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Love Not the World - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Articles on Christian Stewardship

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Before you are able to deal with the Christian principles of Stewardship, you must be sure the world has not invaded your thinking. See what James and John tell us about the world and the Christian.

In the study of Christian stewardship, we should be sure we have a solid understanding of the contrast between the Christian and the world. If we do not have a heart and mind fully devoted to God, then stewardship will be difficult. How can we focus on Christ if we are continually looking after the world? Our practice of stewardship will be difficult to say the least. We must be sure we have a clear understanding of the difference between what we should love and what we should hate. True Christian stewardship is impossible if we are lovers of the world. In the passage at hand, John is going to help us see that we ought to cast of the temporary nature of the system of wickedness that is opposed to God, i.e. love not the world, and love God and His coming Kingdom as a right focus and a right desire.

The text I would like to consider is 1 John 2:15-17, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

(Mh. avgapa/te to.n ko,smon mhde. ta. evn tw/| ko,smw|Å eva,n tij avgapa/| to.n ko,smon( ouvk e;stin h` avga,ph tou/ patro.j evn auvtw/|\ o[ti pa/n to. evn tw/| ko,smw|( h` evpiqumi,a th/j sarko.j kai. h` evpiqumi,a tw/n ovfqalmw/n kai. h` avlazonei,a tou/ bi,ou( ouvk e;stin evk tou/ patro.j avllV evk tou/ ko,smou evsti,nÅ kai. o` ko,smoj para,getai kai. h` evpiqumi,a auvtou/( o` de. poiw/n to. qe,lhma tou/ qeou/ me,nei eivj to.n aivw/naÅ)

In examining the text, and its context, we find there are three sections here with a threefold structure:

Love of the World (verse 15)

Comes from the world (verse 16)

The world passes away (verse 17)

Love of the Father (verse 15)

Comes from the Father (verse 16)

The one who obeys God remains forever (verse 17)

This is what is called a parallelism. The parts of the sentence balance out, and the thoughts communicated in these verses are deliberate and purposeful. John passes from a description of the “new order” to a discussion about the “old order” of the world, and the proper attitude which the believer should adopt toward it. As John sees it, the “world” is an attitude of worldliness which is culpable: a determination to be anchored to a society which by nature does not know God, and is inclined to reject him (3:1; cf. John 15:18–19; 17:25). The love of any Christian (John seems to be suggesting) may be directed, rightly and creatively, toward the brothers (cf. v 10), as a mark of “living in the light.” But it may also be bestowed, wrongly and selfishly, on the world and on worldly things. That this is a correct understanding of agapaow (love) here is confirmed by the fact that John uses the same verb in both contexts: “whoever loves (oJ ajgapw`n) (ho agapown) his brother” (v 10); “do not love (mh; ajgapa`te) (mei agapatay) the world” (v 15). The point is that, like “desire” (ejpiqumiva, , v 16) (epithumia), “love” (ajgavph) (agapay) can go both ways; and John’s appeal is that the love of his readers should be properly directed.[1]

We should also entertain the thought that the ideas surrounding worldliness are actually parenthetical, i.e. the two kinds of lust, and the one mention of pride. John is trying to convey the idea that “Whatever is in the world is not of God.” This is the point of his statement, and the purpose behind the particular construction of the sentence. Whether he lists 10 examples or 3 examples is almost immaterial, although his choice, or rather, the Spirit’s choice of words, is concrete to the situation. Loving the world in these ways are prime examples of rebellion against God.

In a more literal bent, I would translate the verses in this way, “[Do] not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, not is the love of the Father in him. Because (or “for”) all in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (pride of life = sustenance to live), is not of the Father but of the world is. And the world is passing away (linearly) and the lust of it, but the one continuing to do the will of God abides (“presently remains” or “continues to remain”) into the ages.”

