YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS
INTRODUCTION: There’s a Van Halen song called, “Best of Both Worlds”. Some of the lyrics are, “I want the best of both worlds, and honey I know what it's worth; If we could have the best of both worlds, a little bit of heaven right here on earth. You don't have to die and go to heaven, or hang around to be born again; just tune in to what this place has got to offer, ‘cause we may never be here again.” This is indicative of the attitude of many so-called-Christians. They want the blessings of Christ but yet they want to be able to indulge in all the worldly pleasures too and have God be all right with it. They would think having the best of both worlds is the perfect, complete package; a great life. Let’s see what’s wrong with this attitude and where this thinking will take us.
1) What does friendship with the world result in?
• Discord (vs. 1). In this passage in James, he is setting before the people a question: is your aim in life to submit to the will of God or is it to satisfy your own desires? He warns that if your focus is the pleasures of this world then nothing but strife, hatred and divisions await you. When there is a driving force of self pleasure, when we want something bad enough, we allow nothing or no one to stand in our way. It’s dog eat dog, every man for himself. In pursuit of our desires we are willing to play cut-throat, step on toes, whatever it takes; no matter who gets hurt in the process. We damage or sever relationships. Our loyalties are only unto ourselves. This sets the stage for a lonely, depressed existence. The irony is that one who chooses to be a friend of the world really has no friends at all. In worldly relationships there is no trust, no dependence, no love. There may be compatibility and kindness but in the back of our minds we’re wondering who is going to stab us in the back, who is the one that would dishonor us if they had the chance. A lot of this paranoia comes in knowing that since this is the way we think and operate then everyone else must too. What a depressing existence. And where does all this come from? Our evil desires (1:14). It’s the desires that wage war on the inside that cause me to wage war on the outside. “Battle within you”- Gal. 5:16-17-“conflict with each other”-when we become born again the battle begins. Now there are two forces at work within us, vying for our allegiance. We need to see that there is a battle for control of our minds going on. 1st Pet. 2:11-“as aliens and strangers in the world”-not its friend. “War against your soul”.
• Dissatisfaction (vs. 2). We sometimes go to the wrong source for what we need in life. Instead of asking God, we go elsewhere. We try to find fulfillment in anything but God and we always wind up dissatisfied and frustrated. We want something so badly and are angry with God for not giving it to us. We become envious of those who do; we covet what they have and we develop a hatred for them. We “kill and covet”-not a literal killing (although it could lead to such) but rather the murder of the heart that Jesus talked about in Matt. 5:21-22. If I want to make material things my focus then I will never be satisfied, I will never be content. I will be angry and depressed. One of the biggest reasons we find ourselves in this trap that James speaks of here is because of our passion for money. 1st Timothy 6:6-10. The love of money (instead of our love for God) is at the heart of all kinds of evil like fighting and quarreling; like envy and covetousness. In this hot pursuit of worldly wealth we pierce ourselves with many griefs. “You do not have because you do not ask God. Interesting; we go after what we want in every way but the spiritual one. “You don’t have because you’re not relying on God to provide it for you; you’re taking matters into your own hands; and how’s that working for you?” Leaving God out of the equation will always leave us dissatisfied. Being a friend to the world will leave us dissatisfied.
• Selfish motives (vs. 3). Strange how people refuse to listen to God’s His counsel yet they want him to answer their prayers. How can we expect a pure gift from God when we ask with impure motives? Sometimes we deceive ourselves with our motives. We play the lottery, hoping to win millions of dollars sow we can bless the church. Hmmm, is that really your motive when you play the lottery? We may have good intentions but if our motive is to bless the church, we won’t wait to win the lottery in order to do that. Having wrong motives will always lead us in the wrong direction. In November, 1975, 75 convicts started digging a secret tunnel designed to bring them up at the other side of the wall of Saltillo Prison in northern Mexico. On April 18, 1976, guided by pure genius, they tunneled up into the nearby courtroom in which many of them had been sentenced. The surprised judges returned all 75 to jail. How misguided and misdirected were they? Of course, when you’re tunneling in darkness I guess it would be easy to go in the wrong direction. When people live in darkness rather than light, they go in the wrong direction. 1st John 5:14-15. “according to his will”-key phrase. When our asking is in accordance to our own will and it doesn’t line up with God’s we can’t expect him to give us what we ask. If we’re not receiving something from God, the first thing we should do is check our motives. Sometimes our motives are pure and we just need to wait on God’s timing but there are other times when we’re not getting something from God because our motives are selfish and impure.
