A few years ago, I worked freelance for a horse-racing magazine.
Everything went well at the start, but after a few assignments, I realized there was more to horse-racing than simply which horse finishes first (pardon my naivety). My eyes were opened to the world of gambling where people would do just about anything for a chance to win more money. Organizers would attempt to increase the betting pool by conducting fun-filled activities alongside the horse races that seemed harmless on the onset—like a family carnival for parents with young children, with “free” manicure and massage sessions. However, it was not a simple means of keeping the kids occupied but rather a way of tempting people to place more bets, such as placing five bets would entitle one to redeem a manicure session.
I was disturbed to discover that beneath all the buzz lay a dark side that capitalized on the punters’ greed. Many would spend beyond what they could afford—often in four-figure amounts on each trip. Once, a woman told me that she had spent all her money and had no money left to go home.
This got me thinking. How could I, as a Christian, continue to work for the magazine when what it stood for clashed with the godly values that mattered to me? The Bible clearly calls us to be good stewards of money (Matthew 25:14-29) and to guard ourselves against greed and the love of money (Hebrews 13:5).
I made up my mind to quit because I did not want to place myself in a position where I could be influenced by gambling and compromise on my values. I was afraid that one day, I would also join them in placing a bet.
James points out this conflict of values, desires, and lifestyles between worldly people and God’s people in verse 4. He calls those who profess to be believers of God, but yet dally with the world as “adulterers”. He warns them against being unfaithful to God.
James also teaches us that friendship with the world makes us an enemy of God. In a friendship, there is a sharing and acceptance of each other’s values and beliefs. We may begin to become more like each other as we spend more time together. And there is a mutual trust which allows us to have a say and influence over each other’s life. As author Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Likewise, we will also develop an affection and appetite for ungodly attitudes and behavior if we allow ourselves to be influenced by and “be friends with” the world. That is when we would become enemies of God.
However, this does not imply that we are supposed to distance ourselves from everything that is in the world. Instead, we are called to be careful not to conform to what the world teaches us (Romans 12:2), but to set our minds on what is godly (Colossians 3:2).
We can do so by loosening our grip on money, choosing to live a simple life, and consistently giving to others.
God, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, demands our complete devotion to Him (v. 5). He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5), and He alone deserves our allegiance. In his commentary on James, Bible teacher Kent Hughes notes that jealousy is an essential element of true love. He says: “The Holy Spirit’s true love for us evokes a proper intolerance of straying affection. The personalness of this ought to steel us against wandering.”
It is not by our mere human effort, however, that we stay faithful to God. James assures us in verse 6 that God gives us more grace. He promises to help us in our weaknesses, obstacles, and challenges. This is especially so for those who are humble and who seek to love God wholeheartedly and submit to His ways.
We face an ongoing battle between pursuing the world’s interests and God’s. May we continue to take heart in God’s intense love for us and always choose Him over the world—no matter what it costs.
—Alvin Chia, Singapore
Questions for reflection
1. Is there anything in your life that can draw you away from God?
2. What can you do to avoid becoming a friend of the world?
Alvin Chia is always hungry. One of the things he cannot do while others easily can is to stop eating after a meal and stand still at a bus stop. But he is well aware that God is the only one who can truly satisfy him and cause him to be still. He used to be a sports journalist but he doesn’t exercise. No wonder he is no longer one now, so that he doesn’t have to live an inconsistent life.