What Is Meant By “World”?

Question: 

“The Bible tells us that we are not to love the world (I John 2:15). Then why does God love the world? (John 3:16)?”

Answer: 

The word “world” is used in the Scriptures with different meanings. First, “world” often means this earth on which we live. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it” (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 24:1, 2). This world was created by God, “and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). In fact, as the psalmist declares, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made” (Psalm 33:6a), and this was echoed later, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3a). God made the world (earth), and it is not evil.

The word “world” is also used to mean the people who live on the earth. That is the way it is used in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Other examples of this meaning are found in Matthew 5:14a, “You are the light of the world,” and Matthew 13:38a, “and the field is the world.” Other passages where “world” mean people are Luke 2:1, John 6:33, 12:19, 12:47, 15:18, etc. Jesus did not die for this physical earth; He died for the people who live on earth. That is how “world” is used in John 3:16 and the other similar passages.

A third use of “world’ in the Bible is that of the state of sin, the domain ruled by Satan, who is called “the ruler of this world” (John 16:11). The apostle Paul used the word in that sense, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). It is with this meaning of “world’ that the apostle John wrote, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world” (I John 2:15). He goes on to define that “world” as, “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (verse 16).

It certainly is not wrong to love and appreciate the world that God created and made for man’s home in this life. Neither is it wrong to love the “world” for which Jesus died – people in need of salvation. But with regard to the world of sin, “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (James 4:4). There is no contradiction between John 3:16 and I John 2:15. It is just that “world” has different meanings in the two passages.

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