We are living in a culture that relentlessly tempts us to participate in all kinds of ungodly things. The whole system of media is crafted to direct and monopolize every aspect of human life – what to eat, who to marry, how to dress, where to go, how to spend money, who to worship, how to raise children, how to run the family and so on. Secular society is now literally demanding our participation in every ungodly activity, unbiblical opinions, and anti-Christian values. The problem is that, as Christians, we do not do enough to resist the opposition, and succumb to the worldly pressure and go along with the tide. The Bible calls us to be different, to refuse to be friends with the world.
James, in his epistle, gives us a series of tests by which to evaluate the genuineness of one’s faith. It is one thing to say we believe, it is one thing to say that I am a Christian, it is one thing to go through the motions; and it is another thing to prove it by our lives. In Ch.4, James gives us a key indicator of true saving faith and that is one’s attitude towards the world. He says that if you are in love with the world then you’re an enemy of God. And it’s not so much that you are God’s enemy, as it is that God becomes your enemy, which is a far more fearful perception.
Here James warns believers not to build friendship with the world. Does this mean Christians should not have non-Christian friends? Jesus commands His followers to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel among non-believers. Scripture says, God loves the world and He sent His Son into the world to save the sinners. How is it possible to preach the gospel without being intentional about developing connections with non-believers? Are we supposed to hate something that God loves?
Friendship: The word “friendship” is the word ‘philia’. It comes from the Greek verb ‘phileo’. It’s often translated “love” in the New Testament. So, it is a strong emotional attachment to or affection for something (world). It is a deep and an intimate longing to be involved with the world. James is not speaking of the acts or circumstances related to spiritual weakness which can pull any believer into the world and into its sin. He is not referring to some accidental or some incidental occasion where a believer might be doing something he doesn’t want to do or not doing something he does want to do. This can happen to any believer at any time. What James is referring to is a settled affection, a strong attraction, an intimate relationship, or an emotional bonding.
The world: In the New Testament ‘world’ comes from the Greek word ‘kosmos’ and it has several different meanings. The Bible regularly uses kosmos to refer to the sum of all creation – the universe (John 1:10) or the dwelling place of man – the earth (John 3:19). It also refers to the fallen human life which is an object of God’s love (John 3:16). Also, ‘Kosmos’ refers to the fallen creation made up of the man-centered, Satan-directed system of this world which is hostile to God, Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Christian (John 12:31). It is this definition that James has in mind when he writes that “friendship with the world is enmity to God.” It’s not talking about the earth or anything physical. It refers to all man-made values and ideologies, traditions, life styles, ethics, morals, philosophies, and the institutions of the world established apart from and opposed to God.
‘Friendship with the world’ is not necessarily the same thing as friendship with non-Christians. We are not supposed to completely cut off from the non-believers and live in the Christian huddle. The world is our mission field. The people in this fallen world are to be loved. But, evil systems, affairs, philosophies and ideas in this fallen world must be rejected. Believers are under the reign of Christ and they are not to associate with worldly systems that are under the control of Satan, who is the arch-enemy of God. Jesus is sending us to this world not to establish friendship with the world, but to call for repentance and to rescue people from their captivity to the evil worldly system. Unfortunately, many Christians are guilty of loving the world. That is a deadly sin.
03 Reasons why friendship with the world is a serious sin:
- It is an act of Spiritual adultery
James calls them “You adulterous people!”. Jews are familiar with this terminology. The word “adulteresses” would immediately remind Jewish readers that Israel was designated as an unfaithful wife of Jehovah God (Hosea 1:2). Israel was the covenant bride of God. And when Israel went whoring after other gods (Judges 2:17), Israel became an adulteress. So for Israel because of their covenant relationship to God to abandon God was to commit spiritual adultery. Now, James addresses people who attach themselves to the church, attach themselves to Christianity, but with their tremendous consuming love for the world, give nothing to God and give themselves entirely to the world and thus become adulteresses.
- It is an expression of blatant hostility
Basically, to love the world is to be hostile to God. You cannot be a friend of God and at the same time, make friends with the worldly system which is orchestrated by Satan. There is no middle ground. One is either the faithful friend of God or His enemy; either a faithful lover of God or an adulteress. Satan is at war with God and His church all the time. Either you are with God or you’re against Him; You cannot serve two masters (1 John 2:15, Matthew 6:24, Amos 3:3, 1 Cor 2:12, 2 Cor 6:14).
- It is a crime of damnable treachery
Worldliness is a deliberate act of treason against God. If you’re Christian you don’t become a friend of the world by accident. The world does not make friends with Christians; it hates Christ and hates Christians. And if you are a faithful follower of Christ the world already hates you for what you stand for. Christians have to make a deliberate and conscious effort to establish friendship with the world. In order to do that, the world requires from you some degree of disloyalty to Christ; some compromise of Christian values. Christ demands full allegiance to His rulership from His followers, and not a partial obedience. Anything apart from full allegiance to the Lordship of Christ is a deliberate treason.
Friendship with the world is enmity with God. God becomes our enemy rather than we become his enemy. It is a dreadful thing that God becomes our enemy. We are all at some point, in some way guilty of becoming worldly. But God is gracious and merciful; we can still draw near to God with clean hands and pure hearts by humbling ourselves before the Lord through genuine repentance over our sin, and taking a firm stand against the devil (James 4:7-10).