Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

Friendship With The World Is Enmity With God

by Rev. George van Popta


Reading: James 4

Text: James 4:

Singing: Ps. 147:1,4,5; Ps. 147:6; Ps. 39:3,5,6; Ps. 144:1,2; Ps. 144:5,6

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

From where do you expect what you need? We need earthly things-food, clothing, shelter-to exist in this life. From where do you expect such things?

What do you think of your labour? Your work? How do you view your daily work? Does your daily work have anything to do with your religion? With your Christianity? Your faith? With that you are a child of God? Are the various aspects of your life-your faith, your status as one redeemed by Christ, and your daily work-connected to one another?

How do you view yourself? Your life? Are you every struck by how fragile life really is? How a healthy person can be struck down with a crippling disease in no time at all? Do you ever reflect upon your own life? Your heart beat? The rhythm of your breathing? Your blood pressure? How fragile it all really is? And how everything can change in a moment?

Beloved, we are fragile people living moment by moment by the grace and power of God. Nothing else keeps our hearts beating and our breath breathing. Nothing but the grace and power of God.

I preach:


This evaluation teaches us

1. Who we are; 2. How to speak; 3. How to live.

1. James says we are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. "What is your life?" he asks. "You are a mist," answers he.

Like steam from a kettle. You boil some water on the stove. Steam comes out of the spout. But you cannot hold on to the steam. It just disappears into the air. It vanishes.

Or think of your breath on a cold day. You can see your breath. But it vanishes in a second.

Or an early morning mist on a summer day. The mist hangs in the air but is quickly burned off by the rising sun.

That's what life is like. A man is here for a little while, and then he is gone. A few years, really, and then he vanishes. And within a few years people have forgotten him.

Here James uses the image of a mist to refer to how temporary our lives are. In ch. 1 he used a different image. He said (vv 10,11) that we need to think about how we all pass away like a wild flower. The sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, we fade away.

It was not always like that. It is the way things are now, but once it was different. God created us to live. God created the man, Adam, the father of us all, and breathed into him the breathe of life. God breathed breath into man. God created man to live, forever.

But when we sinned we brought death into our existence. Our sin turned us into mist. We return to the dust of the earth from which God made us. The breath of life leaves our nostrils, we die and turn to dust. "All we are is dust in the wind."

But thanks be to God, He sent us his only Son to redeem us. The eternal Son of God became a man to set us free from the dust of the earth. To breathe new life into us. To give us eternal life.

We begin to live that eternal life now already. And yet, we know that we will die. Loved ones die. In the mean time, we are still dust. We are still mist, a vapor. Even though we may begin to enjoy the new life we have in Christ, life that will last forever, we still await the consummation and perfection of all things-the day of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ when he will take what is mortal and make it immortal. In the mean time, we still struggle with weakness, with illness, with death.

The Psalms speak about this. (Psa 144:4) Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow. (Psa 39) "Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.... each man is but a breath.

There are many other places in the Psalms (Ps. 90), also in the Prophets, that repeat the same theme. Man, even redeemed man, is a mist that is there one moment, only to vanish the next.

Do we realize that, beloved. Will we realize it, that our life is like grass before the mower, like the flower of the field, like an early morning mist, a bit of steam?

Each year at this time, the first Sunday of Spring, we offer to God a prayer for crops and labour. We, mist that we are, are completely dependent upon God for the food we eat to keep our fragile lives alive. It is God who make the seasons change. He brings the cold and the snow. He brings the heat and the rain that makes things grow. The earth needs his blessing.

And what is true for the produce of the field holds true for all the works of our hands. Whatever your work may be, in school, college or university, in the home, on the road, in the market place, you need God's blessing upon the labour of your hands. We need to acknowledge that we are but a mist-redeemed by Christ, but yet a mist. Completely dependent upon God for what we need for our earthly existence.

Realizing that we will cast ourselves upon God. We will pray to him to bless the crops and our labour.

It will also affect how we speak, and how we act.

2. The Word tells us our lives are just a mist. This evaluation teaches us who we are; it also teaches us how to speak.

In light of how man is but a mist, James criticizes the way the people to whom he wrote this letter were speaking. Likely James (brother of the Lord Jesus Christ and leader of church in Jerusalem after the ascension of the Lord) wrote this letter to Jewish Christians who had been dispersed because of persecution. Jewish Christians possibly scattered as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Syrian Antioch. They had settled into their new towns and homes and had begun working there. Pastor James wrote them to encourage them in their trials and difficulties, but he also had a word of rebuke for them. They had forgotten they were mist dependent upon the hand of the Lord. This came out in how they spoke.

They had become quite confident of themselves. They said things like: "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." They were guilty of a sort of practical atheism. They were making their plans apart from God. Ignoring God.

Do not think that James was condemning doing business, travelling, and making money. The problem was that they were doing business, travelling and making money without giving a thought that man is dependent upon God for every breath he takes. They were acting like the people in the days of Noah before the flood. The people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, without giving a thought to God. And they were wiped out by the flood. They lived as if God did not exist. So did the people to whom James wrote this letter.

