“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
With these words James presents a stark contrast between two different relationships. There’s your relationship with the world and then there’s your relationship with God. The two ought never to be of the same sort. One way or another these two relationships should always be radically opposed.
Now we could consider what it means to have friendship with the world. We could look at what that involves and all its different permutations. If this were a sermon, I’d definitely do that. However, in this brief meditation, I want to go a different route. If what the Holy Spirit says is true (which it is), then we ought to be able to flip the terms around in his formulation. When we do that, we discover something remarkable.
What I mean is this: if “friendship with the world is enmity with God,” then the reverse follows as also true. It is also true that “enmity with the world is friendship with God.” Moreover, anyone who wishes to be an enemy of the world is a friend of God. When we put it like that, two key questions still need to be answered.
First, what would it mean to be an enemy of the world? Enmity with the world means a relationship of hostility or hatred with the world. And what is meant by the world here? It refers to everything associated with humanity’s rebellion against God. “The world” is all the different ways in which sin manifests itself amongst human beings. Being an enemy of the world really means being hostile towards sin. Rather than embracing or coddling sinfulness, you hate it and long to see it destroyed. Being an enemy of the world means you harbour no affection for the rebellion which has the potential to destroy you and other human beings. This is the way it ought to be for those redeemed by Christ.
Second, what does it mean to be a friend of God? Friendship with God means a relationship of close fellowship with him. Being a friend of God means you love God and treasure your place with him. Whereas once you were alienated from him, hating him, avoiding him and denying him, now you embrace him in trust and affection.
Both of these relationships work two ways. When you’re a Christian and the world is your enemy, you are also the world’s enemy. It’s both ways: you hate the world (sinful rebellion), but the world also hates you and seeks to destroy you. Satan is the world’s greatest strategist and cheerleader. First Peter 5:8 reminds us: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” Satan hates you and has a terrible plan for your life. Similarly, because of your association with Christ the world hates you and wants to undo you (see John 15:18-19).
The other relationship also works two ways. When you’re a Christian and God is your friend, you are also God’s friend. It would be absurd to imagine a friendly relationship where only one side is a friend. By their very nature, friendships work both ways. Indeed, in Scripture, we read that sinful human beings like us enjoyed friendship with God – for example, Abraham in James 2:23. This isn’t comparable to a human friendship between equals. God isn’t our equal and even in our friendly relationship with him we are to interact with him with reverence and godly fear. Psalm 25:14 says, “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” Similarly, Christ says in John 15:13, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Our friendship includes not only love, but also fear and obedience.
The two relationships described in James 4:4 are antithetical. They are antithetical in principle, but in practice we don’t always hate the world (sinful rebellion) as our enemy. In practice, we don’t always act as if God is our friend. If we did, we would always want to do his will. We would always do it because we know our friend loves us and we respect him so highly. Instead, so often we are the adulterous people the Holy Spirit upbraids. Adultery is a betrayal in relationship. You betray your best friend, your spouse, with adultery. So we do when we cavort with the enemy of James 4:4. We’re to see this and be disgusted with it. We’re to repent of it and seek forgiveness for it through our Saviour. When we do, our Friend will forgive and, to those who ask, he will more richly grant his Spirit so we may betray him less and less. So, Christian: hate the world – it’s your bitter enemy. Love your God – he is your dear friend.