What does John mean by “Lust?” Kittel’s usage of the word is helpful. It may denote the direct impulse towards food, sexual satisfaction, etc., and also desire in general. In Greek philosophy it is the waywardness of man in conflict with his rationality. It is estimated ethically rather than religiously. In the Old Testament or in Judaism “lust” is an offense against God, who demands of man total obedience and love from the whole heart. In the New Testament “Lust” (evpiqumi,a) (epithumia) is sometimes translated “desire.” Desire can be placed in a perspective which is holy: Luke 22:15, “And he said unto them, With desire [lust] I have desired [lusted] to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (cf. 1 Thess. 2:17; Rev. 9:6). It can refer to natural hunger (Luke 15:16; 16:21), desire for divine mysteries (Matt. 13:17; Luke 17:22; 1 Peter 1:12), anything good (Phil. 1:23; 1 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 6:11), Yet, much of the time it is used of evil desire. The special feature that we want to take note of in John is the connection between desire and the world (1 John 2:15-17). Desire arises out of the world, constitutes its essence and perishes with it. What perishes is not the object of desire, not the pleasure which it gives, but desire itself. He who constantly desires cannot participate in eternity with God. (cf. Titus 2:12) As Brooke states, “All such objects of desire must in the end prove unsatisfactory, because if their transitory character. Permanent value attaches only to such things as correspond to God’s plan for the world and men.”[2] This is the point of John’s exhortation here and explanation of the contrast between the Christian value structure and the world’s value structure. They are opposed to one another completely.

John does only seem to give an exhortation, but the exhortation is accompanied with warning. Marshall says, “It is worth stressing that the warning is directed to the loyal members of the church, whose spiritual status is unquestioned, rather than to those known by John to be in real spiritual danger.” The pride refers to boasting and arrogance, but it conveys a strong hint of the ultimate emptiness of boasting; it means the braggadocio which exaggerates what it possesses in order to impress other people. Thus, they really do not have all they “think” they have.[3]

In dealing with the threefold aspect of John’s exhortation, the whole purpose being one of contrast with the world, he mentions two kinds of lust and one kind of pride: the “Lust of the Flesh,” “Lust of the Eyes,” and the “Pride of Life,” or “bios” of life. These are building blocks on one another. First comes the reality of the flesh, then that causes the eye, the window of the soul to activate with wrong motives, and then the pride of life sets in – a pride surrounding sustenance and needs, in a manner not devoted to God, but exalting self. If we were to define the passage, we could say the following: The flesh, or sinful desire “activates” the eyes – that which is used as a metaphor for the “faculty of knowing” or “the eyes of the mind.” The mind devises (or lusts after) that which it believes it needs for life, sees those things, then gains them by whatever means he must, and becomes consumed with them. Pride then rests on the accomplishments of worldly gain and a manner of self-sufficiency – self-love results. Loving the world, then, means loving that which is opposed to the Provisions and Graciousness of the Creator who actually disposes to the creatures what He ordains as good and right. The creature exalts himself over the Creator to determine for himself what he wants, not what he needs. It is epitomized in the “pride” of sustenance, or life.

Another important note to make is that if God so loves the “world” (John 3:16) what “world” is the Christian to hate? Why does John say we should not love the world, something God loves? This is not the same worldview as it is as God’s loving object of His saving affections. God’s love of the elect, and our love of the world as sinners is something quite different. When we are loving our enemies, this is done in light of knowing that “vengeance is mine”; a passage which is extraordinary in Romans. We love our enemies because we know God will ultimately take vengeance on them, where God loves the world as His object of devotion to the elect. We should not stumble here that we are commanded not to love the world. It is the wickedness of the world and the evil world system John is pointing to.

It may be helpful to survey the uses of the world “world” in John’s writings. How does John use the word “world?” Each instance in the writings of John for the word “world” are as follows: John 1:9, 1:10, 1:29, 3:16, 3:17, 3:19, 4:42, 6:14, 6:33, 6:51, 7:4, 7:7, 8:12, 8:23, 8:26, 9:5, 9:32, 9:39, 10:36, 11:9, 11:27, 12:19, 12:25, 12:31, 12:46, 12:47, 13:1, 14:17, 14:19, 14:22, 14:27, 14:30, 14:31, 15:18, 15:19, 16:8, 16:11, 16:20, 16:21, 16:28, 16:33, 17:5, 17:6, 17:9, 17:11, 17:12, 17:13, 17:14, 17:15, 17:16, 17:18, 17:21, 17:23, 17:24, 17:25, 18:20, 18:36, 18:37, 21:25, 1 John 2:2, 2:15, 2:16, 2:17, 3:1, 3:13, 4:1, 4:3, 4:4, 4:5, 4:9, 4:14, 4:17, 5:4, 5:5, 5:19, 2 John 1:7, Rev. 3:10, 11:15, 12:9, 13:3, 13:8, 16:14, 17:8. It may be used of the earth: John 13:1; 6:14; 9:5a; 9:32; 9:39; 10:36; 11:27; 16:21; 16:28; 17:5; 17:11a; 17:12; 17:23; 17:24; 18:36; 18:37; 21; Jews and Gentiles: John 4:39; 18:20; Revelation 16:14; 12 times it refers to believers and unbelievers in the world, or all humanity, John 1:9-10; 3:17; 3:19; 7:4; 8:26; 9:5b; 12:19; 12:25; 14:30; 14:19; 16:11; Rev. 3:10; 3 times to refer to the world system in particular, John 12:31; 1 John 5:19; 4:3-4; 31 times the word refers to the wicked, or the wicked world system, without including believers, which is his most common use and the use in our passage, John 5:24; 7:7; 8:23; 12:31; 13:1; 14:17; 14:22; 14:31; 15:18-19; 16:8; 16:20; 17:6; 17:9; 17:11b; 17:15-16; 17:17; 17:21; 17:23; 17:25; 1 John 2:15-17; 3:1; 3:13; 4:5; 4:17; 5:4-5; Rev. 12:9; 13:3; and finally, he uses the word for the world of the elect 11 times, John 1:29; 3:16; 3:17c; 6:33; 12:46-47; 6:51; 8:12; 11:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:14. In this context, John is the only one who uses this phrase “Love not the world”. The world could be “translated” as the “age” in thought process. The age to come and the age now are in contrast to one another.

