What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 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. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 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. 5 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”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?James 4:1-12
Friendship with God really matters. Our lives are different based on who our friend is, God or the things in this world that we can desire with passion. This difference, according to James, is the difference between fighting, quarreling, and wars on the one hand and a life exalted by God on the other. It seems that James is writing to what we might today refer to as nominal Christians, people who claim to be followers of Jesus but their hearts are set on the things of this world.
People often ask in one way or another, why are humans always warring or otherwise being uncivil to one another? James’s answer is direct and simple. It is our internal passions or lusts for various kinds of pleasure in this world. We love this world rather than loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.
When we are religious enough to pray and ask God to fill our desires or lusts for things of this world, he doesn’t respond because our purpose is to consume these things on our own passions, personal consumption. To say it simply, we are selfish. God seems to not be interested in answering selfish prayers that are not concerned with the glory of God.
James identifies those of us whose hearts fit this description as “adulterous people.” This is a flashback to the description of God’s people in the Old Testament when they were swept away into idol worship (which they often were). Jesus clarifies that adultery is not just the physical act of joining with another man’s wife (or another woman’s husband), but is when we lust for them in our hearts whether we act on that lust or not. So, to be an adulterous people means a people who lust after something more than Jesus. What scares me is the sentence that reads, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” And he goes on, “Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” I don’t want God to be my enemy. I want him to be my friend.
All this selfishness is identified by James as pride. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So, what is the solution?
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.James 4:7-10
We have the choice to either line up under our lusts for this world or line up under the Lordship of Jesus. There is no compromise. Our hands, our hearts, and our minds speak to what we do, how we feel, and how we think. This is a powerful call to repentance and submission to Jesus Christ as our Lord. When we submit and line up under his Lordship, he will exalt us. What a wonderfully gracious promise in the midst of this stinging rebuke to us in our adulterous, world-loving hearts.
After this wonderful offer of grace, James returns to our human relationships and calls on us to extend the same kind of grace to our fellow man that Jesus has extended to us.”Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.” When you do, you make yourself a judge, and who are we to judge our brothers?
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.James 4:12
James is targeting our hearts and condemning our love for the world in opposition to our love for the Lord. If we name the name of Jesus, it is only right that he should be our supreme treasure. Anything less is idolatry. May the Lord be so gracious as to grant us deep and thorough repentance. May we become greater friends with God rather than this world.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.