Summary: God longs for the full devotion of his people.
We now return to our study of the book of James entitled: Living the Real Life: Cultivating a Faith that Works. Remember as we were working through the letter we were identifying the different ways James says that true, genuine, saving faith reveals itself. We have seen everything from how real faith responds to trials and temptations, to how real faith responds to God’s word, to how true believers treat other people, and how true believers talk. And of course, we saw the central statement in the book of James in chapter 2; namely that faith without works is dead – it is not real. We come today to the end of chapter 3 and the first part of chapter 4. We are going to take these passages together, even though our English Bibles divide them, because they are related and unified by a central thought. Follow along as I read, beginning in chapter 3, v. 13:
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Contrasted here, are two types of wisdom and the corresponding lifestyles that are an outworking of each type. There is a contrast between worldly wisdom, with its accompanying worldly behavior; and godly wisdom, with its accompanying godly behavior. James, of course, encourages his readers, those Jewish Christians scattered abroad, to have a godly mindset and the appropriate godly behavior. What we are going to see, then, is the basis on which James makes his plea to these followers of Christ and what specifically these two opposing systems of thought entail. And we will notice that James calls for godly wisdom and godly living on the basis of God’s great longing for the devotion of his people. We can summarize this passage like this: God longs for the full devotion of his creatures; so we must avoid carnal wisdom, resist carnal passions, and submit to our jealous God.
We are going to start right in the middle of the passage at v.5, because it is here that our central thought is found. So let’s notice first of all that God longs for our full devotion.
GOD LONGS FOR OUR FULL DEVOTION
Chapter 4 and v.5:
5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
This question that James poses to his readers comes right in the middle of his discussion on worldly and godly behavior. And this statement, in the form of a question, is especially important for us to understand. Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult verses in James to translate from the original Greek. And so, depending upon what English Bible you are reading, v. 5 may say, for instance in the NIV, that “the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely.” Or similarly, in the King James, that “the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” In other words, those translations give this verse the meaning that our human spirits have a natural tendency toward jealousy and envy. Then there are those that see the Holy Spirit being referred to here; and so, like in the New American Standard Bible (a very good translation), the verse says that “He (God) jealously desires the Spirit (capitalized to indicate the Holy Spirit) which He has made to dwell in us.” Meaning that since believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and we are a temple of the living God, he desires us to display Spirit-filled behavior. Then, as in the ESV, which I am reading, there are those that translate the verse as “He (God) yearns jealously over the spirit (not capitalized – meaning our human spirit) that he has made to dwell in us.” Translated this way, the verse would mean that God desires complete control over our lives – over our souls. Now we don’t need to be troubled by this, and it is not our purpose to resolve this issue with any sort of finality, but we need to be aware of the problem. Because even as I read the text aloud, there were likely some of you who were reading another translation that worded the verse differently. And I am going to present my whole case on the basis of understanding this verse as it stands in the ESV. So in the interest of honesty, integrity, and clarity, we need to know what’s going on here. Having said that, I think the best way to translate this verse is like this: “Or do you think that to no purpose the Scripture says, ‘With jealousy he yearns after the spirit he made to dwell in us.’” So James is saying here that God yearns after, he longs for our souls. He jealously desires control of our lives; because he is the one who gave us our lives to live in the first place.