A series of scriptures will highlight the world's danger to us. The apostle James writes: "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). This epistle is written to a Christian congregation. Even as the Old Testament shows Israel to be a spiritual adulteress to God through the people's disobedience following the making of the Old Covenant, so are Christians—as part of the bride of Christ, having made the New Covenant—spiritual adulterers when they unfaithfully disobey.
James is not saying these people are lost. He is warning them that they are heading in that direction because they were backsliding, having already been unfaithful. The unstated, yet clear cause of their being drawn back is the world, as if it were the seductive temptress of Proverbs 7.
James' counsel is that we cannot straddle the fence between God and the world. He is expounding the "no man can serve two masters" principle. These two relationships—God and the world—frame a black-and-white issue; this war has no neutral zone. A person cannot pursue his self-centered, worldly ambitions and still remain loyal to God.
The apostle uses the word philos, indicating something dear, which the New King James Version translates as "friend." He is stressing an affectionate, emotional attachment. Interestingly, The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips (1959) renders the warning as, "You are like unfaithful wives, flirting with the glamour of this world, and never realizing that to be the world's lover means becoming the enemy of God!" Seen this way, James describes them as silly, immature children, thoughtlessly gambling away their futures in the Kingdom of God.
I John 2:15 adds a refinement to James' warning: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." The Greek word translated as "love" is agapao, which suggests a reasoned, determined love. Thus, John's counsel stresses willfulness rather than mere affectionate attachment. In comparison, one could even describe philos as an unbidden "puppy love," but agapao—never.
John is saying that we should not have intimate fellowship combined with loyal devotion to the world. Our relationship to it must be a more distant, hands-off one. We certainly must live and do business within it, but we have to fight to keep it from becoming the focus of our way of life. The spiritual reality is that, as we might say today, "The world stands ready to eat us alive." It chews Christians up and spits them out. If permitted, it can trash spiritual realities that may once have been cherished hopes and dreams.
Galatians 6:14 provides another guiding principle to hold dear: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." This is an example of Paul's spiritual outlook and maturity regarding his relationship with the world. As far as any relationship between him and the world is concerned, the world is dead and crucified, and so is he to it. It is vivid imagery. How much willful devotion can a person have in a relationship going nowhere because both parties are "dead" to each other?
John 15:18-23 adds more about why the world is dangerous to a Christian:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, "A servant is not greater than his master." If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.
This is the fruit of the carnal mind's persistently disobedient attitude shown in Romans 8:7. The whole worldly system is anti-God. Even though the Christian world patronizes Him, in reality, it hates Jesus Christ, and therefore it hates those who truly follow Him. There is a simple reason why this continual reality exists.
Paul had renounced the whole worldly system. It no longer had any appeal to him; he was, in effect, dead in relation to it. However, the world's pressure never ends, which Paul notes in Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world." The Greek more correctly reads, "Stop allowing yourself to be fashioned to the pattern of this age," or as the J.B. Phillips translation puts it, "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold."
This is the danger we face when we allow the world to become too important. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The world subtly but inexorably manipulates us into conformity with its thinking, its value systems, and therefore its attitudes and conduct. If we are alert and truly guarding against an invasion of worldly attitudes and practices, we will soon be able to notice when others relapse into following the course of the world.
The persistent influence of the world is a reality because Satan, the god of this world, is its driving force (II Corinthians 4:4). The world is Satan's medium, through which he broadcasts his propaganda and disinformation. By confusing people about what to believe, he intends to manipulate humanity. Satan's pitch to mankind is aimed directly at exciting human nature's self-indulgent cravings.
Due to this Satanic effort, even though we are converted, we are apt to become misinformed, lackadaisical, disinterested, and discouraged. We must be aware of it and absolutely resist it. The apostles' advice about avoiding intimacy with the world is a form of the proverb, "Evil company corrupts good habits" (I Corinthians 15:33). Friendship with the world corrupts.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)
To have a warm, familiar attitude with this world is to be on good terms with God's enemy. What does it mean, in more practical terms, to be a friend of the world? It is to adopt the world's set of values and wants, to desire what the world wants instead of choosing according to divine standards or divine truths.
In other words, if a person does that, he has actually made himself subject to Satan because Satan is the god of this world! That is a choice that we want to avoid. The worldly person will almost invariably choose to satisfy himself and take action on his desire, which eventually produces confusion, division, and war. It cannot be otherwise because the spirit of the world is the spirit of Satan, and laws are at work that will produce what they are designed to produce.
That was the problem in the congregation to which James wrote. If another apostle had been writing it, such as the apostle Paul did in I Corinthians 3, he would say, "You are yet carnal." These were converted people but still carnal, and they were showing it through their choices. It was not that they did not have the Spirit of God but that they were still so weak spiritually. They were choosing to fall back on what they had in the way of character, understanding, knowledge, and vision from the world, and by this, they showed that Satan was still dominating their lives.
This is understandable because Satan is a wily and powerful adversary—but he can be overcome and defeated. Christ did it, and we can too because Christ is in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 5)
Symbolically, adultery is used to express unfaithfulness to God, and we can easily see this in Israel's idolatry. God is represented as the husband of His people. Ezekiel 16:15-59 gives a graphic description of Israel's spiritual adultery, and Hosea 1:1-2 shows the same symbolism in Hosea's marriage. We can fall into spiritual adultery by relying on the world and its false teaching rather than God.
Martin G. Collins
The Seventh Commandment
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing James 4:4:
1 Peter 1:1-2
1 John :