Thursday, May 7, 2020

What Does It Mean When John Says, "Do Not Love the World?"

John the Theologian says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” What does he mean? Before answering this question let’s examine what it does not mean. It does not mean we should not love the people in the world; God clearly commands us to love everyone in the world, including our enemies (Mark 12:31; John 15:12; Matthew 5:44). Neither does it mean that we are not to enjoy or utilize the good gifts that God has given us in the world (James 1:17). God provides us with many good things to enjoy and we ought to receive them with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4)

Saint Symeon frames this issue by asking this question, “What is the world?" He answers giving us the meaning of John's instruction to not love the word. “It is sin and attachment to things and passions.”  

The referenced passage is in John’s 1st Epistle: 
Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one. 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. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:14-17).
We see that John clearly specifies what we at not to love; namely, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. All of these attitudes are sinful and rebellious against God and His will for us. 

The Orthodox Study Bible reminds us of the following: 
The world here is creation after the fall and under the dominion of Satan. It is creation no longer oriented toward God, but temporary and dominated by inordinate passions (see Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13; 1Co 7:29-31). The world distorts every realm of God's good creation. There are (1) sensual pleasures of the flesh (physical passions), (2) intellectual attainments and capacities of the eyes (the soul's passions), and (3) inordinate possessions, power, and honors of life (the pride of human spirit).
When John refers to “lust of the flesh” he is referring sins such as sexual immorality, gluttony, and other indulgences. When he says,   “lust of the eyes” is pointing to root of covetousness. This is the greedy desire for the material riches and possessions of this world. Finally, when he writes the “pride of life,” this is about the boasting of ambition and achievement, a thirst for the honor bestowed by and the applause received from the world.

Saint Symeon points out that this is not an impossible command. 
“I know well that many saints of old guarded themselves from this,  and those of the present still do. They spend their lives in the midst of the things of this life, it’s concerns and it’s care’s, and yet complete their lives in perfect holiness. Of them and their like Paul bears witness, when he says “The form of this world is passing away, so that those who have wives should be as if they had none, and those who buy as if they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as if they had no dealing with it (1Cor 7:29ff).
Symeon emphasize this is not a casual warning. If we are attached to the things of the world in this way then in reality we are an enemy of God. James says, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of The world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).” And John also says, “if anyone loves the world, love for the father is not in him (1John 2:15).

We must remember that Jesus in the great commandment says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your mind and with all your strength and with all your soul (Mk 12:30).”

Therefore if we are craving things of this world we are not following God’ commandment. This how Saint Symeon puts it: “Therefore he who craves or has an attachment to anything else’s transgresses this commandment.” He continues saying, “Let us hate everything, great and small, that endangers our souls.”  Christians are commanded to imitate Christ and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives (Titus 2:11–14)

Saint Symeon warns us that we must pay attention to the smallest of transgressions.
He who willingly fails at small things, even though it keeps himself from greater offenses, will be more severely condemned because, while he kept the greater matters under control, he was overcome by the lesser. Even one single passion will be enough to destroy us...”
Our aim as a Christian is to become united with Christ, what we call theosis. To be united we must continually work with the help of God’s Grace to act wit a pure heart out of love for Hod as well as others this means Weill be following the ancient guidelines that involve ascetic practices which include prayer and fasting
And live a life of continual repentance.

Saint Symeon suggests that it is helpful to keep in mind the Judgment we will eventually face . He says, 
He who always keeps his own mind and constantly looks forward to the coming Judgment, and fervently repents and weeps, will overcome them all at the same time. As he is lifted up by repentance he “is more than a conqueror” (Rom 8:37).
Even though we ought to love the people in the world and enjoy the good gifts God bestows on us, we must always be careful not to elevate any of them to first place in our hearts and lives.

Reference: Saint Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourages, pp 109-111.

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