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.