Friendship with the World – James 4:4

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

James 4:4 NIV

Adulterers! I suspect most Christians would take offense if someone called us adulterous. Most likely we are, if married, faithful to our spouse, and not otherwise engaged in extra-marital sexual relationships. And that is good. But this word is also used in a different way. The Old Testament prophets frequently used it when condemning idolatry. When God’s people, who were in a sense wedded to him, turned their attention to idols, they were committing spiritual adultery.

And James is using it here in that sense. He is writing to believers. To those who are a part of the bride of Christ. Our devotion should be given solely to him and not to the world around us.

James’ use of the word ‘world’ here is very similar to its use elsewhere in the Scripture. He is not referencing the planet we live on. And he is not really referring to the people themselves who live on the earth. Rather it is as a system. In the same way we might talk about Hollywood or Wall Street to refer to the entertainment or financial segments of life, the New Testament talks about the world to encompass all of the activities we engage in. And this world, as a system, is at odds with God and the way of life he has called us to live.

Choose to Be A Friend of God

So for James, as well as the other New Testament writers, you can choose to walk in the way of the world. Or in the way of the Lord. You can be a friend of God, or choose friendship with the world. But not both. If you call yourself a Christian, but are indistinguishable from the world around you, then, according to James, you are an adulterer and an enemy of God. If that is where you find yourself then I would encourage you to follow James’ corrective. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (Jam. 4:10).

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