So how does the world compete for our affections? What is the attraction? John spelled it out in verse 16. First there is the craving for physical pleasure. Some writers think that this is a direct reference to sensuality, but the general consensus is that the language is so broad it is very inclusive.
Next is the craving for everything we see. If you think about it, many of the notable stories of sin in the Bible begin with the eyes. Eve saw the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil before she took it and ate it. Achan saw the piles of gold at Jericho and coveted it and took and hid it in his tent. David was hanging out on his rooftop when he saw Bathsheba. The list goes on. The phrase reminds me of how my wife and I would give our small children toy catalogues and ask them to think about what they wanted for Christmas. Instead of circling one or two things, they would end up circling virtually every toy in the book!
Finally there is pride in our achievements and possessions. The word for pride (or boasting) is alazon, which describes the kind of person who pretentiously promises more than he or she can deliver. Pride in our achievements and possessions is tricky for me personally. As I write these very words I am overshadowed by wall hangings that display my ordination papers and four earned degrees.
Is John saying that we should not enjoy life or have a good time? Is he suggesting that we should live as ascetics and give all of our possessions away? Does his counsel include that we renounce awards, recognitions, or education? I don’t think that’s his point. His point is that pleasure, possessions and achievements do not deliver what they promise. They are not where we find our true identity. They do not provide fulfillment.
One of my dearest friends is a man named Greg. Greg has been successful in business and has been greatly blessed. Alongside these blessings, God has given him a generous heart. His generosity and willingness to share has been a blessing to churches, para-church ministries and individuals. One day Greg and I were talking about God’s blessings and he offered this wise advice. He said, “I don’t love anything that can’t love me back.” That’s excellent advice. We live in a culture that advocates loving things and using people. In the Kingdom of God, Jesus advocates that we love people and use things. That makes all the difference in the world.