Symptoms of Worldliness

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What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." James 4:1-6 (ESV)

It wouldn’t seem too much of a stretch to imagine a Christian church to be filled with members who actually FOLLOW the teachings of Jesus Christ.  James—the half-brother of Jesus—wrote this epistle to believers scattered abroad (James 1:1).  There is no specific church in mind here as James presents his teachings, unlike Paul’s books which were written for specific churches.  James uses the term “brethren” many times throughout his book.  When we get to James 4, however, it appears as though at least SOME of the professing Christians James is writing to aren’t acting Christ-like.  As we examine the first three verses, one might draw the conclusion that the people James is writing to are true Christians who are living carnal lives, but verse 4 presents with absolute clarity the REAL problem in these churches.  First we’ll look at what’s “wrong” with the behavior of these church members…

I.                    THE WRONG BEHAVIOR

The people James was writing to were apparently professing the name of Christ with their lips but their behavior is anything BUT Christian.  There were “quarrels” and “conflicts” among them that James had heard about.  Fights and quarrels are NEVER what God desires for His church…


A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  John 13:34-35 (ESV)


Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,  Phil 1:27 (ESV)

God desires LOVE.  The Greek word for “love” in John 13:35 is “agape,” which is the UNCONDITIONAL LOVE that is a crucial part of God’s character.  TRUE believers are to reflect this type of love onto other believers.  That wasn’t happening here.


Fighting over “who gets the most attention”….”who’s the most popular…”who looks better,” etc.  These are WORLDLY matters.

Fighting over “doctrine.”  Of course, none of this doctrine is ESSENTIAL doctrine, but rather NON-ESSENTIAL matters of no eternal consequence.  In these cases, the arguments really aren’t about DOCTRINE at all…but rather about who is “right” and who is “wrong.”  Again…SELF is the true motive here.

II.                  THE WRONG DESIRE

What is causing these “fights” and “quarrels” among church members?  What ALWAYS causes fights and quarrels among people?  Our own SELFISH DESIRES, which James calls “pleasures.”

Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  James 4:1 (ESV)

The Greek word for “pleasures” is where we get the term “hedonism,” which is an extreme form of self-love.  The dictionary defines “hedonism” as “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good.”  The thirst for sensual pleasure is so strong that every other concern is neglected.  Ever heard of a “Christian hedonist?”  IS there such a thing?  It gets worse…

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.  James 4:2 (ESV)

Apparently, these “fights” and quarrels” were such to the degree that people were committing murder.  Not just the “murder” of HATRED…

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  1 John 3:15 (ESV)

…but also the PHYSICAL act of murdering was also taking place.

You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. 

James 5:6 (ESV)

LUST was what was driving these people to both extreme emotions (hatred) and extreme actions (murder).  God has made provisions for EVERYTHING we could ever need.  LUST (or GREED, or COVETOUSNESS) has NO place among the children of God.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.  Eph 5:3 (ESV)

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Col 3:5 (ESV)

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.  2 Tim 2:22 (ESV)

The TRAP of envy is that an envious person will NEVER have enough to be satisfied.

You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.  James 4:2 (ESV)

Those who are continually envious of the possessions of others “cannot obtain” because they’re not satisfied with what the LORD has allowed them to have.  The man obsessed with accumulating wealth will never “have enough” money.  The celebrity athlete who is obsessed with trophies and statistics will NEVER have enough accomplishments to satisfy him.  The envious person isn’t GRATEFUL or APPRECIATIVE for what they DO have…if they were grateful, appreciative, and content, then they wouldn’t be envious.

You do not have, because you do not ask.  James 4:2 (ESV)

Why would an envious person ask ANYTHING of the LORD in faith?

1.)    Envy shows no contentment

2.)    Envy shows no gratitude

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  Heb 11:6 (ESV)

The “fights/arguments” that James is referring to was being caused by these envious, greedy people.

A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.  

Prov 28:25 (ESV)

III.                THE WRONG MOTIVE

The “wrong motive” of verse 3 seems obvious…SELF-GRATIFICATION…a.k.a. SELFISHNESS. 


You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

James 4:3 (ESV)

God isn’t some sort of celestial “Santa Claus”-type figure to whom one goes to when they want “STUFF.”  Our “passions” should not be our concern when we ask God for anything.  We have our own desires…and there is nothing inherently wrong with having desires (unless, of course, these desires are for something that violates the commands of God).  However, it is a WRONG motive to pray for what makes US happy.  Why?  James explains it within that short verse.

If we ask God for what makes us happy, then our primary motive is OUR HAPPINESS (or pleasure).

-          We ask for TIME, in order to spend that time on self-gratification

-          We ask for MONEY, in order to spend that on self-gratification

-          We ask for MATERIAL POSSESSIONS (insert your favorite gadget here) in order to use it for self-gratification

-          We ask for COMPANIONSHIP (boyfriend/girlfriend) in order to—you guessed it—give us self-gratification

The common thread?  SELF.  No matter WHAT we ask of God, our attitude in praying should be that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…

saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."  Luke 22:42 (ESV)

Also, look at the verse immediately following verse 42…

And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.  Luke 22:43 (ESV)

God ANSWERED the prayer of Jesus Christ on His terms.  God was not willing to “remove the cup” from His Son, but He DID reward His Son’s submission by ministering STRENGTH to Him via an angel from heaven.

