suggest, “Hey, why don’t you come over here?” No, you emphatically call your wayward child back! This is the sense here in verse 15. Lives are on the line, and so we’re told, “Do not love the world.” However, what is the "world" John has in mind here? Specifically, it’s the organized system that stands in opposition to God and his people. It’s the City of Man, whose goal is to imitate its master, Satan, “to steal, kill, and destroy,” using any means. It will even resort to using soft speech, delectable delights, and eye-catching entertainment. Like the proverbial frog in a kettle, it will try to make you feel nice, soothed, and comfortable, but before you know it, you’re cooked.
Yet, John says that it is not simply the world, as an organized system, that is against the people of God. Next, think about his comment, “or the things in the world.” The City of Man is a producer. It creates things that imbibe its ethos and ethic. More fundamentally, it’s a distorter. It takes the good God has given and twists it for its own destructive purposes. Do you remember the TV show Lost in Space? What did the robot say? “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” That is what John is doing. He’s giving a warning about the world and its things.
Yet, finally, think about the overall directive here, “Don’t love the world or the things in the world.” The word here for love is “agape,” which entails having a high regard for and dedication to something. It’s an act of the will and a movement of the heart. It is an allegiance and an affection, which expresses itself in action. So, he’s saying, don’t give your heart to the world. Don’t let it be what stirs you and captivates your mind. Don’t let your loyalty reside with Vanity Fair. Why? There are lots of reasons. One is that it cannot really satiate the soul. God loves his people; he knows what’s best for them, and the world is not. In times like ours, where anxieties are high, boredom is common, and loneliness is prevalent, the temptation is to turn to Vanity Fair for comfort. However, it will never truly and deeply assuage. As Blasé Pascal put it, “There is an abyss within the human soul, which is so great that only God can fill it.” Instead, come to the one who gives living water. Drink from the River of Life, Jesus Christ. Taste and see the LORD’s goodness and be satisfied.