What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
James sure knew how to step on toes and put his finger right onto the sore spots in our hearts. This passage addresses a weakness common to all people, and one that is particularly evident in our modern, affluent culture. For all the benefits and blessings of living in a free and prosperous nation, we have to admit the spiritual dangers presented by our consumer-driven economy and our liberty-loving culture. We quarrel and fight. We want what we don’t have. We desire what will give us pleasure. And maybe, just maybe, we have become too friendly with the world and all the nice things that fill our homes and our hearts.
James uses a striking word to describe the spiritual trap we may fall into. He calls those who are driven by pleasure and who become friends with the world “adulterers.” God used the same word to describe unfaithful Israelites in the Old Testament, people who should have worshiped God alone but who often chased after idols and the false promises of false religions. James says that “God is passionate” for our spiritual hearts. Other English translations use the word “jealous” to describe God’s desire that we worship him alone, that we desire the one true God above anything else in this world. Followers of Jesus who turn away from their devotion to God and set their hearts on worldly things commit spiritual adultery, breaking their faith-vows with Christ.
So, does this mean that you can’t drive a nice car or buy new clothes or enjoy the financial fruits of your labor? Is it wrong to lead a comfortable life in our prosperous society? It would be easy for anyone in our culture to fall in love with the empty promises of wealth, and we shouldn’t let ourselves off the hook too quickly. But the heart of this issue is an issue of the heart. These verses call us to examine our motives, to take an honest look at the desires that drive what we want. James says your “motives are all wrong” if all you want is pleasure. Instead, your heart should pursue the things of God and your motive should be to grow in Christ-likeness and love for those around you.
Gracious Father, You love me and want me to love You. Forgive me for desiring things I don’t need. Draw my heart to Yourself and teach me to love Jesus more than anything else. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian