The greeting to God’s people.

Peace to you Beloved in the name of Christ our Lord and Savior even our Life. Let me extend a further greeting to you that I hope does not appear too strange. It is a word that keeps coming to my mind lately, the Aramaic word is maranatha, it means “come Lord” Paul closes his first letter to the Corinthians with it. (I Cor.16:22) The Bible ends with come Lord Jesus, come quickly (erchomai) and then, “may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, amen”. (Rev.22:20-21)

May we live in that frame of heart. May we approach our Bible study today with an eye to Christ’s return. It will make us more faithful and more useful, and I would argue even more happy and hopeful. (Mt.25:13-30, I Cor.15:58, Lk.19:13) 

The word to God’s people.

Well, this is our fifteenth study in the book of James. We are beginning chapter four today. We will look at James 4:1-6. My intention is to study verses 1-3 this week and then verses 4-6 next week. With your Bible open please read along with me. Hear the very words of our holy God, read. 

James 4:1. What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

James 4:4. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4:5. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 

The prayer of God’s people.

God tells us to humble ourselves before Him. Then in due time He Himself will exalt us. Well, let’s humble ourselves before Him in prayer, coming as loving children to our loving heavenly Father asking Him to bless our time in His word today, pray. (James 4:10, I Pt.5:6, Mt.23:12, 2 Chron.7:14, Lk.14:11, Phil.2:1-11)

The outline.

Today we are looking at worldliness defined by God as wrong or sinful or selfish desires and deeds. Next week we will look at worldliness condemned by God as wrong relationships, adulteresses and friends of the world. 

The subject of worldliness.

Let me see if I can summarize the logical connection of some of what James has just taught prior to this passage. There were professing Christians that had an unruly evil tongue. They produced bitter water. This in turn revealed their bitter heart. This bitter heart was governed by earthly, fleshly, and devilish wisdom. Remember, this is as professing Believers in Jesus! (James 3:1-16)

Now we have the subject at hand – worldliness, and the sad fruit of worldliness, which is fighting and discord among the people of God.

As you reap so you shall sow. Sow to the flesh, reap to the flesh. For a true Believer to act like an unbeliever they will reap pain and shame in this life. (Gal.6:7-9, Prov.14:4, Lk.6:38) For a false Believer, proved so by their habitual worldliness, they will reap pain in shame also in the next life.

The love of this world and its things is contrary to God’s desire for His children, which is that all Believers would be of one heart and mind; that brothers and sisters in Christ would dwell in holy unity in love with one another and with God. (Acts 4:32, Ps.133:1-3)

The definition of worldliness.

The basic idea of worldliness or of being worldly or being friends with the world is to think and to act in devotion to this world and to neglect spiritual or religious truths, to be more concerned with temporal things than with eternal things, to be more concerned with self-pleasure in this life than meeting God in the next life.

For our purposes, please remember in the Bible to be worldly or to express worldliness is a negative or bad thing. I say this because sometimes in common speech people put a good connotation on being “worldly” in reference to being well traveled or cosmopolitan in outlook or something like that.

Let me read a few Scripture passages that get at the idea of worldliness.

Romans 12:1. Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (2 Cor.6:14-18, I Thess.4:3-5, Titus 2:12) 

I John 2:15. Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (2 Tim.4:10, Isa.13:19, Jn.8:23, Lk.4:5-8, Jn.17:14, 18:36, 15:19)

As you might have already surmised worldliness is another way of saying fleshliness. Living for this world is being led by the flesh or sowing to the flesh as Paul talks about in Romans eight and in Galatians five and six (Rom.8:5-13, Gal.5:15-21, 6:7-8)

The unconverted live in worldliness.

Two things before we proceed. Being “in” the flesh means that we are still unbelievers. To be in Christ and in the Spirit means we are believers. (Rom.8:9) Unbelievers have only one nature; the fallen nature. Believers have two natures, the fallen nature and the spiritual renewed nature. This is why we are required to fight against the old nature and to nourish the new nature. As regards to our study, a worldly person is an unbeliever, as James says, an enemy of God.

These desires are worldly desires and pleasures. This is a love of the world and its things choking out love of God and love of others. People that live to satisfy these desires may be savingly unattached to Christ. Listen to our Lord.

Mark 4:18. And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

Unless we are changed by God in Christ to have different desires, these worldly desires will harden us against Christ and keep us earth-bound.  Carnal desires are enslaving.

Romans 1:24  Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.

2 Timothy 4:3  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,

2 Peter 3:3   Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts. (Jude 1:16-18)

The converted fight against worldliness.

