Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD IS ENMITY AGAINST GOD"
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of Jesus Christ the Lord!
There is much in the congregation of Kelmscott for which to thank the Lord. I mentioned some of God’s blessings in our midst at the recent congregational meeting. Not the least of these blessings is the bond of love amongst the brothers and sisters of the congregation, the rejoicing in each other’s joys and the sharing of each other’s burdens. As Paul did with the Philippians, we can thank the Lord for His work of grace in our midst, and pray that our love abound more and more in love to God and to each other.
A recognition of the blessings the Lord has worked in our midst does not undo the fact that we have not reached the goal of perfection. It is a point of fact that not all in the congregation get on equally well; there are frictions in our midst, wars and fights. These frictions are not just between brothers and sisters in the congregation, but are found also behind the closed doors of every home when there isn’t the peace there ought to be.
In His care for us the Lord has placed in the Scriptures He gave us also the words we read from James’ letter "to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" – a reference to the New Testament church. James writes about friendship with the world and enmity with God, and with those phrases describes the roots of the wars and fights these Christians had.
As we seek, in the strength of the Lord to abound more and more in love for God and for each other, we do well to place ourselves under the discipline of God’s gracious instruction in James 4. The more we appreciate what James writes here and take it to heart in our own lives, the more we are able to grow in the Lord.
So I summarize the sermon this morning with this theme:
FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD IS ENMITY AGAINST GOD.
1. What is friendship with the world?
"Friendship with the world." The phrase makes us think of doing worldly things, things quite acceptable in the world but forbidden by God. The term awakens in our minds behaviors like frequenting the movies and night clubs, being glued to the TV and pausing at depraved internet sites, ripping of your customers and cheating on your tax form. Those who do such things, we feel, have fallen in love with the world. So we tend to attach the phrase to those who live on the outer, the weak who live too close to the world. Certain young people, for example.
As it turns out, brothers and sisters, this understanding is not how James uses that phrase ‘friendship with the world’. That James does not refer to the weak and straying is evident from the fact that in the entire passage before us James keeps on addressing "you", in other words, his addressees in general. And those addressees are not unbelievers or Christians who are consciously straying from the Lord. Rather, James addresses this letter to "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad," ie, to the New Testament people of God as they live scattered throughout the world. It is to the people of God that he speaks about friendship with the world. And it’s not a people that is on the point of falling away, of denying the Lord totally and completely; on the whole James writes in too positive a manner in this letter to allow us to come to that kind of a conclusion. What James addresses in this letter is what we might call regular, run-of-the-mill Christians like there are twelve-in-a-dozen; he speaks to congregations that love the Lord and at the same time struggle against sin. Which makes the letter so very practical for the church of all ages.
"Friendship with the world." The phrase, then, does not refer to those who have fallen or are falling away. James means something else, something in the average congregation itself. To understand what James means with the phrase, we shall have to read the context in which he uses the term.
The part of James that we read together forms a unity. The apostle begins this particular part of his letter with a question for his readers. Chap 3:13: "who is wise and understanding among you?" The fact that James asks that question implies that his addressees somehow lacked wisdom and understanding. How did James know that this wisdom was lacking? He was familiar with what went on among the congregations. True wisdom, James knows, reveals itself in meekness (3:13). But that meekness was not apparent in the works of the addressees. There was among them instead "bitter envy and self-seeking" (vs 14). There’s "confusion and every evil thing" (vs 16), there are "wars and fights" among the brethren of the churches (4:1). No, not that we have to picture these Christians as marching with clubs and sticks against each other’s families, together with burning and looting. Instead, there was animosity, there was rivalry, tension.
