Don’t love society.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 June

1 John 2.15-17.

The Greek word κόσμος/kósmos can be a tricky word to translate. Obviously we get our word cosmos from it, which means “universe.” But when ancient Greeks used it, they didn’t mean the entire universe. Just their universe—the harmonious order of things. Their world. Which is why we usually just translate it “world.”

But “world” is likewise a tricky word. What do we mean by it? The literal planet we’re planted on? The people of this planet? A segment of this planet, like the English-speaking world; or a segment of time, like the ancient world, or the age to come?

Define “world” wrong, and you wind up teaching the wrong idea. Because God so loved the kósmos that he gave his only-begotten son for it. Jn 3.16 So he loves the world, and he wants us to love our fellow Christians, our neighbors, and our enemies—which means pretty much everyone in the world. And that idea would therefore contradict what John’s teaching in today’s passage, in which he tells his readers not to love the kósmos.

So how do we define kósmos in this context? Simple: Read the context. John listed three things you’re gonna find in the kósmos, and they’re not meant to be considered good things.

  1. ἐπιθυμία τῆς σαρκὸς/i epithymía tis sarkós, KJV “the lust of the flesh.”
  2. ἐπιθυμία τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν/i epithymía ton ofthalmón, KJV “the lust of the eyes.”
  3. ἀλαζονία τοῦ βίου/i aladzonía tu víu, KJV “the pride of life.”

I’m gonna translate them with present-day words which mean the same thing. And yeah, they’re things you find on the planet, the people on it, our culture, ancient culture—and not in the age to come. So let’s narrow down our definition of kósmos to something more appropriate to the context, and translate it thataway:

1 John 2.15-17 KWL
15 Don’t love society, nor anything of society:
When anyone loves society, the Father’s love isn’t in them.
16 For all these things are found in society:
Valuing whatever feels good. Valuing whatever looks good.
Emphasizing one’s lifestyle—which isn’t based on the Father, but on society.
17 Society, and its values, are passing away.
Doing God’s will, remains in the age to come.

Because it’s not the world that’s the problem. God created that, and declared it good, even though we’ve mucked it up a lot, and he’s gonna have to redo a lot of things. And one of the things about it that’s gonna have to go, is the structure of human society. Right now it’s based on human depravity: On material wealth and the amassing of it (i.e. capitalism), the rule of the majority instead of Christ Jesus (i.e. democracy), living for pleasure first and others a distant second, if at all (i.e. hedonism), and peer pressure to conform to these expectations.

A startling number of people, particularly those who claim to be Christian, are gonna insist all these things are the way God wants ’em and made ’em. Which only goes to show how very little they know God.

Whatever feels good, versus God.

Fr’instance the belief, found all too often in Christendom, that if something bugs us—or to use the Christianese term, “gives me a check in my spirit”—it’s not a God thing. Whereas if something “resonates in my spirit,” it must be a God thing. ’Cause their spirit would never mislead them, would it?

And of course it will. When Christians refer to “my spirit” we properly mean “me.” We’re just trying to make things sound and feel more spiritual. But yeah, “my spirit” is me—and saying it’s my spirit that’s bothered by something, or loves something, is a way Christians claim our personal preferences are godly. Or not.

And they’re not. My spirit is not the Holy Spirit, who’s an entirely different person. And while his motives, desires, and will is pure and good and holy, my motives, desires, and will is usually based on whatever makes me feel good. It’s that epithymía tis sarkós John wrote about; the desire, yearning, appetite, longing, inclinations, of my fleshly human nature. Doesn’t automatically mean we humans are bent towards evil or horniness. Most of the time we just wanna be comfortable.

But these comforts often don’t take God or others into consideration. In fact many in our culture encourage us to deliberately put ourselves above others: Do what’s right for you, and stop sacrificing your health and wellbeing for other people. To be fair, sometimes that’s because our self-sacrifice is really codependency: We’re accommodating other people’s bad behavior or addictions. (Usually because we figure it’s easier to adapt for them, instead of get ’em to stop their evil.) But not every act of sacrifice is codependent. Most aren’t. It’s just that those who don’t care to sacrifice anything, who don’t wanna practice any form of self-control, are really annoyed by other people’s good examples: Stop highlighting their selfishness by your good example, and be selfish too!

Our society would much rather we focus on what feels good, instead of self-sacrifice and self-control. Y’see, once we become dependent on luxuries and comfort, we become much easier to manipulate. Threaten to take their comforts away, and you can actually get the wealthy to riot. We’ve seen it in some of the protests against COVID-19 quarantines: They’re sick of self-sacrifice. They want their comforts back!

The reason God wants us to practice self-control is because he doesn’t want us others-controlled. He wants us self-disciplined enough to effectively resist temptation and follow Jesus. But that’s not gonna happen when we unthinkingly equate what makes us comfortable, with God’s will—when every time we don’t like something, we rename it “a check in my spirit” and fight it. You realize if the Holy Spirit’s behind that thing, we’re fighting him.

Likewise i epithymía ton ofthalmón, the desire, yearning, appetite, longing, inclinations, of one’s eyes. We can interpret this one of two ways, and probably both are valid.

  1. Whatever looks good to me.
  2. Whatever looks good to others.

Am I following what appeals to me instead of Jesus? Am I trying to keep up public appearances instead of following Jesus? Either way, I’m not following Jesus.

Jesus is gonna overthrow this age, y’know.

Years ago I got into various books by Francis Schaeffer and Chuck Colson about “the Christian worldview.” Both those guys were Calvinists and political conservatives, so properly they meant the politically conservative Calvinist worldview. But they were entirely certain a Christian should only be politically conservative and Calvinist, and you’ll find a lot of the Christians who talk about worldviews are mostly fixated on those two areas. Jesus’s teachings, not so much.

Anyway, according to Schaeffer and Colson, God structured the universe in such a way that everything, everything, has one single correct way to think about it, and it all fits together perfectly. So nothing else is a valid option. (Arguably it’s sin.) Find and follow the proper Christian worldview, and alter your lifestyle to fit it. It’s God’s way.

Before I got to reading Schaeffer and Colson, I’d read C.S. Lewis’s The Discarded Image, so I already knew better than to believe “it all fits together perfectly” therefore means it’s true. Plus I’m not Calvinist; plus at the time I was noticing too many profound differences between the social Darwinism found throughout politically conservatism, and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. So the “proper lifestyle” they emphasized so strongly… well let’s just say I felt a check in my spirit.

Yep, even Christian society has a “proper lifestyle” they’re gonna promote. And sometimes it’s not all that Christian. Like pagan society, they’re just trying to manipulate us with the things which make us comfortable, play on our prejudices, get us to spend our money on their products and causes, get us to vote for their candidates, get us to cede them power that really only belongs in Christ Jesus’s hands.

So I began a fun little exercise years ago: Is Jesus keeping it when he comes into his kingdom? If so, it’s worth investing my time and money into. If not, it’s not. Might even be worth fighting.

I found Christians justify a lot of evil things, on the grounds it’s not Kingdom Come yet; on the grounds Jesus’s teachings apply to a future age, but they’re not sure he seriously means us to live this way now. And of course on the grounds this stuff is gonna cost money, and they kinda love money.

This age is passing away. Jesus is gonna overthrow a lot of things. You sure you want any of your investments to be in the things he overthrows? ’Cause the more of such things you’ve invested in, the more you’re not on his side. The more he’s overthrowing you.