Now true Believers are no longer “in” the flesh, but we can still do fleshly things. We should not but we do. In this way, we are no longer of this world as Jesus says, we are no longer worldlings, but we can still think and act worldly. (Jn.17:16-17, I Jn.2:19, Jn.15:18-19) That is what James points out in verses 1-3 with worldly desires and deeds.

James tells us that these worldly fleshly desires wage war in our members.

The causes of community-fights are the battles that go on within us as professing Christians.  Our Flesh.  The Old Man.  (Rom.7:1-25, 6:6, Eph.4:22, Col.3:9)

I Peter 2:11. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

In the Christian life though we are at peace with God being found in Christ our Peace-Bringer (Shiloh), at the same time we are at war with the world, the flesh, and the devil.  The spirit and the flesh wrestle each other. (Gal.5:17) We must fight by faith. (2 Cor.5:7)

The correction against worldliness.

Here James is warning us as true Believers to live like Christ’s heaven-bound lambs rather than worldly unbelievers. We are to live in the world, but we are not to live like the world (or the worldling). This is God’s correction for sinning Christians to help us. They are hard words. But they are needful. And if we heed them, then they are good for us.

The nature of worldliness.

For the remainder of our time, from our passage I want us to see the evil nature and some of the sad fruits of worldliness. 

Worldliness is unsubmissive.

The overall theme for James chapter four might be classified as submission, submitting our lives to God’s will as revealed in His Word. (2 Tim.3:14-17) The submission we are to render is first inward or spiritual, which in turn is to produce outward submission to God’s will for our lives.

James will illustrate (and seek to correct) a lack of submission to God’s will by the wrong desires that Christians sometimes have which causes discord in the community.

I suppose we could also classify worldliness or fleshliness by its ultimate real name – unbelief. A world-worshiping heart does not believe about God what God requires us to belief about him. A self-serving heart refuses to do those things that God requires of us. (WSC 3) Worldliness rejects the Lordship of the LORD. The chief end of worldliness is to glorifying self and to enjoy self forever. (WSC 1)

The song of the worldly man is captured in the blasphemous poem “Invictus” written by William Ernest Henley (1875).

As we will see worldliness is blamable before God and destructive to self and to others. May God give us victory over our worldly desires. In Christ. By faith.

Worldliness is destructive.

The flesh opposes the things of the Spirit and James uses three words that depict a fight.

James 4:1. What is the source of quarrels (polemos) and conflicts (mache) among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war (stateuo – serve as a solider) in your members?

The Greek words here are literally wars and fighting and then fighting like a soldier. James does not mean that there is a real civil war in the church, with real bombs and bullets. Or that these Christians are actually coming to blows in the church.  These words as more figurative of discord, squabbling, and verbal conflict.

However, Jonathan Edwards recorded at one regional assembly of ministers to discuss points of theological difference that the men actually did physically fight one another. Edward’s wrote, they savagely beat each other in the head. Yikes! So much for brotherly love. But this is James’s point.

What we see with Edward’s though is that worldly carnal desires give birth to sinful words and sinful actions. 

Remember the conflict in view is not outside of the church among the professing unbelievers.

This is strife and quarreling among the avowed disciples of Christ.  Christ’s lambs acting like lions and wolves, because of their wrong or sinful fleshly worldly desires.

These things give a reason for the unbelievers to blaspheme Christ, and His Gospel, and His church. These things put a stumbling stone before the unbelievers. These things hurt the tender lambs of Jesus. And they hurt us as the Christian doing the sin.

The preeminent mark of a true Christian is that we love other Christians. Jesus says this. (Jn.13:34-35, I Pt.2:17-19, I Jn.4:7-20, Rom.12:10, I Jn.3:18)

One of the worst sins in all the world is a Christian fighting against another Christian. Oh God give us grace to believe God’s word! Oh, how many professing Believers think that they have a special gift from God to bite and devour other professing Believers in Jesus all because they differ on secondary or tertiary matters? To say nothing of the fights that we have with members of our own churches, all because we refuse to obey Jesus and love the brothers, all because of our selfish worldliness.

Oh, beware beloved, those that cause divisions in the church may find themselves one sad day disapproved before God. (I Cor.11:18-19) May God pour out His dovelike Holy Spirit on contentious Christians, which is to say on us! 🙂

Listen to what Paul says in Romans about the Jews when they sowed to the flesh and acted like Gentiles.

Romans 2:21. you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For “THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,” just as it is written.

Worldliness is selfish.

James, like a good doctor tells us of the cause of these problems, “our” carnal fleshly worldly desires. Our sins are our (main) problem, not the sins of others.

The various translations include, your pleasures, your desires, your passions, and your lusts.  This word is in the plural teaching us that there are many and various kinds of these desires which cause community-conflict.

Worldliness is evident.

James now gives a series of examples to prove his point.

