James 4

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.

(a) You adulteresses. Jesus called the religious Jews “an evil and adulterous generation” (Matt 12:39) because they were ashamed of him and his words (Mark 8:38). James has similar words for those who reject Jesus.

(b) Friendship with the world is hostility toward God. Aligning yourself with Satan’s fallen order is choosing the wrong side.

This has nothing to do with hating sinners or distancing yourself from “secular” society, for Jesus was the friend of sinners, and God so loved the world that he sent his only Son (John 3:16). The word for world (kosmos) refers to the mannish and Satan-directed system of the present age. James is saying something similar to what Jesus said in Matthew 16:26 and what Paul said in 2 Cor. 6:14-17.

(c) Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Choosing to live in the dark and following the way of the world is a sign that one is unacquainted with the well-lit paths of righteousness (Pro. 4:18).

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”?

(a) The Scripture. This passage raises several questions. First, what Old Testament scripture is James quoting? No one seems to know and there is nothing in the Bible that looks like this jealous-passage. (However there are occasions where God portrays himself as a husband longing for his bride (e.g., Jer. 3:14, 31:32, Hos. 2:19).)

(b) Jealously. Who is he and whose spirit is James talking about? At first glance, it seems this passage is referring to the Lord, but closer examination suggests otherwise.

The original word for jealousy (phthonos) means envy, which is a sin (Rom. 1:29, Tit. 3:3). It’s a word that describes why the chief priests handed Jesus over to Pilate (Mark 15:10). Those who are possessed by envy will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21). Since God cannot sin it is unthinkable that this is describing the Lord. (The word translated here as jealousy is not the same word that appears as jealousy in 1 Cor. 10:22.)

(c) He jealously desires the Spirit. Although the word Spirit is spelled with a capital S, there is no reason for this. The word is simply spirit, and in context it seems clear that James is talking about the envy of our unregenerate spirits. “You are envious so you fight and quarrel” (Jas. 5:2). As in the previous verse, he is describing unbelievers.

How should we read verse 5? “The spirit that God placed in us is filled with fierce desires” is how the Good News Bible translates this passage. As Spurgeon once said: “There is a spirit, resident in the natural man, the human nature of man, which is always inclined toward hate and envy, always wanting to get something from other men and always grieved if other men seem to be or to have more than the person himself has.” What is the cure for this grasping, envying state? James tells us in the next verse.

Further reading: “Does God envy?

James 4:6

But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”

(a) He gives a greater grace. The original word for greater is derived from the Greek word megas. God gives us mega-grace. James is literally saying that God gives us “exceedingly, great, high, large, loud, and mighty grace!” His great grace flows to us on account of his great love (Eph. 2:4). See entry for Rom. 5:20.

(b) God is opposed to the proud. The proud and self-righteous have no time for God. They don’t need him. Since they refuse grace, God opposes them with the merciless law. He scoffs at these scoffers (Pro. 3:34) knowing their futile attempts to save themselves will come to nought. 

(c) But gives grace to the humble. Grace comes to those who humble themselves and acknowledge their need for it (1 Pet. 5:5).

There is only one cure for fallen humanity and it is the supernatural, transforming grace of God. What can turn a sinner into a saint? Grace alone. What can settle a restless heart? Grace alone. What is the remedy for hate and strife and discord and envy? Grace alone.

James 4:8

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Cleanse your hands… purify your hearts. The ceremonial washing of hands and bodies was important feature of the old covenant, but in the new we are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Heb. 10:14, 1 John 1:7) and washed by the word of Christ (Eph. 5:26; see also 1 Cor. 6:11, Tit. 3:5). James is using an old covenant ritual to illuminate a new covenant truth: double-minded sinners need to make up their minds, repent and allow Jesus to wash and make them clean.

The Grace Commentary is a work in progress with new content added regularly. Sign up for occasional updates below. Got something to say? Please use the Feedback page. To report typos or broken links on this page, please use the comment form below.

1 comment

  1. I love all this. It really is all about Jesus. My reading of the word is becoming more and more grace centred. Thank you.

Leave a Reply