When I was in college, I spent my winters coaching middle school basketball. To this day, I still consider that to be one of the most fun experiences of my life. The girls brought constant laughter while simultaneously making me want to pull my hair out. For instance, no matter how many times I reminded them which basket was ours during a game, it was nearly inevitable that someone would take off on a fast break toward the wrong goal. Despite the hours we spent practicing layups, they rarely made the shot and we were able to regroup.
Although the girls should’ve known better, I was always aware that their mistakes were honest. No one ever tried to help the other team score. As stressful as their misguided drives were, my reaction would’ve been much different had I believed they were intentionally playing for our opponents.
In James 4, the impassioned writer had strong words for his Christian audience. He asserted that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” and added that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). The disciple John had a similar message: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
It’s important to note that neither James nor John condemned interaction with unbelievers. John’s gospel recounts many instances of Jesus ministering to those who had not placed their faith in Him. In fact, John wrote that Jesus’ purpose in coming to the world was not for condemnation, but salvation.
What both writers denounced was behaving like the world, or in James’ words, being stained by it (James 1:27). The ESV Study Bible explains that John “warns against devotion to a world system that is opposed to God”. In other words, they cautioned against playing for the wrong team.
As I mentioned, the girls I coached usually made mistakes out of ignorance, and I think many of us do the same in our Christian lives. We don’t deliberately align ourselves with God’s enemies. More often, our values begin to resemble the world’s and before we know it, we’re racing toward the wrong goal.
In context, James was rebuking the “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition” that catalyzed “disorder and every vile practice” among this particular Christian community (James 3:14, 16). Obsessive self-interest, said James, is contrary to the way of Jesus and is instead “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:15).
When we adopt the world’s “it’s all about me” mentality, our goals become indistinguishable from theirs. Instead of seeking first the kingdom of God, we pursue glory for ourselves in the form of power, wealth, and the like. And if we’re not out for the good of God’s kingdom, well, we’re acting like His enemies.
Don’t let the busyness of life keep you from noticing where you’re headed. Are you tearing down the path of selfish ambition or striving to see God glorified? If, like me, you find yourself vying for worldly goals, it’s not too late to turn around. Rest assured our God will win in decisive fashion, and when the final buzzer sounds, we won’t regret having spent ourselves for His glory instead of our own.