Reading Time: 7 Minutes
James usually opens a new section in his book with the words, “Brothers and sisters.” This time, the section begins with the harsh condemnation, “Adulterers!”
The kind of adultery in James is not the sexual act, but a figure of speech often used by the prophets. Jeremiah captures the sense of God’s pain when his people turn from him to serve idols. Anytime we put our trust in something that is a substitute for God, we are serving an idol.
“Thus says the Lord:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things,
and became worthless themselves?” (Jeremiah 2.5)
It is a very serious matter when people, who have been rescued by Jesus’ death on the cross, turn from God to worthless things. James writes with the passion of an Old Testament prophet to bring correction to the situation.
James 4.4-6 – Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,
“God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.”
In God’s Court Room
The prophets often used the image of a trial to reveal the wrongdoing of the people. Though James does not explicitly do this, a trial scene can be imagined in this passage. Consider a trial, where James is the prosecuting attorney, we are the defendants, and God is the judge.
James, the prosecuting attorney, stands and states his case. An outline of his presentation before the judge may look like this.
(1) The defendant has access to wisdom from God. This wisdom is designed to give the defendant a peaceful, gentle, and merciful inside condition.
(2) The defendant has rejected God’s wisdom, only to choose a wisdom of their own best thinking. Like the prophet Jeremiah said, “they have gone after worthless things and have become worthless themselves.”
(3) I charge the defendant of being guilty of being a friend of the world and thereby an enemy of God.
The Judge Speaks
God is the most merciful judge of all. He is not willing to pass judgment on the defendant unless the defendant leaves him no other choice. He addresses the defendant and presents the following points.
(1) You may not know it, but you are attempting to live by two contradictory philosophies of life. You are trying to please yourself and please me at the same time. That is not possible.
(2) When you please yourself and live by the principles of the world’s system, you are actually joining forces with my enemies.
(3) You may think that you are religious, but the kind of wisdom you are following is from below. Whether you are aware of it or not, your so-called wisdom is worldly, full of selfish desires, and stems from the devil. Your own best thinking keeps you in turmoil and prevents me from being able to answer your prayers.
(4) You are apparently not aware of how much I want to be your friend. I brought you to life and I strongly desire to live in a faithful relationship with you.
(5) My grace is available for you. If you humbly seek my wisdom, I will give it to you and work miracles in your inside condition. As I relieve you from the burden of trying to get your way all of the time, I will bring peace to your inner self.
(6) You must decide. Whose friend are you going to be? You can’t be double-minded. You can’t live both by your own best thinking and by my wisdom at the same time. Who are you going to choose, the world or me?
This imagined courtroom scene is my best attempt to present a faithful interpretation of the central message of the Book of James. We have choices that must be made.
(1) Whose wisdom will dominate our thinking? James 3.13-18 gives us two options. One option is to make decisions based on wisdom from below – that which is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish” (verse 15).
(2) Wisdom from below, our own best thinking, will produce conflict (James 4.1-3). Wisdom from below has self at the center of our universe.
(3) There is an alternative. It is the wisdom from above, God’s wisdom. When God’s wisdom is lived out it produces “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace” (James 3.18).
(4) God is appealing to us through the Book of James. God is speaking to this generation and saying something like this.
— You are apparently not aware of how much I want to be your friend. I breathed my breath into you to give you life. I earnestly desire to live in a faithful relationship with you. My grace is available for you. If you humbly seek my wisdom, I will give it to you.
— But, you must decide. Whose friend are you going to be? You can’t be double-minded. You can’t live both by your own best thinking and by my wisdom at the same time. What will it be, the world or me?
Dear God, thank you that you promise to give your wisdom to us, if we asked for it. We pray for your wisdom, wisdom that conquers our self-centered way of life. We pray for your wisdom, that gives victory over the conflict that rages in our world. We humbly turn to you, seeking your grace for our lives and for our world.