Love of the World
Probably one of the best known verses in the Bible, even for those who do not believe in God, is John 3:16, "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." Fewer are familiar with the statement we find in 1 John 2:15. "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." I do not recall ever hearing anyone discuss in any detail this interesting paradox. We are supposed to be like God or like Christ. Yet they loved the world and we are not to do so, even though the same words are used in both cases.
In order to understand more completely what atheists would call a contradiction, let us be aware that words have different meanings in different contexts, regardless of what language we use. In fact, they may mean exactly the opposite in some cases. Take the word "fast" for example. A fast horse will run. A fast color will not run. (Even the word "run" means something different in those two sentences). A fast woman may or may not run. You may stand fast, or run fast. You may fast and not eat, or you may eat fast. We can do the same kind of analysis with hundreds or thousands of words. In some cases there is a basic or root meaning of a word which may help, but in some cases that will do very little good, if any. One needs to use all the information he can get, and then try to determine the exact meaning by the context. This is sometimes impossible to do with absolute certainty. It helps us to understand, however, how God can love the world, but we are not to do so.
According to the lexicons, the basic meaning of the word world ("kosmos") has to do with order, system and arrangement. This is the word translated "adorning" in 1 Peter 3:3, "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel." When a woman is orderly, or has arranged herself modestly, she will not be calling attention to her dress or hairstyle. Some have thought this means she must not plait the hair or wear gold. If it means that, it also means that she must not put on apparel. It should be apparent that the meaning in that sentence has to do with the fact that she is not to try to call attention to herself by any order or arrangement of her life or clothes.
It should be evident when we examine every expression where the word "kosmos" is used that it has at least two primary meanings. First, it means the whole universe, including the earth, and all things and persons thereon. Then it may mean any portion of that, which is determined by the context. When Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), it should be evident that he did not mean we should go to Mars or Venus and try to find creatures there to which we should preach.
The word may even mean two different things in one sentence. In John 1:10, we are told, "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." The whole universe was made by him, but the world that did not know him refers to persons, not the sun or moon.
When we come to John 3:16, we may inquire, when it says that God loved the world, does it mean his created universe? We may be able to prove that God loved all his universe, but the context shows that he is speaking of those who may believe in him, and that does not include the sun, moon and stars, but persons. We have extensive writings from a man who claims to be a Bible scholar who says that in John 1:29 when Jesus was to take away the sin of the world, he is not speaking of our sins, but the sin principle (whatever that is) that caused the curse to come on all the created universe, and especially the ground that was cursed and brought forth thorns and thistles. So, when John 3:17 says that "the world through him might be saved" that man claims that it means that the earth will be rejuvenated, the desert will blossom like a rose, and there will no longer be any part of the earth not fit for habitation. So the fact that God loves the world is presumed to mean that he loves the created universe. He even suggests that the ice will disappear from the North and South poles! I presume that the fact that they are now frozen suggests that God does not love them as much as he does the temperate zones. It is not my purpose to deal with all such theories today, but merely to show how we can love the world in the sense that God did, and hate the world in the sense that John commands.
When Jesus says in John 7:7, "The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth," it should be evident that he is talking about people, not the earth or the material things which make up the universe. It should not be strange that he uses words like that, for we do it, and are not confused by it. If we should hear someone say, "This is a beautiful city," as they drove around and saw the buildings, sidewalks and parks, we would understand they were talking about things. If they should say, "The whole city turned out for the parade" we would understand they were talking about the people, not the buildings.
When the Pharisees said in John 12:19, "The whole world is gone after him," surely no one would assume that they meant that the sun, moon or stars were going after him. When Jesus said in John 15:18, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you," no one would assume he was talking about the things in the universe. When Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Lk. 19:41), he was not crying about the houses and streets, but the people whom he would have gathered as a hen gathered her chickens under her wings.
So, when we find that Jesus spoke to the world, the world heard or refused to hear, the world rejected him, we know he is talking about persons. When John says, "The world could not contain the books that should be written" (John 21:25), we know that he is talking about the whole universe, not simply people. When we are told in 1 John 2:15, "Love not the world, neither the things in the world" it should be evident to any thoughtful person that he is talking about our loving the arrangement or order that men have created, and the things that are so appealing to us which cause the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Surely, verse 16 plainly shows that. When we are told that God loved the world, he is not speaking of God loving those things, but the people who can believe in him and be saved. We are supposed to love the world in the same sense God did. There is no more a contradiction than there is in Paul saying in 1 Tim. 5:6 "But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth." We may say, "A person cannot be dead and alive at the same time" but Paul says that one can. When Jesus said in Mt. 22:32, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living," they all knew that Abraham was dead. Yet Jesus said he was living. One does not necessarily contradict himself when he uses a word in two different senses, even in the same sentence. So we may love the world in the same sense God did, so that we sacrifice for the salvation of the people, but love not the world in the sense of being unduly concerned with the things and arrangements of the world.
T. Pierce Brown
Published in The Old Paths Archive