Young Men: An Exhortation from 1 John 2. 14-17
D. L. Dexter, Japan
In the section from verse 12, John has been writing various messages to the different spiritual age groups of Christians. They are words of encouragement from the now elderly John. In verses 12 and 13, John has a short introductory word, but from verse 14, John seems to be more specific in his message to each group. The fathers need little in the way of any exhortation, for their spiritual maturity as such has led them into a deeper knowledge of Christ, causing John to rejoice that they indeed do know Him. The children, too, have a message, as is indicated from verse 13. Their message is found in verses 18-27. The message to the young men is found in verses 14b-17. Thus this whole section can be divided as follows:
The spiritual age group The message
1. fathers, ______ v. 13 v. 14a;
2. young men, v. 13... .vv. 14b-17;
3. children paidia._____ v. 13 vv. 18-27.
Verses 12 and 28 form an introduction and summary to the section. This can be noted by John's use of the word teknon, the term used to refer to the whole family of God, while in verses 13 and 18 he uses the word paidia, a word used to signify the youngest members of a family.
In each of the messages there are things we can take and apply to ourselves, no matter which spiritual age group we may consider ourselves to be in. But for the present, we will consider the message John has given to the young men.
Young men are active, keen to get on, ambitious, and in many cases highly knowledgeable, though lacking in experience. With this in mind, one can appreciate the warning of verses 15-17. John is a good pastor and has a good word to say both of them and to them. It is the young men that carry the burden of the work, with the spiritual fathers leading and guiding, being able to draw from their greater experiences of the Lord and His work. Such a combination forms the backbone of a healthy assembly.
John is greatly encouraged by these young men for he recognizes spiritual strength in them. They are strong because the Word of God is abiding in them, that is, it has a permanent dwelling place within them. This gave them the strength by which they became overcomers of the "evil one" r.v. For John, to be an overcomer was a commendable quality as he points out in various other passages, 4. 4; 5. 5; Rev. 12. 11.
There is a timely warning given to these young men. John realizes, that though they may be overcomers and have gained a victory over the evil one, yet the tendency to go after the world can be a very great temptation.
John, in these verses, teaches us that the world should not be loved, what the world consists of, and the reasons for the separation from it.
1. The warning—love not the world, v. 15.
2. The definition—the world is, v. 16:
(a) lust of the flesh,
(b) lust of the eyes,
(c) pride of life.
3. The reasons for separation from the world, v. 16b, 17:
(a) it is not of the Father,
(b) it is transient.
Many times the inexperience of youth causes them to question the advice of more mature men and women of God. It is often difficult to look beyond the immediate situation and take in the whole, but John has sought to do just this, and faith needs to be exercised to believe it.
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world", John says. What does it mean to love the world? The word used, agape, is the verb "to love, value, esteem", and is used in the Biblical sense of a love not naturally characteristic of human attainment, but is attributed to the love that the Father has for the Son. John seems to be saying that our affections, our esteem, should not be placed in the things of the world, nor be found as loving, or valuing this way of life. The world consists of all that alienates from, and is hostile to God, the realm in which the devil's influence has full sway, Eph. 2. 2f. In verse 16, John defines more fully those things which are in the world. The world is seen as all that prevents us loving God to the full. Thus we see John introducing another of his many tests for the Christian. To put it in the words of the Lord when he taught on the mount, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon", Matt. 6. 24. The two are incompatible for "either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other".
How is it that we can come to love the world in such a way? John very briefly states that it is a result of letting the desires and passions of the flesh rule the life. John sums up the totality of human nature in three ways; the bodily satisfactions of the flesh, the covetousness of the eyes, and the pride that is found in our ego, all of which is of the world. It was these same basic temptations that the devil used to cause Eve to disobey God's word, introducing the evils of a man-centred world which is against God. The Lord successfully resisted these temptations, a fact which encourages us in our praying, for He is able to help us in the time of need. Let us never forget that the world is the devil's masterpiece, and is his dominion. His one aim is to oppose God with all he can, so let us never be surprised to find that people of the world think it strange that we neither think nor act like them, for their attitudes are in direct opposition to God.
John now defines the world, those things which make it what it is.
