Falling Out of Love


Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Introduction

Earlier this summer a series of very disturbing newspaper articles appeared in the New York Times and other outlets about the way the People’s Republic of China penetrated and brutally disrupted American espionage operations within their country. For many years, the CIA and other covert agencies within the U.S. government had built up a network of Chinese informants, and by 2010 the American government was getting some excellent intelligence about what was happening in Beijing and within the Chinese government. Many of these informants were Chinese, but they had American handlers, who secretly met with them at restaurants and other places. But then, these informants began dying. One by one, the sources dried up. Some of the informants were shot. One man was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of the government building where he worked. Others were sent to jail. The American handlers found themselves in real danger. 

It appears that China somehow infiltrated our operations and found out what we are doing and who was working with us. According to the newspapers, American officials still don’t know what exactly went wrong. Some believe the Chinese hacked into the CIA’s top secret computer network. Others think the CIA handlers got careless and used the same restaurants and drop off points and meeting spots too often. Some believed we had a traitor, and every employee of the American Embassy in Beijing was scrutinized. 

The most prominent theory points the finger at an ex-CIA agent, a man who was stationed in Asia, but who left the agency, retired from the CIA, and decided to stay in the region as a businessman. He had access to a lot of data, and some officials suspect that the Chinese government bribed him and turned him into a double agent.

We may enjoy watching spy shows on television, but it’s a different thing to imagine yourself actually living that kind of life. What would it be like to be stationed in a land not our own – in a difficult and hostile and dangerous land – located there on temporary assignment, living with a different agenda from everyone else, to advance a cause in which you believed, knowing that you needed an exit strategy you could trust when things went wrong?

Without being overly dramatic, I think you can see that’s precisely the situation we find ourselves in as followers of Christ.

We are stationed in a land not our own –in a difficult and hostile and dangerous world – located here on temporary assignment, living with a different agenda from everyone else, to advance a cause in which we believe, knowing we have an exit strategy we can trust.

The New Testament writer who seemed to most appreciate this was the apostle John, and it’s very interesting to trace the way that he talked about the “world.” When you read the Gospel of John and the epistle of 1 John, you noticed that John had a preferred vocabulary. He used a set of words over and over and over—and one of those words was “world.” And to John, when we become Christ-followers, we’re longer at home in this world. We begin living like ex-patriots in a dangerous place.

For example, let me show you some verses in the Gospel of John.

  • In John 15:18-19, Jesus said to us: If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.
  • And in His great priestly prayer for us in John 17, Jesus said: I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it… As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world (verse 14-18).

This is a remarkable way of looking at ourselves. If you are a follower of Christ, you are not of this world, you do not belong to this world, and you are actually hated by the world, but you have been sent to the world on temporary assignment, and while you are here doing your work the heavenly Father has to protect you constantly from the evil one.

Now when we turn over to the book of 1 John, we come to this same theme—but it is presented to us as a warning.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

In other words, since we are citizens of heaven and ambassadors for the King, stationed in a world to which we do not really belong, located here on temporary assignment, living with a different agenda from everyone else, to advance a cause in which we believe in, and knowing we have an exit strategy we can trust—since all that is true, we must be careful in our thinking and not become compromised in our values or in our sense of identity. We don’t want to be like a spy who switches sides.

The first words of this passage give us the central command: Do Not Love The World or Anything In The World.

He is not talking about the people that are in the world. He does not say, “Do not love the people of the world or anyone that is in the world.” He is saying, in effect, “Do not love this world system or anything that it offers. You are citizens of heaven. You are people stationed here on this planet for a very brief assignment. You are in a hostile environment. Go ahead and love the people, of course; but do not fall in love with what they are doing or how they are living or with this world system.”

To make sure we don’t miss it, the apostle John subdivided his emphasis into three sections. There are three zones in this world in which you must be particularly careful. There are three territories that are especially dangerous. 

Don’t Fall in Love with Your Appetites

The first has to do with our appetites. Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh….

When God created our bodies, He created them with certain needs. We have physical needs. We’re not like rocks or water or mountains or inanimate things. One of the aspects of being alive is that we have certain physical needs. We need food. We need water. We need air. We have sexual needs. We need rest – all these are good and proper needs and the Lord provided for every one of them. But from the days of Adam and Eve, the devil has exploited our needs to trap us in self-destructive patterns and even in addictions. We have to be careful or our appetites get away from us. We ate too much. We drink too much. Our sexual habits become unhealthy and decayed. Our addictions take over and we are virtually controlled by the lust of the flesh. Every day the news headlines are talking about the opioid crisis in America. We are all prone to addiction by nature – because of our fallen nature – and the devil exploits that against us as people and as a society.

I read an interview last week with actor James Franco. He said, “I have a very addictive personality. When I was a teenager, I got over certain addictions, and that’s when I started acting, at age 17.” But he said, his life as an actor created more addictions and more problems. He said, “I really threw myself into it (acting), and that became everything, to the point where I didn’t even socialize. And then after, like 10 years of that, at age 27, I realized, ‘Man, I’m so depressed. On the surface, my life seems pretty good—I have a career and everything—but I feel isolated and lonely.’”

So he turned to surfing and to hip-hop dancing, and those things have become his sources of therapy. And now he has moved from being an actor to being a director. And do you know what television show he is directing right now? It’s a new upcoming HBO drama series centered around the pornographic industry. He is directing sex scenes that are very graphic and very lewd and he is creating images for television that will feed the addictions of more and more people.

Here is a man whose whole life is centered around the lusts of the flesh—and he is indicative of our whole nation and of our entire world.

We all know how powerful these urges within us are, so how do we gain a measure of victory over them? How do we stay healthy? It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of determination. It takes a lot of falling down and getting back up. But most of all, it takes a heart that cultivates a love for God. Notice the way John puts this: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh….

