Meditations in James: 38 : Enemies of God?
Jas 4:4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
Observing people taking sides is not a pleasant thing because it is divisive, yet we accept division in society at the many different levels. At its basic level, politics is all about how is the best way to run a country, what sort of rules, what sort of laws, how to look after people. The problem is there are so many different ways, and so different ideas have, in the past century or so, created different political parties and we are encouraged every few years to vote in favour of one party and against the others. There is this natural taking of sides that takes place. In the whole realm of football, people take sides, and support one team as against all the others. It is a taking sides that demands fierce loyalty so often. Wherever there are options and alternatives and competition for one or the other, there is taking sides.
The tone of James’ letter sometimes suggests that he has heard things about the church scattered far and wide, and some of the things he has heard upset him. The whole issue of favouritism in church was obviously one such thing. Now he speaks with a passion about the church that he has been hearing about, that sides with the world. Now we have commented previously that when the Bible uses the world ‘world’ it can mean the physical planet on which we live, the people who live on it, or the attitudes of godless and unrighteous mankind. It is the latter meaning that he uses here.
Probably the classic passage about ‘the world’ comes in 1 John 2: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15,16). There the world’s ‘life approach’ is defined. First, cravings of sinful man. It is a world that is motivated and driven by sensual desires, living according to self-centred desires, regardless of what they are. Second, lust of his eyes desire stirred on by visual impact. This is what the whole advertising industry is about. Make you ‘see’ something and then want it, because of those unrestrained desires already there that just need stirring on. Third, boasting of what he has and does, pride that exalts self. To summarise: the world means self-centred living according to desires, that are inflamed by what you can see and which go to building up the ego to exalt the individual.
How is this hatred toward God? First it is self-centred and godless. Second it is purely materialistic – and thus godless. Third it exalts self to the exclusion of God – and is therefore godless. In every way the ‘way of the world’ is a godless mentality, and by godless we mean it excludes or ignores or rejects God. No wonder James says that Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. This is another case of taking sides, because there are opposites to choose and if you choose one you will be hostile to the other. If you accept a mentality that is, in reality, self-centred, materialistic and self-exalting, you cannot call yourself a child of God, because all of these expressions are in opposition to God.
Perhaps the classic instance in the Scripture of this choice came through Joshua to the people of Israel near the end of his life: “if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:15) Look, he was saying, if you want you can go and serve the idols that our primitive forefathers served, but me and my family will serve the Lord. There was a clear choice you did one or the other. The choice is exactly the same today. You either serve the idols of materialism, or of self-centred human endeavour, or of scientific endeavour or whatever other godless expression of modern life that you can find, or you will trust and serve the Lord. The reality of that choice comes when you see who or what it is that you rely upon. That is why James finds it so important to think about talking to God. Talking to God is perhaps the clearest sign of relying upon Him.
A New Testament parallel is, perhaps when Jesus had been saying difficult things: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:66-69) Some of those who had been with Jesus now drifted away. They couldn’t cope with or understand some of the things he was saying. For Peter, there was no question. Jesus was the Messiah and was the one bringing answers and eternal life. There was no competition as far as he was concerned. That conclusion meant he gave up all rights to his life and went and followed Jesus wherever he led. I once asked a group what they would like their epitaph on their gravestone to be. One answered, “She followed the Lord wherever he said to go.” May that be true of each one of us who call ourselves Christians!