A few years ago, I worked freelance for a horse-racing magazine.
After a few assignments, I realized there was more to horse-racing than meets the eye. “Harmless” and “fun-filled” activities alongside the horse races—like a family carnival for parents with young children, with “free” manicure and massage sessions—were not a simple means of keeping the family occupied. Instead, they were a way of tempting people to place more bets, where five bets would entitle one to redeem a manicure session.
I was disturbed to discover the 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.
Eventually, 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 “adulterous people”. 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. As we spend more time with unbelievers, we could develop an affection and appetite for ungodly attitudes and behavior.
However, this does not imply that we are 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
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.
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