When a church considers a genuine engagement in the world through mission, critics will sometimes use James 4: 4 as a rebuke and say, “Friendship with the world is enmity toward God.” The interpretation usually taken is that we need to distance ourselves from people who don’t frequently go to church and protect ourselves from their influence. Another scriptural support for this mistaken notion is 2 Corinthians 6: 17, “’Come apart from their midst and be separate,’ says the LORD.”
In the epistle of James, particularly in chapter 4, ‘the world’ is used to describe not a geographical place, or socio-economic group but instead a mindset. To James, ‘the world’ is a value system of self indulgence, judgment, pride, and grasping; bigger, better, more, faster. These are all values that James refers to as ‘worldly.’
James describes a line of thinking from 4: 1 – 3 that is sinful, bitter, and foul. In verse 4 he rebukes, “don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?” (NASB). This sinful, bitter, and foul way of life is ‘friendship with the world’. It is not the world that we are warned to avoid, but a worldly-mindedness that puts our hearts in opposition to God’s desires for us.