So far, James has spoken about church members fighting, quarrelling, lusting, being selfish in their motives, and even MURDERING one another.  Does this type of behavior sound like that which fits the description of a born again Christian?


What is the UNDERLYING issue at hand here?  The answer is clearly given in James 4:4…

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  

James 4:4 (ESV)

The first question to consider is…”what does friendship with the world” mean?

The term “friendship” translates the Greek noun philia.  It’s verb form, phileo, is rendered “love” in many instances throughout the New Testament.

This verb, phileo, is even used by Christ to describe the Father’s love for the Son…

For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.  John 5:20 (ESV)

…it’s also used to describe the Son’s love for His elect…

So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill."  John 11:3 (ESV)

for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.  John 16:27 (ESV)

The Greek verb agape is also rendered as “love,” but this verb is stronger and carries the meaning of an UNCONDITIONAL love without limits.  “Phileo” carries the meaning of an “emotional.”  When James uses the noun philia, he is referring to an “INTENSE and DEEP AFFECTION for the evil world system” (taken from John MacArthur’s commentary on James).

Those who have a “friendship” with the world are EMOTIONALLY attached to…


-          Those ideas/opinions/lifestyles that exalt SELF at the expense of everything else


-          TV/Movies/Music/Plays that are used to PREACH the aforementioned worldly philosophies. 


-          A Christian should not deceive himself into thinking that he can form CLOSE, INTIMATE friendships with those who are lost without being affected.

Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals."

1 Cor 15:33 (ESV)

Just look at how Jesus explained the disciples’ relationship with the world…

 "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
19  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
20 Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.
22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.
23  Whoever hates me hates my Father also.  John 15:18-23 (ESV)

TRUE followers of Christ are not “friends” of the world.  Rather, they are HATED by the world.

What are the implications of being a “friend of the world,” then?  James calls such people “adulterous” in verse 4.

James’s Jewish readers would know exactly what he meant when he accused some of them of being “an adulterous people.”  The Old Testament contains MANY references of the spiritual adultery of Israel .  This particular verse is meant to draw a CLEAR LINE OF DELINIATION between the “wheat” (true followers of Jesus Christ) and the “tares” (false converts) in the church.  There is NO middle ground to run here…

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  

James 4:4 (ESV)

How could a TRUE Christian possibly be labeled an “enemy of God?”  TRUE Christians were AT ONE TIME “enemies of God,” but—praise God—by His mercy and grace, He rescued us from that precarious position.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  Romans 5:10 (ESV)

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him  Col 1:21-22 (ESV)

The term “enmity” used in James 4:4 also means “hostility.”  If “friendship with the world” truly is “HOSTILITY toward God,” then those “friends of the world” that James is referring to—even though they profess the name of Christ and even partake in corporal worship—cannot possibly be TRUE Christians.

When it comes a DEVOTION to God and a DEVOTION to the world, the Bible is clear…one CANNOT be devoted to both simultaneously.

-          An “enemy of God” has CLEARLY CHOSEN SIDES.  Neutrality is NOT an option!

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.  Matt 6:24 (ESV)

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.  

Matt 12:30 (ESV)

-          An “enemy of God” is under the control of the “spirit of the world.”  This “spirit” is DEFINITELY not the Holy Spirit!

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  1 Cor 2:12 (ESV)

-          Clearly, a “friend of the world” who is an “enemy of God” cannot possibly be saved.

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.  Matt 13:22 (ESV)

John is also crystal clear on where a TRUE Christians devotions are to lie…

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  1 John 2:15 (ESV)

A person who thinks they can be friends with the world AND have the love of God in him is a person who is DECEIVING himself.


For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire."  2 Peter 2:20-22 (ESV)

Make no mistake.  There are “friends of the world” who are within our church.  And the fact that these people may have their names on the roll of a local Bible-believing church will NOT help them when it comes time to face their Creator…

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  Phil 3:18-19 (ESV)

Ultimately, conflict arises where there are two diametrically opposed forces at work at the same place.  GOOD vs. EVIL.  ENEMIES of God vs. FRIENDS of God.

Church is defined as the “body of believers.”  A local church is—typically—a close-knit community.  People from the surrounding area gather together to worship together…minister to one another…serve one another.  Conflict within the world is something we hear about every day; just turn on the local/national news!  Conflict within the CHURCH is, unfortunately, nothing new, either.  James was dealing with it when he wrote his letter.

He recognized the symptoms:  fighting, arguing, lust, envy, murder

He gave the diagnosis: friendship with the world/hostility toward God

He then goes on to offer the CURE to this problem of lost people within the Christ’s church…


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