More than a century ago, Sam Walter Foss penned a once-famous poem called “The House by the Side of the Road.” The second of its five verses reads as follows.
Let me live in a house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by—
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban—
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
The poem was famous because it caught the attitude of the age: a humanistic, nonjudgmental spirit in which morality was relative and some sort of sentimental unity was the ideal. That incipient idea has become one of the driving forces of humanity today. What is good or evil and what is true or false is viewed as altogether relative—with the exception of the universally demanded virtues of charity and acceptance. Do not measure sin (whether in oneself or another), just be kind and loving toward everyone—meaning, do not deal with matters of morality, right and wrong, righteousness and sin. But such “charity” is not kind, loving, nor biblical. God provides a different assessment—the authoritative one.
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 (Jam. 4:4).
What God is not saying. God is decidedly not suggesting that believers should be indifferent to the suffering or the needs of the lost around them. Even under the economy of the Old Testament, Israelites were instructed not to reap the corners of their fields so that hungry travelers might avail themselves of necessary food as they passed by—hardly could that be considered an unfriendly act toward the world. In the New Testament, the Lord speaks even more expansively about showing kindness to others. “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you . . . . love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:39-42, 44b). It is impossible to construe those words as requiring anything less than the utmost charitable behavior toward those in the world.
What God is saying. What God forbids, however, is a spirit that is comfortable with “the world” (those living under Satan’s deception); an attitude of complacency or indifference regarding sinners, their sin, and their need of salvation; or a desire to embrace a worldly culture and be a part of it. John expresses a similar truth to James’s in this fashion: “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. 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” (I John 2:15, 16). To try to make those in the world love or like us for the sake of our own comfort or advantage is so contrary to the spirit of righteousness, that God says pursuing such a desire makes us His enemies. There is no point of intersection between the saved and the lost except at the cross of Christ. The Word commends kindness and generosity toward the lost in order to proclaim Christ. But believers are by nature separate from the world. In heart, mind, and will we must live apart from the world. Friendliness toward, but not friendship with, the world is God’s standard.
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