There is an antithesis between the Christian and the world. “Separate yourself from sin.”

The context forbids love to the world, or anything in the world, which asserts that Christians are not love the “fallen humanity and rebellion of the wickedness of the world,” that which we live in, nor “particular aspects or features of the world” we live in since the world stands in opposition to God. The reason is the ultimate fate of the world in contrast to the fate of the one who loves God; the world passes away, but the one who abides in God and does not love world abides (in God) forever. John is asking, how shall we combat the attack of the world, with its relentless temptation to indulge in the “self,” to continue in increasing possessions, and to rest in those accomplishments while impressing others? (Pride can be both solitary and public depending upon the context.)

Many through the History of the church have seen this passage in the same manner. Augustine states, “And hence also, if we rightly understand it, we are at once forbidden and commanded to love it: thus, we are forbidden, when it is said to us, “Love not the world;” and we are commanded, when it is said to us, “Love your enemies.” These constitute the world that hateth us. And therefore we are forbidden to love in it that which it loves in itself; and we are enjoined to love in it what it hates in itself, namely, the workmanship of God, and the various consolations of His goodness. For we are forbidden to love the vice that is in it, and enjoined to love the nature, while it loves the vice in itself, and hates the nature: so that we may both love and hate it in a right manner, whereas it loves and hates itself perversely.”[4] It takes the prudent Christian to love and hate in this manner to the glory of God.

In defining the “world” John Calvin rightly states, “By the world understand everything connected with the present life, apart from the kingdom of God and the hope of eternal life. So he includes in it corruptions of every kind, and the abyss of all evils. In the world are pleasures, delights, and all those allurements by which man is captivated, so as to withdraw himself from God.”[5]

Jonathan Edwards helps us to see the vanity of man’s corrupt nature in relation to self-exaltation or the pride of life when he says, “The gods, which a natural man worships, instead of the God that made him, are himself and the world. He has withdrawn his esteem and honour from God, and proudly exalts himself. As Satan was not willing to be in subjection, and therefore rebelled, and set up himself, so a natural man, in the proud and high thoughts he has of himself, sets up himself upon God’s throne. He gives his heart to the world, worldly riches, worldly pleasures, and worldly honours: they have the possession of that regard which is due to God. The apostle [John] sums up all the idolatry of wicked men in their love of the world. 1 John 2:15-17.” [6] John Owen says the same, ““If any man do make the world his chiefest good, if any man put the world in the place of God, then the love of the Father is not in him; he hath either received no love from God, or he hath no love to God as a Father in Christ.” [7] He goes on to say in another work, “I press these things at present no farther but only to allow how dangerous a thing it is for any to incline in his affections unto the things of this world, wherein an excess is ruinous and hardly discoverable. Surely no wise man will venture freely and frequently unto the edge of such a precipice. He will be jealous of his measures, lest they will not hold by the rule of the word. And a due sense hereof is the best preservative of the soul from cleaving inordinately unto things below. And when God in any instance, by afflictions or otherwise, shows unto believers their transgression herein, and how they have exceeded, Job 36:8,9, it makes them careful for the future. They will now or never be diligent that they fall not under that peremptory rule, 1 John 2:15.”[8] In the same manner AW Pink exhorts us to make a differentiation between committing sin and loving it, “To love sin is far worse than to commit it, for a man may be suddenly tripped up or commit it through frailty.”[9]

