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The Danger of Being a Friend of the World

James 4:1–6


What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (4:1–6)

Another key indicator of true saving faith is one's attitude toward the world. James introduced this subject in the first chapter, saying, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (1:27).

The central truth in the present passage is: "Friendship with the world is hostility toward God" (see 4:4). Genuine spiritual life and faithful Christian living involve separation from the world and all its countless contaminations. As James just noted, "the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (3:17–18). Continuing, habitual friendship with the world, on the other hand, is grounded in human wisdom and is evidence of unbelief. Such ungodly friendship inevitably results in personal conflict—with others (4:1a), with oneself (vv. 1b-3), and, most important, with God (vv. 4–6).

Conflict with Others

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? (4:1a)

The Greek text of this sentence has no verb, and reads more literally, "Whence quarrels and whence conflicts among you?" Polemos (quarrels), from which we get the English "polemics," relates to general, prolonged, and serious disputing or combat and is often rendered "war" (e.g., Matt. 24:6; Heb. 11:34; Rev. 11:7; 16:14). Conflicts translates machē, which refers to a specific fight or battle. Both terms are used here metaphorically of violent personal relationships, which, in the extreme, can result even in murder (v. 2).

Among you indicates that these combative relationships were between members of the churches to whom James wrote. As will be discussed under verse 4, some of those members obviously were not saved. And because they were thereby enemies of God, they were also enemies of each other and of true believers within the churches.