Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 3:13-4:10
Dear friends of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do not be delusional: there is no middle ground. There is no neutrality. When it comes to being friends with the world or friends with God, it is one or the other. It cannot be both. James writes, “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.” (4:4)
Leading up to the year 250, roughly two centuries after the death and resurrection of Christ, Christians in general did not take these words of Scripture so seriously. Sure, they called themselves Christians, and they sometimes even met on Sunday mornings to hear God’s Word, but they were very friendly with the world. They spent the focus of their time, energy, and money on their friendship with the world. They became so immersed and friendly with the world that they started to act like the world. Many lived just like the rest of the world around them. They followed their passions and selfish ambitions instead of God’s Word. They married unbelievers and did not teach their children the faith. They lived very worldly, undisciplined lives, and the church was in a declining, almost slumbering state. Even the pastors and bishops were poor examples as they also chased after their selfish ambitions and neglected their duties of teaching and admonishing the people. They thought that as long as they were friends with God, it was fine that they were friends with the world.
Then, in the year 250, came the decree of the Roman Emperor Decius. All residents of the Empire were to sacrifice to the Roman gods before the magistrates of their communities. Emperor Decius saw this as good for the Empire. For the safety of the Empire, the Empire should be united. The way to have peace in the Roman Empire was to make sure that the people of the Empire were loyal to the state and to the gods of the state. Anyone who refused to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods risked torture and execution. The state declared open persecution on those who would not submit to and worship the Roman gods.
A great number of those in the church were not ready for this. Having the focus of their lives on earthly matters and friendship with the world, Christ’s Word had fallen by the wayside. Many who had been part of church assemblies sacrificed to the Roman gods to avoid persecution. Many others purchased certificates saying that they had sacrificed to the gods. Such a certificate would avoid having to actually perform the sacrifice, but nevertheless confessed the same thing – submission to the Roman gods and the rejection of God’s Word.
Multitudes of weak believers fell away. Others, who were never true believers but were merely in the outward fellowship of the church, rushed at the first chance to offer a sacrifice and thus disassociate themselves from Christianity. This was a dark, sad time for the church. So many people did not realize that friendship with the world is enmity with God; that by seeking to be friendly with the world they had actually abandoned God and made Him their enemy. Such people had already abandoned God before the persecution started, but it was not apparent since they continued in the outward fellowship of the church.
Here we are in the year 2015 and we find the church in a similar situation as she was some eighteen hundred years ago. Christians in general do not take the words of Scripture so seriously. Sure, many call themselves Christians, and they may even meet on Sunday mornings once in a while, but more than ever, many are being very friendly with the world – seeking the approval of the world, forgetting what Christian conduct is supposed to be because they are so immersed in the conduct of the world, marrying unbelievers, not teaching the faith to their children, and living worldly, undisciplined lives. The church is again in a declining, almost slumbering state. How many pastors and bishops today neglect their duties of teaching and admonishing because they don’t want people to be upset with them? Do we think that somehow we can be more successful than the early church in being friends with the world and friends with God?
We also are on the cusp of persecution, at least from all appearances. Two of the major federal political parties, the Liberals and the NDP, will not even allow candidates that are not in favour of the murder of the unborn. Christian bakers and photographers lose their livelihood because they refuse to cater to those who oppose God’s Word. Christian clerks are thrown in jail for not issuing marriage licences to those who God says cannot get married. How long until those who are faithful to God’s gift of marriage and children are thrown to the lions? And when that happens, will we be ready, or will our friendship with the world cause us to turn away?
We need to take an honest look at our lives. Are we getting too friendly with the world? What are we spending our time and money on? What ideals do we believe to be right – those in Scripture or those of our godless society? What are we showing by our actions to be important to us – earthly food or spiritual food? Will this congregation still exist here in this place ten years from now through our support or will we just pursue worldly passions and allow the church to close its doors? Friendship with the world is enmity with God. Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
But James provides the answer to our predicament. He tells us to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts (4:8), to be wretched and mourn and weep (4:9), and to humble ourselves (4:10). He is not telling us to become depressed and sad, he is telling us to mourn and weep over our sin, and to turn away from our sin. He is telling us to turn away from our friendship with the world.
James writes that God yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in you. God yearns for you. He longs for your soul. He has created you and made you His own in your Baptism, and He does not want to lose you to the world. Thus, He gives more grace (4:6). He gives more forgiveness. God longs for you and continually calls you back to your Baptism, to remind you that He made you His friend through Baptism. He reminds you of the cleansing you received in your Baptism. And He offers you the very body and blood of His Son to cleanse your hands and purify your hearts from sin and to give you life and salvation.
Because God yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in you, He continually pours out His forgiveness to you. Through His continual forgiveness to you, He changes your attitude towards Him, increasing your love for Him. He changes your heart to seek after heavenly things rather than earthly things. He reminds you that the world is passing away, along with its desires [1 Jn. 2:17]. God reminds you thus to seek first His kingdom, to desire above all to have a relationship with Him. And everything else that you need, all the lesser gifts, will be given you also [Mt. 6:33].
Besides, the world’s benefits are temporary. They are fleeting, vaunted pleasures. They are overhyped and oversold by the devil. The devil lies and tricks us into believing that what he offers is better than what God offers. But the world offers no contentment. Pursuit of gain or the passions of the world never satisfy. Friendship with the world always leaves us empty, searching for more.
On the other hand, the benefits of friendship with God are eternal. Not only do we have peace in this life knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we are in God’s good favour, but we also have the promise of eternal joy and happiness in the presence of God forever. God’s friendship is eternal and carries with it eternal benefits.
To understand the love and friendship of God toward you look to the cross. His love for you was there outpoured. Christ died on the cross to forgive the friendship you have shown to the world, and to forgive the times you have neglected His friendship. His friendship toward you was there proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, and the benefits of His death are yours. There is no greater love than that Jesus gave His life for you. There is no greater friendship that that which He has shown to you. So whenever the friendship of the world tempts you, look to the cross to understand real friendship. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.