“Outlining & Preaching 1 John 2:15-17 – Part 2”[1]

Part 1 examined the structural outline of the passage, carefully looking at the sentence and clausal structure. Now we examine the semantic (meaning) relationships between the clauses and sentences themselves in order to understand the overall structure of the passage. From this, we will be able to determine the exegetical outline of the passage which will furnish the foundation for a preaching outline. 

Sentence one is the most dominant sentence semantically for two reasons.

First, sentence two (vv. 15b-16) is related to sentence one (v. 15a) in a subordinate fashion since it is introduced grammatically by a conditional clause. Sentence three (v. 17) is coordinated to sentence two by the conjunction “and.” Thus, John places sentences two and three on the same level syntactically.

Second, sentence one (v. 15a) contains the overt imperative “do not love.” Imperatives always outweigh indicates on the semantic scale. Consequently, sentence one (15a) conveys the theme of the entire paragraph: do not love the world.

Sentence two (v. 15b-16) conveys the semantic ground[2] for sentence one: it is impossible to love God and the world simultaneously. In other words, the ground for not loving the world, the command in sentence one, is found in sentence two: you cannot love God and the world at the same time.

The hoti (“for”) clause (v. 16) functions as a subordinate clause modifying the conditional clause stated in v.15b: “if anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him.”  In other words, the meaning John is communicating in sentence two (vv. 15b-16) is as follows: “if you are loving the world you cannot be loving God at the same time. This is true because (hoti, “for”) “everything in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, does not have its source in the Father but rather has its source in the world.”

Sentence three (v. 17) is coordinated to sentence two (v. 15b-16) by the use of kai, “and.” It functions to provide two additional grounds for the command in v.15a: the impermanence of the world (“the world is passing away with its lusts”) and the permanence of those who do the will of God (“the one who does the will of God abides forever”). Contextually, the meaning of “the will of God” in the final clause is “do not love the world,” as was expressed in the first sentence in v.15a. To do the will of God, one must not love the world.

Thus, from a semantic standpoint, the structure of 1 John 2:15-17 should be diagrammed this way:

S1 –  EXHORTATION  (v. 15a)

      S2 – grounds1 for v. 15a – (it is impossible to love God and world simultaneously)  (vv. 15b-16)

            The hoti clause in v. 16 gives the grounds (reason) for v. 15b

      S3 – grounds2a for v. 15a – (impermanence of the world)   (but)

          – grounds2b for v. 15a – (permanence of those who do God’s will)  (v. 17)


Love not the world, neither the things in the world.

            If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him;

                        because all that is in the world:

                                    the lust of the flesh,

                                    the lust of the eyes,

                                    and the pride of life

                        is not from the Father,


                        is from the world.

            And the world is passing away with the lust of it


             he who does the will of God abides forever. 


Based on the structure of the text itself, how many main points does 1 John 2:15-17 have? It has one main point, expressed in the imperative in verse 15. How many sub-points does the text have? It has two; each one expressed by the grounds of sentence 2 and sentence 3 with sentence three divided into two halves, one negative and one positive. Here are the points of the text in outline form:

I. Don’t love the world . . . because

            A.   It is impossible to love God and the world simultaneously

            B.   The world is impermanent. . . but

                   The one doing the will of God (that is, who does not love the

                    world) is eternally permanent.


A text-driven sermon outline on this text should have one main point and two sub-points.

If you preach on this text omitting one or more of these sub-points, then you have not preached the text fully. If you preach this text adding additional main or sub-points beyond these, then you are adding to the meaning of the text. If you make one of the sub-points a main point parallel to v. 15a, then you have mis-preached the text in terms of its focus and prominence. If you major on the three parallel prepositional phrases in v. 16 and spend most of your time explaining and illustrating them, then you will mis-preach the focus of this text.

To omit points, to add points, or to major on that which the text minors, is to fail to preach the text accurately. What you say may be biblical, but it will not be what this text says in the way the text says it.

If we believe in text-driven preaching, then somehow the main and subordinate information which John himself placed in his text must be reflected in the sermon.

There may be many creative ways to do this in expository preaching, but these elements must be there or the sermon will be less than truly text-driven.

If you’re interested, my full sermon on this text can be read in my 1-3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 95-108.

Preach the Word!

[1] For a detailed analysis of 1 John 2:15-17 as a test case for how I go about sermon preparation, see my chapter “Preparing a Text-Driven Sermon,” in Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 101-134.

[2] Semantically, Beekman, Callow and Kopesec define “grounds” as the communication relation that refers to an observation or a known fact given as the basis for a stated, commanded or questioned state or event (Semantic Structure of Written Communication [Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1981], 106).