Choosing Our Friends

Choosing Our Friends

When you think of church-goers, what image comes to mind? Now I realize that since everyone here is a church-goer, this may be a more difficult question to answer. But for those who perhaps came to Christian faith later in life, do you remember what you thought about when you heard someone say she or he was a “Christian”? What came to mind? What type of person is a “Christian”? Soon after I first came to a saving faith and knowledge in Jesus at the age of 18, someone close to me claimed I was now a “goody-two-shoes”—and we can certainly do worse than that as to what our reputation as believers is perceived to be. But ideally, when people think of Christians, what should come to mind are those characteristics and behaviors we find described for us in the Gospels that are exemplified in Jesus’ life. For Christians are those who have believed in, known, loved, and sought to be like him: Loving. Kind. Merciful. Compassionate. Truthful. Caring, to name but a few of Jesus’ many notable qualities.

This is how it should be. And in thinking about how believers ought to behave, we can better appreciate what James was up against in writing his letter for we find in our morning’s passage but a sampling of how these women and men, all claiming to be Christians; all claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ, were actually behaving. And it isn’t pretty for as read for us earlier the list of attributes and behaviors in this portion of James’ letter sound far more like the worst of those who don’t know Christ than the best of those of who do for the lives of some of these believers was characterized by:

Bitter envy

Selfish ambition


Every evil practice[1]






Wrong motives


Lack of faithfulness to God

Viewing God as their enemy

Viewing the world as their friend[3]


Again, the scandal is that James was writing to believers, to those who professed to be Jesus’ followers. Now this isn’t to say that all of the believers to whom James was writing were involved in all of these behaviors but there were enough who were that James felt it necessary to address these matters. These worldly behaviors were prominent enough in Christ’s church that James felt a need to correct them. This communion Sunday we are reminded by James why it is that we all need Jesus Christ. For apart from turning to Christ we become friends of the world, living according to its norms and values, rather than being friends of God and living according to his norms and values.

Now James placed what he had to say within the context of wisdom or of having good and sound judgment and actions as these are defined by God. Though not part of a passage we looked at, in the very first chapter of his letter James exhorted these believers, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”[5] Recall that when we were considering the life of Solomon, we saw how pleased God was that of all of the things Solomon could have requested of him when God offered, Solomon chose wisdom.[6] Well beginning with verse 13 of chapter 3 James asked these believers, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” What James states here is consistent with all that has preceded for although being a follower of Christ requires believing the right things about him, being a follower of Christ also requires living a godly lifestyle and having a godly attitude of the heart. We don’t get to choose between believing the right thing or living a godly lifestyle or having a godly heart-attitude. Being a follower of Christ requires all of the above—being all in—so that if we know Christ it will be evident by our good life and our good deeds humbly arising from good judgment grounded in knowing and rightly applying Scripture. For Scripture is the source of our wisdom whose source is none other than God himself.

Yet if we, even as believers, have befriended the world our alleged wisdom will be earthly, not heavenly. As stated in verses 14–16: “14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such ‘wisdom’—notice the quotations if you’re following along in your Bibles—does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” If verse 13 of chapter 3 introduced the good life as defined by God, verses 14–16 define the bad life as defined by him. The bad life can be recognized by boasting about bitter envy and selfish ambition. The bad life denies the truth. As such—and notice the strong language James used—the bad life is not only earthly; not only unspiritual; but also demonic. It’s demonic because such behavior is in keeping with that which is promoted by Satan, the prince of this world.[7] James goes on to generalize that “where you have envy and selfish ambition,” you will “find disorder and every evil practice.” Order, not disorder, should characterize the lives of God’s people. For, as Paul also teaches, “…God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.”[8] So whereas godly behavior is orderly, demonic behavior is disorderly and chaotic.

In contrast to demonic envy and selfish ambition, beginnning in verse 17 we’re provided with behavior that corresponds with friendship with God: “17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Returning to our earlier question, ideally these are the behaviors that would come to mind when we think about Christians. Followers of Christ should display a purity in their love. They should love peace over friction; they should be considerate and serving of others; they should extend mercy to others; they should be impartial and sincere. These good fruit, arising from hearts that have been changed by Christ, are in keeping with the list Paul provides in the fifth chapter of his letter to the church at Galatia, another church whose behavior fell far from the ideals presented in Scripture. As Paul states, “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”[9] As those who have been commissioned by Christ, Paul and James are in agreement about what the Scriptures teach. People who profess belief in Jesus Christ should evidence that profession of belief in how they live with and treat one another. There is no law against such behavior because such behavior fulfills the law’s command to love God with all of our hearts, souls, mind, and strength and each other as ourselves.[10] This is how we are led by and kept in step with Christ’s Holy Spirit. This is what holy behavior, pleasing to God, looks like in practice because it arises from our friendship, our relationship with God.

