“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” – 1 John 2:15
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” – 1 Timothy 4:
Question: It seems that 1 John 2:15 and 1 Timothy 4:4 contradict each other. Should we hate the world or love it?
Answer: This is an excellent question. As you have pointed out, it is a strong, seeming contradiction. John says “Don’t love the world” and Paul says “Receive the things of the world with thanksgiving.” The issue is further complicated by considering John 3:16 which famously says, “For God so loved the world…” God himself loved the world and yet John tells us not to love the world. Which one should we do?
The conflict can be resolved when we consider what does “world” mean in these verses. It is common among languages that words though they are the same will often have different meanings in different contexts. When God says he loves the world in John 3:16, he is speaking of that which he created, all of the people who are created in his image. Arguably he could even be expressing his love for the entire created order here: trees, animals, oceans, galaxies. In Genesis 1:31 he looked at all of his creation and called it “very good.” Paul echoes this sentiment in 1 Timothy 4:4 when he says all the things that God created are good and can be appreciated as they were created. There is nothing wrong with appreciating the good gifts from God. Paul is careful though to qualify this by saying, “If it is received with thanksgiving.” That is to say, recognize it is a gift and that the real treasure is the one who gave it not the gift itself. In an earlier letter Paul condemned worshipping the created things and not the creator (Rom. 1:25).
What then does 1 John 2:15 mean by “world”? I believe John also qualifies his own statement in the very next verse. “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world.” What does the “world” that John speaks of contain? It is made of wicked desires: the “desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16-21). The “desires of the eyes” could be a reference to original sin in the garden when Eve saw the forbidden fruit as desirable to the eyes (Gen. 3:6). And the “pride of life” is easily recognized as wickedness because pride is universally condemned in the scriptures (James 4:6).
It would be very easy to read 1 John 2:15 as a call to “asceticism” which is the practice of utter separation from all physical things and self-denial of any earthly pleasures (Paul specifically condemns this ideal in Col. 2:16-23). But this is not where John is calling us. He calls us to hate the wickedness that so many others are prone to accept. The “world” are those people and practices that have set themselves in opposition to God as he further clarifies in 1 John 4:1-6.
So in conclusion, love the gifts in this world that God has given us knowing that he is a good God who gives them, but hate the things in this world that set themselves up against God.