“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” ~ James 4:4
Explanation of the Text: In Exodus 20:3, God tells the people that they shall have no other God before Him. And yet, as James opened up chapter 4, we see that people indeed loved material wealth and possessions more than they loved God. For that reason, he refers to the people as adulterous people. While we think of adultery in the terms of infidelity between a married man and woman, James uses it here to refer to spiritual infidelity. The believers had replaced their relationship with God, with material possessions. Indeed, they were committing adultery by being unfaithful to God!
James then explains what the adultery is through a question followed by an answer. Both the imperative and declarative sentences can be summed up simply by understanding that James is saying friendship with the world results in enmity with God. Using its context, Spiros Zodhiates explains the Greek word friendship (φιλία philía) most definitively by explaining it as adopting the interests of the world as one’s own interests. This friendship with the world, and its pleasures, creates enmity to God. This enmity can be best described as a hatred or hostility towards God. Friendship with the world creates conflict between the believer and God, because it causes divided loyalties. You cannot be both a friend of the world and a friend of God, because the world has rejected God.
Examination & Application of the Text: James is calling on believers to be friends of God and enemies of the world. Much easier said than done as we each battle with the flesh on a daily basis, and thus are enticed by the world. However, what needs to happen is an acceptance of God, with Jesus Christ as Lord, and a denial of the world. This acceptance means a love for Him, that is manifested in obedience to Him (Deuteronomy 11:1; 1 John 2:3-5, 5:2).
Denial of the world, means first a denial of self (Luke 9:23). It requires us to deny ourselves, and in place of ourselves, put on the new man, that is Christ and seek after His ways, setting our minds on the things from above (Colossians 3:1-3). The denial of self requires a denial of fulfilling our sinful desires of the flesh. It means denying our ‘want’ for material wealth, popularity, or whatever worldly element is being desired. One thing to note of this. We are still required to be in the world in the sense of witnessing so that we can make disciples (Matthew 28:19). If you remove yourself from the world, you cannot impact the world for the cause of Chris. However, this means your time in the world is limited to the sole purpose of sharing Christ. This means that you enter the world for that task, and as soon as that task is over, you retreat out of it. For example, it may mean going to coffee with an unbeliever, who is clearly of the world. During that coffee appointment, you share with them, guide them, counsel them, be an example for them. After that moment of coffee and sharing, you remove yourself. There is this distinct line between being in the world (for the purpose of doing God’s will) and being of the world (for the purpose of doing man’s will) and we must be very forthright in our distinction of that threshold. It should be very black and white.
Therefore, make friendship with God, by denying self and the world.