James has just contrasted the wisdom from above, which is from God, with earthly wisdom, which is demonic.
He noted that earthly wisdom drives jealousy and selfish ambition, which in turn produce disorder and every vile practice. He has more to say though about the cause of their quarrels and divisions.
Firstly, they are a product of the war going on inside their own bodies – a war of pleasures (v.1), driven by desire (v.2) and passions (v.3).
These emotions are so strong that they can lead to murder. Not literal murder but murder in the heart (Matt 5:21-22; cf. Gen 4:1-8).
Instruction for Faithful Living
James’ corrective at the end of v.2 indicates that the passions, pleasures and desires which give rise to their quarrels and fights are not hedonistic in nature but relate to the spiritual and leadership rivalries already mentioned, concerning such things as who is the wisest or most religious.
He has already told them to ask God for the wisdom they need; he now extends that instruction to include all things needed for faithful living.
But not only must they ask with faith (1:6), they must ask for the right reasons: to enable them to serve and glorify God, not satisfy their own desires and egos.
The Heart of the Matter
In verses 4-6 James goes to the heart of the matter, not mincing his words: You adulterous people!
James here draws on a familiar Old Testament image: God’s people (Israel) as a faithless bride who has gone whoring after another lover (Isa 1:21; Jer 3:6ff.; Ezek 16:23ff.; Hos 2:5; 3:1).
“Friendship with the world” meant something much stronger to James’ readers than it might to us.
As Ben Witherington writes, “The ancient ideal of friendship was close to what we today would say about genuine marriage. It involved sharing all things in unity.”
He also notes that “the world” is to be understood as “the fallen world organised against God”. No wonder, then, that one cannot be a friend of both God and the world.
Note that James here calls “adulterous people” he has elsewhere addressed as “my brothers”. Shockingly, both descriptors are true, hence James’ zeal to call them back to true faith.
In this, he shows himself as a true shepherd of the Church. However, James’ zeal for his brethren pales alongside God’s zeal for them, demonstrated by his chesed, as portrayed in Hosea 11:1-9.
The Right Course of Action
Only one right course of action is open to James’ brothers: to submit themselves to God (v.7). This entails resisting the devil, humbling themselves and repenting.
They can do this in full confidence that the devil has no power over them, and that their loving Creator’s grace and mercy will abound towards them. Like the prodigal Father in Jesus’ parable, he will exalt them.
Is there anyone in the church whose ministry or gifts you are jealous of? If so, what’s God saying?
Heavenly Father, I praise you for your steadfast love which causes you to yearn jealously over me. Help me, I pray, to resist the devil and all wrong pleasures and passions, that I might not spoil my relationship with you by making friends with this fallen world. I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash