“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” (Proverbs 15:16-17)
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
Those who are poor or have few possessions in this world by choice are encouraged by these verses, as I was when serving in Africa. Living and serving in the U.S. now, I seem to have more necessities and often lose track of what I need versus what I want. Perhaps I should meditate more on 1 John 2:15-17, which complements the Proverbs passage. It is better to have the love of God and to love and fear him than to have many worldly treasures with trouble, dissatisfaction, and hatred.
We are not to reject everything in the world, since many things, including wealth, may be used for the glory of God. These verses do not condone monasticism or turning one’s back on the world. We know this because John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John, the apostle, is not contradicting himself but warning us (in 1 John 2) to love Christ and his people more than the world. Matthew Henry, commenting on 1 John 2:15 wrote, “The things of the world may be desired and possessed for the uses and purposes which God intended, and they are to be used by his grace, and to his glory; but believers must not seek or value them for those purposes to which sin abuses them.” *
Christians also do not depend on the world because in spite of looking permanent, it is passing away, and only the spiritual things of God will endure. John warns explicitly against lusting after things that temp our flesh, our eyes, and our pride. Perhaps by the “lust of the flesh”, he means all the general corrupt desires that arise from a corrupt heart. The “lust of the eyes” is specific and may be an appeal to restrain ourselves from coveting, being content with the little or much that God has given us. The “pride of life” may include the temptation to desire glory, praise, recognition, and applause from people. These three together represent some of our most significant areas of sin.
I suppose the good news is in verse 17, that “the world is passing away with its desires.” If we are not dependent upon the things of the world for our wellbeing, then our desires for these are best put away from us. The even better news follows it: “whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Of course, we cannot perfectly obey God, but we can desire his ways, his Spirit, and loving devotion to Christ with contentment.
What are the things that temp you–food, sports, clothing, new cars, a bigger house, external beauty, degrees, or brilliant children? Will you pray with me according to Psalms 119:37 today? “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”
*Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, online edition