There are a great multitude of Scriptural quotations which mention “loving the world.” The tone of these various quotations varies, typically between the two extremes – either a call to love the world, or a call to hate/reject the world. Since we would definitely state dogmatically that the Scriptures present a uniform theology and understanding of man, how do we put these two seemingly opposing statements together and understand to what the Scriptures are actually calling us?

First, two representative quotations:
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

“For God so love the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

These two quotes work nicely together in that both were penned by the same author. In his first Epistle, St. John commands the Christian community to “love not the world.” But in his Gospel he reminds us many times over that God does love the world. Since we are called to be like God, to put on the mind of Christ, it would follow then that we also are called to love the world, as our dearest Lord loves the world. So here we are told by St. John to love the world, yet not to love the world. How do we make sense of this dichotomy?

St. Augustine writes wonderfully about just this topic, and we can take a short quote from his writings to set in our minds a proper understanding of the Christian’s relationship to the world. St. Augustine writes,

“Therefore we [Christians] are both prohibited from loving in [the world] what it itself loves in itself, and we are commanded to love in it what it itself hates in itself, namely, the handiwork of God and the various comforts of His goodness.” -Blessed Augustine, Tractate 87 on the Gospel of St. John

So there we have it – our relationship with the world in simple terminology, while still maintaining the Biblical language of “love of the world.” We are told NOT to love those things which the world loves of itself. In other words, we are not to love self-will, power, control, passions, the flesh, sin…we are to reject those things that the world so easily latches onto, those things which bring immediate physical pleasure, but separate man eternally from God. In the world we ARE to love what God loves in the world, which are exactly those things that the world hates of itself. We are to love the beauty of the creation, the work of God in the world around us, the work of God in our lives. We see the world much like the New Testament parable – as a potter working with new clay, our Creator works to mold His creation so that mankind may come to know Him and to love Him. But it is exactly this movement that the world hates, but it requires a rejection of the individual and an acceptance of true personhood. We are only fulfilled and made human in Christ.

So the Christian is called to hate the sin and the passions and the fallenness of human society (the world), yet we are to deeply love our Lord’s creation, our brothers and sisters who walk on this earth, and our God for providing us with such a wonderful place to come to know, to love, and to grow in Him.

inspired by Fr. Paul Yerger’s homily from Sunday, September 30, 2012 – “Be ye separate” – 2 Cor. 6:17

Author Matthew Jackson