At the beginning of the fourth chapter James continued to address the poor behavior of these believers head-on—and “poor behavior” is an understatement for this behavior, as James has already noted, is demonic. It’s antithetical to how God would have us be and behave. Beginning with verse 1 we read, “1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” As we also saw last week, bad behavior comes down to a heart problem. We behave according to the orientation of our hearts.[11] In verse 14 of chapter 3 James had already indicated how some of these believers “harbor[ed] bitter envy and selfish ambition in [their] hearts.” As chapter 4 opens, the behaviors produced by these heart-sick believers should give us pause for

they were fighting and quarreling (verse 1);

they were coveting and killing (verse 2)—and as to this killing some have understood this to be literal. Yet given that these are believers, the “killing” here may perhaps be better understood as the killing described in Jesus’ teaching, namely that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause is subject to judgment;[12]

further, these believers’ coveting—yearning to possess—was leading to quarreling and fighting rather than turning to God (verse 2);

and when they did turn to God, they were asking him to meet their foolish pleasures (verse 3).

Again, these were believers who were behaving in this manner. So what these believers didn’t seem to understand is that being a follower of Christ requires not simply that we profess that Jesus is God but that that we allow that confession which opens the door to receiving his Holy Spirit, to change the very orientation of our hearts from being friends with the world to being friends with God. As Paul states in his letter to the Corinthians, “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”[13] God gives his Holy Spirit that we might better understand and follow his will and his ways.

Yet because these believers hung stubbornly to their former ways while professing to believe in God’s Christ, James called them in verse 4, an “adulterous people” because they didn’t seem to realize “that friendship with the world means enmity against God[. And] Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Now the word “adulterous” was being applied here not to human marriage but to the marriage that God’s people have ever had with him. As in the Old Testament Israel was God’s bride,[14] so in the New Testament the Church is Christ’s bride.[15] It should give us pause to realize the deep level of intimacy God desires to have with us. These believers were being adulterous in that they professed to follow God in Christ but were living no differently than those who didn’t. They were behaving, in James’ words, as though they were friends with the world and its values. Such friendship with ungodly values is nothing less that enmity or active opposition or hostility towards God. These believers could either choose to be a “friend of the world” or a friend of God. But if the former, then they needed to realize that such worldly friendship meant that they were, in fact, choosing to be “an enemy of God” no matter what they professed.

As James goes on to note in verse 5, “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?” This is in keeping with what God told Moses upon disclosing to him the Ten Commandments: “You shall not bow down to [other gods or images] or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God….”[16] The pride and independence from God that some of these believers were demonstrating by their actions was the very same kind of pride that Adam and Eve first expressed for rather than believe God and do as he said, they chose to believe the serpent and act according to what he said. To act in ways that are contrary to those God has disclosed is nothing less than demonic. Therefore if we profess faith in Christ, our attitude and actions should be in keeping with what that which God has disclosed in Scripture.

Now the good news is that we are all candidates for the grace that our gracious God loves to give, verse 6: “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’” James is quoting Proverbs 3 here, a proverb whose focus is wisdom.[17] And the ultimate wisdom is choosing friendship with God by believing that his way is the way we were created to live and acting accordingly. This is the definition of humility, valuing and acting upon what God has to say above and beyond what anyone else has to say. According to James, the way to humility is two-fold. First, as stated in verse 7, “Submit yourselves, then, to God.” The grace, the favor, that our gracious God loves to lavish on those who are his is ever at hand. All we need do is but submit, is turn away from the ways of world and turn towards his will and his ways. Second, verse 8, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” When tempted to consider and act upon desires that go contrary to God’s teaching, followers of Jesus are called to resist these temptations. As to temptation, two things to keep in mind are first, as Paul teaches, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”[18] So we should never assume that any temptation we’re faced with is beyond our control. Second, as Peter exhorts, we are to “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”[19] So not only are we tempted of our own desires, but Satan, our enemy, also seeks to lure us away from loving and following God. He seeks to devour and destroy us for he hates not only God but also hates those whom God has made in his image and is conforming into the image of his Son.[20] Now we have an example of how such resistance of the devil played out in the account of Jesus’ temptation by him in the wilderness:

