Summary: Friendship with the world is enmity with God. Can any Christian truly afford the price demanded so that we can be friends with the world?
THE HIGH COST OF FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD
“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.”
Ouch! James is not nice! He calls fellow Christians harsh names and he speaks far too plainly for respectable church people! Few of us would remain for long in a church where the Pastor called us “adulterous people.” Even if we were somewhat focused on our own wants and disloyal to the One we call “Lord,” we wouldn’t stand for such name-calling. Pastors are supposed to be “nice.” It says so in the Bible—doesn’t it?
Perhaps that is why we seldom witness the vigorous Christianity of the apostolic era. When reading this letter, we need to remember that James was writing to Christians who were even at that early date drifting from their secure position as followers of the Risen Lord of Glory. What was written to them has application to us if we are drifting and focused on our own wants.
We have grown accustomed to ease and comfort; we do not like it when we are told that we are wrong. We are trained to soothe the errant rather than correct them. This attitude is endemic throughout the whole of modern society; and the churches of our Lord are likewise infected with a strange virus that lulls us into complacency. Yet, James stands astride our path as we attempt to rush headlong down the road leading to irrelevance and ultimate destruction.
JAMES IS ADDRESSING CHRISTIANS — “You adulterous people!” The first point to establish in your mind is that James is writing to Christians. His instruction has little relevance to those in the world, though they would undoubtedly benefit were they to heed his words. James is not writing those who are identified with this dying world. For that reason, distressed by Christians that have grown casual concerning righteousness, he addresses his readers as adulterous people.
Was James writing unsaved people, he could not address them as adulterous; it is impossible for an unmarried person to be adulterous. Unmarried people may be lascivious, lewd, salacious, ribald, or unchaste—and if not personally engaged in such activity, the general populace has become tolerant of such activity. In support of this contention one need but note the absence of general outrage at such degrading shows on popular television as “Mad Men” and “Desperate Housewives.” Nevertheless, since there is no permanent commitment, unmarried people cannot be adulterous—they are not breaking a vow of monogamous chastity. However, James is not writing about a loss of cultural mores; he is writing about the danger among the churches when Christians are co-opted by the world about them.
The redeemed of God are identified as Christ’s Bride [cf. REVELATION 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17]. Writing the Corinthians, Paul would inform them, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” [2 CORINTHIANS 11:2]. Perhaps no better example of how Christ the Lord views His congregation is provided than that which is given in Paul’s encyclical we know as the Letter to the Ephesians.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savoir. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” [EPHESIANS 5:22-32].
Jesus frequently employed the imagery of a wedding to illustrate and explain the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. For instance, on one occasion the Master told a story of a wedding feast, and He used the wedding feast as a setting to explain the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.