4:4-7 Renegades to your vows, do you not know that love for this world is enmity to God? Whoever makes it his aim to be the friend of this world thereby becomes the enemy of God. Do you think that the saying of Scripture is only an idle saying: "God jealously yearns for the spirit which he has made to dwell within us"? But God gives the more grace. That is why Scripture says, "God sets himself against the haughty, but gives grace to the humble." So, then, submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you; draw near to God and he will draw near to you.
The King James Version makes this passage even more difficult than it is. In it the warning is addressed to adulterers and adulteresses. In the correct text the word occurs only in the feminine. Further, the word is not intended to be taken literally; the reference is not to physical but to spiritual adultery. The whole conception is based on the common Old Testament idea of Jahweh as the husband of Israel and Israel as the bride of God. "Your Maker is your husband; the Lord of hosts is his name" ( Isaiah 54:5 ). "Surely as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel, says the Lord" ( Jeremiah 3:20 ). This idea of Jahweh as the husband and the nation of Israel as the wife, explains the way in which the Old Testament constantly expresses spiritual infidelity in terms of physical adultery. To make a covenant with the gods of a strange land and to sacrifice to them and to intermarry with their people is "to play the harlot after their gods" ( Exodus 34:15-16 ). It is God's forewarning to Moses that the day will come when the people "will rise and play the harlot after the strange gods of the land, where they go to be among them," and that they will forsake him ( Deuteronomy 31:16 ). It is Hosea's complaint that the people have played the harlot and forsaken God ( Hosea 9:1 ). It is in this spiritual sense that the New Testament speaks of "an adulterous generation" ( Matthew 16:4 ; Mark 8:38 ). And the picture came into Christian thought in the conception of the Church as the Bride of Christ ( 2 Corinthians 11:1-2 ; Ephesians 5:24-28 ; Revelation 19:7 ; Revelation 21:9 ).
This form of expression may offend some delicate modern ears; but the picture of Israel as the bride of God and of God as the husband of Israel has something very precious in it. It means that to disobey God is like breaking the marriage vow. It means that all sin is sin against love. It means that our relationship to God is not like the distant relationship of king and subject or master and slave, but like the intimate relationship of husband and wife. It means that when we sin we break God's heart, as the heart of one partner in a marriage may be broken by the desertion of the other.
In this passage James says that love of the world is enmity with God and that he who is the friend of the world thereby becomes the enemy of God. It is important to understand what he means.
(i) This is not spoken out of contempt for the world. It is not spoken from the point of view which regards earth as a desert drear and which denigrates everything in the natural world. There is a story of a Puritan who was out for a walk in the country with a friend. The friend noticed a very lovely flower at the roadside and said, "That is a lovely flower." The Puritan replied, "I have learned to call nothing lovely in this lost and sinful world." That is not James' point of view; he would have agreed that this world is the creation of God; and like Jesus he would have rejoiced in its beauty.
(ii) We have already seen that the New Testament often uses the word kosmos ( Greek #2889 ) in the sense of the world apart from God There are two New Testament passages which well illustrate what James means. Paul writes, "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God;...those who are in the flesh cannot please God" ( Romans 8:7-8 ). What he means is that those who insist on assessing everything by purely human standards are necessarily at variance with God. The second passage is one of the most poignant epitaphs on the Christian life in all literature: "Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me" ( 2 Timothy 4:10 ). The idea is that of worldliness. If material things are the things to which he dedicates his life, clearly he cannot dedicate his life to God. In that sense the man who has dedicated his life to the world is at enmity with God.
(iii) The best commentary on this saying is that of Jesus: "No one can serve two masters" ( Matthew 6:24 ). There are two attitudes to the things of this world and the things of time. We may be so dominated by them that the world becomes our master. Or we may so use them as to serve our fellow-men and prepare ourselves for eternity, in which case the world is not our master but our servant. A man may either use the world or be used by it. To use the world as the servant of God and men is to be the friend of God, for that is what God meant the world to be. To use the world as the controller and dictator of life is to be at enmity with God, for that is what God never meant the world to be.
James 4:5 is exceedingly difficult. To begin with, it is cited as a quotation from Scripture, but there is no part of Scripture of which it is, in fact, anything like a recognizable quotation. We may either assume that James is quoting from some book now lost which he regarded as Scripture; or, that he is summing up in one sentence what is the eternal sense of the Old Testament and not meaning to quote any particular passage.
