“Don’t you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God.”

James 4:4

I read this verse last week for my previous blog post, and though I focused the blog on a different aspect of the chapter’s message, this verse has stuck with me, and I have been thinking about it lately. It is a very strong statement. A rather jarring and uncomfortable statement if you really think about it. I mean, I generally like life in this world. I like where I live, I love nature, I love people. I like to eat great food and when I was younger and had more freedom, I loved to travel and see different cultures and famous landmarks. I like this world. I like America. I am proud of my country. We are not perfect, but I am proud to be a citizen here and I know how fortunate I am to live here, compared to many other places in the world, as far as safety and freedom and general ease of life goes. Does that make me a friend with this world? If so, how am I then an enemy with God?

What does it mean to be a friend of God? When I get beyond my initial shock and aversion to that statement, and look at what the Bible says, I realize that liking where you live and being in awe of the natural splendors and man-made feats of engineering brilliance, that being thankful for freedom and safety, is not really what the Bible is talking about in friendship with the world versus friendship with God. 

Because when I look beyond the surface of things, and into the grimy cities and villages around the world, and the grimy hearts that inhabit them, I do not always like so much what I see. Because when I look beyond the photographs and into the faces, I see heartbreak and betrayal, violence and murder, addiction, and an increasing inability to be faithful to anything or anyone. This is the affect of sin. The beauty I see in people, giving hearts, hope, selflessness, joy despite poor circumstances… these things are the affect of God in the world – this is where the true beauty of the world lies, but it is a beauty that is founded in heaven. It is heaven in people’s hearts, whether or not they know it.  

When the Bible talks about “the world” it usually means not the earth, but the spiritual realities of the world, and the fact that until Christ’s return, the world is still basically under the rulership of the Enemy of God (Satan, the Devil, spiritual forces of darkness). Jesus has defeated the Enemy through his death and resurrection, but the war is still raging. There has been a decisive victory, but total victory is incomplete. The war is waged now heart for heart. We choose to live in God’s kingdom of light and love and freedom, or to live in the kingdom of this world, with it’s selfishness, darkness, hate and slavery.  

In this sense, I have no desire to be a friend of the world, just a friend to the people in it. 

But what does it mean to be a friend of God? 

God spoke to Moses as to a friend (Exodus 33:11). Abraham was called God’s friend (2 Chron 20:7). The Bible has quite a bit to say about how to be a true friend to another person. But how is one a friend of God? Song of Songs speaks of the lovers as friends, which carrying the metaphor over to God as the bridegroom and we are the bride, means we can be friends with God. In John 11, Lazarus is called Jesus’ friend. 

Probably the best section of scripture on this topic is in John 15:12-19

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other. If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.

I have heard the Christian life described this way, and I think I agree:

First, we are all Watchers, trying to decide if God is real, and if he is worth following. Next, on the Christian path, we become Believers in Jesus, and hopefully begin to not just live for ourselves, but accept that we are accountable to God as well, and that his plan is worth following. Third, we become Followers, which is where faith becomes active, and we do more than go to church on Sunday, but are actually involved in church and actively involved in some kind of discipleship and accountability to mentors and those around us. Fourth, as we grow in spiritual maturity, we become Servants, as we realize that Jesus was not just a leader, he was a servant to all, and so living as Christ means that we also humbly lay down our lives for others, and surrender our rights, as he did. Finally, we become Friends with God. This is a place of total life commitment, greater understanding of the Bible, a lifestyle and love for others that reflects Jesus, able to accept everyone and love everyone, and so lay down our lives for everyone, living entirely for Jesus instead of for self, and experiencing personal freedom that comes with that, as we live in the promises of God.

I think that description of friend of God does describe Moses and Abraham. I think it does describe the disciples, as we look at Acts and the later New Testament descriptions of their lives. They lived for God unhindered by any fear, worry, concerns about comfort in this life, or personal ambition. Sure, they weren’t perfect either. But the underlying flow and movement of their life reflects this description of Friendship in John 15, James 4, and what I’ve written above. 

I know someone who recently went through a pretty rough time in some relationships and hopes that had been dashed. As he was reeling from the blows, his mentor wisely asked him, “Are you following God because you want a better life? Or are you following God because you want to be his friend?”

To be a friend of God does not mean we will get a better life… at least not in this life. We will have an amazing life in the Life to Come! But in this world… being a friend of God will likely earn you hatred, discomfort, hard decisions and difficult stances, maybe even martyrdom. “You want only what will give you pleasure” says James 4:1-3. And that is what makes you an enemy of God. A friend of God is one who follows Jesus’ commands, who is a Disciple, but more than that… a Servant, but more than that… one who has BEEN WITH JESUS, learned from him, and given all for him. If your aim is just to enjoy life, you can’t be a friend of God. Because life with God is about enjoying HIM. Knowing Him. Making Him known.

Am I a Friend of God? I don’t suppose I can honestly answer that question. I suppose, just as I can’t rightly judge the hearts of others, I often can’t rightly judge my own heart. But it is not the title that is important. It is the journey. And I know, on my journey, that is what I am seeking. And I know I am getting closer.