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Friendship With The World

“Friendship with the world is hostility toward God.” To the Christian, there is no more solemn warning than one that promises alienation from our savior. This one, however, can be somewhat perplexing, especially if we are unsure of what friendship with the world even is. After all, we are required to live on the planet and it would seem to be impossible to cloister oneself so thoroughly that contact with worldly people is altogether eliminated.


I. Enmity With God

    A. Spiritual Adultery

        1. it is the Lord’s brother, James, who warns us about our friendships and associations – “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (4:4, NASB).

            a. in some Greek texts, the gender is solely feminine in verse four, but the crime is hardly limited to the daughters of God; it is not the narrow sin of physical adultery that James has in view, but the broader category of every lifestyle that seeks to serve God and the flesh at the same time

        2. spiritual adultery is a powerful metaphor borrowed from the Old Testament prophets who begged the bride of God, the nation of Israel, to put away their idol lovers and return to spiritual oneness with Jehovah

            a. Jeremiah identified Judah as a harlot, practicing adultery on every high hill and under every green tree, with the popular, but feckless, idols of Canaan (Jeremiah 3:6-10)

            b. Hosea was even instructed to marry such a woman, that he might better identify with the rejection felt by God: “When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD’” (Hosea 1:2).

        3. as much as his faithless wife Gomer represented the spiritual adultery in Israel, a lack of exclusivity in our devotions is just as damaging, when we seek to be friends with the world while wed to God; that is also the preferred description of the spiritual Israel’s relationship to God; the church is the bride of Christ 

            a. Paul wrote the Corinthians, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (Second Corinthians 11:2).

            b. he showed the Roman readers that they were not bound to the Law of Moses, for they had been betrothed to Christ when they obeyed the gospel (see Romans 7:1-6)

            c. in the Apocalypse, John saw an image of the redeemed and glorified church, “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).

        4. the work of Christ is to “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

            a. the church universal would be blemished by sinful members, those who might have escaped the discipline of the local unit in life, but who will yet prove unfit on the day of judgment, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (see Matthew 22:1-14)

            b. the individual is blemished by unrepented sin, by flirtations with an alluring world, by double-mindedness that drives to have it both ways


    B. Friendship With The World

        1. the Hebrews showed their friendship with the world by climbing a high hill to worship an Ashterah or by handing over their babies to the outstretched arms of an inanimate Molech

        2. Christians suffer from friendship with the world today when they forfeit their distinctiveness and prefer the approval and amusement that can only come from outside the kingdom of Christ

            a. Jesus had warned John and the other apostles that they would be different from the rest of the world (John 15:18-19)

            b. John was surely thinking about that conversation when he defined what it meant to prefer the friendship of the world to faithfulness with Christ the bridegroom (First John 2:15-17)

            c. friendship with the world “refers to a Christian's loving the pleasures, enticements and lusts of society in general, a friendship that tends inevitably to forsaking the Lord” (Coffman)

        3. elsewhere, Paul writes that Demas forsook him, “having loved this present world,” but faithful Christians will be driven to put the kingdom first and to let no material temptress draw away their attention from Christ (see Second Timothy 4:9)

            a. it will not always be easy, for, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (First John 5:19).

            b. persecution sometimes results when a person forsakes friendship with the world in the name of God; “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (First John 3:13).


    C. Hostility Toward God

        1. friendship with the world in this context is spiritual adultery, and just as no ordinary wife will accept her husband’s infidelity, so God will not accept the Christian’s – not any of it!

            a. think of Michal’s sudden disgust with David as she watched him dance and leap before the Lord and “the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself” (Second Samuel 6:20).

            b. witness the heartbreak of Hosea, whose wife Gomer played the harlot with man after man

        2. committing spiritual adultery is an act of hostility and contempt toward God; it is flirting with a harlot right in front of him, fornicating with another in the marriage bed of what was true religion

        3. of one aspect of this sin, Jesus argued that, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

        4. many marriages break down at the points of miscommunication, boredom, drift, or infidelity; many people’s discipleships fall apart the same way as the zeal of salvation fades through the years and judgment never seems to get any closer

        5. as the wayward husband starts staying out late and flirting with other women, the wandering Christian begins modestly, sinning just a little and sampling only trifles on the tray of this world, but that is the only invitation the devil needs to reel him in (James 1:13-15)


II. Your Best and Worst Friend

    A. Appreciation for Earth

        1. some would confuse an appreciation for nature or for creation as the love of this world, but that misses the point, “For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’” (First Corinthians 10:26).

        2. the Bible writers each had an intense affection for the planet itself as a morally neutral creation of God, and as evidence of his benevolent design (see Psalm 19)

        3. friendship with the world, spiritual adultery, is ugly, but avoidable, and it has more to do with the unnatural schemes of sinful people than the natural beauty of God’s own making


    B. Purpose, Intention, Design 

        1. James assumes a willful decision to seek out the approval and satisfaction that only sinfulness can offer; 


It supposes that the heart is set on it; or that there is a deliberate purpose to seek the friendship of the world. It refers to that strong desire which often exists, even among professing Christians, to secure the friendship of the world; to copy its fashions and vanities; to enjoy its pleasures; and to share its pastimes and its friendships. (Barnes)


        2. there is purpose, intention, and design, such as when young Christians decide that they will have to adopt the immodest clothing styles or profane speech of their peers to be accepted by them, or when older disciples give into social drinking or dirty jokes to get ahead in business

        3. the result is not that God ignores the invasion of the devil or just slides over on the throne of the human heart to make room for a rival; God simply withdraws and waits: “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).


    C. Hostile Double-Mindedness

        1. the sweetest and simplest declaration of faithfulness is the description of Abraham as “a friend of God” (James 2:23)

        2. that mark of obedient trust is contrasted with one who would be an enemy of God by acts of hostility, the pursuit of the affectionate glance and warm embrace of the world

            a. adopting a vocabulary that is marked by filthiness, foolish talk, or coarse jesting (see Ephesians 5:4)

            b. placing material, academic, athletic, social, political, or professional ambitions higher in priority than serving God and seeking the kingdom (Mark 8:36)

            c. preferring the association of sinful unbelievers to that of faithful brethren in Christ (see Second Timothy 2:22)

            d. desiring to live in decadence while the needy suffer (see First Timothy 6:18)

            e. abandoning one’s very moral sanctification in sexual purity for the lascivious course of this world, whether through entertainment or participation (see First Thessalonians 4:3-8)



While we must live in the world and cannot but help it, we must also seek to live above the ways of the world, being transformed rather than conformed, by the renewal of your mind. “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18).


Questions For Review

  1. Define enmity.
  2. What three things did John identify as things of this world?
  3. What was the marriage of Hosea and Gomer to symbolize?
  4. How was Israel guilty of spiritual adultery?
  5. How did Bible writers show appreciation for the planet itself?
  6. How do Christians become guilty of seeking friendship with the world?
  7. What does God do when his people want him to share?

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