“Unfaithful people! Don't you know that to be the world's friend means to be God's enemy? People who want to be the world's friends make themselves God's enemies.” James 4:4 (GNB).
What does that mean? Does it mean that if I am friends with people who are not Christians, then I am an enemy of God? Does it mean that I should separate myself from those that are not Christians and be unfriendly and cold towards them? Or have an “I am holier than you” attitude to be God’s friend?
I don’t think that James meant it in that way, but there can be a lot of people who understand it like that, which means they won’t shake hands with people that aren’t Christians, or even eat together with them, because they are scared that they will become “impure” and are unfaithful to God. Some people don’t want to accept or use modern technology, cars and computers etc. because they are scared to be “friends with the world”. The result is that they keep themselves away and live apart from most other people!
Since God loves people and wants to draw them back to Himself and save and help them, such an understanding would have the opposite effect, which is to push people away. It says in John 3:16 (GNB), “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.”
The Bible does not tell us much about Jesus’ life until He was 30, but we can assume that He lived among people in a normal way. People thought of Him as “the carpenter’s son”! He didn’t live apart from people. In fact, during the three years of His public ministry, He became known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners. (Matthew 11:19.) But He certainly wasn’t a friend of the world!
What is “the world”?
So, with this in mind, what does the phrase “to be the world's friend means to be God's enemy” actually mean? Well, to really understand this, let’s go back to the beginning of the world. In Genesis 1:31 it says, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good …” Something must have changed then, for James to write this warning!
That “something” is explained in Genesis 3 about the first people’s disobedience and fall into sin, and the terrible changes this caused. Just three chapters later in Genesis 6:5 (NCV) it says, “The LORD saw that the human beings on the earth were very wicked and that everything they thought about was evil.” What a terrible development!
In the beginning, Adam and Eve only had to do with God and were ruled by His Spirit and all that was good. But by listening to the serpent (Satan), they were influenced by a proud, evil spirit. They chose to disobey God and fell into sin and were separated from God. So, the love for God, for His commandments, and all that is good, was replaced by the love for oneself.
This egoism – this desire to get whatever ‘I’ want, think, or see regardless of what is right or wrong, and living by my own pride – came in all human beings. This is what is meant by “the world,” and it’s not something that is out there somewhere! It’s inside of every human being. The Bible calls this human nature after the fall “sinful human nature”, “sinful self” or “the flesh,” and this has affected every person in the world.
Satan’s spirit is now the main ruler in the world, he who is the enemy of God and people, as it’s written in Ephesians 2:2-3 (NCV), “… following the ruler of the evil powers that are above the earth. That same spirit is now working in those who refuse to obey God. In the past all of us lived like them, trying to please our sinful selves and doing all the things our bodies and minds wanted. We should have suffered God’s anger because we were sinful by nature. We were the same as all other people.”
Simply put, all people became hopelessly lost in sin with no way out, and this is why God in His great love for us sent Jesus to save us. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8.) Jesus became a human being and as a man was open to all the weaknesses we have. He could be tempted and was tempted just like us (Hebrews 4:15), but in these temptations, He fought against and overcame the sinful egoistic desires in His human nature. He did this every day and He cried out just before He died, “It is finished!” The way back to God was now made, but each person must choose for himself what he will do.
Will you be honest about yourself and admit your own personal need for a Saviour to help you overcome the world of sin inside yourself? Or will you lie to yourself and pretend all is well?
What is it to be “friends with the world?”
So, to be friends with the world means going along with, living in, agreeing with and loving the lusts and desires in your sinful human nature and the driving spirit behind them – self, self, self! You can’t do that and be a friend of God! The only way to be God’s friend is to turn away from sin, to turn to Jesus and give Him your whole heart and follow Him. It is to hate the desires in your sinful human nature – all egoism, pride and evil – and to love what God loves – all that is good, pure, unselfish and lovely.
The verses in 1 John 2:15-17 (GNB) make this very clear: “Do not love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you do not love the Father. Everything that belongs to the world — what the sinful self desires, what people see and want, and everything in this world that people are so proud of — none of this comes from the Father; it all comes from the world. The world and everything in it that people desire is passing away; but those who do the will of God live for ever.”
When we give our hearts and lives back to God through His son Jesus Christ and begin to follow Him in obedience, God’s Holy Spirit fills us and leads us. The more we are freed from the sinful desires in our human nature (self, self, self), the more love, joy, peace and everything else that is good fills us. We are filled with love for God and for people, and want to help people, just as we have been helped.