John 3:16 — that famous quote from the “beloved disciple” of Jesus Christ (John 13:23; 21:20-24) — declares: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Yet the same apostle John also wrote: “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” (1 John 2:15).
The apostle Paul wrote about a Christian disciple, Demas, who forsook his ministry under Paul because Demas had “loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10).
The apostle James — Jesus’ half- brother (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19) — similarly wrote under inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16): “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
How can we “love the world” and not really “love” it? How can we keep ourselves from being a “friend” of the world and thus an enemy of God?
How do we square this seeming contradiction in God’s Word?
How God loves the world
John’s famous verse mentions the love of God that is able to keep a true believer in Jesus from perishing and, instead, to give him everlasting life. And that love God has expressed by giving the world “His only begotten Son” — Jesus Christ. What does God giving His Son Jesus to the world accomplish for the salvation of the world? Those who have understood what the “Christian gospel” is all about know why God sent His Son Jesus to the world. [See: About Pool of Siloam.]
John wrote about what’s in the “world”: “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 2:16-17). The “world” (from the Greek kosmos — the earth inhabited by man) thus refers to human society — the world of all of us flesh-and-blood human beings put together.
Our world got started with our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden. As the well-known story goes, it was the “lust” in Mother Eve which the devil, in the guise of a serpent, had excited. Fulfilling their lust caused Adam and Eve to be expelled from the Garden. That “lust” in her, and which her husband Adam fully and knowingly embraced too, was the longing for what God had forbidden: eating the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In short, they sinned against their Creator by disobeying His instruction to them. By thinking that the forbidden fruit would make them “wise,” as the devil suggested, Adam and Eve took on “the pride of life.” The apostle Paul calls it the “high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!“ and The Flaming Sword East of Eden.]
Adam and Eve thus led the way for all of humanity after them into a life of sin, a life of disobedience to God’s instructions, God’s laws. “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Paul famously wrote: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory [the glorious righteousness and perfection] of God” (Romans 3:23) and “For the wages [consequence] of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23; see also Ezekiel 18:4, 20). [See: A Law-abiding Universe — But Man!]
God’s love [Greek, agape] for the world of mankind has “compelled” God to move in order that mankind can be “saved” from death for its sin. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live,” says God (Ezekiel 33:11). Paul wrote that God “…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The apostle Peter also wrote: “The Lord…is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
As Paul continues in Romans 6:23: “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”
God worked out that “gift” by sending His “only begotten Son.” How? God the Father, through His Spirit, caused the “LORD” of the Old Testament to become a human being in Jesus Christ. This is a great mystery [theologians call it the “incarnation”] that is possible with God, to whom nothing is impossible (Luke 1:34-37). Being thus made mortal, Jesus Christ would — and did — sacrifice His life as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
John also wrote: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). “Propitiation” is rendered from the Greek hilasmos, meaning “atonement.”
Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities [sins] have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear.” That divide between God and sinful mankind can only be bridged by Christ’s death and resurrection in order to pay for the sin of man as a “ransom” so that man won’t have to die or perish forever. Paul wrote: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:8-11). To reconcile is to make former enemies at peace — “at one” — with each other. [See: The Ransomed of the LORD, Two Goats Together, Law Added to Law Transgressed, Transgressions Under the First Covenant, and Moses and Jesus — Are They Contraries?]
How not to love the world
As explained earlier, the “world” as it is now is also called “this present evil age [Greek, aion]” (Galatians 1:4). It is a world ruled over by the epitome of evil — Satan the devil — who is called “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan has blinded the world from the true knowledge of God through his deceptions and lies (Revelation 12:9; John 8:44). [See: Where Did the Devil Come From? and “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!“]
It is a world, started by our first parents Adam and Eve, which has disobeyed God’s law and commandments. If we love this world — if we become “friends” with this world — we thus become God’s enemies. We would be fighting against God and His perfect ways. We would be sinning — as all have sinned — and thus earn the just penalty of death. That is death, not just the death that all men are appointed to once (Hebrews 9:27), but especially the “second death” (Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8), from which there is no hope of ever having any life again.
What is so deceptive about this present, Satan’s, world is that there seems to be much “love” shared by many. Jesus told His disciples: “If you were in the world, the world would love [Greek, phileo — like in a “filial” or family relationship] its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Those who follow the sinful ways of this world would love — and do love — those who agree with and follow the same ways. [See: The Deceitfulness of Sin and Are We All God’s Children?]
