John, the World, and the Empire.


As it relates to John’s use of the word “world” in 1 John 2:15–17, I am wondering if a better word which more appropriately describes John’s original intent is the word “empire.”

Try it out. I’ll do the substituting.

Do not love the empire or the things that belong to the empire. If anyone loves the empire, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the empire — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle — is not from the Father, but is from the empire. And the empire with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.

The word we have translated “world” in the New Testament is the Greek word kosmos. It’s the same word John uses elsewhere (specifically in John 3:16) when speaking about what “God so loved.” Yet the same word here, because of its context, carries a different connotation.

Kosmos can be used to speak of the entire system of creation — from the subatomic to the massive (as in John 3:16, etc.). But it can also speak of the world’s system of affairs — the way the world tends to work — the machines against which we are called to rage.

Which immediately brings to my mind the word “empire.”

And what is empire? I’d bet John was thinking about Rome, but you can pick your own.

The map above is thinking about Spain. After living in Mexico and spending time in Honduras, that’s not a hard jump for me.

I spent time living in an eastern European country that was reeling from the effects of decades of Russian oppression under Communism, so thinking about Russia isn’t too hard a jump either.

Now think about the United States of America. Does that change things a bit?

I could be wrong, but I don’t think many Christians in America entertain the thought that we live as members of the empire. However, the more I watch and the more places I visit, with all of its positive and negative ramifications, I am convinced we are just that. And this has presented some serious implications for me as somebody who strives to follow Jesus.

If my true citizenship is in Heaven, and if Jesus’ teaching that it is impossible to serve two masters is true, then what do I do as a temporary citizen of the empire in which I find myself?

What about this empire do I love that goes against John’s warnings?

What about this empire do I love that goes against the very teachings of Jesus himself, and how does my being a part of this empire change how I even view those teachings to begin with?

Perhaps the root question is simply this: with whom does my true allegiance lie?

Like I said, the implications are huge. And they shouldn’t be ignored.

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