God Opposes Self-Centeredness
4 You adulterous people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God. 5 Or do you think it’s without reason that the Scripture says: The spirit he made to dwell in us envies intensely?
6 But he gives greater grace. Therefore he says:
God resists the proud
but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:4-6)
Opening up verse 4, James does not mince his words, describing his readers as “adulterous people!” Turning away from God to anything else is considered spiritual adultery in the Bible. For the past few months, in our weekly Bible studies, we have been going through the book of Jeremiah. In it, God calls out Israel and Judah’s adulterous behavior for turning towards idols, as seen in Jeremiah 3:8-9, “I observed that it was because unfaithful Israel had committed adultery that I had sent her away and had given her a certificate of divorce. Nevertheless, her treacherous sister Judah was not afraid but also went and prostituted herself. Indifferent to her prostitution, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees.”
So, the readers were committing spiritual adultery, turning away from God and going towards the world, even establishing “friendship with the world.” Max Anders describes this as a “deliberate choice to follow the world. It is an act of defiance and rebellion against God.” The word “world,” has many different usages in the Bible, such as the human race as a whole, God’s creation, or the value system that goes against God, which, in this case, is the third choice. We saw this same word usage similar to 1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains forever.”
With verse 4 in mind, James reminds believers in verse 5 that the Holy Spirit within believers deeply desires our allegiance to God, “The Spirit He made to dwell in us envies intensely.” Our God is a jealous God, meaning that He, in His complete right to do so, demands our loyalty. We have been saved from death through His Son Jesus on the cross. We have been bought with a price. Therefore, anything drawing our attention away from Him puts us in direct opposition of Him.
Finally, in verse 6, James quotes Proverbs 3:34, showing that God resists the proud, but also supplies “grace to the humble.” Those who are proud believe they have no need of God and try to do everything according to their own power, yet the humble realize their need of God and the great blessings He can provide to those who ask of Him. As Thomas Lea writes, “Believers are recipients of the grace He is willing and able to give. God resists the proud by opposing the life and practices of those who fail to follow Him…His aim is that we ‘seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.’”
Isaac De Guzman