I suspect James 4:4 is one of the most misunderstood verses in the New Testament. “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.”
Quite a few denominations and large numbers of church members have quoted this verse over the years as a warning to stay away from “worldly” people who don’t love Jesus. Tragically, that’s not the point the writer is making. To the contrary, earlier in 2: 8-9, James has already instructed his readers, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” You cannot love your neighbor as yourself if you avoid him because his values don’t match yours.
In the New Testament, the world denotes a sensual way of life, a godless system of values, a worldview- not a person or a community. This is clear is 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” We don’t love worldly priorities or worldly possessions, but we are always expected to love people. If we don’t love them and don’t know them, we cannot influence them or disciple them.
Not long ago, someone I respect described a charitable event he and his wife had attended. It sounded interesting and unusual, so I asked if this was somehow related to the church they attend. He replied that it was not: most of their church friends would not participate because wine was served at the event. That’s too bad. No one appreciates the desire to live a holy life more than I do, but surely part of holiness must be an durable, authentic love for other people.
If you and I are going to avoid any event where wine is served, where profanity is used conversationally, or where most people don’t share our priorities, we will have to declare most areas of life off limits. (Seriously, most of us won’t even be able to go to work!) In that case, the government will never need to pass laws or send secret police to silence the church. We will have silenced ourselves, duct taped our own mouths, and shut ourselves out of ministry.
And perhaps worst of all, we will have failed to visibly demonstrate the love of God and the compassion of a Savior who attended dinner parties with hedonists and heathens.
Lift up the Cross!