James 4:4 (ESV)
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 writes, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” But, how does James define friendship with the world in this text? I have a feeling that our definition of Friendship with the World is different from James’ definition. Ask the next three believers you meet how they would define Friendship with the World. It might be interesting to hear their answers. My guess is that you will hear something like, “Too much time watching TV,” or “Having unbelievers as your close friends,” or “hanging out in bars,” or something along those lines. But James’ definition is very different.
James defines Friendship with the World in three ways. First, being a friend of the world means defining self by my passions and letting that drive my thoughts and actions. You quarrel, he says, because “your passions are a war within you” (Jas 4:1). It is common in our world to challenge people to pursue their passions. But the first question we must ask is whether that passion is from God. It is common in our world to define oneself by one’s passions. If someone has same-sex attractions they are then defined by that. They are called gay, or bi-sexual, or a variety of other terms that have been developed to clarify individual passions. If someone has a passion for hunting, we call them a hunter. If someone has a passion for motorcycles, they are called a biker. Their passion defines them, but passion should never define who we are. Christ defines the believer. When we allow our passions to define us and drive our thinking, we are being a friend of the world. When we allow Christ to define us it changes everything.
Second, James defines Friendship with the World as pride. “Humble yourselves before the Lord,” he challenges believers in James 4:10. Pride is Friendship with the World. Humility comes from friendship with the Lord. Jesus challenged his disciples to take the lesser seat at a banquet. If someone wants to move you to the head of the table, they can do that, but don’t choose it yourself. Our world tells us to “Look out for Number 1.” Our world tells us that if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Friendship with the World looks out for Number 1.
Third, James defines Friendship with the World as presuming upon tomorrow. “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” (Jas 4:13). This is connected to pride. He goes on to warn of those who “boast in their arrogance” (Jas 4:16). In this case, however, their pride isn’t directed toward others in looking out for Number 1. It is pride that exalts us to the level of God. Only God knows what tomorrow holds. Only God can make plans and know that they will be carried out. Only God is sovereign. When we make our plans, and expect them to be carried out, or when we make our plans, and get upset when they are not carried out, we have placed ourselves arrogantly and presumptuously in the place of God. Friendship with the World is assuming that I can predict or control the future. It is presuming upon tomorrow.
Did any of those definitions show up when you asked people to define Friendship with the World? My guess is, that’s not what people think when they hear that phrase, but it is clearly what James had in mind. Friendship with the World is allowing our passions to define us and drive us. Friendship with the World is pride that places Self first. Friendship with the World is arrogance that presumes upon tomorrow. James warns, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” Perhaps Joshua’s words are appropriate then, “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15). That’s not a bad thought to end the year on.