There’s no way you read this and it shouldn’t give pause. No way you encounter James’ emphatic statement and subsequent warning and, for a moment at least, do a quick heart check. Better yet, when it comes to discerning friendship with the world, it seems to me that praying the psalmist’s pray might be a prudent course of action,
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me”
(Psalm 139:23-24a ESV).
James diagnoses a problem within the band of believers he is addressing. Are there quarrel and fights among you, he asks? Then, at its core, it’s about the “passions” at war within you. Want a second opinion? Check out your prayer life. Your asking for the wrong stuff so that you can “spend it on your passions” (Ja. 4:1-2).
Passions, that’s how the ESV renders it. The NKJV is a bit more literal with desires for pleasure. The original word is hedone from which we get our modern word hedonistic. We’re wired for pleasure. But that wiring can get short-circuited when we live for the pursuit of pleasure. When the cravings of what the flesh wants becomes our driving force in life, it’s going to fracture relationships — both horizontal and vertical.
It’s in that context that James bluntly calls out some of his readers.
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.
(James 4:4 ESV)
It’s an either/or thing. It’s not a both/and thing. You can’t embrace the world and be faithful to God. To be a BFF with the world is to cheat on God. Worse yet, James says to be a friend with the world actually makes us an enemy of God. Whoa! And at the root of friendship with the world is our natural propensity to pursue our passions and desires for pleasure. Hmm . . .
Search me, O God.
I know I like pleasure. I also know that the world has a lot to offer when it comes to pleasure. So, I also need to know that, as long as the flesh continues to war against the Spirit (Gal. 5:17), these passions are gonna vie for top spot on my pursuit chart. They’ll want the biggest piece of my time pie. And so, unchecked, unbridled, and undirected they’re gonna lead me to friendship with the world, aka enmity with God. Hmm, again . . .
Search me, O God, and know my heart.
I want to be the friend of Him who said He has called me His friend (Jn. 15:14-15) and gave His life so that we could commune together. And I want to be a faithful friend.
Oh, that being His friend would be my greatest passion because I believe it is the way of knowing the greatest pleasure.
Only by God’s grace. Only for God’s glory.