1. Lust of the Flesh: The first thing that John draws the attention of his readers to is that the natural man has strong desires. The unregenerate man has a tendency to satisfy fleshly wants, many times with little thought of the consequences. The physical gratifications of the flesh can be the hardest temptations that young people are faced with in this permissive society. We read in James 1.14 that man falls into temptation when he allows his desires and passions to be fed, and consequently to become master of him. The temptations involved are those which cater for our physical satisfactions, whether it be comforts of the flesh, food and drink, and material well being, or whether it be the more serious sensuous and immoral passions of the natural man. Eve saw that the food was good to eat, something to be desired for the enjoyment of her body, and allowed herself to be influenced and deceived, resulting in disobedience of God's word. The Lord Jesus hungered, Matt. 4. 2, and the devil used this physical circumstance to tempt the Lord. We read that He was not drawn to listen to the voice of the devil to satisfy a physical need. How we need to guard against the subtle temptations that the devil would seek to place before us. If we listen to him, we may find that we are enjoying life for a season, but at the expense of our spiritual health and well-being. Paul wrote that physical exercise had some profit, for not all that is physical is bad or wrong, but what was more profitable was godliness, 1 Tim. 4. 8.
2. Lust of the Eyes: There is much in modern society which attracts the eyes, whether it be materialism, or the blatantly portrayed permissiveness of modern advertising. Thou shalt not covet, is one of the ten commandments. Even Paul had strong words to say on the subject when in Colossians 3. 5 he identifies covetousness as idolatry. One of the greatest evils of our materialistic society is to create a desire. If we allow ourselves to be influenced by the advertisements and follow the general trend of society at large, we will be fulfilling the words of Paul by becoming idolaters. Strong words! maybe, but needful, so that we may be warned not to be carried away by the subtle devices that the devil uses to draw us after the world. All that the world can offer is transient. If it is not assisting our spiritual lives and stimulating godliness, we can rightly question, is it of God? God has given us many a good thing to enjoy, but what is important is our attitude to it. Has it become the overriding passion of our lives? The devil's chief aim is to cause the Christian to fall, and if he can use the eye-gate, then he will. We need to be reminded that the man of the world is very frequently not troubled by what he sees, for he is blind, and the devil is not interested in him. But the Christian is continually under attack, and needs to guard his eyes, that they may be found to be single. If we allow our eyes to enjoy the permissive advertising, whether moral or immoral, we may well find that the temptation for wrong is becoming stronger than we can combat. The words of our Lord in Matthew 5. 27-29 need to be carefully considered. The sin of a look. How we need to have our eyes fixed on the Person of Christ, rather than allow them to roam amongst the filth of this world. The Word of God gives us the strength to resist temptation, that which the Lord wonderfully demonstrated for us in Matthew 4.
3. Pride of Life: How egotistical and self-exulting we can find ourselves to be. Our pride can cause strife and division. The flesh has the desire to be self-expressive and prominent, and young people can easily find this true in their zeal to serve. This problem is not restricted to the young either, for all must guard against it. Yet such an attitude should not characterize the Christian, for he is humble, submissive, loving and obedient to the will of God—or is he? Pride is the biggest evil and enemy of true Christian fellowship. How sad it is to see assemblies broken up because pride in a number of the Christians has exerted itself, to the detriment of other Christian graces such as humility, meekness and love. In 1 John 2.10 we see that love is the hall-mark of a Christian who is abiding in the light of God; see 1. 5-7. Pride of life and love for the brethren do not co-exist together. Young men particularly, though not exclusively, need to watch that Christian service does not become an ego-booster. A love for prominence amongst God's people leads to sterile, fruitless work for the Lord. Like Paul, we need to realize that we are nothing, and that all we ever do that is of eternal worth is dependent upon His power in us, that the glory may belong to God, 2 Cor. 4. 7. For when we are weak, that is when we can be used, for that is when we are strong.
The reason why these young people were not to love the world was twofold. Firstly, the natural inclinations of the flesh, and that of sin, cannot originate with God, for they do not glorify Him. Man was not originally created like this, but brought it upon himself when he thought he was better than God. The natural tendency of man is to think that life is at its best when self is being satisfied, but this is not God's ideal for man. Secondly, this present world system is transient, that is to say, it will not last. It cannot enter eternity. Its days are numbered, and it will pass away, and all that is in it. There is a day when it will pass away, a day when all that "lieth in wickedness" will be judged, 1 John 5. 19. What is eternal is God, and His will. With this last phrase in 2. 17, John seeks to draw attention to two points. Firstly, that what is needed is to be obedient, to do the will of God, and secondly, the doer of the will of God will not perish with this perishing world, but will abide forever, in God's eternal world. We are spiritual beings, having been delivered from the power of the flesh. We have been delivered "from this present evil world, according to the will of God", Gal. 1. 4. Are we like these Galatians to whom Paul was writing, having been saved from the power of the world, but allowing ourselves to be caught in it? Let us set our affections above; the fleshly desires and manifestations of the world will grow strangely dim and not have their bright light attraction, for we will be filling our minds with Christ-like thoughts, as we are exhorted in Philippians 4. 8. Let the Word of God find a permanent dwelling place in our lives, to guide, protect and keep us, that we might not be ashamed at His coming, 1 John 2. 28.