In defining the thoughts around the “world system” we are to hate, John Gill says, “Errors in the mind, false opinions of things contrary to the word of God; all unreasonable doubts, even in saints themselves; and all the actings of unbelief, which proceed from an evil heart, come under this sort of sins, internal ones, or sins of the heart.”[10] Barker says the same, “Having assured the believers of their position before God–viz., their sins are forgiven, they know the Father, and they have overcome the evil one–John moves to application. He warns them not to love the world and gives two reasons: Love of the world precludes love for the Father, and the investment of love in the world is without meaning because the world is passing away (v. 17). The love of the world versus the love of the Father provides vet another “test” of walking in the light. The word for world (kosmos) occurs six times in vv. 15-17. It obviously means something quite different here than in John 3:16. There the Father’s love of the world is apparently based on God’s having willed the world into existence. It is his creation, he created it to be good, beautiful, and worthy of giving glory to him. Likewise those who live in the world are his creatures; he created them, loves them, and, even in their desperate state of living in darkness and the shadow of death, remains constant in desiring to rescue them from eternal death. Here, however, the world is presented as the evil system totally under the grip of the devil (cf. 1 John 5:19; John 12:31; 14:30). It is the “godless world” (NEB), the world of “emptiness and evil” (Bultmann, p. 33), the world of enmity against God (James 4:4).”[11]

Barker also comments well on the meaning of how we “love” such things. He says, “Love also means something different in this passage. Here it is not the selfless love for one’s brother (cf. 2:10) but the love that entices by evil desire or base appetite that is forbidden (John 3:19; 12:43). It is the world’s ability to seduce the believer, to drag him away from love of the Father, that concerns John. “Anything in the world” is not a reference to “natural” phenomena, as v. 16 makes clear. What love for the world or worldliness entails is now spelled out by John in a memorable triad: “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eves and the boasting of what he has and does.” The phrase “the cravings of sinful man” (lit., “the desire of the flesh [sarkos]”) describes the principle of worldliness from which love of the world flows. “Flesh” refers to “the outlook orientated towards self, that which pursues its own ends in self-sufficient independence of God” (DNTT, 1:680) and in self-sufficient independence of one’s fellow man. The “flesh” not only becomes the basis for rebellion against God and for despising his law but also connotes all that is materialistic, egocentric, exploitative, and selfish. It is at the root of racism, sexism, love of injustice, despising the poor, neglecting the weak and helpless, and every unrighteous practice.” He also defines wells the idea behind the other phrases of lust and pride, “The “lust of the eyes, ” according to Bultmann (p. 34), “can refer especially to sexual lust, but can also mean everything that entices the eyes.” Marshall (p. 145) sees it as “the tendency to be captivated by outward, visible splendor and show, but more probably the basic thought is of greed and desire for things aroused by seeing them.” Stott (p. 100) gives “Eve’s view of the forbidden tree as `a delight to the eyes,’ Achan’s covetous sight among the spoil of a `goodly Babylonish garment,’ and David’s lustful looking after Bathsheba as she bathed” as obvious examples. Law sees it as “the love of beauty divorced from the love of goodness” (cited in Stott, p. 100). The key term in the third phrase, “pride of life,” is alazoneia; it occurs only here and in James 4:16. The corporate adjective alazon is used in Romans 1:30 and 2 Timothy 3:2. It describes a pretentious hypocrite who glories in himself or in his possessions. He is a person of ostentatious pride in “his own non-existent importance. (Barclay, in loc.). Bruce (p. 61) says, If my reputation, my public image, matters more to me than the glory of God or the well-being of my followers, the `pretentiousness of life’ has become the object of my idol-worship.” “Pride of life” will be reflected in whatever status symbol is important to me or seems to define my identity. When I define myself to others in terms of my honorary degrees, the reputation of the church I serve, my annual income, the size of my library, my expensive car or house, and if in doing this I misrepresent the truth and in my boasting show myself to be only a pompous fool who has deceived no one, then I have succumbed to what John calls the pride of life. The following is an ancient caricature of the self-important fool, the “Alazon”: The Alazon is the kind of person who will stand on the mole and tell perfect strangers what a lot of money he has at sea, and discourse of his investments, how large they are, and what gains and losses he has made, and as he spins his yarns he will send his boy to the bank–his balance being a shilling. If he enjoys company on the road, he is apt to tell how he served with Alexander the Great, how he got on with him, and how many jewelled cups he brought home; and to discuss the Asiatic craftsmen, how much better they are than any in Europe–never having been away from Athens. He will say that he was granted a free permit for the export of timber, but took no advantage of it, to avoid ill-natured gossip; and that during the corn-shortage he spent more than fifteen hundred pounds in gifts to needy citizens. He will be living in a rented house, and will tell anyone who does not know the facts that this is the family residence, but he is going to sell it because it is too small for his entertainments (Plutarch’s Characters, quoted in Dodd, Johannine Epistles, p. 42).”