• Hatred toward God (vs. 4). If we choose to be a friend to the world we are choosing to commit spiritual adultery. We have made a vow unto God to be faithful to him and him only-just like a traditional marriage covenant. If I try to be a “friend” to my wife and a “friend to another woman, how do you think that’s going to work out? It’s no different with our relationship with God. God uses the term adultery for a reason; so we would not be deceived and understand what’s really going on when we think we can have the best of both worlds. In talking about this in the context of a love relationship, William Barclay’s commentary highlights that when we turn away from God and commit spiritual adultery, becoming a friend to the world, that this breaks God’s heart. Just like an act of infidelity breaks a spouse’s heart, committing spiritual infidelity breaks God’s heart. The problem is that since we don’t literally see God’s sorrow, we aren’t truly grieved over our sin and therefore, continue in it. But if we were to gain a better understanding about how our spiritual infidelity grieves God we would be less apt to continue our friendship to the world. When we choose to be a friend to the world we are choosing to be God’s enemy. I’m sure we don’t see it like that but James wanted to tell it like it was so we wouldn’t be deceived. “Listen, don’t think you can be a friend to both; don’t think it’s okay to ride the fence; don’t think you can have it both ways and be okay-it doesn’t work like that.” Rom. 8:5-8. We have our minds set on one or the other. We will be a friend to one or the other. The sinful mind is hostile toward (not a friend toward) the Spirit mind. There’s no pleasing God for those who choose to be a friend of the world. Jesus said in Matt. 6:24 that we cannot serve two masters; we will hate the one and love the other. We are devoted to one and we despise the other. The question is-which one do we love? We say we love the Lord but if that’s true then we must despise the world. It’s not a problem for a Christian to be in the world, the problem is when the world is in the Christian. John 15:18-19. ‘If the world hates you’-If the world is too comfortable around you then you are its friend. People are most comfortable with those who are comfortable with them. If someone in the world knows you are a devout Christian and they have no interest in that they are going to be uncomfortable around you. They will be uncomfortable in their speech around you; they will be uncomfortable in their actions around you. Our goal as Christians shouldn’t be to have people hate us, but Jesus was highlighting the inevitable. Some people are going to hate us because when they are faced with the truth they will not like being told that how they are living is wrong. If you want a friendship with the world then you are choosing to be an enemy of God.
• Envy (vs. 5). Two different understandings of this verse. 1)-God is a jealous God who will not play second fiddle. 2)-the spirit of the natural man envies intensely. Nonetheless, both, although saying opposite things, are acceptable truths. The spirit of natural man in an intensely envious one. We need to see it’s in our nature to be envious creatures. We need to see that it is an insatiable, destructive force. Prov. 14:30, “A heart at peace gives life to the body but envy rots the bones.” Our heart can be at peace when the beast envy is tamed by the Holy Spirit. Then there’s the new Spirit-the Holy Spirit living within us who are born again who jealously longs for our singular devotion. God will not put up with our devotion to another; nor should he. He longs for our wholehearted devotion not because he’s insecure and needy but because he knows how destructive spiritual adultery is for us. Also, out of his deep love and affection for us he doesn’t want to lose us.
2) How can we overcome?
• Grace (vs. 6). We need God’s grace to befall upon us if we are going to stop being the world’s friend. And we need to understand and respond to it properly in order to stop being the world’s friend-Titus 2:11-12. It is the correct understanding, response to and appreciation for God’s matchless grace that enables us to stop being a friend to the world and be a true friend to him. We overcome being a friend to the world through receiving and living out God’s grace in our lives.
