God’s friend or God’s enemy—Which one are you?
In verse 18, James stresses the need for peace. He begins chapter 4 with a rhetorical question concerning the cause of conflict within their believing community. The words used for fights and quarrels have a military background, but they came to connote quarrels and conflict within relationships.
James answers his initial question with a follow-up question expecting an affirmative response. "Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?" The word desire (for pleasure) forms the basis for our English word “hedonism.” Hedonism is the philosophy that places the quest for pleasure as the ultimate aim of life. These desires are the cause of an internal battle (See 1:13-15 above). For James, division within a person leads to division within the community. Here in his second question, he again uses military imagery to describe the internal conflict.
In verse 2, James knows they desire things but don't get them. The verb for desire is the same word used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) for coveting in the ten commandments (Ex. 20:17). Since their desires go unfulfilled, James says they “kill.” Clearly, this is hyperbole, since we know Jesus used the same strong language in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-22, see also 1 John 3:15). They are jealous (same word in 3:16) but can’t get what they want, so they quarrel and fight (see verse 1).
James tells his readers they don’t have because they don’t ask. When they do ask, they don’t receive because they have the wrong motives. Their motives are to “spend” (the same word found in the parable of “the Prodigal’s Son” in Luke 15:14) what they receive on their desires (for pleasure).
2. Read the Scripture: James 4:1-3
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble."
3. Reflect on the Scripture: James’ tone has changed from warning to rebuke. The background for this word adulterous people is found in the Old Testament, specifically the prophets (Hosea 3:1). God’s people were considered adulterous and unfaithful to him when they worshipped the gods of foreign nations. This was a violation of the covenant he established with them, and it was never tolerated.
Not surprisingly, James follows this admonition with a rhetorical question, demanding an affirmative response. The question contains contrasting concepts friendship with the world = enmity with God
When writers of the New Testament use the term “world” in this way, it represents everything that is contrary to God. James communicated this when he discussed false wisdom (3:15). Things of this world are “earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.” Affinity for anything the world offers will create hostility with God. This naturally results in becoming an enemy of God. Obviously, the preferred position is to be friends with God (2:23).
In verse 5, James uses scriptural support for his claims in verse 4, since the content of Scripture is not there without purpose or reason. He states, “He (God) jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us. This does not appear to be a specific Scripture reference, but a combination of several scriptural ideas summarizing God’s jealousy (Ex. 20:5, 34:14) and the life-giving spirit from God (Gen. 2:7, Gen. 6:17, 7:15, Ps 104:29-30). James’ point-God longs for humans to serve him and be in a relationship with him. He becomes jealous when humans long for the things of this world.
4. Relate to life:
Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message. To pray:
Today, prayerfully do a spiritual inventory. When you think about being friends with the world, what comes to mind? Today, prayerfully consider what it means to be a friend of God or enemy of God, based on this passage.
Today, prayerfully reflect on humility. What comes to mind?
To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.
Friend or enemy-at the end of your day, take some time to reflect. As you think about specific events in your day (thoughts, actions, words), would you classify them as a “friend event” or “enemy event” with God? This is not to create guilt or pride. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can become more aware of our day to day responses. Remember, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passages).
Read and study the passages listed above.