Further, the translation is difficult: There are two alternative renderings which in the end give much the same sense. "He (that is, God) jealously yearns for the devotion of the spirit which he has made to dwell within us," or, "The Spirit which God has made to dwell within us jealously yearns for the full devotion of our hearts."
In either case the meaning is that God is the jealous lover who will brook no rival. The Old Testament was never afraid to apply the word jealous to God. Moses says of God to the people: "They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods" ( Deuteronomy 32:16 ). He hears God say, "They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no God" ( Deuteronomy 32:21 ). In insisting on his sole right to worship, God in the Ten Commandments says, "I the Lord your God am a jealous God" ( Exodus 20:5 ). "You shall worship no other god, for the Lord whose name is Jealous is a jealous God" ( Exodus 34:14 ). Zechariah hears God say, "Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy" ( Zechariah 8:2 ). Jealous comes from the Greek zelos ( Greek #2205 ) which has in it the idea of burning heat. The idea is that God loves men with such a passion that he cannot bear any other love within the hearts of men.
It may be that jealous is a word which nowadays we find it difficult to connect with God, for it has acquired a lower significance; but behind it is the amazing truth that God is the lover of the souls of men. There is a sense in which love must be diffused among all men and over all God's children; but there is also a sense in which love gives and demands an exclusive devotion to one person. It is profoundly true that a man can be in love only with one person at one time; if he thinks otherwise, he does not know the meaning of love.
James goes on to meet an almost inevitable reaction to this picture of God as the jealous lover. If God is like that, how can any man give to him the devotion he demands? James' answer is that, if God makes a great demand, he gives great grace to fulfil it; and the greater the demand, the greater the grace God gives.
But grace has a constant characteristic--a man cannot receive it until he has realized his need of it, and has come to God humbly pleading for help. Therefore, it must always remain true that God sets himself against the proud and gives lavishly of his grace to the humble. "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." This is a quotation from Proverbs 3:34 ; and it is made again in 1 Peter 5:5 .
What is this destructive pride? The word for proud is huperephanos ( Greek #5244 ) which literally means one who shows himself above other people. Even the Greeks hated pride. Theophrastus described it as "a certain contempt for all other people." Theophylact, the Christian writer, called it, "the citadel and summit of all evils." Its real terror is that it is a thing of the heart. It means haughtiness; but the man who suffers from it might well appear to be walking in downcast humility, while all the time there is in his heart a vast contempt for all his fellow-men. It shuts itself off from God for three reasons.
(i) It does not know its own need. It so admires itself that it recognizes no need to be supplied. (ii) It cherishes its own independence. It will be beholden to no man and not even to God. (iii) It does not recognize its own sin. It is occupied with thinking of its own goodness and never realizes that it has any sin from which it needs to be saved. A pride like that cannot receive help, because it does not know that it needs help, and, therefore, it cannot ask.
The humility for which James pleads is no cringing thing. It has two great characteristics.
(i) It knows that if a man takes a resolute stand against the devil, he will prove him a coward. "The Devil," as Hermas puts it, "can wrestle against the Christian, but he cannot throw him." This is a truth of which the Christians were fond, for Peter says the same thing ( 1 Peter 5:8-9 ). The great example and inspiration is Jesus in his own temptations. In them Jesus showed that the devil is not invincible; when he is confronted with the word of God, he can be put to flight. The Christian has the humility which knows that he must fight his battles with the tempter, not in his own power, but in the power of God.
(ii) It knows that it has the greatest privilege of all, access to God. This is a tremendous thing, for the right of approach to God under the old order of things belonged only to the priests ( Exodus 19:22 ). The office of the priest was to come near to God for sin-stained people ( Ezekiel 44:13 ). But through the work of Jesus Christ any man can come boldly before the throne of God, certain that he will find mercy and grace to help in time of need ( Hebrews 4:16 ). There was a time when only the High Priest might enter the Holy of Holies, but we have a new and a living way, a better hope by which we draw near to God ( Hebrews 7:19 ).
The Christian must have humility, but it is a humility which gives him dauntless courage and knows that the way to God is open to the most fearful saint.