The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©


'Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the work And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever' (2:15-17).

In those words which sum up the gospel so beautifully are told that 'God so loved the world that he gave his only Son' (John 3:16); and yet here we are told 'do not love the world'. How do we explain this? What is the world?

a. The world.

The world is spoken of in two different ways in the Ne Testament. It may mean the people of the world. In the Way we should love the world as God has loved the world. We should love people and take to them the good news of God's love for them and of the fact that Christ has died for the sins of the whole world' (2:2). But the 'world' may also mean 'the things of the world' and the whole of the life of people in the world, organized in such a way that it leaves God out. In this way the devil has tried to take God's place as 'the ruler of this world', though He has been conquered by Christ and finally will be cast out altogether (see John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11). The world, when it follows the ways of the devil, rejects God and hates His people (see 3:13). Christians must realize this. We must take to heart also what the apostle Paul says in Romans 12:2, that we should not try to be like the world in which we live, but I like Christ, and be doing the will of God. James (4:4) says something similar. 'Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God'.

b. Worldliness.

Sometimes groups of Christians, sometimes Christian churches, have made rules and said that certain things a worldly and that the faithful Christian who loves his Lord must never do them. They have said that there are places to which the sincere Christian should never go. Sometimes such rules have guided and guarded Christians from evil and helped to lead them in the ways of God. But there are two dangers of such rules. Sometimes it is right to go to places that we would not go to for our own enjoyment and to do things that we would not do for our own pleasure in order to serve Christ and witness to Him. By the places that He went to, Christ Himself ran the risk of people calling Him the friend of prostitutes and sinners. The other difficulty is that a person may say, 'I do not do worldly things. I do not go to the wrong places. I am all right'. And there may still be worldliness in his heart. What is worldliness? What is the love of the world? Verse 16 answers the question in three ways:

1.It is the 'lust of the flesh'. This means all the self-centred, selfish desires that come from our life in the body, desires uncontrolled by the will of God and the desire to please Him. The desire for food and drink and sleep, and our sexual desires, all are desires that God has put in us. But these desires are to be controlled by God's laws and the plan and purpose He has for us and all His people. When we use food or drink or sleep or sex in the wrong ways and so not live the life God intends us to live, then we are loving the world rather than God.

2. It is 'the lust of the eyes'. Sometimes we see things with our eyes and we desire to get them for ourselves. We 'lust' for them, even though they are things that God does not intend us to have. We think that our happiness depends on our having them. They may not be things that in themselves are wrong, but we would be spending our money (that God has entrusted to us) in the wrong way if we bought them; or we would be tempted to set those things before God and our obeying and serving Him. It may be clothes that our eyes see and that we want for ourselves (see what 1 Peter 3:3-4 says about this, and it can be applied equally to men as to women). It may be things that our eyes see and want for our homes. When we are ruled by the 'lust of the eyes' we make things more important than people and we put the world and its desires before God in our lives.

3. It is the 'pride of life'. This means that the love of the world and the following of the ways of the world is for me to want to be important. I want to be popular. I am proud and what happens to me and what people think of me matters most. I want to have a bigger house and things that are more prestigious in the eyes of people. I want people to think that I am a great person. I want to impress others. When I am like this in any way I am loving the world more than God.

c. Living for time or for eternity.

Finally, these verses say two things to us clearly and simply, and they are things that we need to remember every day we live.

1. We cannot love God and love the world at the same time. 'If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.' We cannot set our heart at the same time on the things of the world and on the will of God. Jesus said the same thing: 'Do not save riches here on earth, where rust and worms destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, save riches in heaven, where rust and worms cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal. For your heart will always be where your riches are.... No one can be slave to two masters; he will hate one and love the other; he will be loyal to one and despise the other. So it is with you; you cannot have both God and wealth as your master' (Matthew 6: 20-21, 24, Today's English Version). See 2 Timothy 4:10 for an example of this.

2. The second thing is that the world is passing away. Food and drink, clothes and jewelry, houses and cars, radios and television sets, cassette players, video equipment, mighty and beautiful buildings, all last for a little while, and then they are gone. Sometimes we realize this very clearly -in a time of illness or accident or disaster. Our lives are limited and scripture reminds us of what we know is so true that 'we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world' (1 Timothy 6:7). Moreover, earth itself will come to an end one day. If things of the world matter most to us, then the time will come when we have nothing - nothing at all. But the things of God, our unseen spiritual possessions, last forever. God Himself is ever- lasting, and by faith in Jesus Christ and by accepting His forgiveness and salvation we 'take hold of the life which is life indeed' (1 Timothy 6:19).

If we do the will of God in our lives, we do what is of eternal value, and we will show and know that we are children of God who have His life in us and that lasts for ever. So John says here, 'the world and everything in it that people desire is passing away; but he who does the will of God lives for ever' (Today's English Version).


'So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate' (Genesis 3:6). That is how man's first temptation and sin came about - the lust of the flesh and the eyes, and the pride of life. Think how your temptations come in similar ways, and pray for God's help to love Him and not the world, and to want to do His will more than anything else.

For further thought and study.

1. Read Matthew 4:1-11 again and think how the three temptations of the Lord Jesus Christ were like the temptations to love the world mentioned here. With what arguments did He meet and conquer these temptations?

2. 'Think out what are the particular desires of the people of the world about you and their standards and the ways in which they are different from 'the will of God'. Then try to think out whether there are ways in which these affect your thinking, your attitudes and your actions. Are there ways in which you are loving the world rather than loving God?