The topic of worldliness does not mean the same thing to all Christians. One response to the variety of meanings is to assume that worldliness cannot be defined or described. Yet such a response is dangerous in light of what John says about worldliness in this passage because he gives a very strong warning about it.
In particular, he highlights two concerns that are connected to worldliness. First, worldliness is obviously a spiritual problem because John here contrasts it with doing the will of God. Second, he states that it is impossible to love the world and to love the Father simultaneously. Since worldliness creates those spiritual problems, we need to understand what it is in order to avoid it.
There are Christian ways of loving the world. Believers must love other people and desire their salvation, and that is a legitimate way of loving the world. Followers of Jesus should love the physical world that God created. They love the world legitimately when they regard highly the various gifts and talents that God has bestowed on his human creatures, some of whom may be very sinful. God has given to them significant talents that make it possible for life on earth to improve.
So what is worldliness? John mentions three aspects of worldliness in verse 16: they are the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life. They are often intertwined, and we have to remember that involved with them are the temptations and allurements of the devil. So what do those details mean?
The term ‘flesh’, while often used of the physical body, does not here refer to physical desires in themselves; rather it refers to sinful desires that arise from within a person and which express themselves through his body. The ‘desire of the eyes’ refers to covetousness, to observing something and wanting it for wrong motives. Closely linked to such an attitude is jealousy of other people and dissatisfaction with what God has given to us. The ‘pride of life’ describes a wrong attitude to one’s attainments in life. Instead of giving the glory to God for what has been achieved, an individual boasts about what he or she has done.
John’s remedy for such worldliness is twofold: love for the Father and obedience to the Father’s commandments. In other words, fellowship with God (love) and faithfulness to God (obedience) are the opposite of worldliness. We will think some more about them tomorrow.