When we look at this passage we should see it in its eschatological context. All the vanity of this evil world with its devices is passing away. It is not lasting, but temporary. It has already begun to putrefy. It is a corpse not yet buried. But the person who really does the will of God has the breath of eternal life. He is part of the living body of Christ. He lives in a renewed eschaton; one which offers the hope of everlasting life in the new Eden of the consummated earth. He will live in the city of Gold, with the glory of Christ shining forth forever in brilliant power. He will be one of the chosen vessels who will live into the ages.

Stewardship can only begin after someone has a right view between the world and the Christian. Without a stark contrast between the two, stewardship can never take place. How could we be good steward before God if we are in direct opposition to Him in loving the world? This is totally impossible. We must for repent and turn ourselves away from focusing on the world system, and the manner in which the world thinks, and turn to God. Only there can stewardship truly begin. How do we know this to be true? Well, John has exhorted us quite nicely on this, but there is another verse which is as equally devastating. It is James 4:4.

The KJV version renders James 4:4 in this way, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” The NKJ version is a bit more “modern” and helpful here, “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.” (for the Greek scholars: the GNT says, “moicali,dej( ouvk oi;date o[ti h` fili,a tou/ ko,smou e;cqra tou/ qeou/ evstinÈ o]j eva.n ou=n boulhqh/| fi,loj ei=nai tou/ ko,smou( evcqro.j tou/ qeou/ kaqi,stataiÅ”

When examining the text, we find that there are three sections to the letter: On certain Religious Realities (1:1 (salutation);1:2-2:26); On the teacher’s calling (3:1-18); and on Worldliness and the Christian conduct of life contrasted (4:1-5:20). Unless you are reading too casually, it is almost impossible to miss that James is impassioned about his topic. The Greek text is very plain at this point. As Davids states, “he has broken off analysis and is now preaching repentance.”[12] James is fired up and does not want anyone reading the epistle to make the mistake that he is simply being academic. He is utterly practical at this, and excludes, by his words, a great portion of Christendom from even being converted if we were to apply this verse at close scrutiny. What James is saying, as John did, especially in 4:1-12, is that the cause of the crying evils of life is the pursuit of pleasure, an aim which is in direct rivalry with God, and abhorrent to him. We cannot be friend with the world. If we are, then God counts us as enemies.

The word in 4:1 “passions” h`donh, hedone {hay-don-ay’} comes from the idea surrounding “pleasure” or “desires for pleasure” and the very word which we get “hedonism” from. In 4:3 the same word is used but translated “lusts.” Both are acceptable. James is pointing to the pleasures of the members of the body. Passions or pleasures entice the Christian in a way that they give into the world; the worldview that concentrates on the temporary and fleeting. The world is in direct opposition to the plan of God and the nature of God. To be “friends” fili,a philia {fil-ee’-ah} with the world (literally “friendship for the world”) means one has embraced the world and have become friends with the world. It may be helpful to see this phrase as meaning “to be on good terms with the world.” In reality, the world is not their friend. But in their deception to embrace their pleasures, they think the world is their friend. In James’ mind, those who embrace hedonism in this way are those who are friends of the world – those who John called suffering from the “pride of life.” In contrast to pleasure, or making friends with the world, there is God. It is impossible to master or control the passions unless one is in complete submission to God. By aiming at pleasure instead of God, they cut themselves off from the only source of true pleasure – God Himself – Abraham’s exceedingly great reward. Edwards says, “All the sin that men commit, is what they do in the service of their idols: there is no one act of sin, but what is an act of service to some false god. And therefore where in soever God opposes sin in them, he is opposite to their worship of their idols: on which account they are his enemies.”[13]

It is interesting to note that James does not simply list sins, as John had, but uses imagery which should shock the reader. James utilizes the idea of marriage – those who are “friends of the world” are “adulteresses to God.” James does not say that these men are married to the world, but friends. He does allude to Christians being married to God, since, when they sin, and when they become carnal and materialistic searching after passions and pleasures, (which are fun for a season) they become enemies of God – they become whores for the world, lusting over its pleasures which are fun for a season. Do you see the picture? Vincent says that Adulterous (moicali is a very strong and graphic expression, founded upon the familiary Hebrew representation of the relation of God’s people to him under the figure of marriage (Something to touch on in a moment). See Psalms 73:27; Isaiah 57:3 sqq.; 62:5; Ezekiel 23:27. Hence idolatry and intercourse with Gentiles were described as adultery; and so here, of moral unfaithfulness to God. Compare James 4:4; Revelation 2:20 sqq. Thus Dante says “Where Michael wrought Vengeance upon the proud adultery.”[14] The idea is the same.

