“Friendship With the World” – What It Is and What It Isn’t

Does the Bible verse that warns against "friendship with the world" relate to being friends with non-Christians? I've heard it said many times that Christians need to be intentional about developing friendships with non-believers and resist the temptation to spend all their time with like-minded people in the "Christian ghetto." But James 4:4 says, "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." How is it possible to have friendships with non-Christian people and still be faithful to the teaching of this verse?

“Friendship with the world” (James 4:4) is not necessarily the same thing as friendship with non-Christians. In New Testament language, the Greek word kosmos (“world”) can signify several different things. It’s derived from a root that carries the basic meaning of order, organization, arrangement, or systematic harmony. The Bible regularly uses kosmos to refer to the world or the universe, not just in the sense of the earth or the physical creation, but also with the following meanings: 1) the human inhabitants of the world (Matthew 5:14; John 3:16); 2) worldly affairs or possessions (Matthew 16:25; Luke 9:25); and, most importantly, 3) the ungodly system of human life as it is lived in separation from God (John 7:17; James 3:6; 1 John 4:4). It’s this last definition that James has in mind when he writes that “friendship with the world is enmity to God.”

If you doubt this, we suggest you compare James 4:4 with what Paul has to say in 1 Corinthians 5:9-12:

I wrote you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?

In other words, Paul would never suggest that Christians cut off all relations with non-believers. He does, however, feel very strongly that we need to adopt a hard line with so-called brothers and sistersin Christ who indulge the flesh, take advantage of others, and generally conduct themselves according to “the ungodly system of life as it is lived in separation from God.” This, in our view, is what it really means to avoid “friendship with the world.”

If you have further questions or think it might be helpful to discuss these ideas at greater length, call our staff counselors.


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