It almost seems like we are back in Lent. In last week’s gospel after St. Peter’s beautiful and correct confession of Jesus: You are the Christ, Jesus tells the disciples that He must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. Today’s Gospel account, which is recorded in the next chapter of St. Mark’s gospel--after the account of Jesus’ transfiguration that great moment of glory in which Jesus let His divine glory and majesty shine through, after Jesus again shows His power over the devil casting a demon out of a boy--again reports: They went on from there and passed through Galilee. [Jesus] did not want anyone to know this, because He was teaching His disciples. He told them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. But three days after He is killed, He will rise.” Jesus was not preaching to the crowds but was alone with the disciples in order to teach them. And by staying on the move, it helped people from tracking them down. But what do we read here about the effect of Jesus’ teaching on the disciples? --But they did not understand the statement and were afraid to ask Him about it. So instead of pondering what Jesus was teaching them, what did they do? They instead argued who of them was the greatest. They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent, because on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. The disciples must have been embarrassed and avoided answering Jesus. Jesus lets them be embarrassed; He doesn’t force it out of them. As true God, Jesus, of course, knew that they were looking at and jockeying for positions of power, authority and greatness. While Jesus was busy with thoughts of saving sinful humanity by His suffering and death, the disciples were filled with thoughts for their own glory. So what does He do--again? Jesus subtly corrects His disciples, pointing out that great paradox: in the world, people are considered great and first when they have all sorts of people under them doing their bidding; but in the Church, in the household of God, it’s different--the humbler a person is and more willing to serve others, in faith, without thought of reward, the higher he stands. How different things are in God’s kingdom than in the world! How opposite and contrary they are! Is it any wonder that we Christians find our position so difficult--after all, we have the example of the world around us, and in us we have our natural inclinations that are directed by our own sinful nature; but then we also have the holy Law of God in Scripture and we have in us our new self/ the Christian that is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit that wants to do God’s will.
Is it really a great surprise that St. James writes in our text: don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God? As we examine our text, we will see that our friendship with God is exclusive, that is, that it is an either/ or--we can only be friends with God or with the world, not both; and then we will see that our friendship with God is humility based.
Notice how St. James begins our text--calling his hearers “adulterers.” Adulterers, don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Adultery is a very common Old Testament image for idolatry. The Lord had called His people to faith in Him, to love and serve Him alone. But they didn’t; they often served/added other gods. Isn’t the Lord very clear in the First Commandment--You shall have no other gods before Me? And doesn’t He give a wonderful commentary on it through the OT prophet St. Isaiah [42.8]: I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to graven images? What is adultery? If something is adulterated that means that it has been corrupted; something has been made impure by mixing something else in. Adultery applies to marriage--the marriage has been corrupted, made impure as something/ someone has been added that doesn’t belong there. Marriage is that life-long union of one man and one woman. Where adultery has been committed, that pure union has been broken as someone else has been added to what is properly that one flesh union of man and woman/ husband and wife.
How does Scripture describe the relationship between God/ Christ and His people, the Church? --As a marriage. St. Paul talks about man and woman coming together in marriage and says [Eph 5.32]: This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. The point? --Marriage is a picture of the relationship between God and His people/ Christ and His Church. Is it any wonder that marriage is under attack in our world today? Marriage is a good thing instituted by God before the fall into sin. That in itself is cause enough for the devil and his allies to hate and target marriage. But also, marriage is a picture of Christ and His Church. As man and woman live out their vocations of husband and wife, they are, in a weak and imperfect way to be sure, but they are an image and reminder to all who see them of Jesus and His Church. So now on the one hand you have couples “living together” in unrepented sin pretending to be married/ playing house but are not married--making a mockery of marriage, mocking that image of our Lord and His people; and on the other hand you have society and the government calling two men or two women living together in unrepented sin “marriage”. Again, destroying that image God has given us of His relationship with His people. With the destruction of marriage, you not only have the destruction of the foundation of society--which we are seeing the fruit of in our world today--but we are also losing that image of the relationship of Jesus and His Church/ God and His people. And most people are blindly accepting it. Certainly the devil is laughing with glee.
So, our text: Adulterers, don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Adultery is that image of unfaithfulness to God and of idolatry; and here that idolatry that St. James is calling out is the idol of “the world” and its ways.