Now, the NKJ version has a better translation for the verse. The verb “kathistatai” (make oneself) is not readily present in the English – the literal translation is “enemy of God is made” or thereabouts. The NKJ comes close. When someone becomes passionate with the world, and friends with the world (i.e. the picture could be that one fornicates with the world since they profess to be Christians), that which is in complete contrast to God, they “become” an enemy of God. Those who are friends of the world have been enticed by lusts which then (in the physical body) fornicate with the world in contrast to being married to God. They are adulteresses (a word that is a Greek vulgarism) who need to repent. They have the world, the lusts (sinful nature), and (in verse 7) the devil to contend with.

In keeping in step with James’ interesting approach to the whole letter (he is a Jew who is writing in refined Greek using OT Jewish ideas and phrases to speak to Hellenized Jews dispersed throughout a Roman world!) he seems to be alluding to the OT idea of Israel being married to God, and when Israel followed false gods (or the world) they became adulteresses. James has packed this verse not only with a picture of marriage, but one which is akin to Old Testament times. The clue in on this is the case of the feminine noun “adulteresses” which is in the vocative case. Vocative means that James is addressing someone specifically – i.e. adulteresses. But the word “adulteresses” does not mean much unless there is a previous idea or concept associated to the word “adulteresses” since he is not speaking of actual, physical adultery. Speaking to scattered Jews across the Roman world, those who would have read the letter would have been immediately cast back in time to the warnings of the prophets by his imagery. The associated indication is the Jewish idea of adultery and how that affected their relationship with God; i.e. Old Testament Israel (Jewish people) committing spiritual adultery against God. Such actions turn God’s anger against such people since He is jealous (v. 5) Martin explains this in a helpful manner, “There is nothing in the context to suggest that the literal sin of adultery was a problem in James’ church. It is very likely that the text has the OT idea in view that God is married to his people and that this bride has proven unfaithful. The covenant relationship between Israel and Yahweh is frequently portrayed in terms of a marital imagery (Isa 54:1–6; Jer 2:2). The nation’s unfaithfulness is condemned by the prophets (Jer 3:7–10, 20; 13:27; Isa 1:21; 50:1; 54:1–6; 57:3; Ezek 16:23–26, 38; 23:45), especially so in Hosea (chaps. 1–3; 9:1). Jesus compared Israel to an “adulterous generation” (Matt 12:39; 16:4; Mark 8:38) and Paul employed the imagery of bride-bridegroom in his pastoral thinking (Rom 7:3–4; 2 Cor 11:1–2; cf. Eph 5:22–23; also see Rev 19:7; 21:9: see R. A. Batey, New Testament Nuptial Imagery [Leiden: Brill, 1971]). This sin of “adultery” is tantamount to apostasy. No room for compromise is permitted, as James concludes in the final sentence of the verse: “Anyone who is determined to be the world’s friend sets himself at enmity (lit., ‘as an enemy’) with God.” The resulting friendship with the world stems from a deliberate (Adamson, 170; an act of “will with premeditation,” so too Hort) choice to do so (the verb boulhqh`/ boulaythay implies this). Those who go this way “constitute themselves” (kaqivstatai; see 3:6) as opponents of God. Not that they intend to fall away from God; but rather James is pointing out that such worldly behavior borders seriously on apostasy. He is suggesting that some of the readers do not appreciate that their deliberate choice to befriend the world is actually an action that sets them against God. So he has to summon them to repentance. Indirectly, then, and by contrast they are compared to Abraham, the friend of God (2:23). For the latter was justified by his works expressing faith, while the former are condemned because of their evil works (3:14–16). At the final judgment Abraham’s life of faith will be pronounced righteous because he demonstrated it through deeds pleasing to God; but at the same judgment those who fail to honor God by their works will find no mercy (cf. 2:13). While James seems to be suggesting that the Christians of 4:4 are not without hope (though woefully misguided), he is quite clear when he says that their present conduct is deplorable and ranks them with the ungodly.”[15]