And James –inspired as he is by the Spirit of God- makes it his business to analyze for these people of God where these wars and fights come from. It’s his question in vs 1: "where do wars and fights come from among you?" And he gives the inspired answer: "Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?" "Desires for pleasure," says James; that’s the root. The reference here is to "some personal gratification on which we have set our hearts." In the words of 3:13: "bitter envy and self-seeking." The point is that amongst the congregations James addressed there was a spirit of insisting on getting one’s own way. Someone had an opinion on something, and instead of being willing to yield, he insisted –for whatever reason- that his way was right. Or there was friction with another and those addressed refused to be the least and initiate a procedure of reconciliation with the brother; each considered it to be beneath their dignity to lose out on the honor they’d set their heart on. Self-centered desires, insisting on personal pleasure and satisfaction, prompted fighting, killing, war among these New Testament churches, the twelve tribes of the dispersion. And again, we’re not to think of fighting and killing in the literal sense, but rather in the sense of Lord’s Day 40; there was dishonoring, hating, injuring the neighbor, be it in thought or word or deed. And from vs 11 of our chapter we may conclude that the killing, the fighting, was basically done through slander; the brethren did not speak only the truth concerning the neighbor, but rather twisted the facts a little bit for one’s own advantage.
Those desires-to-be-right produced wars. But, the apostle continues, these desires also frustrate your prayers. Vs 3:"you ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures." In the minds of these Christians was the thought that their desires had to be right, the way they saw it was the way things had to go, and so they prayed that their desires might materialize. It was because these Christians asked God to ensure that their pet ideas and desires come to pass –instead of asking that God’s will be done- that they did not receive what they asked for.
It’s not, brothers and sisters, a pretty picture James draws. Desires led to frustrated prayers, led also to fighting, verbal wars. But where did that drive to satisfy one’s own wishes, to drive through one’s own thoughts, come from in the first place? The apostle says; it comes from a lack of real wisdom. The people addressed in this letter saw nothing particularly unchristian in the way in which they carried on with each other. They assumed that amongst them there was wisdom; after all , did they not fear God? And the psalmist says it: "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" Yes, among them was wisdom…. But, James says, look at what you are doing. That jealousy, that selfish ambition, insisting on your own way: that is not the evidence of true wisdom. The wisdom you portray as having "is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic" (3:15). How so? Because, James adds, "wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits." This wisdom, says James, does not squabble, bicker, insist on achieving what I’ve set my heart upon. Rather, heavenly wisdom is marked by a spirit of meekness, of realizing that one is inherently sinful and one’s mind depraved. Meekness: there is the willingness to be taught, corrected, the willingness to be a bit less than another. Says James: all your fighting reveals that you are not living out of heavenly wisdom, out of real awe for God, but you are instead still motivated by earthly wisdom. That is why there is no peace among you, why there is tension, distrust, jealousy, coveting, wars and fights. And that is also why you pray and do not receive what you ask for; you claim to rely upon the Lord God, but in practice you prove that you do not, for your Christianity and your service of the Lord revolves around yourself. It’s because you follow earthly wisdom, selfish ambition, that your prayers are not answered. It all goes wrong with you, and that is simply because you are not guided in all you do by wisdom from God; you are Christians with an earthly, sensual, demonic dimension.
That, dear brothers and sisters, is what James means with the phrase ‘friendship with the world’. In the context of James 4, the term ‘friendship with the world’ does not imply that one has drifted from the Lord, that one condones blatant worldliness. But the term means here that the twelve tribes of the dispersion served God and loved the brethren with a worldly attitude. They served God alright, and they gathered in prayer around the kitchen table and in church too, but the way they treated each other was not at all Christian; it was worldly, the product of having earthly wisdom.
That attitude, says James, produces fights, wars amongst the brethren. When it comes to the point, congregation, those are big words James uses. "Fights", "wars". And, as I said before, James doesn’t mean literal bombs and bullets, blood and death; he means bickering and squabbling, fighting with words. But why, then, does James use this heavy terminology? The reason, beloved, is simply to point up the deadly consequences of this bickering and squabbling. War: that’s destruction, it’s death. War makes misery out of life, it destroys, annihilates, kills. And there’s the point the apostle wants to make: the self-centered desires of these Christians, the desire to have things go their own way, the wish to be personally vindicated, produces on the surface only bickering and disputing over words, but underneath it leads to death in the church of Jesus Christ, it chokes the spiritual life out of God’s people; it fills spiritual body-bags as fast as bombs do. That is why the apostle sees fit to sound the alarm, to demand repentance!
The Free Reformed Churches in Australia, and the congregation at Kelmscott in particular, are not identical to the twelve tribes James addressed in the dispersion. We, after all, live so many generations later, live in an entirely different part of the world and in a different culture. Wars in our midst? Fights in our congregation? Dominated by our desires? We kill? Covet? We’d say no….
