James 4:1-7a – Worldliness

James 4:1–6 (ESV) — 1 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.” 7a Submit yourselves therefore to God.

James is on a mission.
  • His readers’ personal lives and relationships are corrupted by worldliness.
  • friendship with the world” (vs. 4)
  • a friend of the world” (vs. 4)
  • They have befriended the world and have put themselves in opposition to God.
  • But James wants us to know that the Christian life is to be lived in humility and submission to God.

We will try and understand James’ insights into worldliness from the following two perspectives:
  • 1) Ruin through Worldliness
    • Evidence of
    • Source of
    • Stain of
    • Why it Matters for Us
  • 2) Freedom from Worldliness


Evidence of Worldliness:
James mentions at least 3 behaviors that reveal the worldliness of his readers.

1) Quarrels & Fights – “what causes quarrels” & “what causes fights” (vs. 1); “you fight and quarrel” (vs. 2)
  • These are heated disputes between individuals.
  • And in fact “quarrels” (Greek polemeo) is military language that conjures up imagery of war, battles and physical hostility.
  • “James is describing a condition where a group has come to a state of war, with open skirmishes breaking out among people. Sides have been chosen, positions have been dug in, and anyone seeking to be neutral is looked on with suspicion by both sides” – David Nystrom.

2) Murder – “so you murder” (vs. 2)
  • Some commentators hold out the possibility that some in the church actually did murder.
  • But at the very least, James is using “murder” as “hyperbole for bitter hatred” – David Nystrom.
  • 1 John 3:15 (ESV) — 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

3) Wrong Prayer – “you ask wrongly” (vs. 3)
  • James makes the point that even their prayers are worldly.
  • And in some cases they aren’t praying at all – “You do not have, because you do not ask” (vs. 2).
  • And when they are praying, they are asking for things to satisfy their worldly passions.
  • Peter Davids says, “This is not the trusting child asking for a meal, but the greedy child asking for the best piece or the spoiled child demanding his or her own way.”

Be Careful:
James cites quarrels and fights, hate, and lack of or selfish prayer as the evidence for the worldliness of his readers.
  • Now, all of us have to be careful at this point not to “check out”.
  • We might be saying to ourselves, “I am not fighting, quarrelling, hating or murdering anybody”.

But, James has something to say to the rest of us too.
  • We will see why soon enough.

Source of Worldliness:
  • In verse 1, James essentially asks, “What causes worldliness among you?”
  • His answer, “your passions are at war within you” (vs. 1)
  • To find out what he means, we will deal with both parts of James’ answer – “your passions” and “at war within you”.

“Your passions”:
In Greek, “passions” in verse 1 is actually a phrase – “ek ho hedone”.
  • Ek ho” is simply the idea of “the source from which something flows” – BDAG
  • Hedone” (passions) simply means “pleasure, delight, enjoyment” – BDAG.

So, worldliness flows out of ones love of pleasure.
  • But it is both more and worse than this.

With James and the NT, worldly “passions” have a decidedly negative connotation:
  • A “desire for pleasure” that “work[s] against God and drag[s] us back into evil” – TDNT
  • Acting in opposition to God’s will, in favor of our desire for pleasure – TDNT.

The NT has many texts that convey this negative connotation; here are a few:
  • Being lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” – 2 Timothy 3:4 (ESV)
  • Being “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” – Luke 8:14 (ESV)
  • The process where “the desires for other things enter in and choke the word” – Mark 4:19 (ESV)

So, worldliness flows out of a desire for pleasure acting in opposition to God’s will.
  • But once again, there is more and it is worse than even this.
  • We have to contend with the “at war” part of James’ words.

“At war within you”
In Greek, the phrase “at war” means to be “engaged” or “battling” against something.
  • So what James is telling us is that this is no passive or neutral stance.
  • Our passions are actively “battling” to be satisfied over against God’s will for us.

Definition Summary:
So when James speaks of “your passions are at war within you” he is saying:
  • Worldliness flows out of a desire for pleasure acting in opposition to God’s will.
  • And the desire for pleasure is actively fighting to be satisfied.

And how does James know that the selfish desire for pleasure is fighting for satisfaction?

He knows because the quarreling, fighting, hate and selfish prayer show him that:
  • They are desiring – “you desire and do not have” (vs. 2)
  • They are coveting – “you covet and cannot obtain” (vs. 2)
  • The very things one would expect to see.
  • The worldly desire and covet.
  • The desiring and coveting are the battling for satisfaction.