James 4:2. You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

James says what Paul says about the desires and deeds of the flesh, they are evident. You cannot ultimately hide this ugly selfish unbelief. (Gal.5:19)

James tells them they have these worldly lusts, desires but they cannot (completely) satisfy them.  In part, this is because sinful desires can never make a person satisfied.  This is the great lie of the devil, sin against God, do what “you” want, and you will be happy.  Oh, the devil is the father of lies and a soul-murderer. (Jn.8:44-45, Gen.3:1-8, 2 Cor.11:14-15)

Beloved, as Believers we can only be truly happy and content with God in Christ. Only true holiness can bring true happiness.

Worldliness is murderous.

You murder, you kill.  James is not implying that these Christians actually murder other Christians.  If that were the case, he would not be speaking to Christians, murderers cannot inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal.5:21, I Cor.15:50, Eph.5:5, I Cor.6:9-11, Rev.21:7-8)

This is figurative murder, heart murder, malice, and all its wicked offspring.  This is church-peace murder. (Mt.5:21-22, I Jn.3:15) Christians hating other Christians how sad. How common.

What would we conclude about a professing Christian if for the sake of their sinful desires, they destroyed the peace of Christ’s church?  Wrong desires are supremely selfish.  Wrong desires do not care about the good of anyone else. How unlike Christ Jesus. How devil-like.

Worldliness is uncontented.

You covet.  Part of these wrong desires is coveting.  Coveting is craving something that is not yours, something God has not given you but that He has given someone else.  This can be physical things and inward things such as gifts, graces, titles, honor, etc.

Coveting is anger at God’s government in our lives.  (I Kg.21:1-14)

Covetousness is an expression of discontentment with God and His government over us and others. Read the Westminster Larger Catechism on the Tenth Commandment. (WLC 146-148)

This is a manifestation of pride. How hateful to God and to others.

Worldliness is prayerless.

You are prayerless.  Unbelievers do not pray to the True God.

James 4:2. You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.

But sadly, often even professing Believers do not pray to God.  This shows a lack of faith, and a lack of friendship with God. Living for the world will choke out our desire to pray because our heart is divided in its affections. Or if we do pray when we are living for self, then our prayers will be spiritless and formal, which is an offense to God.

Oh, Beloved our prayer life is so important.

Jesus said, for everyone that asks, he shall receive. (Mt.7:7-8)

But we have to pray believing, pray by faith in Jesus. (Mk.11:24) Ask in faith without doubting. (Jas.1:4) And we have to be (very) persistent in prayer, keep asking, seeking, and knocking. (Lk.18:1-8, Heb.11:6, I Thess.5:17) And we have to pray for those things that we are allowed to pray for, those things agreeable to God’s word.

I John 5:14. This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. 

Listen to how our secondary standards summarize our primary standard on prayer. 

WSC 98  Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God,(1) for things agreeable to his will,(2) in the name of Christ,(3) with confession of our sins,(4) and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.(5)    (1)Ps. 62:8 (2)1 John 5:14 (3)John 16:23 (4)Ps. 32:5,6; Dan. 9:4 (5)Phil. 4:6

Worldliness is ineffectual.

Finally, the Holy Spirit tells us that worldliness, selfish desires, self-centered prayers are ineffectual before God.

Living for self, living to enjoy worldly pleasures is a spiritually unfruitful way to live. God will not bless selfish worldliness. God blesses that which glorifies Him. God does not bless sin.

Now He may allow sinners to prosper in their sin. But that does not mean He is “blessing” them. No. God may allow a sinner to super abound in their outward estate only as a way of increasing His judgment upon them. (Hos.2:7, Prov.14:14) 

God will not grant a Believer’s selfish requests.

James 4:3. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

God will not satisfy a Believer’s idolatrous desires.  What an insult to Holy God, for a Believer to ask such a thing. But we do – all the time. How many of our prayers are for the glory of God and for the good of others? How many of our prayers focus on our own enjoyment of this world?

Rachel had a wrong desire for children.  So, God for a time made her barren – for a time. (Gen.20:22-23) The foolish rich man desired bigger barns, so God took him from them. (Lk.12:16-21) Oh how we need to be saved from our self (from our selfish old nature).

The antidote to worldliness.

Beloved, we have just spent a good bit of time looking at God’s denunciation of our remaining sin of unbelief, worldliness, fleshliness, and selfishness.

Let me end on a constructive note. Let us believe the word of God as regards to this. So that we can repent. So that we can humble ourselves before God and ask Christ to forgive us and to ask the Holy Spirit to help us.

You see Beloved, the answer or the antidote for our sin and for our struggle against sin is always the same – to turn our eyes upon Christ, to meditate upon His loving atoning sacrifice for all of our sins.