But consider this then, brothers and sisters. We hear about activities, be it in our own or in a sister congregation, and we get together in the evening and tell each other over a coffee that those people are going all wrong; they’re not fully Scriptural. Whether the issue is Curriculum Framework or behavior at soccer or any other issue is not to the point now; my point now is how we talk about others and their deeds. For let us face it: it happens that our manner of speaking about others and their deeds is often demeaning, is derogatory, judgmental, includes more than a little scorn. And somewhere underneath the way in which we talk one can sense a measure of distrust, an air of not accepting the other. There is that spirit of: he’s obviously wrong, and the implication: the way I see it is necessarily right. And there is that spirit of: if you don’t agree with me you too are classified with those whom you can’t realty trust. That, beloved in the Lord, is a cancer in the church that slowly but surely results in death, spiritual death. To talk in a demeaning way does not reveal a spirit of peace and gentleness and mercy, does not show "the meekness of wisdom" James writes about. Whether one intends it so or not, that way of talking comes down to painting ourselves as just that much better than the group elsewhere. And now, please, do not misunderstand me as if we are not talk about the things that happen; there is certainly room for that. But there is a way to talk about things, a way that does not promote factions, bickering, war.
One can mention other examples of pursuing our own passions. There is tension between brothers and sisters of this congregation or elsewhere. And we insist: since the fault is not with me, I don’t have to do anything about it; the problem is his, so he has to come to me. And we ignore what the Lord has said:
"if you bring your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Mt 5:23f).
But that’s something we find so hard to do, hard because of our own desire to have things as we want, our desire to keep our honor intact…. But it is not the wisdom of meekness.
There’s much for which to be thankful for in our congregation and in the bond of churches, much in our families too. But what do you think now, beloved: does the description "friendship with the world" as used by James apply to us in Australia, to us in Kelmscott, to our homes? Let us be honest: the term is as appropriate for us as it was for the New Testament church to which James first wrote His letter. With us there is as much an influence from an earthly spirit as there was with them. "Lord, be merciful to us sinners…."
I come to our second point:
2. Why is this desire to be right enmity with God?
Brothers and sisters, if "friendship with the world," harboring earthly, unspiritual influences can be as much a reality for us as it was for the people James addressed, then the rest of what James says applies to us very much also. That’s something we must be very much aware of before we begin to listen to what else James has to say, for now James begins to use some very heavy words.
"Friendship with the world," the apostle adds, implies "enmity with God." Enmity with God. That term describes the relation that exists between a people and God when there is no reconciliation! To be at enmity with God means that God and we are still enemies, that the wrath of God is still upon us! In other words: you have no part in Christ’s reconciling work, and so shall receive condemnation in this life and the life to come! So, congregation, it’s no small charge that James lays at the feet of those who harbor a measure of friendship with the world, those who insist on having things their way. It’s enmity with God: condemnation!
And that James doesn’t beat around the bush about what this friendship with the world is really all about is evident too from the words James chooses to begin our text. "Adulterers and adulteresses," he says to his readers. It’s a tag that catches anyone squarely between the eyes! Fancy being called that!! Despite the promiscuity of our day, no one likes being called an adulterer! Yet to catch the sense of the phrase, beloved, we need to recall what function the concept of ‘adultery’ played in the Old Testament. Innumerable times the prophets charged Israel with spiritual adultery, harlotry, because Israel as God’s bride kept giving herself to the gods of her heathen neighbors – the world. The result of their persistent adultery was the exile! With the phrase ‘adulterers and adulteresses’ James puts these New Testament Christians in the same basket as their Old Testament brethren. Persons driven by worldly wisdom, Christians insisting on their own way, are at bottom no different than the Israelites who kept flirting with Baal – they’re adulterers and adulteresses. And we’re not to be deceived; as Israel’s adultery resulted in disinheriting the Promised Land (they went into exile), so also New Testament "adulterers … will [not] inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor 6:9f).
