STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“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. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain,
‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’?” (James 4:4-5)
Two’s company, three’s a crowd. Such is the nature of certain exclusive relationships where a third party is an intrusion or worse. Try a three-child playdate where one of the three often ends up on the outside looking in. Watch a teenager struggle with two very opposite BFFs. No human relationship, however, is more close, exclusive, or important than that of husband and wife. God has made the two wonderfully one, leaving no room for any third party. And marriage is reflective of Christ’s beloved union with His bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32). Similarly, God’s blessed friendship with us (James 2:23) was created by Christ’s reconciling sin-sacrifice and His reconciling Gospel at work in us.
Yet there is an evil and jealous enemy who desperately wants to intrude and replace God as our best friend. And he has a willing accomplice in His spiritually adulterous scheme. With a number of alluring tools at its disposal, the world relentlessly woos us, seeking our friendship. And there’s a part of us that is truly smitten with its charm.
As God’s children, we already have a wonderful faith, family, and friend relationship with our God and Savior that meets our deepest spiritual needs and provides immeasurable blessings for life and eternity. That relationship has been divinely created, nurtured, and strengthened by God’s promises and assurances, found in His scriptural love letter to us. And this relationship is exclusive. There is no other God. We have no other Savior Friend than Jesus. His single-minded, loving devotion to us even creates a holy “jealousy” when He sees our sometimes-wandering eyes and hearts.
How then could we ever be friends with someone who only wants to hurt us and undermine and destroy our heavenly friendship? As the Apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, what do God and Satan, truth and error, righteousness and unrighteousness have in common? They are not just polar opposites; they are spiritual and eternal opposites. You simply cannot love God and the world at the same time (1 John 2:15-17). To do so is nothing less than spiritual adultery.
James’s words offer a loving warning to the scattered believers he addresses and also to each of us. Cozying up to the world and its ways is often easier than fighting another challenging faith-battle. Which of us doesn’t daily compromise our blessed friendship and fellowship with God by entanglements with the world? In our beliefs and values, our attitudes and relationships, our behavior and lifestyle choices, how easy it is to allow the world in, little by little—all the while reassuring God and ourselves that all is still well between us. As far as the world is concerned, we’re just casual friends, that’s all.
Once again, James has us looking in the mirror of the law, and what we see isn’t pretty. In fact, our sin and failings should hurt deeply—and that’s good. It drives us outside of ourselves for help and hope. In repentance and faith we look again to the cross. And there we find “more grace” (James 4:6)—God’s grace and mercy that just keeps on coming in spite of ourselves. It is impossible to escape the glaring contrast between our sometimes compromising, unfaithful friendship, and God’s abounding grace and mercy, His faithful friendship. In His grace alone we trust, live, rejoice and give thanks. In Christ, we are and will remain “best friends forever.”
David Schierenbeck is a retired pastor and a member of the CLC Board of Doctrine. He lives in St. Paul Park, Minnesota.