The Things in the World
The epistle of I John has much to say about the topic of love: what kind of love a Christian should have, the kind of love God has for us, and even the things a Christian shouldn't love. Normally we consider the positives and what a Christian should love, but instead I'd like to focus this article on those things a Christian shouldn't love -- in particular the "things in the world" mentioned in I John 2:15:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15, ESV)
So what are these "things in the world?" I scoured the Bible looking for examples of things that people loved instead of loving the Lord God, and there were primarily two things that appeared over and over again: money and glory.
Let's consider money and why people may choose to love money instead of Godly things.
First, money, in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It is a necessary tool for us to function in a modern economy, and there is certainly nothing wrong with earning it, or even earning a lot of it! The real trouble with money is the love of money:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10, ESV)
Those who love money make the accumulation of money an end unto itself instead of a tool to help us be more charitable or do more work in the kingdom of God. When we hoard money we become like the "rich young ruler" of Mark 10 who, when Jesus asked him to sell all that he had and give to the poor, went away sorrowful. What a shame to be so close to salvation and to have just one thing come between you and Christ.
The allure of money has caused many to divide their allegiance between God and riches. Satan tries to deceive us with the promise that we can serve both, but we are warned:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24, ESV)
The world may measure success by your net worth or the brand of car you drive, but true success in this life belongs to those to whom our Lord will say, "well done."
Glory (that comes from man)
The other worldly "love" that seems to appear frequently in the New Testament is glory, specifically the glory that comes from man and not God. Perhaps this is a common refrain in the New Testament because it was a common trait of the scribes and Pharisees.
For instance, we see that the love of glory kept believers from confessing Christ:
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. (John 12:42-43, ESV)
We often preach to our young people about the dangers of peer pressure, but we ought to preach it just as often to adults because winning or maintaining the acceptance of our peers is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to submission to Christ no matter the age.
Sometimes even acceptance isn't enough, and we want to be thought of as someone who's really important. This is where pride fools us into thinking we're something when we're really nothing (outside of our relationship with God). The Pharisees and scribes spent a lot of effort in gaining honor among men, but in doing so they trampled over the word of God:
“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:46-47, ESV)
When I was in grade school I remember the insult "get a life" being bandied about, usually towards those who didn't fit in or conform. Despite our retorts of "I am rubber, you are glue" I think those insults occasionally come back to haunt us because we still have the temptation to just fit in. Conformance with the world is not without cost, however:
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25, ESV)
Gaining the whole world is not worth your eternal soul. The glory that comes from man is not worth the high price you must pay.
These things, money and the glory of man, are alike in many ways. Both are things that many have devoted their entire lives to accumulating, and both are ultimately unsatisfying. Have you ever met a person who, loving these things, claimed he had acquired enough? Not me!
Furthermore, to love those things means you are dividing your allegiance and love between two masters, and our God is a jealous God. The God who loved us so much he gave us his only son demands that we love him with our whole hearts. My brethren, do not love the world or the things in the world!