“Loving” the world as contrary to God’s will and word is to follow the sinful ways of this present evil world. This is not how we are to love the world! We cannot love the world this way without also making ourselves God’s enemies! That’s what James 4:4, earlier quoted here, plainly says. James had written: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). [See: True Worship.]
How to love the world as God loves it
Since God has so loved that world that He gave us sinners His only begotten Son for our forgiveness, true believers and disciples of Jesus Christ would actively participate in the work He has given His true Church to do. This work (called by many the “Great Commission”) was declared by Christ in Matthew 28:18-20 — “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [See: A Great Omission in Doing the “Great Commission,“ The Law of Christ and The Four Dimensions of Christ’s Love.]
As Jesus prophesied: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Before that end will come, God’s “two witnesses” and God’s assigned angel will have preached that gospel to all the world (Revelation 11:3-12; 14:6-7). Christ’s true disciples will support the work of those witnesses. That’s how they show their love for the world as God loves it. They can show that love now by supporting the work of God’s true Church. [See: The New Testament Teaching on Giving. Also, check out this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets” and scroll down to the booklet titled “A True History of the True Church.”]
There are other ways to love the world as God loves it, such as:
- Being a “light” to the world. Jesus told His disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-15). [See: Saved for Good Works.]
By our good works and actions, we show those still following the ways of this world a better way to live — a way that is pleasing and glorifying to God and that will lead to everlasting life. Those people may not believe fully in God now, but in their time of salvation as God has appointed for each person, they will remember our good and Godly examples and will be encouraged to also follow God’s ways eventually. [See: Predestination and This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation.]
The apostle Peter admonishes true Christians: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear, having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Peter also exhorts: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims [who look at this present world as a temporary order and who await a better world with the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth], abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that while they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation [the day God has appointed for them to be saved]” (1 Peter 2:11-12).
While Christians are to keep themselves “unspotted” from this evil world’s ways, they are not to be stand-offish and unconcerned about the pitiful plight of this sinful world. The apostle Paul wrote: “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
Paul also wrote: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all [including those not yet a part of the Church of God now, but], especially to those who are of the household of faith [true Christians]” (Galatians 6:10). [On Judgment Day Jesus will admit into God’s kingdom only those who have done good especially to those who are His “brethren” — those who do the will of the Father (Matthew 25:31-46; 12:50).]
- Being good stewards of God’s creation. From the start God has expected mankind to “tend and keep,” first the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15) and also the whole created order (Genesis 1:26-28). But, sadly, because of the sinful path which mankind has followed as pioneered by our first parents, mankind has been destroying this earth and the created order.
By following an immoral lifestyle (living contrary to God’s commandments regarding marriage, the family and other human relationships), mankind has been destroying the whole fabric of society. We are now coming to a point where violence and wars threaten the whole of mankind’s very survival. [See: The Children of Abraham and “The Next Chapter of History.“] Jesus Christ foretold about our times today as one nearing a “great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:21-22).
By following God’s laws, the “elect” of God — true Christians — are one reason why God will keep this world from being totally destroyed! God’s laws include statutes and ordinances that, if followed, will preserve the productivity and hygiene of the earth — all beneficial to mankind and the rest of God’s creation (for example, see: Deuteronomy 22:6-10; 23:12-14; 24:8; Leviticus 25:18-22, etc.). [See: Freed From Bondage and When One Who Preaches Christ Plants Corn.] Otherwise, when Christ returns in power He will “destroy those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18) — chief of whom is Satan, who is also called “Abbadon” (Hebrew) or “Appolyon” (Greek), meaning “Destroyer” (Revelation 9:11).
- Praying for God’s kingdom to come. In a sample prayer which Jesus Christ gave His disciples is this request: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). While praying is a vital part in helping hasten the coming of God’s kingdom at the end of this present age, it is also important to take part in getting the gospel of God’s kingdom preached and published throughout all the world (Matthew 24:14).
God’s kingdom, which Jesus Christ will establish on this earth at His return, will result in unprecedented peace and prosperity on earth! [See: World Peace — At Last!] Before that, Christ will put away Satan and his angels (Revelation 20:1-3; Jude 6), with all wicked men, who have taken away peace from this world (Revelation 6:4; 8-9, etc.; Isaiah 66:15-16). God’s kingdom will then transform this present dying world into the perfect world that is, for now, the “impossible dream” of every utopian thinker.
That is how God loves the world so much. And so should we. Do you?
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.