What is your greatest desire in life? Someone might say it is recognition, to be admired. Someone else might say possessions, or success. A parent might say it is to be a good parent. Someone might respond it is to have a satisfying career using their gifts and to have financial security as well. Others are looking for meaningful relationships. The apostle John tackles this topic in our passage for today.
Remember John’s concerns for this congregation he is writing to. He wants them to have a deeper walk of faith, a solid theological foundation, and to walk in the light of obedience. In today’s text he talks about the desires of life.
John begins this section of Scripture by reminding them of what they already possess as followers of Jesus Christ. He thinks of the various age groups in the congregation – little children, elders, young people – and reminds them as Christ followers of what they already have in Jesus Christ. It’s almost like a little singsong text.
- Little children, I write to you because your sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ.
- Fathers (that’s the elderly), I write to you because you know Him who is from the beginning. (That is, they have a personal relationship with God.)
- Young people, I write to you because you have conquered the evil one! (These people have not only said yes to Jesus, but they also share in Christ’s victory.)
John seems to enjoy it so much that he does a repeat. Let’s do it again!
- Little children, I write you because you know the Father as children of God.
- Fathers (elders), because you know Him who is from the beginning.
- Young people because you are strong in the Word of God. Jesus abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. You share in the victory.
John is basically saying to them, You are rich in Christ. You hit the jackpot when you became connected with Jesus Christ. In this new life, you have forgiveness for your sins, a relationship with God, and victory over the evil one. You have the Word of God at work in your life.
But then the tone changes as bit as John moves into another section. It a word of caution with a command.
“Do not love the world or the things of the world.”
Don’t trade down, John seems to be saying. You are rich in Christ. Don’t trade down.
When we read the phrase, “Do not love the world” in this text, it seems puzzling to us. In John 3:16 he says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). In Genesis we read, “God saw all He had made – the world – and it was good.” We love to sing the old hymn, “This is my Father’s World.” Let me explain this puzzle.
John’s use of the phrase “the world” in this letter basically refers to all that stands against God and God’s ways. John is referring to the world as it is in rebellion against God. A world hostile or indifferent to God. Don’t love that kind of world, he says. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world. This reminds me of when Jesus said to the disciples, “You cannot serve God and mammon,” which means God and wealth.
When John says “the love of the Father is not in those who love the world,” we need to dissect the word “love” a little bit as well. When Jesus said love in this context, He is using it to mean laying down one’s life. It means giving yourself up for something or someone. Jesus is asking, Are you going to live your life for the Father or for the world? For what are you willing to lay your life down? The world is a dangerous place because of its expelling power. The love of the things of the world drive the love of the Father from the human heart.
John points to three worldly desires that can really mess us up if we love them enough to lay down our lives for them or if we pursue them with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.
The first desire John points to is the desire of the flesh. John is talking about satisfying one’s appetite for the pleasures of the world.
Then he moves to the desire of the eyes, meaning material objects. It is a desire for more possessions in your life.
Then there’s pride in life. It is the pursuit of success, achievement, recognition, and all the status symbols that come with it.
These things I’ve just listed – pleasure, possessions, success – are not necessarily bad, but they can be dangerous. Satan used them when he tried to tempt Jesus into bowing down and worshiping him in the wilderness. He promised Jesus all the nations of the world would belong to Him, His hunger would be satisfied by turning stones into bread, and His reputation and success would be enhanced by jumping from a high tower. Satan knew these desires have power to become idols in a person’s life. The world perverts these desires, corrupts them, and exaggerates their importance. They become little gods that we worship as they demand more and more of us and hold us captive.
As I said earlier, pleasure, possessions, and success in themselves aren’t bad – and we celebrate the good things of God’s creation – but WE MUST NOT WORSHIP THEM! This is what John is telling us.
So how do you know if you’ve made pleasure, possessions or success an idol in your life? Simply ask yourself,
• Have I become preoccupied with these things?
• Have they become the center of my universe, my life. Do they get all my attention?
• Am I willing to do anything to attain them and hold onto them – even give away things that are important to me in order to keep my hand on them?
• What am I willing to give up to have them?
• Am I willing to sacrifice time with my family, my obedience to God, my integrity for them?
