If God loves the world (John 3:16), why are we told not to love the world (1 John 2:15)?
It is clear that “the world” (cosmos) is being used in different ways in these two passages: “the world” as created order versus “the world” as a fallen kingdom. In the first sense, God loves every created thing and is moved by all he has made (Ps. 145:9). The famous verse from John’s gospel is the big story of the Bible in miniature: the God who made the world in love became incarnate within it and will one day bring healing to all things.
But we are still living in the middle of the story, in a world that is also damaged by evil. We have turned away from God and have tried to build kingdoms apart from him. The result has been devastating for us and the rest of creation. It is because God loves the world (as his creation) that God is opposed to the world (as fallen kingdom).
This is why the epistle of John describes the world as composed of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). We are called to resist these things, to refuse to give our hearts to these things, because they cannot give us life. Concretely, 1 John is encouraging believers to be free and generous in their love for others (1 John 3:16-18) rather than clinging to the “things of this world.” Indeed, when we hoard God’s gifts, we turn them into idols that poison our hearts, pushing out “the love of the Father.”
But our great hope is God’s great love for us. We anticipate a day when “the kingdom of the world” will become “the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). The created but fallen world will be healed! Until that day comes, we seek to love as we have been loved (1 John 4:19).