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The apostle tells us in 1 John 2:15,
15 Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Yet we read in John 3:16,
16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
If God really loves the world, we cannot say that Jesus’ love was any less, for He is the One who was willing to die for the sin of the whole world (1 John 2:2). His motive was love, and the object of His love was “the whole world.”
Furthermore, we are admonished in 1 John 2:6 “to walk in the same manner as He walked.” In other words, we too ought to love the world, even as Jesus loved the world, and all of our words and actions should be expressions of that love. Why, then, does John tell us NOT to love the world?
John was speaking Hebraically, where they often used the terms love and hate in relative terms. Jesus did this as well in His Sermon on the Mount. In Matt. 6:24 He says,
24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [“treasure, riches”].
It is really a matter of priorities. There is nothing inherently wrong in having wealth. Abraham was quite wealthy, as were many others in Scripture. Jesus’ good friends from Bethany (Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) were from a wealthy family. Joseph of Arimathea was one of the wealthiest men in Jerusalem, having accumulated much wealth as the Minister of Mining for the Roman government. History tells us that he mined tin from Britain. (See my book, Lessons from Church History, Vol. 1).
Wealth in itself is not a problem. God gave men work to do at the beginning, and the purpose of work is to create wealth. The problem comes when men make wealth a priority over their service to God. Wealth is not evil in itself, nor should we hate wealth. But from the standpoint of priorities, we ought to hate wealth (mammon) and love God, because we cannot serve two masters. There is room for only one master at the top.
In the same way also, John says, we should not love the world. He means to say that we should subordinate the world and earthly things to God—essentially, putting all things under His feet. If our love for the world exceeds our love for God, then we will serve the things of the world. In essence, this would constitute a rebellion against God, replacing Him with an earthly king who usurps the place of the rightful Heir of all things.
Hence, we should love the world and seek to reconcile creation to the Creator, but we should not love the world’s fleshly ways or its incorrect concepts about truth and reality.
Paul gives us another example of this in Romans 9:13,
13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Paul was quoting from Mal. 1:2, 3. Certainly, Esau’s carnal manner of life was something that God would hate, but Esau himself was part of God’s creation. How could God hate his own creation, which came “out of Him”? In the ultimate sense, God could not hate anything that was made out of Himself, for then He would hate Himself.
It is not that God hated Esau on an intrinsic level, but that before he and his brother were even born, God subordinated Esau to Jacob (Gen. 25:23). In fact, this was how Paul explained this “hatred,” if we read the context in Rom. 9:11-14,
11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!
Before the twins had done either good or bad, God “loved” Jacob and “hated” Esau. How? By decreeing that Esau would serve Jacob. It was a legal decision. Many explain this by saying that God knew ahead of time that Esau would be an evil man, and so He based His decision upon that foreknowledge. However, that would negate the entire concept of grace that Paul was setting forth in verse 11. Paul’s whole thesis rested upon the truth that God made His decision by His own sovereign choice, rather than upon the works—and future works—of Jacob and Esau.
When God decides matters by the council of His own will, man has no influence over that decision. Man’s works are mere responses to God’s decisions. His works do not cause God to make such decisions.
Paul goes on to tell us in Rom. 9:20-22,
20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
In other words, God made Esau to be a vessel “of wrath prepared for destruction,” while at the same time making Jacob a “vessel for honorable use.” They came from the same lump of clay, as it were. This was a sovereign decision made by the Creator who was utilizing His right as the Creator of the clay. It was not fair, but it was just. It was just (lawful), because creators have rights of ownership that others do not have.
Thus, God’s supposed hatred of Esau was a judicial hatred, not an intrinsic hatred. Esau’s legal subjugation to Jacob was a temporary position and condition expressed by the legal meaning of the terms love and hate. If a judge is called to judge a case, he resolves the case by condemning one and justifying the other. In that judicial sense, he hates the one and loves the other. It is not that the judge carries an emotional attachment to either of the two parties, nor does it show bias.
In other words, the judge hates the works of the guilty party and shows love to the innocent party that has been wronged.
John was thinking Hebrew when he said, “love not the world.” We must understand this in order to interpret John in a way that does not contradict John 3:16. He was telling us that nothing in this world should take priority over God or His commands and decrees. We ought not to worship any false god or to recognize any man (or government) as having sovereignty over the Creator. Neither should we esteem the works of the world and material wealth above the Creator.
This is why I teach that we ought to know the law of Creator’s rights. It is not unjust for the Creator to give one person authority over another. It may be unfair from man’s perspective, but it is not unjust according to biblical law.
We are to “fear the Lord,” which is the Hebrew way of saying that we are to recognize the rights of the Creator. Such fear is not the negative and destructive emotion that we know as fear. The Hebrew word has a broader range of meaning that also includes reverence and respect. We fear the Lord when we respect Him enough to do all that He says and to recognize His rights.
If we think that our right to sin takes precedence over God’s right to be obeyed, then we love the world and the things of the world. Neither do we truly “fear the Lord.”
He created; therefore He owns and is responsible for all that He created. He has the right to form vessels of honor and of dishonor. He has the right to give authority to whoever He chooses.
He also has the right to save all mankind (1 Tim. 4:10) and to reconcile all things that He has created (Col. 1:16, 20). If we do not recognize His rights, how can we say that we truly “fear the Lord”?
We study the laws of God in order to know how to defend His rights against all usurpers. He has the right to be obeyed. We do not have the right to sin (violate the law). Any doctrine that teaches that men have the right to sin comes from the heart of lawlessness (anomia). No man can claim to “fear the Lord” if he gives himself the right to sin by saying that His law has been put away.
In spite of antinomian doctrine, no man puts away the entire law of God. They only reserve for themselves the right to put away the laws that they disagree with, or the laws that they wish to violate.
Most of the time, this is caused by their lack of understanding. They think that one of God’s laws is unloving or unjust, not because it truly is, but because they think it is. But God has never instituted unjust laws. There are only misunderstandings and unjust applications of the law, brought about by the traditions of men.