So what is the problem with worldliness?
  • James is clear that the problems are devastating.

Stain of Worldliness (James 1:27):
James bluntly tells us in verse 4 that worldliness positions you at odds with God:
  • adulterous people
    • Allusion to OT language referring to Israel’s unfaithfulness.
    • This language carries with it the idea of breaking the First Commandment.
  • enmity with God
    • Enmity toward God is to be hostile in actions towards God.
    • It is the act of disobedience.
  • an enemy of God
    • This suggests the idea of hating God – BDAG.
    • John 14:15 (ESV) — 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

All of these should disavow us of any notion of neutrality before God.
  • Sin is an offense to a holy God and this language conveys just how offensive it is.

Paul wholeheartedly agrees with James:
  • Romans 8:7 (ESV) — 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
  • Worldliness is creaturely rebellion against the Creator.
  • How ridiculous is that?

Why it Matters for Us:
I suggested at the beginning of this section that James’ words are relevant to us even, if outwardly, we don’t resemble James’ readers.

Here is why:
  • The outward actions James identified in his readers are ultimately not the problem.

The problem is the worldliness itself that resides in our flesh:
  • We all have selfish pleasures that battle within us
  • We all desire certain things or outcomes
  • We all covet things or circumstances

The fighting and quarrelling, as we saw, are merely the evidence of worldliness.
  • BUT – The evidence of your worldliness may look much different.
  • You are responsible before God to ask, “What does my worldliness look like?”

A few quick examples of possible evidence for our worldliness can be found in:
  • Lack of a continual Spiritual Growing and Maturation
    • Those caught up in worldliness do “not mature” – Luke 8:14 (ESV)
  • Lack of Love and Appetite for God’s Word.
    • Worldliness will “choke the word” of God – Mark 4:19 (ESV)

With respect to number two, a huge red flag is having no interest in theology and doctrine.
  • These are Scripture’s revelation of the deep things of God.
  • The details of who He is, what He has done, and how it all fits together.

Having little interest in these is evidence of worldliness choking the word.
  • It is certainly not godliness that delights in ignorance of the deep things of God!

Albert Mohler speaks to this symptom of worldliness as follows:
“How can so many of today’s churches demonstrate what can only be described as an impatience with the Word of God? The biblical formula is clear: the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster, disobedience, and death. God rescues his church from error, preserves his church in truth, and propels his church in witness only by his Word…In the end, an impatience with the Word of God can be explained only by an impatience with God.”
Compare to Jeremiah:
  • Jeremiah 15:16 (ESV) — 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.

We need to know:
"The more you focus on something — whether that's math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain” – Upenn Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg.
This is why Scripture is so adamant that we renew the mind and deny the self.
  • Romans 12:2 (ESV) — 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • Colossians 3:2 (ESV) — 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
  • Colossians 3:10 (ESV) — 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
  • Hosea 4:6 (ESV) — 6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me.
  • Titus 2:11–12 (ESV) — 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,
  • James 1:27 (ESV) — 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
  • 1 Peter 1:14–16 (ESV) — 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
  • 1 Peter 4:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
  • 1 John 2:15 (ESV) — 15 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.


Does James give any insight into how we battle back against worldliness?

He mentions three things in our text (much more will be said of these things next week):
  • Grace of God
  • Humility
  • Submission to God

Humility positions us under God and His grace and prepares us to submit to the word and will of God.
  • Without humility there can be no submissive posture before God.
  • It is for this reason John the Baptist tells us –
  • John 3:30 (ESV) — 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Too many flavors of worldliness come from a lack of humility and much too high of an opinion of oneself.
  • We think we are a reliable source for:
    • What we need
    • What is best for us
    • What is important
    • How God could best glorify Himself in our lives
    • What circumstances best suit our spiritual development

These are dangerous things to think.
  • We, for example, would not naturally think that participation in the sufferings of Christ is beneficial.
  • Paul would disagree!

I will end with a great quote from G.K. Chesterton on humility:
“A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert--himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt--the Divine Reason.”
Do you doubt the necessity of diving into the deep things of God’s word – Divine Reason?
  • If so, you have much too high an opinion of yourself.

Final Thought:
From a humble and submissive posture, we can we surrender ourselves, our ideas, our desires, our passions, our expectations, our circumstances.
  • Knowing that what God gives back to us is the best for us!
  • And in so doing, we can begin to defeat the worldliness that pervades our Christian walk.