1 John 2:15–17 commands us to love neither the world nor the things in it, such as the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. To have these desires or this pride would characterize one as being of the world or worldly by virtue of loving the world and what is in it. What are these two desires, and what is this pride?
The Desires of the Flesh
John uses the word flesh (sarkos) 23 times in 18 verses. Flesh can simply refer to the physical component of a person or animal (John 1:13, 14; 3:6; 6:63; 8:15; 17:2; Rev 17:16; 19:18, 5x; 19:21). John’s use of flesh also refers to the physical body of Jesus, which shows that the term does not inherently involve the aspect of sin (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7; cf. John 6:51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56).
This being said, the desires of the flesh in 1 John 2:16 are not necessarily evil, but, insomuch as they are of this world, they are only temporary and shall pass away along with the world itself (cf. 1 John 2:16–17).1 We become worldly when our love is not for God but for satisfying these desires for flesh. One could satisfy the desires of his flesh with no thought to God, satisfy his natural desires with too much of a good thing and thus have inordinate desires, or simply satisfy his fleshly desires in sinful ways. In each scenario, his love is for the world and how the world can satisfy the desires of his flesh instead of loving God and seeking to do His will (cf. 1 John 2:17).
The Desires of the Eyes
Similarly, the desires of the eyes in 1 John 2:16 are desires for what is seen in this world, visible things which will pass away. To see and desire something in a way that opposes the will of God is to love and yearn for what is visibly seen and value it more than doing the will of God and having a greater value for Him, His will, and thus the life to come (cf. 1 John 2:17).
The Pride of Life
The pride of life can be understood by seeing its unique terms used elsewhere. The term for pride (alazoneia) is used only twice in the NT and refers elsewhere to the arrogance of the boasting of those who make plans with no thought to God (James 4:16; cf. 4:13–17). The term for life (bios) is used only twice by John and has to do with one’s earthly goods as opposed to the animating principle of one’s being. The same word is used to speak of the world’s goods that one should give to those in need in 1 John 3:17.
The pride of life, then, could be described as an arrogant pride that one places in one’s possessions or overall situation in this present life. It is a satisfaction in temporary possessions and the benefits they afford instead of satisfaction in knowing, loving, and obeying God (cf. 1 John 2:17).
Noting John’s words above, John would call someone worldly if he loved the things of this world more than doing the will of the Father. May we be careful to identify as worldly that which is truly worldly and not only that which is obviously sinful.
- Karen H. Jobes, 1, 2, 3 John (Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 112–13. [↩]