After Stephen was martyred in Jerusalem, the Jewish Christians were persecuted, driven from the city, and scattered throughout the land. They were unwelcome in their new communities, and faced great pressure to fit in with those around them. These Jews felt the pull of drifting back into their old ways. They tried to walk with one foot on the worldly path and the other on the path of God. But the ways of God and of the world are so completely opposite that it’s impossible to love one without hating the other. And as James warns, “friendship with the world, is hostility toward God.” (v. 4)
Today’s society encourages us to live for our individual glory. It tells us that it’s not wrong to pursue a life dedicated to pleasing the lust of the flesh. A mentality of, “if it feels good, do it” is not only encouraged, but celebrated. We are fed lies that say we are god in our lives and it is us who deserves worship. And if we don’t agree with the sinful and destructive ways of the world, we are regarded as bigots and close minded.
Christians are laughed at, ridiculed, and in some parts of the world even tortured and killed. It’s not a good feeling to be constantly told that our beliefs are wrong. Nor to be ostracized from those around us. Standing in faith can be hard, especially when faced with persecution or when the people you love turn away from you. The pain is real, and so it’s easy to see why many Christians fall into the trap of compromise and spiritual adultery. But as James tell us in verse 4, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Did this mean James was instructing believers to live in a cocoon, shutting ourselves away from the world? No. James is saying that we are to stand strong in our faith, while loving and praying for those who don’t know Christ. But how do we stand strong against the pressure from the world? “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will resist you.” (vs. 7) The enemy loves nothing more than to see God’s people weak both in mind and spirit. He delights at our failings. But we can withstand whatever he throws our way by submitting ourselves to the Lord.
Submitting means trusting God’s wisdom and will, receiving His power and love, and obeying all that He commands. Through every battle and temptation, we are never fighting alone. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (vs. 8) God is always there with open arms, waiting to be invited into every part of our lives. By spending time with Him worshiping, talking, and praying, we establish a closeness with Him, an unbreakable bond. God promises to be faithful in shielding us from the schemes of Satan. And He strengthens us against the temptations of an ungodly world. For as promised in 2 Thess. 3:3, “The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”
“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the Lord always”, Prov. 23:17. Christian or not, at times every one us feels the sting of jealousy, and the pull of earthly living. But we can’t be in love with the Lord, and in love with the world. So the question we face is this; whom will we serve? Will we serve the world and our lust filled desires, or will we serve God and lead lives designed to please Him? The Lord knows the trials we face each day living in a fallen world. He knows the temptation and pressure upon us to conform. But if we come to Him in humility and lay our weakness at His feet, we have His assurance He will lift us up. (v. 10) So I ask, are you friends with the world, or friends with God?