January 29, 2012
If I had to distill the book of James down to a single sentence I would say that heavenly wisdom shows itself through good fruit and earthly wisdom shows itself through bad fruit. That’s the one basic point James makes in teaching this church how that ought to be, and it’s the context in which we find chapter four:
God condemns worldly pride (:1-6)
From whence come wars and fightings among you?
He’s been rebuking them for showing favoritism and being full of pride, and now he’s going to go to the root. Why is there fighting among you?
come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
It’s not because you’re so spiritual or because you have so much zeal for God that you’re warring—you’re full of lust. The Greek word is ἡδονή (think of hedonism). A Hedonist focuses on self-pleasure. “If it feels good do it.” It’s entirely selfish and sensual, and it’s the opposite of Christ. These are the lusts “that war” in our members—there’s a military expedition in our bodies.
2Ye lust, and have not:
You see what other people have, and you want it for yourself. You see teachers and rulers in the church, and instead of submitting, you crave what God has given them. You want what other people have, but you can’t get it.
ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain:
Go back and read 2:10-11. There he set forth this hypothetical case: you don’t have to be an adulterer to be a lawbreaker—if you’re a murderer then you’re a lawbreaker whether you’ve committed adultery or not. But here he shows that they are indeed both murderers and adulterers! They desired what they couldn’t have and they killed to get it. Compare that against verse 4.
They broke the royal law to love thy neighbor as thyself and became murderers. Even then they couldn’t get what they wanted,
ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
The context of James isn’t “believe and receive,” so the problem isn’t that they have a lack of faith. The problem is that they loved worldly wisdom over godly wisdom, and they had no regard for God at all. He’s saying, you need to understand that, “promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. 7But God is the judge: he puts down one, and sets up another” (Ps. 75:7).
All their lust and striving was pointless since God is the One who promotes and gives.
3Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
The point is that God condemns pride, and these people only wanted to be teachers or to have preeminence so that they could be lifted up. They wanted His grace for their glory, but James says, “You ask amiss.”
4Ye adulterers and adulteresses,
You might translate this, “You unfaithful apostates!”
know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
There’s something lost here between the Greek and the English. “Will” be a friend means whosoever “desires” to be a friend. Whosoever “determines” to be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.