• Submit and resist (vs. 7). Instead of resisting God, submit to him. And instead of submitting to the devil resist him. Those who are a friend to the world have it backwards. 1st Peter 5:8-9. Resisting the devil involves being self-controlled and alert. Satan thrives on the element of surprise. His strategy is ‘never let them see me coming’. Have you ever find yourself going along in your day when everything seems fine and then out of nowhere a negative thought comes or you find yourself sinning and after the dust settles you’re like, ‘where in the world did that come from’? We can never let our guard down. That doesn’t mean we walk around in paranoia all the time but if we do what Peter says-be self-controlled and alert-we can resist. “Resist the devil, and he will flee”. When Jesus was tempted in the desert he told Satan to get away from him and he did. We have that same power through Christ. However, In Luke’s version of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, verse 13 reads, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” Although he will flee, it won’t be for good.
• Draw near to God (vs. 8-10). The closer we get to God the less we will want to be a friend to the world. The closer we get to the light of Christ the more that gets revealed that is in the darkness. Then things become clearer. The world suddenly doesn’t look very appealing. There’s no longer any allurement to draw me into a friendship with it. Galatians 5:16, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” If we choose to focus our attention and efforts on living for Jesus we won’t have time to gratify the flesh. It’s best not to even think about the flesh. Don’t linger in the territory. Don’t dwell on the desires of the flesh. It’s when we dwell on the flesh, even the resistance of it that gets us into trouble. The less I’m thinking about sin, the less apt I’ll be to fall into it. We need to draw near to God first in order for him to draw near to us. He is waiting for us to draw near and as soon as we make that move he comes rushing toward us. The father ran to embrace the prodigal son but the father didn’t run to him until the son came back to the father. God will not force us to draw near to him. He will provide every incentive and motivation to prompt us to that point but he will not force the matter. He wants us to show the desire to draw near to him. Vs. 8b-9. We see that drawing near to God starts with repentance. There is no repentance without conviction. 2nd Cor. 7:10, says that Godly sorrow brings repentance. In this, we are now ready to take things seriously. It’s not a joke any more. There isn’t a carefree, ‘who cares’ attitude anymore. James uses such strong words as grieve, mourn and wail to wake up those who are in denial or apathetic about their condition. We, who are friends with the world, would be the ones who would minimize and glamorize our sins that we should be grieving over. And we see that there is no repentance without humility. “And he shall lift you up”. We need to be brought low in humility before we can be lifted up. 1st Pet. 5:6-7. Part of humbling ourselves involves being willing to cast our anxieties on God believing he is the mighty one-not me, and believing that he cares about me. Therefore, we see that if we are going to choose to stop being a friend to the world we will need to draw near to God out of repentance and humility.
• Live in harmony (vs. 11-12). Instead of being slanderous and judgmental we need to strive to be of one accord. We need to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (2:8). “The law”- this is the perfect law that gives freedom that James spoke about in 1:25 which is the law of Christ-the law of love. “Judge the law”. We judge the bible when we say things like, ‘I don’t agree with this so I don’t have to abide by it’ or, ‘this doesn’t make sense; this can’t mean what it says so I’m just going to go by what I think (or want) it to say’. We think we are justified in making ourselves the lawgivers. We justify living on the fence. We don’t agree with Jesus when he says you cannot serve two masters. We condone the evil of slander and critical judging. Therefore, in our pride, we are a law unto ourselves. James goes after that thinking here. We don’t stand in judgment of the scriptures; they stand in judgment of us. If we’re humble, we will accept the word of God and follow the ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ command without haste or conflict. When James speaks against judging your brother, he isn’t talking about holding each other accountable. This we are called to do with our Christian brothers and sisters. The judgment that James is talking about has to do with prideful, critical and hypocritical judging. James is warning against trying to play God; judging in the sense of declaring who is in heaven or who is in hell. There is only one Judge who determines that, and it isn’t us; it’s God. 1st Peter 1:22, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” Therefore, since we have purified our hearts and have drawn near to God, since we have decided to obey the truth, resist the devil and stop being a friend to the world, let us show it by loving one another from the heart. Living in harmony overcomes the world.
CONCLUSION: You can’t have it both ways; why would you want to?