We shudder at James’ pointed language. He writes to the church, gets up on the pulpit as it were, and he says to the congregations: you are dominated by worldly desires, want things your way, and so you maintain friendship with the world and therefore enmity with God. And to top it off, that preacher of old hurls into his audience that offensive tag "adulterers and adulteresses"! Talk about forceful, blunt! One should try it today; the church would run empty because "that preacher is too sharp." But James does it, does it on the command of Jesus Christ.
But why, brothers and sisters, why does the Holy Spirit inspire James to speak so sharply? That’s because he wants to reach these erring brothers and sisters! The attitude that lived in their hearts was deadly, would destroy the church. James doesn’t want the church destroyed, the Holy Spirit doesn’t want the church destroyed! That is why the apostle doesn’t mince his words; he’s fighting for the preservation of the church and the salvation of its members. He doesn’t ask about the sensitivities of his hearers; he tells them instead exactly where things are at with them on account of the worldly attitude they’ve adopted in their relations with each other, tells them point blank that this attitude is "enmity with God" and therefore results in condemnation. With this plain talk he would move his hearers to self-examination and repentance; that worldly attitude, that selfishness, that insistence on one’s own desires, has to go! For God is jealous for His bride….
James’ message was not gentle for the congregations in the dispersion. And it’s not soft for us either. Does that mean that they - and we with them- are lost – on grounds that adulterers shall not inherit the kingdom of God?
No, brothers and sisters, no it doesn’t! For here is the gospel! Yes, to the degree that we let our conduct be directed by attitudes of the world –selfishness, for example, in our marriages or in the congregation, being unwilling to yield- to that degree we are guilty of adultery, as were the congregations James addressed. But to be guilty of adultery, you have to have a husband, you still have to be a bride (‘fornication’ being the Biblical word for adultery before marriage). And that husband we still have; Christ Jesus has not written out for us a bill of divorce! Despite the abiding sinfulness of His New Testament church –in essence no different than His church in the Old Testament- Christ still calls His own "the twelve tribes", that is His church, His bride. And so there remains for us life. It was with them, it is with us, just as it was for Israel of Hosea’s days: there may be adultery, and yet God calls Israel, calls the twelve tribes, calls us "My people", calls us "sons of the living God". Our sins may be very great and they are; yet God does not deal with us according to what we deserve. While we were yet enemies with God, God in heaven sent His Son into this world in order to reconcile us to Himself, in order to make peace by the blood of His cross. We who surely were no bride for Christ were adopted to be the bride of the Lamb. Because of that one sacrifice on Calvary does God continue to have mercy on His bride; graciously God forgives His people even for such gross sins as friendship with the world, spiritual adultery. Talk about merciful!
Does that leave us free to continue a relation of friendship with the world? Does the fact that our divine Husband by covenant forgives our adultery give us liberty to continue friendship with another man? Beloved, does the fact that your spouse may forgive you give you permission to do it again?! Says James: God remains your husband. "He gives more grace" (vs 6). But that does not give you liberty! On the contrary, repent! Vs 7: "therefore submit to God." Vs 9: "Lament and mourn and weep…. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord." That is: return to your husband and be devoted to Him alone. Don’t make friends with the world, don’t insist on having things your way and so generating tension and distrust and war and fights within the church of God! Rather, "resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God," to your Husband, "and He will draw near to you." Cleanse yourselves, wash your hands, be no longer a spiritual two-timer. Know that holy God is still your husband, your Savior, and respond consistently.
So: there has to come an end to friendship with the world. In it’s place there must come faithfulness to God. In place of such earthly wisdom as jealously and selfish ambition and insisting on one’s own way must come the wisdom that is from above: meekness, peace, gentleness, mercy, goodness, willing to yield. That will make for mutual trust and edification in the bond of churches, for peace in any congregation, for contentment in any home. "For the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." That’s the conduct that behooves the bride of Jesus Christ.
Soon the day comes when the Bridegroom returns from heaven to earth, the day of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Outside shall be the hardened adulterers, those who loved friendship with the world, who were at bottom at enmity with God. Inside shall be the meek, shall be the wise, shall be those who deny themselves and the incessant pursuit of their own selfish hobby horses. They shall be cleansed of all evil, of all adultery, of any stain of sin. For the church of God, now beset by so much destructive fighting, shall be perfected by the Lamb who died for your sins and mine. Amen.