One thing is certain in the Scriptures, Christians are not to love the world (1 John 2:15-17). But what does that mean? I know what the words mean, but what did John mean? We could do a word study and look up the definition, but that doesn’t help us because the word world is broad in its meaning and has many definitions. We could look at the original Greek, but since we aren’t original Greeks that doesn’t help (not to mention the Greek word is as broad as the English). How are we going to figure this out? It’s vitally important since John tells us this is a distinguishing characteristic of a child of God.
We can start by looking at how John uses the word in other places. If we narrow the usage to First John, we find 14 instances where he mentions “world” and one more in second John. Looking at the context, you could divide the usage into three categories of meaning — the people, the system, and the place. “World” refers to the earth and all the possessions in it. It’s also used to describe the worldview derived from human nature apart from God. Human nature is wicked, and the “world” is the way of the people who live in it, and that brings us to the last usage, the people. Sometimes it refers to all the people on Earth and other times, a subset of people. It’s easy to say “world means world” until you consider that Jesus is the Saviour of the world (1 John 4:14) but the same world hates Christ and his people (1 John 3:13). So it’s as broad or narrow as the author intends it to be, and we must rely on the surrounding context to determine who or what is being referred to.
Now that we have identified the possibilities, let’s consider the text. “Love not the world,” cannot be referring to people. Jesus tells us that we are to love fellow Christians, and also to love our enemies who are not. That pretty much covers everyone. What is John telling us not to love? I believe the love of the world is a misplaced love of things in the world that centers on the worldview of the depraved heart. The world is full of the lust of the flesh and the eyes and the pride of life. When a person loves the world and lives for the things in the world, their affections are out of order. Rather than enjoying the blessings of God, loving the world makes the gift the supreme desire. It’s idolatry, loving the created more than the Creator and loving self more than others. It’s a world without God and the Lord Jesus Christ making the creation the object of our worship and affections, with lust and pride being primary motivations. The love of the world is contrary to the love of the Father and is proof that God’s love doesn’t reside in the heart.