The Greek phrases “friendship with the world” and “enmity with God” are both genitives which mean James is drawing a very sharp line and contrast between the two. You could figuratively explain it this way: “You adulterous people! You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that fornicating with the world makes you adulteresses and in direct opposition with the God you say you are married to? Why would you desire to worship the great idol of the world? When you are enticed by your passions, and follow the way of the world, that places you in opposition to everything that God is about! You have allowed your passions and your body to overrule your profession of marriage to Him! How could you let a thing like that happen in light of everything I have said to you about how good God is to his people?” Interesting enough, James does not get down onto a personal level, but keeps very general with his audience, though targeting specific sins for the whole community of professing believers. Gills says, “an immoderate love for the good things of the world, and a prevailing desire after the evil things of it, and a delight in the company and conversation of the men of the world, and a conformity to, and compliance with, the sinful manners and customs of the world, are so many declarations of war with God, and acts of hostility upon him; and show the enmity of the mind against him, and must be highly displeasing to him, and resented by him: whoever is in league with the one must be an enemy to the other; God and mammon cannot be loved and served by the same persons, at the same time; the one will be loved, and the other hated; the one will be attended to, and the other neglected: this may be known both from reason and from Scripture, particularly from (Matthew 6:24).”[16]

The second half of the verse “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” is the Jewish repetition – the exclamation point. He has already asked the question “do you not know…” now he is giving the emphasis. All those who determine to be friends with the world, to be on good terms with the world, does not show that God hates them, but that they hate God; just as an adulteress demonstrates that she hates their husband. Burdick explains this well when he sums it all up, “Having identified the source of the bitter fighting as being the desire for pleasure (4:1-3), James next rebukes his readers for spiritual unfaithfulness (4:4-6). The noun translated “adulterous people” is feminine, meaning “adulteresses.” The people of God in the OT are considered the wife of the Lord (Jer 31:32), and in the NT, the bride of Christ (Eph 5:23-32). It is reasonable, therefore, to understand “adulteress” as a figure of speech for spiritual unfaithfulness. It is a blunt and shocking word, intended to jar the reader and awaken him to his true spiritual condition. The concept of spiritual adultery was no doubt taken from the OT (cf. Hos 2:2-5; 3:1-5, 9:1). For the believer, however, there are two objects for affection: the world and God and these two are direct opposites. James uses the word kosmos (“world”), as do Paul and John, to refer to the system of evil controlled by Satan. It includes all that is wicked and opposed to God on this earth. James is thinking especially of pleasures that lure men’s hearts from God. By its very nature, then, “friendship with the world is hatred toward God.” To have a warm, familiar attitude toward this evil world is to be on good terms with God’s enemy. It is to adopt the world’s set of values and want what the world wants instead of choosing according to divine standards. The person who deliberately “chooses [boulethe] to be a friend of the world” by that choice “becomes an enemy of God.”[17]

So, here we have the Christian and the world in stark contrast. As Owen sums this up for us, “The world is also a professed enemy of the kingdom of Christ, John 15:18. In the things of it, the men of it, the rule of it, it sets itself against the work of the Lord Christ on his throne. The things of it, as under the curse and subject to vanity, are suited to alienate the hearts of men from Christ, and so act an enmity against him, James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17; 1 Timothy 6:9, 10; Matthew 13:22. The men of the world act the same part, Matthew 10:22, 24:9. By examples, by temptations, by reproaches, by persecutions, by allurements, they make it their business to oppose the kingdom of Christ. But to that end, [that all things may be under his feet], is the rule of it for the most part directed or overruled, 1 Corinthians 15:24, 25.”[18] What then can we say in conclusion about the manner of Christian disciples in the world? We obviously know such a worldliness is destructive to good stewardship. If we love the world, we are not thinking the way God thinks about His material possessions which He has freely given to us as “good” stewards. So what shall we say?

He are some biblical thoughts on “disciples” and the “world” – think through these: It is interesting to note that the wilderness temptation of our Lord surrounded materialism. Satan tempts Jesus by a demonstration of gaining “the world.” Matthew 4:8, “Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.”

The world (sinful humanity) seeks after sin, Luke 12:29-30, “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.”

The apostles were not to be taken out of the world, but preserved from the world, John 17:11, “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.”

Christians are delivered from the manner in which the world acts and lives, 1 Cor. 2:12, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”

Christians use to be in bondage to the world, but they are not any longer since they are in Christ, Gal. 4:3, “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.”

