Friendship With the World and the Enemies of God

There's a passage in James 4 that gets a lot of attention in conservative Christian circles:
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. (James 4.4)
Taken out of context the passage is often used to make the argument that we shouldn't associate with worldly, sinful people. Or indulge in worldly, sinful pleasures. To be sure, those exhortations could be made using other texts in the Bible, but that's not at all what James 4 is talking about.

James 4 isn't talking about associating with people outside of the church or dappling in worldly pleasures. James 4 is about the church fighting with itself. According to James 4, "friendship with the world" is strife and conflict within the Body of Christ. The question that kicks off the whole passage in James 4 is this question:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? (James 4.1)
And the exhortation that comes right after the "friendship with the world" passage is this:
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. (James 4.11)
It's clear from the context that "friendship with the world" isn't about personal associations with non-Christians. "Friendship with the world" is, rather, friendship with a selfish, combative, domineering attitude and posture within oneself. "Friendship with the world" is friendship with, in the words of James 3, the demonic, worldly wisdom that "comes from below":
But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. (James 3.14-16)
Note the symptoms of the demonic: bitter envy, selfish ambition, and boasting. That is what being an "enemy of God" looks like. By contrast, the wisdom of heaven traffics in peace:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. (James 3.17-18)
Notice what purity and holiness looks like here: peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy, without a trace of partiality. Sowing and making peace.

Again, the context makes it all very clear. "Friendship with the world" in James has nothing to do with associations with worldly people or indulging in worldly pleasures. "Friendship with the world" is the envy, selfishness, and ambition that create quarreling and fighting. It's this attitude toward others, this failure to sow peace, that makes a person an enemy of God.

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