But what exactly is the world that the Christian disciple is commanded not to love? John 3:16 asserts that God "loved the world." Are God's children to do less? Too often Chris tians live as though they were of the world, but not in it. They have adopted the good things of culture and society, but refuse to involve themselves to create positive change. They take credit for the good, but shift the blame for the bad. John does not mean that Christians are to shun involvement in secular or political affairs, or that they are not to care about and for that which we call "the world." What, then, does the command do not love the world really mean?
We are helped by noting that in Johannine thought world (kosmos) is used in a variety of ways. First, world can refer, positively, to that which God created (Jn 1:9-10) or a realm where one exists (8:23; 9:5; 10:36; 11:27). Second, it also may refer to the people who inhabit the world (Jn 1:10; 3:16-17; 4:42; 6:51; 7:4; 8:12, 26; 9:5; 12:19, 47). God's love is directed toward them, but their response to that love is mixed (3:17-21; 9:39). Third, world is used more negatively and characteristically to des ignate those who reject or ignore God (or Jesus), those who live without recognizing the claims of God upon them. We find this negative usage of world often (Jn 1:10; 3:17; 8:23; 9:39; 12:31; 14:17, 19, 22; 15:18-19). That this world is in the power of the evil one (12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and hence opposed to God is particularly emphasized in 1 John (4:4; 5:19). Nevertheless, God still loves the world and sent the Son to destroy the works of the devil (3:8, 16). The following diagram illustrates the neg ative usage of world in this passage:
(A) The world (B) with its values (C) is passing away.
(a) The one who obeys (b) the will of God (c) remains forever.
Those who are "the world" stand over against those who obey. What makes the world "worldly" is its persistent rejection of the claims of God in favor of its own values and desires. In this passage, world and anything in this world designate a complex web of values, decisions and direc tions in life chosen without consideration for knowing and doing the will of God. When the Elder writes do not love the world he in essence calls people to make a choice for God's way of doing things and not for the world's ways.
But how does this square with the statement of John 3:16 that God loved the world? In that well-known verse God's love is demonstrated by the sending of the Son, an act intended to "save the world." God saves people who are bound by the world and its values by freeing them from their captivity. Quite simply, loving the world does not mean accepting it as it is, but remaking it into what it was created by God to be: people living in the realm of life and light.
The command do not love the world demands that we reject those ways of life which do not lead us to God or to the practice of truth, justice, righteousness and love. While this sounds easy enough in theory, it is not easy in practice. For it entails the recognition and condemnation of sin and unrighteousness. Here we can too easily fall prey to arrogant judgmentalism on the one hand or, on the other hand, to the subtle tug to let sinful behaviors pass unnoticed or unnamed in our efforts to love and accept people as they are. And yet acceptance and love of others never means that we must—or may—approve of a way of life that is inimical to God's way of light. Certainly Jesus knew his ministry to be one that exposed sin (Jn 16:8-10). Yet a ministry of exposing the unright eousness of the world's ways does not stand in contradiction to a min istry of love. For precisely by exposing sin, lies and hatred, we can become channels of God's truth, light and love, so that we enable others to live in that truth as well. But let us remember the epistle's admonitions to confess our own sins, and so let judgment begin at home.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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