From the moment we are born again, each day we repent of our sins and believe in Christ. And we do this every day of our life. And bit by bit, the Holy Spirit increases our love of Christ and of His church and of heaven and diminishes our love of self and sin and of this world which is passing away.

And then we will be worldly no more.

And then we will be properly heavenly for time without end.

To God be the glory.


Study Guide.

  1. What is the definition of worldliness? In what way is worldliness also fleshliness? What is the opposite of being worldly minded? (James 4:1-6, Col.3:1-3, Rom.12:1-2, 2 Cor.6:14-18, I Thess.4:3-5, Titus 2:12, I Jn.2:15-17, 2 Tim.4:10, Isa.13:19, Jn.8:23, Lk.4:5-8, Jn.17:14, 18:36, 15:19, Rom.8:5-13, Gal.5:15-21, 6:7-8)
  1. What does habitual worldliness say about a person’s spiritual nature? What does it mean to be “in the flesh” and or “of the world”? What are some characteristics of those “of the world”? (Jn.15:19, Jn.17:14-16, Rom.8:5-11, Mk.4:18-19, Rom.1:18-32, 2 Tim.4:3, 2 Pt.3:3, Jude 1:16-18, I Cor.1:20, I Tim.6:20, Titus 2:12)
  1. Why do true Christians, who are not “of” the world still struggle with thinking, speaking, and acting “worldly”? What should we do about this? (James 3:1-6, Jn.17:16-17, I Jn.2:19, Jn.15:18-19, Rom.7:1-25, 6:6, Eph.4:22, Col.3:9, I Pt.2:11-12, Gal.5:16-18, 2 Cor.5:7)
  1. God reveals His will to us variously in Providence and in Scripture. How do worldly desires manifest a lack of submission to the will of God in Providence and in Scripture? How is a lack of submission to the will of God unbelief? (James 4:1-6, Num.11:5, Num.21:5, Ps.19:1-14, Jn.3:16, 2 Tim.3:14-17, Lk.19:14-21, Lk.15:25-32, WSC 1, WSC 3, WCF 6.2)
  1. How and why does worldliness or worldly desires and behaviors harm Christ’s Church and people? How is this the polar opposite of what Christ’s requires of us as Believers? How could causing divisions prove dangerous for those that do this? Have you ever caused strife in the church? If so, what should you do about it? (James 4:1-6, Gal.5:14-15, Jn.13:34-35, I Pt.2:17-19, I Jn.4:7-20, Rom.12:10, I Jn.3:18, I Cor.11:18-19, Rom.2:21-24, Col.3:8, Eph.4:30-31, I Pt.2:1-3)
  1. Describe some ways that worldliness is selfish and carnal and not holy and heavenly. Describe some ways that worldliness is harmful to others. How are our worldly desires and deeds unChristlike? (James 4:1-6, Gal.5:19, Jn.8:44-45, Gen.3:1-8, 2 Cor.11:14-15, Gal.5:21, I Cor.15:50, Eph.5:5, I Cor.6:9-11, Rev.21:7-8, Mt.5:21-22, I Jn.3:15)
  1. How does worldliness reveal our covetousness and or discontentment with God? (James 4:1-6, Gen.4:1-9, I Kg.21:1-14, Exod.20:17, Lk.12:15-21, I Tim.6:10, Eph.5:3, Mt.6:24, Heb.13:5, WLC 146-148)
  1. What is prayer? Why are worldly people prayerless to the true and living God of the Bible? What does prayerlessness indicate about a person? Why and in what ways are true Believers prayerless? What should we do about this? (James 4:1-6, Mt.7:7-8, Mt.11:24, Mt.13:21-22, Lk.17:26-30, Jas.1:4-5, Lk.18:1-8, Heb.11:6, I Thess.5:17, I Jn.5:14-15, WSC 98, Rev.2:4-5, 2:14-16, 2:20-24, Rev.3:14-20)
  1. Why is selfish worldly “prayer” ineffectual with God? (Jas.4:3)
  1. How and why does meditating on Christ and on His return help us put to death our fleshly tendency to worldliness? Do you regularly think of Christ’s return? If you do not, why not? When you do think of Christ’s return what are some truths associated with this? (I Cor.11:23-26, I Cor.16:22, Rev.22:20-21, Mt.25:13-30, I Cor.15:58, Lk.19:13, 2 Pt.3:1-18)

Extra credit.  How does the blasphemous poem “Invictus” written by William Ernest Henley reveal worldliness or the nature of the worldling? Who or what is the worldling’s “god”? What is the worlding’s “heaven”? Hint: read Rom.3:9-18. You may use the internet to look up the poem.




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