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AM Bible Study Archives
"Friendship with the World"
Wednesday AM Bible Study
September 3, 2003
What Pastor James says in this morning's passage has "shock value". It
startles us. He began this section by describing the immediate cause of
fighting and quarrels among believers (vv. 1-3). And he will conclude
it by describing the sort of fervent repentance such sin requires (vv.
6-10). But between those two points, James describes the true character
of this problem - a kind of spiritual 'adultery' that he calls "friendship
with the world."
When the Bible uses the word "world", we need to be sure we understand the
context so we interpret that word correctly. The Bible sometimes speaks of
"world" in the sense of the created planet and all that inhabits it (Heb.
1:2). At other times, it refers to the whole of humanity (John 3:16; 1 Cor.
5:10). But there are times that it uses the word to refer to a system of
values and priorities that are hostile to God (1 John 2:15-17). In such
cases, the "world" is a system (1) that is based on the gratification of
lustful desires, (2) that stands in opposition to God and His will, (3) that
is destined for destruction, and (4) that the believer is to have no part
Apparently, the believers to whom James wrote were not keeping distinct from
this system. In fact, they had become so taken up by lusting after its
values and priorities that they were even fighting and quarreling with each
other. The mad rush to accrue more and more earthly possessions, the
continual seeking and perusing the gratification of sensual desires, the
drive to be bigger, better and more respected than others - this is what it
means to "love the world" or to become a "friend of the world". Here, James
teaches us that ...
I. WORLDLINESS CONSTITUTES UNFAITHFULNESS TOWARD GOD (v. 4a).
"Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the
world is enmity with God?"*
A. This is shown by James' use of the shocking word "adulteresses". (Some
ancient manuscripts do not contain the word "adulterers".) James was not
being sexist in his use of the feminine word "adulteresses." He is simply
seeking to reflect our relationship with Christ as His "bride" (2 Cor.
11:2). When we give ourselves over to worldliness, we are giving ourselves
over to someone other than the One to whom we have been promised.
B. Marriage experts tell us that there are certain stages someone goes
through in having a marital affair. There are parallels in spiritual
1. Distance (a sense of a loss of intimacy or emotional connectedness with
one's spouse). In this stage, we become "distant" from God (4:8), shown in
the fact that we have desires (4:1) and we don't submit our desires to Him
(4:3). And when we know that the gratification of those desires is outside
of His will (4:3), we become tempted to look outside God's will to gratify
them (see James 1:13-15).
2. Gratification (a temporary sense of relief in a "sharing of the heart"
with someone outside the marriage). Here, we choose to turn away from God,
and to turn to the world and it's promise to gratify our sinful desires (see
1 John 2:15).
3. Connection (the development of an emotional attachment to this
"outsider"). In this stage, we actively become "friends" with the world (v.
4:4; see also Psalm 1:1).
4. Prioritization (giving preference to and deliberately pursuing time and
activities with this "outsider"). Here, we become "conformed" to the world
and its values (see Romans 12:2).
5. Culmination (the growing attachment culminating in physical intimacy).
In this final stage, we become "stained" by this world (see James 1:27; 1
II. WORLDLINESS IS ENMITY TOWARD GOD (v. 4b).
"Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever
therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
A. There is a spiritual principle involved in these words of James that no
one can serve two masters. Jesus Himself taught this principle to us
(Matthew 6:19-24; see also Col. 3:1-4; 1 Peter 2:9-11; 1 John 15-17).
B. God's word makes it an "either/or" matter - a matter in which we must
choose who we will serve. Yet, in spite of this principle, many people seek
to serve 'two masters', and hope that this will somehow be acceptable to God
- like an adulterer who seeks to maintain an illicit relationship and their
relationship with their spouse at the same time. God is holy; and He will
not accept such spiritual adultery and a relationship with Himself at the
1. James uses a verb which means "whoever ... wants" or "whoever chooses"
(NIV) - clearly implying that a deliberate choice had been made.
2. He also uses a verb which grammatically means that such a person "is
made" or "is constituted" or "is rendered" or "becomes an enemy of God"
(NIV). This clearly implies a state of enmity toward God that is brought
about as a consequence of the choice to be a friend of the world (See 2 Cor.
III. SUCH WORLDLINESS MAKES GOD RIGHTEOUSLY JEALOUS (v. 5).
"Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, 'The Spirit who dwells in
us yearns jealously?'"
A. Many scholars point to this as one of the most perplexing verses in all
of James letter. For one thing, it's difficult to translate. The NIV, for
example, translates it, "the spirit he caused to live in us tends toward
envy"; but also gives two alternative translation in the margin: "God
jealously longs for the spirit that he made to live in us"; and, "the Spirit
he caused to live in us longs jealously." That last translation is the one
that has the most support from other passages of scripture. It interprets
this to mean that the indwelling Holy Spirit of God in the believer yearns
for the pure love and devotion of that believer with an intense jealousy;
and will not accept that love and devotion being divided with another.
B. And second, this passage appears to quote a passage from the Old
Testament; but there doesn't appear to be a verse in the Old Testament to
serve as the source of that quote. It seems best to see this as James
summarizing the general teaching in the Old Testament - that God is a
jealous God who acts in righteous jealousy to protect what is His.
(Deuteronomy 32:16; Exodus 20:4-5; Zechariah 8:2; 1 Cor. 10:22).
* * * * * * * * * *
Are you seeking to satisfy a desire in your life right now through something
apart from God? Do you find yourself increasingly turning to the things of
the world for relief from the concerns of God, rather than turning to God
for relief from the temptations of the world? Do you find that you are
becoming defensive about certain pleasures you are enjoying, certain
activities you are engaging in, or certain plans you are making? Do you
find that you accept the fact of a growing distance between yourself and God
because of some of the things you are allowing into your life that make you
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, you have already crossed
the line, and have begun to fall into a state of spiritual adultery. Can
you now see what a serious matter worldliness in a believer is? Do you see
that it is a spiritual 'adultery' - an unfaithfulness to the One who bought
us for Himself? Do you see that it places us in a state of enmity toward
God? Do you see that it provokes our mighty God to act in jealousy to
protect what belongs to Him? What a dreadful thing worldliness in the
As the next few verses show us, such a sin warrants the strongest
repentance. May God search our hearts this morning and show us any trace of
"friendship with the world" that is in us; and may he empower us to repent
of it with all our hearts.
*New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.