The Trial of Loyalty: Whose Side are You on?

Scriptures: James 4:1-10
by Jacob Abshire on January 24, 2020

Marvel stunned me with the third installment of the Captain America franchise. For eight long years, they established a real sense of love in my heart for the team of heroes everyone came to call The Avengers. Due to some political pressures, my beloved heroes stood, not side-by-side, but toe-to-toe. The movie was called “Civil War.” The marketing behind the movie asked the question, “Whose side are you on?” To be honest, I was torn.

Sadly, some professing Christians are torn when it comes to their loyalties. Scripture repeatedly asks us in one way or another, “Whose side are you on?” It does this as early as Genesis. In chapter 2, the first man and woman had to make the choice between God’s side and the serpent’s. In Deuteronomy, Moses outlines the consequences of the choice God gave the Israelites:

“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him” (Deut. 30:19–20)

Joshua, the successor of Moses, repeated this to the next generation of wayward and ever-wandering Isrealites by saying, “choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 23:15).

The call to sides is a recurring theme in the Bible. The books of wisdom lay out the path of life against the path of death. Maybe the most memorable instance of this came from the mouth of Christ, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Essentially, this is the call of the gospel message.

At face value, many happily choose the side of God, admitting an affinity to the church, to the Bible, and even to Jesus Christ and His gospel. Many self-identify as Christians or Christ followers. Many dedicate time and energy and finances to the church and missions. Sadly, however, there are still many who—underneath it all—remain loyal to the world with an undying devotion to its pleasures. And, when the going gets tough, they are torn between sides.

James, in his letter to the scattered church, draws the line between those who manifest a loyalty to God and those, who may profess to believe God, manifest a loyalty to the world who is ultimately at war with God (Ja. 1:22). As readers, our faith is put on trial. Where do our loyalties lie? Whose side are we on?

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! 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. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:1-10)

More Than a Friend

In order to grasp the main idea, we have to understand the meaning behind the word “friend” and navigate past all of the contemporary implications of the word. Friendship, biblically speaking, is more than a proverbial claim to some strangers you recently met online or followed in social media. In its various Greek forms, the word conveys a sense of deep affection and emotional attachment to something or someone. It is not meant to carry a romantic kind of passion, but it is often translated “love.” It means to communicate an affectionate attachment.

The root word is transliterated into our English vocabulary to be used in words like “philosophy,” which is the love of wisdom. One who is affectionately attached to the study of knowledge is often called a “philosopher.” Another word you might be familiar with is “philanthropy,” which is the the love of mankind. “Philharmonic” is the love for harmony. “Philography” is the love for autographs. (Who knew that was a thing!) Maybe the most familiar use of the word is “Philadelphia,” which is the city of brotherly love.

Simply put, the word “friend” in this passage refers to more than what we might expect. It involves a strong affectionate and emotional attachment with a deep and intimate longing to be involved in something. It is the difference between a “friend” and a “true friend” in today’s culture. One who shares common concerns, common interests, common objectives, and common enterprises is a friend.

A Bond of Affection

This is how the word is used in the New Testament. For example, when John bid Gaius farewell by saying, “Greet the friends, each by name,” he was acknowledging a special affection and attachment to those he had in mind (3 Jn. 15). Paul, when writing to Titus, ends his letter by saying, “Gree those who love us,” or those who demonstrate affectionate attachment to us (Tit. 3:15). He even encouraged the church members in Corinth to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor. 13:12), which is a sign of affectionate attachment.

However, perhaps the most definitive way the word is used is found in John’s gospel. Jesus, speaking to His disciples, says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Here, the term friend suggests a strong bond of intimacy with a connection to self-sacrifice. The next verse adds to this idea. “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” (Jn. 15:14) implying a strong bond of obedience.

Still speaking, Jesus adds, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I had made known to you” (Jn. 15:15). According to Christ, the servant isn’t privy to what the master is doing. He doesn’t know the secrets. He doesn’t have the inside scoop. Friends, on the other hand, are in the know. They are brought into the inner circle where intimacy exists. They have commonality and understanding with God. They share in his enterprises and interests.

In summary, a friend has an affectionate bond of intimacy, obedience, and knowledge. There is a shared cause, interest, enterprise, and objective. They are “attached at the hip” as some say. This concept of friendship is conceptualized in the Old Testament as primarily being a covenantal loyalty. It was a binding agreement between two people that involved complete devotion.

All of these things are wrapped up in the word “friend.” But, James is not using it in the way we might hope. He accuses his readers of being “adulterous people” by having “friendship with the world” instead of with God, which they profess (Ja. 4:4). This, my friend, is the thrust of the trial. 

Whose friend are you? Whose side are you on? Do you claim to have faith in God, but demonstrate a friendship with the world? Are you affectionately attached to earthly pleasures? Do you long to know and be known by the world? Where do your loyalties lie? This is the question that the Spirit of God is asking.

James has us to look at disloyalty to God in three parts. First, he diagnoses disloyalty by pointing to the symptom of conflict (Ja. 4:1-3). Second, he explores the serious dangers of disloyalty, which is to be an enemy of God (Ja. 4:4-6). Finally, he gives us clear steps to put to death disloyalty in order for us to become victors against worldliness. Are you ready to destroy disloyalty to God?

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