‘The world’ usually means for us the sum total of things and people around us. The focus may be
(a) physical and geographical – this planet, with its chemistry, climate, population, raw materials;
(b) racial and anthropological – people of all nations, as when we speak of ‘world health’, ‘world peace’, or ‘world opinion’.
(c) sociological and cultural – an outlook and pattern of communal life, as in our notion of the ‘civilized world’, the ‘communist world, or on the contrast between the ‘ancient world’ and the ‘modern world’.
(d) personal and subjective – one person’s perspective as contrasted with another’s, as when we speak of a person living ‘in a world of his own’, or as expressed in the phrase, ‘my world and welcome to it.’
The biblical idea covers pretty much the same ground, but with one big difference: whereas the above are all anthropocentric (‘my world’, ‘his world’, ‘our world’), the biblical concept is theocentric.
The commonest word for ‘world’ in the NT – kosmos, occuring about 150 times – basically means ‘order’. This is in harmony with the the Genesis account of creation, which tells of order being brought out of chaos, Gen 1:2f. God separated the land from the dea, established the regular rhythm of the day and night, filled the land with vegetation, and populated it with animals and humans. Built into this ordering of the universe is setting of things within physical, the application of ‘laws’ of nature. God has also determined the temporal boundaries, Acts 17:26. This brings us on to the word aion, often translated ‘age’. Kosmos and aion are complementary words: referring to things generally, the first viewing them as an integrated whole and the second viewing them as limited in space and time and therefore transitory.
The word kosmos is an important one in John’s writings. It occurs 195 times in the Gospel, 24 times in the letters, and 3 times in the Revelation. By comparison, the word occurs in Paul’s writings 47 times, and much less in the rest of the NT.
The following shades of meaning occur, although the boundaries between them are not rigid.
1. An ornament. This is basic meaning of the word, see 1 Pet 3:3 and cf. with our word ‘cosmetic’.
2. The universe, which, because well-ordered, harmonious and attractive, is the ultimate ‘ornament’. See Jn 1:10 (cf. v3); Jn 3:17 8:12 9:5 11:27.
3. The earth (since the world in which we live is, for us, the most significant part of the universe). See Jn 16:33.
4. The population of the earth; a large number of people (Jn 12:19)
5. People as conceived as opposed to Christ, and under the judgement of God, Jn 1:10 7:7 12:31 14:17 14:30 15:18 16:11,20 17:25. This is the distinctive meaning of kosmos for John (and for Paul). But God loves the world, Jn 3:16. Christ is the Saviour of the world, Jn 1:29 3:17 4:42 6:33,51 12:47; the vanquisher of Satan, the prince of the world, Jn 12:31 14:30 15:11, and the final victor, Jn 16:33.
In John’s writings, an apparently ambivalent attitude towards the world world is revealed. On the one hand, God loves the word, Jn 3:16, and sent his Son to save it, Jn 3:17 12:47. Christ is the Saviour of the world, Jn 4:42 1 Jn 4:14, the propitiation for its sins, 1 Jn 2:2, the one who gives it life, Jn 6:33, by giving his life for it, Jn 6:51. On the other hand, the world seems excluded from redemption: the disciples are chosen out of it, Jn 17:6. Christ declined to pray for it, Jn 17:9, or to manifest himself to it, Jn 14:7,22. The contradiction is, however, not real but apparent: ‘the world’ in John’s writings is a synonym for ‘bad people everywhere’, and the context will decide the precise meaning. This distinction also explains the Christian’s attitude to the world: he is in it, Jn 17:11,15, but not of it, vv14, 16. The world will oppose Christians just as it opposed Christ, Jn 15:18-19 1 Jn 3:13, but they will overcome the world, just as he did, 1 Jn 5:4 Jn 16:33.
‘For John, the “world” ‘is just the synonym for all that is evil and noisome and disgusting. There is nothing in it that can attract God’s love, – nay, that can justify the love of any good man. It is a thing not to be dallied with, or acquisced in: they that are of it, are by that very fact not of God; and what the Christian has to do with it is just to overcome it; for everything that is begotten of God manifests that great fact precisely by this – that he overcomes the world. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” is John’s insistent exhortation. And the reason for it he states very pungently: because “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” God and the world, then, are precise contradictions. “Nothing that is in the world is of the Father,” we are told; or as it is put elsewhere in direct positive form: “The whole world lieth in the evil one.” “The world, the flesh and the devil” – this is the pregnant combination in which we have learned from Scripture to express the baleful forces that war against the soul: and the three terms are thus cast together because the are essentially synonyms.’ (Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, 514)
(See Morris, 126-128; Packer, God’s Words, 65ff)