Rethinking "Love for the World"
“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t go out with girls that do!” There are many people who define “worldliness” along these categorical lines. Or, they might define worldliness by alluding to their refrain from watching certain movies, hanging around with certain people, or even using social media. Each person has his/her “bents” or leanings about what it means to “love the world.” Admittedly, some or all of the above are ways that one “could” be manifesting a love for the world, either practicing these things or elevating them above Christ. However, we must be careful with superficially limiting our definition of worldliness to these things.
In the climactic peak of the letter of James, the Lord’s half-brother exhorts his Jewish brethren with the following stern but pastoral words regarding their core problem, “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” (James 4:4-5). James essentially says, “you know what your problem is? You love the world more than God!” Yes, James is speaking to his Christian brethren scattered outside the land of Palestine (see the multiple references to “brethren”: my brethren” 1:2; “my beloved brethren” 1:19; “my brethren” 2:1; “my beloved brethren” 2:5; “my brethren” 2:14….etc.). In other words, these are Christians who are committing spiritual adultery, practically-speaking, by befriending the world and not being wholeheartedly devoted to God.
But in exhorting them so forthrightly, “how” are they, functionally, being unfaithful to God? Well we need to look at the previous context of James 4:4-10. They are being worldly by not trusting God, rejoicing in Him, amidst their trials and afflictions, seeking His wisdom (1:2-12). They are not taking personal responsibility for their sin, but blaming God for it, instead of remembering that God is only good and would never do them evil (1:13-18). They are not responding to the Word of God in loving obedience, but instead have become forgetful hearers (1:19-25; see also 2:14-26).
On and on the profundity of worldliness is exposed. They are not showing mercy and practicing compassion toward the least of these in society (1:27). They are practicing favoritism (2:1-13), and using their words to destroy one another (3:1-12). They are not practicing godly wisdom, but worldly, a type of worldly wisdom not leading to fruitful righteousness (2:13-18). They are speaking evil of one another (4:11; 5:9), and they are presuming upon the will of God (4:13-17).
It is these and many other sins that James exposes, and that describe the make-up of a type of “respectable” worldliness that we are prone to coddle as Christians. Oh, worldliness is far greater, far more profound than how we often tend to define it. There are, for sure, other more explicit forms of worldly sins, but some of the above, as outlined by James, are too often ignored by each of us, and treated as the lesser of other evils.
What’s the answer? In the same passage (4:4-10), James calls them to humble repentance (4:6-10). The pathway to Christ-exalting change is humble repentance for the believer. The true believer (like James’ Jewish brethren at the time) will respond to such loving but forthright exhortations with humble brokenness, and a desire to turn from such sins. God is always gracious, but it’s the “humble” who receives that grace (4:6). Will we be perfect in every area of life? Undoubtedly not. But the desire of the believer will be to have sin exposed that he/she might run to the cross of Christ, where there is mercy and grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:16).