On my first pass I mentally nod agreement. Right, don’t love the world, which I sort of mentally convert to “don’t be worldly.” That agrees with Romans 12:1 where Paul says we should not be conformed to the world. As a follower of Christ I am to be different than the world around me and must not allow myself to be compressed into the world’s ways. I get that. It makes sense to me. But John doesn’t say “don’t be worldly.” He says “don’t love the world,” and to complicate matters he adds, “or anything in the world.”
There have been Christians who think not loving the world means to view the people of the world as contaminated and contagious and believe that we Christians must be completely separate from them, that we must have nothing to do with them. That’s the only way for us to be “holy” they think. Or they focus on the things of the world and interpret not loving them to mean we must live a totally austere life and enjoy none of the world’s comforts and joys. But surely those ideas cannot be right. How are we to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15) if we have no contact with people in the world? And what about 1 Timothy 4:4, which says, “Everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving”? That verse says we should enjoy the things of this world.
John goes on in 1 John 2:16-17 to say that what he meant by “the world” was “the cravings of sinful man.” It is the system of thinking that seeks to find life apart from God. It is the thinking that all that matters is the stuff of this world, its success, comforts, approval and pride. It is thinking one must obtain those things to be at peace and joyful and therefore the pursuit of them is all important. The world is a way of thinking that completely disregards “the will of God” (verse 17). That world, that way of thinking, loudly clamors for our attention every minute of every day. It pulls at us, it lures us, it pressures us and even intimidates us at times. This way of seeing life is what we must not love. Instead we are to love the will of God. Love the people of the world, by all means. Enjoy the good of this world that God blesses us with. But see it all for what it is, a world that is passing. Pursue with all your heart that which will last forever, which is the will of God.