• Is God waiting on the sidelines of life as an afterthought? If He is, perhaps you have an idol in your life.
John explains why he is cautioning us on this. The bottom line is, the world and its desires are passing away. Worldly desires are temporal. They don’t last! Pleasure is fleeting. Possessions lose value. Earthly accomplishments are soon forgotten or surpassed.
It is interesting to hear some people talk about going back to their old workplace after they have retired and learning it has moved on without them. Their success has been put in the past.
Maybe John had in mind the parable Jesus told about the rich fool who had great crops and built all these barns. He thought to himself, Boy, now I’ve got it made! I should eat, drink, and be merry. I have life by the tail. But then along came God at the end of this story who said, “You fool. Tonight your life is demanded of you. Now who gets all these things?”
Or perhaps John had in mind another statement Jesus made: “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul? His very life existence” (Mark 8:36).
Jesus once said, “Do not store up riches here where they can be destroyed. . . . Store up treasure in heaven” (Matt. 6:19). Not only are worldly desires temporal (not lasting), but they are also shallow. The truth is, these things are merely rumblings of a deeper desire – a desire for something so much better by far – like joy and contentment, significance, relationship. They can only be found in a relationship with God, who has given us His Son, Jesus Christ to open the door to us. As St. Augustine said in the early days of the Church, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”
We were created for more than pleasure, possessions, and success. We were actually created to have a relationship with God, the One who made us to live with Him and to live for Him. Jesus stepped into this world and died on a cross to pay for your sins and mine. He rose from the dead so we can have the one relationship that matters above all others, a relationship that satisfies the deepest desires and longings of human beings.
John is telling us there is a better way. Keep the big picture in mind. The one who does the will of God lives forever. He is talking about eternity. Jesus talked of using your life to store treasure in heaven. What is His will, His deepest desire? Jesus tells us it is loving God with your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and trusting in His Son Jesus Christ. Nothing in your life matters more than what you do with God and His Son Jesus Christ, and what you do for God. Make loving God, playing for an audience of One, your deepest, your greatest desire – more than anything else this world has to offer.
Don’t give into cheap, temporary trade-offs. It is a temptation too many fall prey to. The real life God wants you have is found in walking with Him, living for His glory and His honor, serving Him. Pleasing Him is to be your number one desire. Play for an audience of One the rest of your days. This is the reason Jesus came for us, so we might have this kind of relationship.
A writer who I enjoy reading, Lee Strobel, had a born-again experience in his middle years. He writes in one of his books, “What’s really important in life probably will get sorted out during our last moments on earth. My guess is many will look back and ask, Did I accumulate a lot of stuff that I can’t take with me or did I lay up treasures in heaven? Did I take time to develop a relationship with God that will last forever? Did I leave a mark on people that is going to fade, or did I leave an eternal mark on them?”
It’s a good question to be asking, isn’t it. Looking back, how do you want to be able to answer? How did you live your life?
I came across a good analogy as a closer for this message today. It goes like this:
Let’s say you spend a week at Motel 6. How likely would it be for you to take all your money and spend it decorating your motel room? How probable is it that you would clean out your bank account to purchase a Van Gogh, paintings of Elvis on velvet, or whatever it is that your taste runs to. Not very. You wouldn’t even be tempted because the motel room is not home. You are only going to be there a little while. It would be foolish to waste the treasure of your one and only life on a temporary residence. You see, smart players are clear on what lasts and what doesn’t. Jesus says it’s wise to store up treasure in what’s eternal.
Well, your life is Motel 6. Your room, your home, furniture, clothes, and possessions will last the equivalent of a few seconds compared to the eternity that will be occupied by your soul. It’s not bad to stay in a place and enjoy it while you’re there, but don’t store up treasure in Motel 6. It’s not home. You’re only going to be here a little while. If you’re going to stay up nights dreaming, dream about something better than how to upgrade your motel room.
I’m sure God’s people will all say amen to that.
Smart players are clear on what lasts and what doesn’t. Are you smart? Jesus says it is wise to store up treasure in what is eternal. This is John’s concern for us today as it was many years ago for the first congregation who received this letter.
What is your deepest desire? May it be pursuing the One who loves you more than you even love yourself, the Savior Jesus Christ and His heavenly Father. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer