The World's Three Great Traps for Christians

by Spiros Zodhiates

 "For everything that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the proud relishing of the possessions of life—is in no way of the Father, but is of the world" (1 John 2:16 AT).

John delineates in the form of a parenthetical statement what is of the world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the proud relishing of possessions. These are the things that will trip up a person. The lust for the things of the world is not of the Father since evil does not have its origin with God, for He created nothing evil.

God gave man the unique privilege of choice, however. He set the inevitable consequence of that choice. Disobedience would bring death, both spiritual and physical (Gen. 3). All the evil in the world (ktsis) is the consequence of man's disobedience, for God did not create an evil world. What God created originally was good (Gen. 1:31). The evil bondage of the world, therefore, stands in contrast to the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:21) who, having been restored through Christ's regeneration, must not be unequally yoked with the world (2 Cor. 6:14).

So that the demarcation between believers and the children of the devil (1 John 3:10) be clearly discerned, John categorizes the three principal philosophies of the lives of unbelievers:

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I. "The lust of the flesh": "Lust" is epithuma, an irregular and inordinate desire or appetite. God created us with the ability to desire and to concentrate on what we determine to experience. Emotions can be both good and bad. When the Lord found Himself with the Twelve prior to His passion and crucifixion, "He said to them, With longing [epithuma] I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer'" (Luke 22:15). This was a yearning by the Lord Jesus to share that particular Passover meal with His disciples because it would bring Him closer to the fulfillment of the purpose for which He had come into the world. It is therefore commendable that we become emotional or passionate about the God-appointed purposes of our lives.

Again, Paul wrote, "I am constrained between two pulls, having the desire [epithuman] to depart and be conjoined with Christ which is far better" (Phil. 1:23 author's translation). Paul was possessed with the passion of experiencing death, which for him meant being joined together with Christ. (See also 1 Thess. 2:17, where Paul's "desire" is epithuma.)

But the passion that seeks to please the flesh is the state that leads a person into sin (James 1:14-15). The flesh is srx [4561], the animal or external nature as distinguished from the spiritual or inner man (pnema [4151], spirit).1 We as believers are srkinoi, made of flesh (2 Cor. 3:3), but should not be sarkiko, carnal, which is the opposite of pneumatiko (1 Cor. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:11).

What, specifically, are the appetites of the flesh? (They are mentioned in several Scriptures, and in Mark 4:19 they are blamed for choking the seed of the gospel as by thorns and not permitting it to grow. These are:

The anxieties (mérimna) of this age or of the world. Anxiety for self is what Christ condemned as a worldly characteristic (Luke 12:22). In Luke 8:14 such anxieties are connected with pleasures (he\dona, from which the word "hedonism" derives). In Luke 21:34 they are connected with hangovers from excesses (kraiple\ ) and drunkenness. Anxiety, however, ceases to be evil when it is concern for others in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:25), which 1 John constantly stresses as being necessary (3:11–18, 4:12,16,20-21).

The deceitfulness of wealth. This is an inordinate desire to become rich so that one can enjoy the pleasures of the flesh (Luke 6:24; 18:25; 1 Tim. 6:9-10; James 2:5).

Desires or passions in regard to other similar pursuits—including (from Col. 3:5): fornication (sexual immorality of all kinds; uncleanness  (moral filth, lewdness, incontinence; and passion (pthos [3806], lust) which is the soul's diseased condition out of which the various lusts spring. Epithuma is the active lust or desire springing from the diseased soul.

In Jude 1:16 grumblers, discontents or complainers, exaggerators, and flatterers for personal gain are classified as those who follow their evil passions.

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II. "The lust of the eyes": The word "eye" (ophthalms) primarily means the physical eye through which inner perceptions are formed as we view the outer world. What our eyes delight to look upon is indicative of our spiritual condition. He who constantly looks at a woman to desire her (epithumesai, the aorist infinitive of epithuméo\, to lust, desire, has already committed imaginary adultery against her. A worldly person will look at that which pleases his flesh.

We are admonished to have a single (haplos, without folds) eye or moral view, in contrast to an evil (pone\rs) eye (Matt. 6:22-23). Follow the eyes of an individual and you can discern his thoughts and desires. The eyes are singled out as the part of the body which communicate worldly desires to our souls, thus leading the whole body to immorality.

Our eyes are the gateway to our understanding. Our intellect or disposition of the heart is related to what our eyes look upon (John 12:40; Rom. 11:8,10; Eph. 1:18).

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III. "The pride of life": "Pride" here is alazonea, thinking oneself to be what he is not, haughtiness or arrogance (James 4:16; 1 John 2:16). Such a person is alazon, a boaster, braggart (Rom. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2). He becomes a hypocrite, a pretender, feigning to be what he is not, thus seeking to be admired by others.

"Life" here is bos and means possessions, wealth (1 John 3:17). John warns against placing too much confidence and reliance in them. "Love not ... the things ... in the world" (v. 15).

Concentration on the satisfaction of the flesh, allowing the eyes to dwell on external things, and excessive enjoyment of possessions do not have their origin in the heavenly Father, but in the world. If the flesh thus predominates in the believer, he should examine himself whether he is a true believer or a false one. John constantly deals with self-examination in this epistle (1:6; 2:4). We should guard ourselves against self-deception which can lead to the rationalization of a worldly lifestyle. In reality, this has no place in the life of a true believer (1 John 2:4–6).

Summarizing, to find out whether one is a true believer, one must examine his own life, asking three questions:

Do I concentrate on satisfying the lusts of my flesh?

What attracts the attention of my eyes?

Am I proud about myself?

If one loves the world, he cannot have the love of the Father in him. The only answer to hypocrisy is repentance and the exercise of true faith which results in a transformed life (2 Cor. 5:17).

1 See John 6:63; Rom. 8:1,4,6,9,13; Gal. 5:16-17,19,24-25; 6:8; Eph. 2:3; 2 Pet. 2:18.

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