Christians are dead to the world, Gal. 6:3, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Christians are not on good terms with the world, as our texts says in James 4:4.

Christians are delivered from the pollutions of the world, 2 Peter 2:20, “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.

Christians do not love the world at all. If they do, then they hate God and the Father’s love is not in them, 1 John 2:15.

Christians are hated by the world, 1 John 3:13, “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.

Christians live in direct contrast to the world, 1 John 4:5, “They [the wicked] are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.

Christians overcome the temptation and allurements of this world, 1 John 5:5, “Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Hopefully, in this brief introduction to two Scriptures on the idea contrasting the Christian and the world, that you have believed my point. This was not an exercise in grammar and syntax. If you love the world, you can completely forget about good stewardship. That is not the issue for you. If you love the world, you need to understand that you are not even a Christian! You should first repent and believe the Gospel, and then think about stewardship at a later time. John and James were not bluffing. The Father does not love those who love the world, and the things in the world, and consequently, they hate the Father. But in the case of those of you who claim Christ as Savior and Lord, without the stark contrast, the regenerative difference between a Christian and the world system, true stewardship will never happen. Now, it is true that Christians can sin by accepting some form of worldliness that, after it is pointed out to them, they will repent of it. Sometimes materialism, a nice car, fancy clothes, a large savings account, or the like may capture them like a hunter waiting silently for a deer to pass by. But God says once such a temptation is settled, and once the Christian gives into the satisfaction of such materialism, he has far surpassed the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and has fallen into the pride of life. This is where they make themselves enemies of God. Remember, they make themselves enemies. They prove they are enemies, and not friend with God because they love the world. Self-examination is in order for us all!

Until Christians reject the world, there will never be room for Christian stewardship. That is why I believe stewardship is either theologically butchered by marketing ploys and “get rich quick” schemes, or it is simply never taught. Networks like Trinity Broadcasting have warped stewardship into a “give and get” “Word Faith” fiasco. The have absolutely no clue what they are doing. Give me money and be good stewards and you will get ten-fold back. They have taken the world and incorporated it into their message and have turned themselves and their follows into sons of hell. Christians in orthodox churches are even beginning to think in these ways. “Maybe if I give more God will bless me?” This is a backwards and convoluted manner of thinking about stewardship. Most of the time the church simply has a very skewed view of what money is all about. But the world has a huge influence on the church in this regard. The age of media has allowed huge amounts of information, videos, commercials, programming and the like, which revolves around materialism and money, to infiltrate the 21st century church in a way that has caused real stewardship to be all but lost. It is lost because Christians are spending too much time at the movies instead of in their Bibles. There is a huge need for reformation in this regard. Reform the mind away from and out of the world, and the Christian will then begin to have the proper foundation to tackle Christian stewardship principles. If this does not happen, then tithing will stay at an all time low, and basics giving within the church will be of drudgery and not of cheerfulness. Because we have a wrong view of the world, we have a wrong view about materialism. Because we have a wrong view of materialism, we will never have a right view of stewardship in the manner in which God has revealed in His word. Is there a right view of “materialism.” Yes, actually, there is. It is God’s view in the Bible about wealth, money, property, time; in a word, stewardship. Let us cast off the world and cling to Christ and then, and only then, we shall begin to think through what Biblical stewardship is all about.


[1] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 51: 1, 2, 3 John, (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publisher) 1998.

[2] A.E. Brooke, International Critical Commentary on the NT, Page 49.

[3] I. Howard Marshall, NICNT

[4] Augustine, Lectures on Tractates on St. John, Tractate 87

[5] John Calvin, Commentary on 1 John

[6] Jonathan Edwards, Works, Misc. Discourses, Men Naturally are God’s Enemies, Section 3

[7] John Owen, Works of Owen, Volume 9

[8] John Owen, Works of Owen, Volume 7

[9] AW Pink, A Fourfold Salvation, Page 9

[10] John Gill, Complete Body of Divinity, Page 700

[11] Glen Barker, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Letters of John

[12] Peter H. Davids, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, James, Page 160.

[13] Jonathan Edwards, Works, Volume 4, Page 1016, Ages Software.

[14] Inferno., vii., 12.

[15] Ralph Martin, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 48, James

[16] John Gill, Exposition on James, Page 63.

[17] Donald W. Burdick, Expositor’s Bible Commentary on James

[18] John Owen, Works, Volume 19, Page 277.

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