Since apparently his readers did not understand what he was talking about James explains in even more detail why friendship with the world is hostility towards God. As James boils it down we see that the central issue is what do you desire? The word here that is translated “wishes” (βουληθῇ) really means to desire, or long after, or even prefer. Think about it again. “Therefore whoever desires/longs/prefers to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” They preferred earthly desires over God.
I want to make something very clear to you at the outset. As you read this passage I do not want you to think that the problem here was that these people desired their own pleasure. That was not the problem. The problem was that they tried to attain this pleasure through the wrong things. They sought satisfaction in worldly things, that were never meant to be satisfying, rather than finding satisfaction in God. C.S. Lewis wrote one of the best sermons ever written on this subject. The title of this sermon is “The Weight of Glory. ” Let me give you a short quote from the introduction of this sermon that sums up well the point Lewis was making.
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion… is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go n making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Lewis has captured perfectly the sins of the adulterous people find in this verse. They were far too easily pleased. They were fooling around with earthly pleasures when God had offered infinite joy to them through the Gospel. The problem was not their pursuit of joy; their problem was that they settled for mud pies when eternal glory was available.
The question is, are we pursing joy by desiring the world, or our we pursuing joy by desiring God? When it comes to this issue you need to be in constant examination of your life. It is so easy to fall into the trap of pursing earthly pleasure. It is what we can see here and now. It is a lot easier to get. But this pleasure is not even comparable with the joy of pursuing God through the gospel. What do you desire? To use the phrase from the NASB what do you wish for? If the goals and desires of your life are wrapped up in this world James is very clear about the result. You prefer something above God, and thus you are God’s enemy. As students you are making preparations now for what your life will look like twenty years from now. Are you preparing for a life that desires God above all else? I spoke with a young man last week who want to be a doctor. He told me that he is going to make it big. Big house, nice cars, boat, golf membership, vacation home, and whatever else he desires. What is so sad is that none of those things will make him happy. Until he desires God he will always be lacking joy. Do not make the mistake of this young man. Arrange the priorities of your life right now so that God is your number one priority.
Let me close with one final passage from the gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 13:44 Christ describes what the kingdom of Heaven is like.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
This man discovered an unbelievable treasure. It was so great that he sold everything he had to get it. People must have thought he was crazy to give up everything just for a field. But he knew that the treasure in the field would be far greater than all of his possessions. Out of joy he desired this treasure. This is like the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ is the treasure, and in order to receive that treasure we must be willing to give up all other earthly desire to pursue Him. Is Christ your treasure? Are you pursuing Him out of joy? The adulterous people of James 4:4 were most definitely not.