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. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17–ESV)
The word love here is the Greek agapáō. This is so close in appearance to the Greek agápē that you may figure they are the same, but they are not. Agápē is God’s love for humanity. It means to do for another not what they want, but what they need. Agapáō is a different word for love. Zodhiates1 explains this by saying it “indicates a direction of the will and finding one’s joy in something.”
So John says, “Do not find your joy in worldly things.” More technically, John says, “Do not direct the effort of your will to obtain joy from things the world offers.” When one does that God’s style of loving leaves. Remember that God’s love is already shining in the world. That is the newness spoken of in 1 John 2:8. God’s type of love, benevolent interest in others, cannot coexist with a purposeful hunt for joys from what the world holds out to us.
Verse 16 elaborates on this placing love of the world into three categories:
- Desires (ESV) or lusts (KJV) of the flesh, cravings of sinful man (NIV)
- Desires (ESV) or lusts (KJV/NIV) of the eyes
- Pride of life (ESV/KJV), boasting of what he has and does (NIV)
Lusts of the flesh
Lust jumps right out at us suggesting sexual passion, but while this is included here that is not all which is intended. Into this category would go all the low-level passions, animal passions some commentators call it. Here should be placed a general desire to indulge the appetites. It might be a particular unsuitable action, thought, or word. Or, it could mean lack of moderation in gratifying an acceptable desire. Does one live for good food? Weekends? Tubing on the canal? Travel to exotic places? Participation in a concert or sports event? Winning a lottery? Does one hunt for a particular sexual experience God has placed in the off-limits bucket, or does one lose moderation in a legitimate sexual experience? These are lusts of the flesh, cravings of sinful man.
In Gills’ exposition of the Bible he states it like this: “intemperance in eating and drinking, gluttony and drunkenness, excess of wine, surfeitings2, rioting3, and revellings4, and all the sensual pleasures of life, by which the carnal mind, and the lusts of it, are gratified.”
Lusts of the eyes
The easiest thing to consider regarding this is covetousness. To covet is to look upon with a desire to have. Jesus warned of this about looking upon a woman in Matthew 5:28. That is but a section of what is here intended. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1, “The eye never has enough of seeing or the ear of hearing.” What about the Mercedes or the BMW? What about the Coach or the Michael Kors purse? Perhaps the luxurious master bathroom with its bubbling whirlpool tub?
The Contemporary English Version puts it well with David’s words. “Take away my foolish desires, and let me find life by walking with you.” That is from Psalm 119:37. Or maybe the Good News Translation makes it easier to understand, “Keep me from paying attention to what is worthless.”