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. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
This is a continuation of James’ discussion of things that cause us to fight amongst ourselves, in which he is getting at the root of the problem. In the previous verses (4:1-3) he pointed out that we fight because we have differing desires within us that are in conflict, now he gives us some insight as to why this is so; we are holding on to the world around us…
Right off the bat, he uses the words “adulterous people” an interesting choice, don’t you agree? Adultery happens when one covenant partner becomes involved with a third party in an inappropriate way. James is telling us that we are a covenant people who are involved inappropriately with the world we live in, when we are supposed to be faithful to God’s ways, not the world’s. Holy cow that is why we have these competing desires within us: It would be just like having a desire to be with our spouse on the one hand, and with our “other” on the other hand. Our Lord is no more amused than our spouse would be; enmity results.
This brings us to verse 5 and your humble reporter has a judgment call to make. A thorough explanation of this would require a very long discussion, for James seems to be quoting Scripture without quoting Scripture. To keep this simple and not lose entirely the important point James is making here, I’ll use an example you might be familiar with. Billy Graham used to say “The Bible says that…” fairly often in his sermons. He was asserting a principle without cluttering up his message with citations and undue formality, and I strongly suspect that James is doing that here. I think it is safe to say that when we stray from Him, God is jealous that we return to Him; after all, one of His names is “Jealous.” This “spirit” that He caused to dwell in us” is the very essence of our being as humans, for we are spirits in bodies and thus unlike the animals. So, when we are “friends” of this world, God wants us back, and that’s why He was willing to go to extraordinary lengths to redeem us. OK, back to the text:
While God is grieved at our departure from His ways, He expresses this with grace. James quotes from Proverb 3:34 to show God’s situation: While He opposes the proud, He extends favor (mercy) to the humble. We can conclude that up to this point, James is urging us to be humble. Consider this in light of what we have found in 4:1-6. We fight among ourselves because we have conflicting desires that strive within us. We have conflicting desires because we are in relationship with God while trying to hold on to our old worldly priorities at the same time. This is grievous to God, but He responds with grace if we will adopt some modicum of humility, therefore let us be humble before God.