If we love the world, including all the pleasures the world brings us, it means we don’t really love God. Here is what we have to do. We have to say to ourselves: God created me. He made me in my mother’s womb, and He knows all my weaknesses. He loves me more than I can ever imagine. He came into human history and took upon Himself human flesh and died a terrible death that involved the shedding of His blood. He rose again. He is coming one day for me. He has work for me to do. He has a plan for me to fulfill. And I’m going to decide to love Him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, and as I learn to love Him more and more, I will modify and change my behavior more and more to please Him.

It is not unreasonable to change our behavior to please someone we love.

Imagine a young man who, from the age of twenty until the age of thirty, went clubbing every Friday night. He spent his weekends in nightclubs. He has lived in debauchery. He has done things he is ashamed of. But now he has met a young woman and fallen in love with her and married her and he loves her as if she were a princess. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him. Now he wants to spend his Friday nights with her. Instantly and permanently his nightclubbing ended. His love for her has modified his habits.

Here is a married man, and he travels all week long for his job. He flies out of town on Monday and he flies back in on Friday. He lives in hotels. He is faithful to his wife and he loves her and they talk several times a day. But the couple has a little girl with blond curly hair, and this man misses her birthdays. He misses her recitals. He misses her plays at school. He worries about that all the time, and one day his beautiful little girl with the blond curly hair says, “Daddy, I wish you were home more. You are always gone.” And do you know what that man does? He quits his job. He says, “I’d rather make half the money than miss watching my little girl grow up.” And his love for her modifies his behavior.

We cannot control the lusts of the flesh unless we are motivated by and empowered by a love for the God who made us, who has a plan for us, who gave us His Word, who died for us, and who is coming again.

Don’t Fall in Love with Your Acquisitions

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes…. 

This next phrase brings us to our second dangerous zone — our acquisitions. The phrase, “…the lust of the eyes…,” refers to the things we see and want. We all struggle with this all the time because we’re living in an affluent age. Our world has never been filled with so many houses and cars and bright and shiny objects, and it’s very difficult to know whether we should make a purchase or not. I have a very hard time with that. I see a shirt or an appliance or a gadget or a new version of some electronics product – and should I buy it? Should I spend that money? Or should I save the money? Or should I give the money away? 

We all battle this every day. Should I spend five dollars for that cup of coffee at Starbucks?  Should I spend twenty dollars for that steak? Should I go on that vacation? Should I buy a second car?

How do we make wise decisions on our acquisitions in an age of affluence? 

Well, sometimes I don’t know myself how to do it—but I do know this. We must never fall in love with the things we buy or become too attached to them. Because according to 1 John 2, they are all passing away. They are all temporary. We aren’t going to have them or want them or use them or keep them for very long.

So there are two things that help me a great deal, and these two things are great blessings from God.

The first is the practice of tithing. When we resolve that at least the first ten percent of all our income goes to the Lord and to His work, it helps us keep our priorities right.

The second is the habit of reminding ourselves that everything we will ever buy from our first toy to our last suit – all of it, all the houses and land and furniture and cars and boats and electronics and clothing and appliances – everything is highly disposable. It’s all as disposable as a disposable razor or a paper towel. We have it for a little while, but we aren’t going to take as much as one copper penny with us to heaven. And so we shouldn’t become too attached to any of it. Our lasting possessions are in heaven.

I think one of the most useful phrases in the Bible about the lure of materialism is in 1 Corinthians 7 when the apostle Paul said: “Time is short… Those who buy something (should live) as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of this world (should live) as if they were not engrossed in them. for this world in its present form is passing away.”

Don’t Fall in Love with Your Approval Ratings

There is a third dangerous area for us, and that is in our approval ratings, in our popularity, in our desire to be noticed and recognized. The passage continues:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life….

We’re living in such a narcissistic age that none of us can quite cope with it. But if we love God with all our hearts, that translates into an attitude of humility—and that’s the secret of true greatness. 

For many years, Katharine Graham was one of the most stellar personalities in Washington, D.C. She was the publisher of the Washington Post, and her dinner parties and banquet events were legendary. She probably met more famous and powerful people than anyone else in her generation. One day one of her guests asked her a simple question. “Mrs. Graham, you have hosted the greatest leaders from around the world. What is the single most important trait of all great leaders.”

Without hesitation, Katharine Graham said, “The absence of arrogance.”

Put this to the test. Think of the greatest leaders in history and in the headlines – the men and women who really changed this world for the better. I think of people like Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and, in a class all by Himself, Jesus Christ – these were people who weren’t stuck on themselves. They truly wanted the best for others, and that fueled their leadership.

True humility only comes when we love God more than we love the applause of men or the approval ratings of our society.

Conclusion

The passage concludes like this: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

If we’re going to be in the world but not of the world, we have to keep an eternal perspective. We must let Jesus Christ, who gives us eternal life, be at the very center of our affections and priorities. He must be Lord of all there is in our lives. Let me wrap up my message by showing you what else the apostle John says about the world in this little epistle.

Look at chapter 3, verse 1: See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.

The world does not know us!

Look at chapter 3, verse 13: Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

Look at chapter 4, verse 4: …the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God….

And chapter 4, verse 16: God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.

Look at chapter 5, verse 4: …everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Look at chapter 5, verse 19: We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true. And we are in Him who is true by being in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

In other words, keep yourself from loving anyone or anything more than you love the Lord your God through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.

We are stationed in a land not our own – in a difficult and hostile and dangerous world – located here on temporary assignment, living with a different agenda from everyone else, to advance a cause in which we believe, knowing we have an exit strategy we can trust. And our operations manual tells us:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.