When the apostle John urged his readers, “Do not love the world or the things of the world” (1 John 2:15), he was not being legalistic, or a crotchety old man focused only on morals, or a negative Nancy. Rather, he was caring for those he was writing to. And God, through him, was loving us.
The problem with loving the world—meaning, the allurement of media, power, popularity, money, sex, leisure, comfort, etc.—is that when we love the world, we love Christ less. We only have so much room in our hearts.
Little Room for Christ
It was Jesus who boldly said, “No one can serve two masters...You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Think about how bold that statement is. He is saying it is impossible (“cannot”) for anyone ("no one can") to serve, love, be devoted to both money and God. He knew that if our hearts were attached to one, it was impossible to have room for the another. They compete. They crowd one another out.
In a similar vein, this is why John tells us not to love the world. Just as Jesus compares the love of God and money, so John boldly declares that if someone loves the world, he does not love the Father (1 John 2:15). And he does not want people to choose the world over our wonderful God.
This is confirmed in how John continues to talk about the world in his urging. He says the world consists of “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Notice, he does not just say that it is life, things, and possessions that are the issue per se. Rather, it is the desire, the pride which accompany these things that he is concerned about. These internal realities are of the world. These heart-cravings are what he cares about.
All of these desires and feelings happen in the heart. All of them then crowd our heart. And all of them, being so focused on self, then leave little room for Christ in our hearts. And they then leave us walking away from God, our best love. You cannot love (meaning, in your heart and deepest self) God and the world.
What Are We Putting There?
It is good to remember this next time we contemplate doing really anything. Our hearts are influenced by what we do, what we watch, what we listen to, how we use our phones, where we surf on the internet. And so, what are you and I putting in our hearts? What are we spending our time on?
Even if it isn’t explicitly not commanded in the Bible, and is therefore permissible, let's ask, What is it doing to our hearts? Is it really helpful (see 1 Corinthians 6:12-13)? Is it leading us to love the world or the Father? Again, we only have so much room.
Our Hearts Are Precious
This is so crucial because our hearts are precious. They're precious to God and to us. It is from out of the heart that we are who we are (Luke 6:45). It is from our hearts that we give or lack giving beautiful praise to God (Matthew 15:8). Our hearts fuel who we are as men and women, husbands and wives, parents, civilians, neighbors, workers, and friends. What we decide to focus on and put there is more precious than we realize.
Let’s therefore pay attention the activity of our hearts. Our hearts and loves are too important to not be attentive. Let’s watch out for what stirs our affections for Christ, and also what subtly snuffs him out. And then may we choose to crowd our hearts with things that promote our love for him. It’ll be worth it.