Friendship With the World
The rich and the poor in the Book of James #3
The temptation to pursue riches was indirectly discussed in chapter 1. James described it as a vain pursuit and expressed it is better to be a ”poor brother” than a “rich man”. The poor brother should glory in his high position while the rich man needed to humble himself, bearing in mind he will fade away amidst all his pursuits. The warning to never elevate the temporary satisfaction of riches above the eternal treasures of the kingdom is a familiar tune throughout the Bible (Matthew 6:33ff, 1 John 2:15-17). Yet as straightforward the Lord is about earthly treasures, children of God often struggle prioritizing correctly. This priority problem is a severe heart problem that manifests itself in numerous ways.
In James 4:1 we are asked the question “what is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?”. There are countless ways brethren could answer this question incorrectly, but James cuts straight to the heart of the matter. The source of their conflicts and wars was their pleasures. The reason for the constant drama and fighting in their life was an unrestrained pursuit of pleasures. Their brethren were seen as obstacles that stood between them and all they wanted for themselves. As lust and envy ruled their lives, even their prayers became evidence of their selfish motives. It is a sad commentary when even one’s prayer life reveals a greater affection for the world rather than for God.
The pursuit of riches is just one inroad the world and Satan may use to infiltrate the lives of Christians and battle for their affections. The prosperity of our country makes this an easy and common way the world wins our allegiance from God. Notice how blunt James is about the seriousness of this misplaced affection.
“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend to the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4)
Issues of worldliness are not small matters. Not only are they the source of all sorts of conflict in humanity, but more importantly, they are a source of conflict with our God. A pursuit of friendship with the world makes one an adulteress to God. This term speaks of the level of intimacy and singular devotion a child of God owes the Lord. When one puts the world in the place of God, it is like breaking the closest and most holy bond that humanity can share with one another. Adultery is graphic and painful, but that is the faithlessness shown when one becomes a friend of the world. It is a hostile action. It is an aggressively hateful treatment towards God. As we become friends with the world, we tantalize with the forces of the devil that stand against God, and this puts us in the camp of the Lord’s enemy.
The way James describes worldliness in chapter 4 makes it more than just a pursuit of vain things and a waste of time. When one elevates those things above God, it brings all sorts of physical and spiritual conflict into one’s life. We need to see riches for what they often are: a distraction from higher, spiritual things. They are not evil in and of themselves, but time and time again, they win the competition for our affections and place us at odds with our Creator.
By Nathan E. Quinn
Expository Files 23.12; December 2016