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In reading the fourth chapter of James, we see that he makes the connection between adultery and the misuse of money. Verses 3 and 4 read this way:
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 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 was NOT telling Christians to be hostile to non-believers, but rather to the way that the world normally functions. The world seeks its own pleasure and is motivated by self-interest. If Christians do that, James says, they are being hostile to the Spirit of God that leads in the opposite direction—Love.
God and the world are competing for your affection. If you love the world, you are an adulteress, as James puts it, because you are supposed to be married to Jesus Christ—not to the world. The second chapter of Jeremiah speaks of the adultery of Israel and Judah, and chapter three tells us that God finally gave Israel a bill of divorce (3:8). Israel was blatantly idolatrous, of course, but Judah was hypocritical in that they had a strong religious system in Jerusalem, but they did not love God in the way that He wants.
James understood that the temple worship in Jerusalem in the first century was much the same as it was in the days of Jeremiah. Just as it had led to the priests’ rejection of Jeremiah himself, so also had it led to the priests’ rejection of Jesus as Messiah. It was not that they were insufficiently zealous for God, but rather that they were motivated by self-interest. Their affections were according to the world, rather than according to the heart of God.
They wanted God's blessing in order to comfort their own flesh, even if it meant that other people and other nations would be enslaved to accomplish this. They had an incorrect view of what it meant to be chosen. Somehow they misread the Abrahamic calling to mean that they were entitled to enslave the earth, rather than to bless it and set it free. This warped view caused them to think like the world, rather than to have the mind of Christ.
James was concerned that this same attitude was still seen clearly among all the tribes scattered abroad—none more apparent than in the tribe of Judah living in Jerusalem which he observed every day. There was no doubt that Jerusalem was heading for destruction once again, because the conditions in the first century were the same as in the days of Jeremiah.
And indeed, when James was killed, Jerusalem lost its last great intercessor, a man whose knees resembled that of camels, due to the amount of time he spent on his knees praying for the city.
James says that by adopting the world's attitude of self-interest and self-indulgence they were making themselves enemies of God. As a student of the law, James no doubt had Leviticus 26 in mind. This is the chapter dealing with the Laws of Tribulation, whereby God vowed to bring judgment upon them for their refusal to be obedient. Only when they would turn from their “hostility” to God would their judgment be reversed. Lev. 26:40-42 says,
40 If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me— 41 I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies--or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember My covenant with Jacob . . .
In other words, God made it clear that He would judge His people if they continued in hostility against Him. Israel was hostile to God when they worshipped the golden calf, even while Moses was in the mount receiving the tables of the law. Isaiah 63:9, 10 speaks of this, saying,
9 In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them [from Egypt]; and He lifted and carried them all the days of old. 10 But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy; He fought against them.
Being “chosen” did not make Israel immune to divine judgment. In fact, because they had been given the law and because they had vowed obedience, they were held more accountable than the surrounding nations. The Covenant included the provision that God would become their ENEMY if they “rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit.”
I have no doubt that James understood this thoroughly and had this in mind when he said, “Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” It was comparable to Israel worshipping the golden calf. It was spiritual adultery. James took this principle and personalized it according to the mind of Christ.
To petition God with wrong motives (vs. 3) is adultery, because it serves the flesh rather than Christ. We are not to think like the world, but put on the mind of Christ.
James then contrasts the world’s envious motive with the godly motive of grace. Envy takes; grace gives. The NASB translates verse 5 this way:
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”?
This is not a quotation from any Scripture passage in particular. In fact, this quote seems to make little sense. No doubt something is lost in translation, and indeed translators render it quite differently. It is only when we see it in the context of the next verse that it makes any sense.
The Emphatic Diaglott has a better rendering: “Does the Spirit that dwells in us strongly incline to envy? Indeed, it bestows superior favor.”
The “superior favor” is contrasted with envy. Envy seeks what others own, whereas favor (i.e., grace) seeks to give to others. Rotherham's The Emphasized Bible reads, “Is it for envying that the spirit which hath taken an abode within us doth crave? Howbeit, he giveth greater favour.”
So James expresses this in the form of a question: Does the Holy Spirit in us really desire ENVY? Is envy a fruit of the Spirit? Obviously not. Some people envy others who have more money or a better house, car, or clothing, and believe that they are entitled to live by the same standard of living. Out of envy, then, they ask God to make them rich like their neighbors. Such motives do not come from the Holy Spirit within us, but from envy.
On the other hand, James says, God shows His character by giving grace, or favor. The true expression of the Holy Spirit portrays grace, not envy. James continues,
6 . . .Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
This is a quotation from Proverbs 3:34. It is used to support the previous statement that God is gracious, whereas carnal men are envious and self-indulgent. This also sets the format for what James will write in his next chapter. James then gives an exhortation:
7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. . .
We might summarize and paraphrase the point that James was making in this way: Many people have wrong motives that come from the flesh man within them. They quarrel and envy, and if they are religious, they often ask God for wealth in order to match what their neighbors have or what they think they (as “chosen people”) ought to have.
But this is spiritual adultery, because the Holy Spirit within us does not have such carnal motives, nor does it function by self-interest, but by grace and generosity. So if any believer still lives according to the old Adamic nature, we appeal to you to submit to God, resist the devil, and draw near to God.