Not only did they make their plans without God in mind, but they boasted and bragged about their successes. They were worldly people. In v. 4, James condemned friendship with the world. He said: Don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Working in the world without giving God a thought is also a type of friendship with the world. It is expecting the things you need from the world and your labour themselves rather than understanding that God gives you what you need by way of the world and your labour.

They bragged about their successes of yesterday and boasted of their plans for tomorrow. They should have remembered what Proverbs 27:1 says: Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. As James said: You do not even know what will happen tomorrow.

Is that not just so true? One day you can be the epitome of health and strength. The next day you can be struck down with an illness, or by an accident, or dead. Realizing that we do not know what will happen tomorrow, and knowing that we are a mist, we will speak differently. As James teaches us, "Instead, we ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'"

It's from this that the expression Deo Volente, D.V., comes from. God willing. Or, the Lord willing. Lord willing, I will do this or that. The more sophisticated like to say: I will do this or that, under the condition of James 4:15. Of course, they like to say it in Latin.

And so we read about Paul saying, in Acts 18:21, as he left Ephesus, "I will come back if it is God's will." In Hebrews 6 we read about the desire of the author to take his readers on towards mature teaching. Then he added: "And God permitting, we will do so."

There are a few other examples. Actually, surprisingly few. We read in the NT about people stating their plans without adding, "If the Lord wills." From that we learn that the point is not that we utter certain words all the time. Actually, the words "Lord willing" can become an overused pious formula, a meaningless clichÈ. The point is that in our speaking and planning for the future, we must take God into account. We cannot speak and plan as if we were in total control of our lives. As if we were the masters of our destiny. James is not teaching us a religious formula. Of course there is nothing wrong with using these words. But what James is teaching us is to speak, plan and live as children who know that we are secure in the protective care of the Father.

Our world was created by God and redeemed by Christ. It is the place that we are called to live, work and play to God's honour and glory. We speak and live as people who acknowledge the Lordship of Christ the redeemer over all the spheres of life.

When we forget those gospel truths we begin to boast and brag about ourselves and our accomplishments. We need to understand that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Beloved, do not begin to boast about your accomplishments and possessions. So often a sense of self-sufficiency comes along with success and prosperity. And a reliance on oneself rather than God. Boasting.

James says that human boasting is evil. Not just empty or foolish, but evil.

We are good at compartmentalizing our lives. Perhaps we are pious at church and in the home, but we do not think about God when it comes to work and leisure. That's practical atheism. It's evil, says James. No part of life is outside the rule of Jesus Christ. Church, home, work, leisure-it's all under the rule of our Lord Jesus Christ. Reckon with that fact in how you speak-in the plans you make, in how you talk about your activities. Humbly bring it all under the Lordship of Christ.

Your life is but a mist. A mist redeemed by Jesus Christ. Dust that will be raised up by the power of Christ to life everlasting. But in the mean time, a mist. Acknowledge that in the humility of your speech.

3. The evaluation that our lives are a mist teaches us who we are; how to speak; thirdly, how to live.

As v. 17 says: Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

A stern warning against the sin of neglect. The sin of omission. And not accidental omission, but purposeful. Knowing what one must do but not doing it.

Not only must we reckon with God in how we speak. We must also reckon with him in what we do.

Just as a practical atheism affected how the people James wrote to spoke, so it affected how they lived and acted. James touched on this throughout his letter. They coveted earthly stuff. They became friends with the world. Some lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.

Let the warning of James 5:5 ring in our ears. Those who live in this way are only fattening themselves for the day of slaughter.

Let us not think that we are masters of our lives and labour. Let us not leave God out of the picture. If we do, this is where we will end up. If we don't bring our labour under the Lordship of Christ, we will spend the fruits of our labours in self-indulgence and not for the glory of God's name and the furtherance of his kingdom. And is not the glory of God's name and the furtherance of God's kingdom not a better cause than the indulgence of the flesh?

Beloved, our lives are but a mist. We are here for a short while, and then we are gone. In the brief moments we are here, we must live out of the generous hand of God. Bring your vocabulary, your grammar, your syntax-your speech-under the Lordship of Christ. Bring your work and your leisure under his Lordship. Work under the blessing of God. Depend upon God for a blessing upon your labour. For the fruit of your labour. Pray to Him for his blessing over crops and labour. And use the fruit of your labour for the advancement of God's glory and kingdom in the world.

Beloved, you know the good you ought to do. Do it, for then you will be doing well.


The Rev. George van Popta earned a BA at Trinity Western University, Langley, BC, and an MDiv at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario. He started off his ministry at Jubilee Church in Ottawa in 1987. In 1992 he left to serve a church in Taber, Alberta from where he moved to Ancaster, Ontario in 1997. There he served a church for eleven years. In 2008, he was called back to Jubilee Church. He considered it a singular privilege and joy to be living again in Ottawa and serving the Jubilee congregation as pastor. In 2016 he retired from the active ministry because of health challenges and now lives in Hamilton, Ontario, together with Dora, his wife. He has written a number of books, which can be bought from http://www.vanpopta.ca, Amazon or other Christian nook outlets. He is also the general editor of New Genevan Psalter.

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