What does St. James see and, if we are honest, what do we see in our lives so often? We want to be friends with the world; we want to be Christian but yet still also take part and enjoy the sinful pleasures and delights of the world around us; we want to “blend in” with the world. But what is that? Isn’t that spiritual adultery? Like adultery in a marriage, isn’t that adding someone else into what should be an exclusive relationship? This is what the adultery consists of: whoever wants to be a friend of the world. Being a friend of the world doesn’t just mean mere acquaintance but sharing everything. You can’t have it both ways: if we want to be friends with God, it is either/ or; it’s an exclusive relationship. Friendship with God means that we will have as our constant enemy the sinful world around us. Remember that Jesus called the devil [Jn 12.31] the ruler of this world. Trying to blend in with the world or to blend or adapt our faith with the ways of the world means being in league with the devil.
How different we are to be from the sinful world around us! Our friendship with God is an either/ or, never a both/ and--both God and the world. Because why? The two are opposed, as Jesus tells us [John 15.19]: If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Just like marriage calls us out of every other one flesh relationship other than with our spouse, so too our friendship with God calls us to exclusivity with Him. Our text is a powerful call to examine our hearts and lives. Let us repent as we see ourselves seeking friendship with the sinful world and its ways, as we see ourselves uncritically adopting the thoughts and attitudes of the sinful world around us. Let us instead strive to renounce what we have adopted from the world and build friendship with God, love and serve Him alone.
Not only is our friendship with God either/ or, that is, exclusive, but humility is at its foundation. This humility is something that the Holy Spirit works in us because without this humility we could not be friends with God. That we are humble and recognize and love God for who He is--the Almighty and our Savior--that’s the work of the Holy Spirit in us and it is a great grace. What glorious words of St. James: But He gives greater grace! That is why it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.” By the work of the Holy Spirit in the Law of God, we don’t rationalize away our sin, minimize it, seek to make it legal, etc. but we confess our sin and seek our Lord’s mercy and forgiveness; we strive by the Holy Spirit’s power to fight against that sin all the more. We are not too proud to say not only in church but daily and often, “I, a poor miserable sinner…” The proud think they have no need of God and His grace; the humble know and feel their sins and earnestly desire the Lord’s mercy and grace. How can the proud, who feel no need or love of God, seek His friendship; how can the humble, recognizing their sin and God’s mercy and grace not love Him and seek His friendship? To the humble, our Lord gives grace upon grace. By the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts He gives us grace for a life of good works; by His power and work we conquer our heart’s natural sinful pride and offer to the Lord a heart willing to hear and keep His word.
Here in humble obedience and obedient humility what do we do? So, submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Notice again, one cannot be friends with both God and the world or its ruler, the devil. It’s one or the other. We are in a conflict in which we are dealing with our eternal salvation. Without friendship with God and the humility that is at its foundation, there can be no salvation. This is why humility is vital and what does this humility consist of? --Submit yourselves to God. Submit--as the Lord teaches us, so we follow. That’s humility--not doing our own will guided by our sinful self and influenced by the world in league with the devil. Doing our own will--pride-- makes us our own god. Humility, placing our will under God’s, recognizes and confesses Him as God. And as we do that, we are opposing the devil. And as we hear, meditate upon and use our Lord’s word, there the Holy Spirit awakens in us new understanding, pleasure, piety and produces pure hearts and thoughts, lest the devil lead us into pride and sin.
Like the disciples, and in spite of the work of the Holy Spirit, we will sin. Our pride, our wanting to do our own sinful desires, will sadly, often, come to the fore in thought, word and deed. But when it does may our humility again also come to the fore. Our text: Come near to God, and He will come near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded people. Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be changed into mourning and your joy into gloom. In other words, repent. That’s humility! And what? God is our friend and as we go to Him in repentance, He will come to us in grace and blessing. Because we are in friendship with God, we are more firmly united with Him in faith and love and long to go to Him in repentance. Where we are rid of all pride and come to the Lord in broken and contrite heart, He will exalt us--forgive us our sins and accept us through Jesus’ merits. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. In fact, as Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross but was exalted by God, so Christians, sharing in His humility will be exalted in Jesus to whom we are united in baptism. What a glorious friendship we have with Him: it is exclusive and grounded on humility. INJ