Loving the world: Do or don’t?

Let’s start with some contradictory-sounding scriptures, shall we?

1 John 2.15-17 KJV
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
 
John 3.16-17 KJV
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Nope, John wasn’t using one of the other Greek words for “love” in these verses. Same one, ἀγαπάω/aghapáo, “to love.” Don’t love the world, he advises in his letter; but Jesus states in the gospel God loves the world, and sent us his Son to save it. So… don’t love the world, but God loves the world.

Plus Jesus instructs us to love everybody:

Mark 12.31 KJV
And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
 
John 15.12 KJV
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
 
Matthew 5.44-45 KJV
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Between loving your neighbor, loving fellow Christians, and loving your enemies, that’s pretty much everybody on the planet. Sounds like we gotta love our world. So where does John get off telling us to not love the world?

Obviously it depends on what we mean by “world.” Same as English, the Greek word κόσμος/kósmos generally means “world,” but it has multiple shades of meaning: The planet we live on, everything on the planet we live on, just the people of the planet we live on, and those people’s power or wealth or interests or opinions. Calvinists add another definition—“the Christian world,” or Christendom—so they can explain how God loving the world really means he only loves the elect, and Jesus only died for Christians. Which is rubbish, but it’s one of their essential doctrines, and they’re kinda fond of redefining words to make the bible support their doctrines.

Anyway yeah, when John and Jesus are speaking of the world, they’re using different definitions of kósmos. You can figure out which by the context. Unless you don’t care about context, and are simply trying to justify loving the world, or not… and in both cases secretly plotting to love (or not love) the wrong world.

Jesus is talking about loving the people of the planet we live on. (Duh.) If you have the Holy Spirit, he loves the world, and when we follow him and produce his fruit, we’re gonna love the world. Even when the people of this planet are awful to one another and to us—and they do this quite a lot—we’re still gonna want the best for them, and want ’em to repent and be saved instead of getting destroyed by their own vices and stupidity. True of fellow Christians, true of neighbors, and with time and effort on our part it’s even true of enemies. Hey, a repentant enemy usually stops being an enemy.

John wrote about society. He lived in the pre-Christian and very pagan Roman Empire, where people worshiped and followed anything and everything. Heck, people are still that way, lip service to Jesus notwithstanding; note their fruit. You don’t wanna love that. It’s so contrary to God, you gotta wonder whether people who immerse themselves in our culture even know God; John certainly didn’t think so. I tend to give Christianists the benefit of my doubts and assume they just have sucky relationships with God; a really superficial knowledge of him at least. But many of ’em are pretty far gone towards “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” It hasn’t been about what Jesus teaches for a very, very long time.

People can be saved. But the culture’s gotta go. And it will; give it a decade. It’ll be replaced by something just as dumb. It’s why investing our time, our lives, our beings into it is so wasteful. Why loving it—why exhibiting that patience, kindness, forgiveness, grace, and passion towards it instead of people—is not just a massive waste of spiritual resources, but ultimately self-destructive as well. It’s like jumping out of a lifeboat because you think you saw a mermaid… and clearly all you know about mermaids comes from movies and comic books, ’cause in all the myths, mermaids eat sailors.

Humans are creatures of extremes, and sometimes that’s because we’re looking for an excuse to do as we please. So you’ll get Christians who sometimes insist, “The bible says to not love the world,” and use it as their excuse to utterly disconnect. From everything. Not just from popular culture, from social media, from reading the news, from even the electrical grid; from living like Mennonites where they obviously care about people, but make an equally obvious point of having nothing to do with worldly culture. Nope; it’s more of a bunker mentality, where they withdraw from society and withdraw from everybody else. Where they have nothing to do with anyone. They just stay at home, demonstrating with their very behavior why God once commented, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Ge 2.18

If you wanna be antisocial, the bible’s not gonna back you up. Loving your neighbor obligates us to get out of our bubbles and interact. Doesn’t have to be in person; we’ve got phones and internet. But it does have to happen, ’cause if Jesus isn’t teaching us about interacting with God, he’s teaching us to interact with fellow humans. So go find some fellow humans and love ’em.

The other extreme, naturally, is people who wanna justify being culturally immersed. Supposedly we can’t share Jesus with pagans unless we have points of common reference; we gotta know something about the culture in order to be “relevant.” And yeah, there’s wisdom in that: We should check out the news and know what’s going on in our world. But John’s instructions to his church was to not love it. Love God, love people; but if we love music and books and baseball and TV and politics instead of people and God, we’re blowing it big-time.

People are eternal. The culture, not so much. So let’s get our priorities straight.