James 4:4

Thursday, 14 August 2019

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

There is a difference between source texts here –

Adulterers and adulteresses! (NKJV, et al)

You adulteresses! (BSB, et al)

The latter of the two is probably correct. Somewhere along the line, someone not understanding the uses of the feminine probably added in the masculine. But James is speaking to the believers in Christ who comprise His bride. In Matthew 12:39, Jesus uses similar terminology and equates the people of Israel as a “wicked and adulterous generation.” It implies that they are like an unfaithful wife.

The word translated as “adulteresses” is exactingly translated. It signifies not only a married woman who commits adultery, but it also speaks of people who worship any other than the true God. The same terminology is used of Israel throughout the Old Testament. The adulterous nature of the people against their Husband is highlighted.

James shows that this continues on in the body of believers in Messiah. Even Paul alludes to the bridal covenant, speaking of the Gentiles who are included in it, as a group who are espoused to a husband (2 Corinthians 11:2). Once espoused, the one so espoused is obligated to the betrothal and bears the full responsibility of fidelity.

With the terminology rightly understood, James then asks, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” The “friendship with the world” speaks of placing the things of the world in a position above one’s allegiance to the Lord. A spouse is to put her affections on her husband first and foremost. If she spends her time chasing after other men, she is failing to commit to her husband.

This does not mean that people cannot interact with the world around them. Paul makes that perfectly clear in 1 Corinthians 5 –

“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.”

What is obvious from Paul’s words, is that there are two ways that a believer may approach the world around him. The first is living in the world, associating with it, and using it in a manner which is customary to all human interaction. Nothing is forbidden in this. However, the second way is for the believer to act as the world acts. He lists such ways – sexual immorality, covetousness, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, being an extortioner, etc. The latter are acting as an unfaithful bride because they are placing a higher priority on what the world offers than on their allegiance to the Lord.

But note that Paul calls them believers, and he later says they are “inside,” meaning of the body which is the bride. He does not call into question their status, position, or salvation, but he does call into question their allegiance. For this, they will be judged – not for condemnation, but for reward and loss.

James next states explicitly, “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” He shows that intent is equal to act. It is the heart which is being evaluated. It is not necessary for a person to actually be a friend of the world to be at enmity with God. Rather, whoever “wants to be” has already set the wall between himself and God. This is what Israel desired, and it is even what they did, but the Lord said that despite their ways, as a Husband He would cause it to cease. Follow the similarity in terminology in Ezekiel to what James is saying here –

“Thus says the Lord God: ‘Are you defiling yourselves in the manner of your fathers, and committing harlotry according to their abominations? 31 For when you offer your gifts and make your sons pass through the fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols, even to this day. So shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I will not be inquired of by you. 32 What you have in your mind shall never be, when you say, ‘We will be like the Gentiles, like the families in other countries, serving wood and stone.’” Ezekiel 20:30-32

As is evidenced, Israel did – in fact – commit harlotry against the Lord. But the Lord, rather than rejecting Israel forever, twice sent her into exile. And yet, in her exile, He has remained faithful to the covenant which He established with them. What occurs with Israel is a type and picture of how God deals with all of those who come to Him in faith through the New Covenant. We may, in fact, commit harlotry against the Lord, but He will treat us in the New Covenant as He continues to treat Israel under the Old, meaning with perfect faithfulness.

Our friendship with the world does not bring about our excision from the body. But it does bring us into temporal judgment in this world, and it will bring us into negative judgment at the Bema Seat of Christ – a judgment of reward and loss. It is a judgment of salvation, not for condemnation.

James’ words do not speak of a loss of salvation, but what is a proper standing of believers before God. In the coming verses, this will become painfully evident to those who believe that Christians can lose their salvation.

Life application: One should not get upset at James because of his tone. He is writing as if he were an honest pastor speaking to his audience – in general, but direct, terms. What is being said applies to all of us, but he is not simply pointing his finger at everyone else and claiming superiority over them. His point is that the envy and selfish ambition he describes shows a love of the world – the system of the world and all it entails. This would be different than the “world” mentioned in John 3:16 which speaks of the people of the world. When we put the love of the world ahead of our love for God, we are – by nature – at enmity with Him.

As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 concerning money, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Devotion to God must be absolute. However, it doesn’t mean removing yourself from the world. This is what monks and other ascetics do, but the Bible doesn’t teach this either. We are to live in the world but not be “of” the world. We can freely use what is around us, but it is temporary and passing away. Putting our hope in things rather than God separates us from intimacy with Him. What is stealing your joy? If it is a material possession, then you need to let it go because you have lost your focus on God. In all things, remember to put God first and not be distracted by things of the world.

Lord God, we must admit that Your word often speaks directly of us. We often get sidetracked by the things of the world, and we even allow them to steal our joy. In the end, such things only separate us from intimacy with You, so please help us to keep our eyes, hearts, and thoughts on You at all times. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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