James declares “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” in context of the previous chapter. He concludes:
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good conduct that his deeds are done in gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and don’t lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, sensual, and demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is confusion and every evil deed. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18
That gives us perspective on what James means about friendship with the world.
1 Where do wars and fightings among you come from? Don’t they come from your pleasures that war in your members? 2 You lust, and don’t have. You murder and covet, and can’t obtain. You fight and make war. You don’t have, because you don’t ask. 3 You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
4 You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says,
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
7 Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:1-10
Barnes brings this insight:
Ye adulterers and adulteresses—These words are frequently used to denote those who are faithless towards God, and are frequently applied to those who forsake God for idols, Hosea 3:1; Isaiah 57:3, Isaiah 57:7; Ezekiel 16; 23. It is not necessary to suppose that the apostle meant that those to whom he wrote were literally guilty of the sins here referred to; but he rather refers to those who were unfaithful to their covenant with God by neglecting their duty to him, and yielding themselves to the indulgence of their own lusts and passions. The idea is, “You have in effect broken your marriage covenant with God by loving the world more than him; and, by the indulgence of your carnal inclinations, you have violated those obligations to self-mortification and self-denial to which you were bound by your religious engagements.”
To convince them of the evil of this, the apostle shows them what was the true nature of that friendship of the world which they sought. It may be remarked here, that no terms could have been found which would have shown more decidedly the nature of the sin of forgetting the covenant vows of religion for the pleasures of the world, than those which the apostle uses here. It is a deeper crime to be unfaithful to God than to any created being; and it will yet be seen that even the violation of the marriage contract, great as is the sin, is a slight offense compared with unfaithfulness toward God.
Know ye not that the friendship of the world—Compare 1 John 2:15. The term world here is to be understood not of the physical world as God made it, for we could not well speak of the “friendship” of that, but of the community, or people, called “the world,” in contradistinction from the people of God. Compare John 12:31; 1 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 3:19; Galatians 4:3; Colossians 2:8. The “friendship of the world” is the love of that world; of the maxims which govern it, the principles which reign there, the ends that are sought, the amusements and gratifications which characterize it as distinguished from the church of God. It consists in setting our hearts on those things; in conforming to them; in making them the object of our pursuit with the same spirit with which they are sought by those who make no pretensions to religion. See the notes at Romans 12:2. Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes .
Vines defines this meaning of the world: “the “present condition of human affairs,” in alienation from and opposition to God, e.g., Jhn 7:7; 8:23; 14:30; 1Cr 2:12; Gal 4:3; 6:14; Col 2:8; Jam 1:27; 1Jo 4:5 (thrice); 5:19
To gain wisdom on how we should walk worthy of the Lord in this world, consider how Jesus walked.
The culture of the Romans was overtly heathen. Jesus never judged, slandered or rebuked the Roman degenerates who had only the wisdom of this world.
44 Yeshua cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me, but in him who sent me. 45 He who sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in the darkness. 47 If anyone listens to my sayings, and doesn’t believe, I don’t judge him. For I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 He who rejects me, and doesn’t receive my sayings, has one who judges him. The word that I spoke will judge him in the last day. 49 For I spoke not from myself, but the Father who sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. 50 I know that his commandment is eternal life. The things therefore which I speak, even as the Father has said to me, so I speak.” Jn 12:44-50
The culture of the religious leaders was one of covenant breakers pretending to be righteous.
Jesus did sternly chastise the religious leaders of the Jews who opposed Him. The majority of Jews did not repent and turn to Messiah Jesus. The religious rulers of the people and elders successfully locked them out of the kingdom. Just prior to His crucifixion, Jesus told them: “Woe to you Bible experts and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. You won’t come into it yourselves, and when others try to come in, you won’t let them” (Mt 23:13 AAT). Cf, Mt 23:1-36
In America, we who believe in Jesus and are in the kingdom of God’s Son (Col 1:9-20) find ourselves situated in a combination the worldly cultures of heathens and enlightened religious leaders pretending to be righteous. Current political and religious terms for those who embrace, endorse or are influenced by the wisdom of the world are: liberal, progressive and secular progressive “without God in the world” (Eph 2:12).
In that hostile environment, how are we to walk worthy of the Lord? Paul tells us:
9 I wrote to you in my letter to have no company with sexual sinners; 10 yet not at all meaning with the sexual sinners of this world, or with the covetous and extortionists, or with idolaters; for then you would have to leave the world. 11 But as it is, I wrote to you not to associate with anyone who is called a brother who is a sexual sinner, or covetous, or an idolater, or a slanderer, or a drunkard, or an extortionist. Don’t even eat with such a person. 12 For what do I have to do with also judging those who are outside? Don’t you judge those who are within? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. “Put away the wicked man from among yourselves.” 1 Cor 5:9-13
Paul tells us not to judge those who do not claim to be Christian, but to judge who do claim to be Christian. He expands on judging Christians in Philippians 3 with concrete examples. When we judge a wicked man among us, we punish them by marking, banning and shunning them. We don’t judge those of the world punitively, but we do judge their behavior and avoid it.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is from WMB
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