When the devil tempted Jesus—who had fasted forty days and nights and was hungry,[21]—to turn stones into bread if he was the Son of God, Jesus answered him with Scripture;[22] When the devil tempted Jesus by misapplying Scripture,[23] Jesus responded with a proper application of Scripture.[24] And when the devil promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor if he bowed down and worshipped him,[25] Jesus yet again resisted him, sending him away and again quoting Scripture to him.[26] And what happened next? “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”[27] This is why James told these believers who weren’t resisting temptation but instead were yielding to such destructive behaviors: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

But fortunately the Christian life isn’t simply one of resisting temptation and doing what is right for we know that of our own desires and will power we are unable to do so. No, the Christian life is about having a relationship with the God who made us for himself and is with us each step of the way if we but turn to him. As James states in verse 8: “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Come near to God. This is how our hearts are changed—by responding to the Spirit he’s given and coming near to him not only when we’re tempted but at all times for God loves and cares for and desires us to draw closer to him.

As we consider the chaotic, demonic, destructive behavior that had come to characterize the lives of some of the believers to whom James was writing, rather than simply feel shock and horror—for given that they were believers, their behavior was shocking and horrifying—we should also remind ourselves that there but for God’s grace go I. We should never assume that we’re above such destructive behavior. We should never assume that we’re above succumbing to such temptation. And we should ever remember that such temptation and destructive behavior is why Jesus came.

As we turn to celebrate communion, let us remember that it’s because we’re unable, of our own volition, to become friends of God that Jesus Christ’s body was broken for us;

it’s because of our fallen nature that would rather be friends with the world and its values that Jesus Christ’s blood was shed for us.

For the only way that we, who apart from God’s favor and grace view him as our enemy, can seek him out as our friend is by the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank God for sacrificing himself;

This morning and always let us come near to him that we might know his coming near to us;

Let us confess our need and turn to him;

Let us seek to be friends of God knowing that he made us for a loving friendship with himself—and with each other as well.[28]

Let us pray.






[1] James 3:14, 16: 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth…. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

[2] James 4:1–3: 1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

[3] James 4:4: You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

[4] James 4:6b: God opposes the proud.

[5] James 1:5.

[6] Sermon preached on August 26, 2018, Choose Wisdom! On 1 Kings 2:10–12, 3:3–14.

[7] John 12:31: Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.; John 16:11 [speaking of the Holy Spirit’s work when he comes, including proving the world to be wrong]: about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.; 2 Corinthians 4:4: The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:33.

[9] Galatians 5:22–26. Contrast this list with the “fruit of the flesh” stated previous in Galatians 5:19–21: 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

[10] See, for example, Mark 12:28–31: 28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

[11] Luke 6:43–4543 No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. See parallel in Matthew 12:33–37:33 Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

[12] Matthew 5:21–22: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

[13] 1 Corinthians 2:12.

[14] See, for example, Isaiah 54:5: For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.; Jeremiah 3:6: During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.; Ezekiel 16:32: “‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband!; Hosea 9:1: Do not rejoice, Israel; do not be jubilant like the other nations. For you have been unfaithful to your God; you love the wages of a prostitute at every threshing floor.

[15] See, for example, Matthew 9:14–15: 14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.; 2 Corinthians 11:2: I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. Ephesians 5:25–27: 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansin her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

[16] Exodus 20:5a. See also Exodus 34:14: Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.; Deuteronomy 4:24: For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

[17] Proverb 3:34. The apostle Peter also references this verse in 1 Peter 5:5: In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

[18] 1 Corinthians 10:13.

[19] 1 Peter 5:8–9. Paul also addresses the importance of resisting the devil in Ephesians 6:10–18: 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

[20] Romans 8:28–29: 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

[21] Matthew 4:2: After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. See parallel in Luke 4:2.

[22] Matthew 4:3–4: 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” See parallel in Luke 4:3–4. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3: He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.


[23] Matthew 4:6: “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” See parallel in Luke 4:9–11. The devil was quoting Psalm 91:11–12: 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

[24] Matthew 4:7: Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” See parallel in Luke 4:12. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16:  Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.

[25] Matthew 4:8–9: 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” See parallel in Luke 4:5–7.

[26] Mathew 4: 10: Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” See parallel in Luke 4:8. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:13: Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.

[27] Matthew 4:11. See parallel in Luke 4:13.

[28] John 15:15–17: 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

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