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. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
James sounds an awful lot like Jesus when he strongly condemns friendship with the world. People were praying and asking God for things so that they could be like everyone else. It’s hard to imagine what this looked like in the New Testament era – did someone want a new cart because their neighbor got a bigger and better cart? However, it’s not difficult at all to see how people fall in love with the things of the world today.
The world is in reference to the sinful world. It is full of people who do not love and worship the Lord. Friendship with the world means wanting to be like them and accepting what they do. There are a lot of ways to take this. In its purest form, we would say that we should not be participating in sinful practices like the rest of the world. As a kid your mother probably said something to you along the lines of “Well if so and so jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” This is one of the ideas that is wrapped up in friendship with the world. Just because the rest of the world accepts it, it does not make it right. We go by God’s standards, not the world’s.
Friendship with the world also can relate to our possessions. It is comparing what we have with what our neighbor has. It is “keeping up with the Jones’s.” Friendship with the world means that you are very concerned about what the world thinks about you and James says that isn’t right.
Friendship with the world also relates to not only what we do but what we accept. This becomes a gray area where it’s difficult to draw a definitive line. The problem becomes in how we define acceptance. If we disagree with an idea and consider it sin, presumably we would not participate in that sin. Likewise, we would teach others not to participate in that sin. But how do we respond if a family member then participates in that sin? What response is the loving response and what response is acceptance of sin?
To take things further, if there is sin that is taking place and it is sanctioned by the government in some way, are we tacitly accepting that sin if we’re not doing everything we can to change the law? Clearly some Christians and denominations are more politically active for this reason.
However one defines friendship with the world, Christians must not be afraid to call sin sin. Just because the world says something is ok, it does not make it morally acceptable in the eyes of the Lord. Or conscience should not be based upon polls or popular opinion. Instead, it should be based upon God’s Word and what the Lord has defined as right and wrong.