Well, it’s so wonderful to be with God’s people, to share in the songs of faith, the fellowship of those of like precious faith and then to have that single great privilege of hearing the very voice of God as He speaks to us through His Word. I’m anxious that we all come to the Word of God together now, so let’s open our Bibles to James chapter 4. Our ongoing study of James has brought us to this great fourth chapter. We’re looking at verses 1 through 6.
Let me read the text for you, beginning at the first verse of the chapter and reading down through verse 6. “From where come wars and fightings among you? Come they not here even of your lusts that war in your members? You lust and have not, you kill. And desire to have and cannot obtain, you fight and war. Yet you have not because you ask not. You ask and receive not because you ask amiss that you may consume it upon your lusts. You adulteresses, know you 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.
“Do you think that the Scripture saith in vain, the Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But He giveth more grace. Wherefore He saith, God resisteth the proud but giveth grace unto the humble.”
One of the most definitive and decisive statements in all of Holy Scripture is found in verse 4. It is this statement: “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” To be a friend of the world is to be the enemy of God. A very definitive statement - and a frightening one at that, a serious one. Certainly it’s a foreboding thought that people could be the enemies of God. Not so much from their point as from His point, God seeing man as an enemy and an enemy to be judged, an enemy to be destroyed.
In Deuteronomy chapter 32, let me just read you a couple of verses, beginning at verse 41. “If I whet my glittering sword and mine hand take hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to mine enemies and will reward them who hate me. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood and my sword shall devour flesh and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives from the long-haired heads of the enemy. Rejoice, O ye nations, with His people for He will avenge the blood of His servants and will render vengeance to His enemies and will be merciful unto His land and to His people.” A very vivid picture, a glittering sword, arrows wet with blood as God brings vengeance on His enemies.
In Psalm 68 and verse 21 it says, “God will shatter the head of His enemies.” In Psalm 72, verse 9, it says, “His enemies will lick the dust.” In Isaiah 42:13, it says, “The Lord will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse His zeal like a man of war, He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry and He will prevail against His enemies.” In Nahum chapter 1 and verse 2 it says, “He reserves wrath for His enemies, darkness shall pursue His enemies,” it says in verse 8. And as we noted last time, several portions of Scripture say His enemies shall become His footstool.
The Bible is so direct when it warns such enemies by reminding them, as in Hebrews 10:31, that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Anyone, the New Testament says, who does not give glory to Jesus Christ is the enemy of God. In 1 Corinthians 16, he pronounces anathema on anyone who does not love the Lord Jesus Christ. To be an enemy of God is a fearful reality, a frightening thing.
And the question that comes to us in this passage as James brings it to the readers is: How do we know if we are the friend of God or His enemy? How does a man know that? How does a woman know that? And James answers by saying, “If you are the friend of the world, then you are” - what? - “the enemy of God.”
And I suppose most people feel friendly toward God. They’re not openly hostile to the concept of God. They’re not hateful to the concept of God. But the biblical diagnosis of sinful man is that while he may entertain some sentimental thoughts that are positive toward a supreme being, he hates the true God. There’s a major conflict between man and God. Jesus crystallized it when He said, “They’ll hate you because they hate me. They hate me” - John 15 - “because they hate my Father. And if they hate my Father and hate me, they’ll hate those of you who belong to me.”
The violent animosity between God and man is best described in Romans chapter 1. If you begin at verse 18, you read this: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness because that which may be known about God is manifest in them for God has shown it unto them, for the invisible things of Him” - that is, the truth about God - “is made visible in the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and godhead so that they’re without excuse.
“Because when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful but because vain in their imagination that is useless in their thinking. Their foolish heart was darkened, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible men and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things.” In other words, man reacts against the God who is revealed in nature and conscience and creates a God who is more tolerable to him, and that God is okay but the true God, he hates. The true God, he hates. That’s the nature of man, he hates God.
Now, someone comes along and says, “Now wait a minute, I know some people who are searching for God.” Sometimes you’ll talk to somebody and you’ll tell them about Christ and they’ll not respond and you’ll go away and say to a friend, “You know, I know they didn’t respond but they’re searching. They’re searching.” Let me tell you something. The Bible says in Romans chapter 3, “No man seeks after God.” Now, that’s scriptural, no man seeks after God. You say, “Well, wait a minute, I meet people who are searching all the time.”
Listen. People are not searching for God, they are searching for all that God can give, but not for God. They’re searching for everything God offers, love, joy, peace, forgiveness, security, hope, while at the same time they are rebelling against, running from, and hiding from God. They don’t want God, they want the goods God gives. The only God they want is a God of their own making who will tolerate their sin, and it’s not until that is broken in them and in meekness they cry out in their sin for salvation that they begin to seek the true God and that only by the sovereign working of the Spirit of God.
The true God, with His absolute holy standards, men reject. The God of their own making, they accept, but men would like to have what God gives without God.
Now, the question facing James is how to identify the enemies of God. How do we know who the haters of God are? How can we identify them? It’s not easy. Let me tell you why. First of all, they may have a certain visible morality. That’s right. They may have a certain visible morality. It might even be a religiously constructed morality, like the rich young ruler who couldn’t think of any commandments he’d ever broken but didn’t enter the kingdom. There are a lot of people who have a certain visible morality but they’re the enemies of God.
Secondly, they may have some knowledge of the revelation of the truth, like the Jews of the time of our Lord who were so steeped in Old Testament revelation that they knew it backwards and forward and yet were a generation of snakes, Jesus said, who couldn’t escape the damnation of hell. And so those who hate God may have a certain visible morality, they may even have a knowledge of the revelation of the truth.
Thirdly, they may possess a form of worship. They may go through some religious motions like the form of godliness that knows no power of which Paul speaks in 2 Timothy 3, verse 5. Furthermore, they may have apparently successful religious enterprises like the people in Matthew 7 who claimed to cast out demons and prophesy and do many mighty deeds in the name of Christ but who never really were known by Him at all. They may even feel badly about their sin like Felix who trembled before Paul but never forsook his sin and never confessed Christ.
So when you’re looking for the enemies of God, there are those who are overtly living a godless live, there are those who are overtly rejecting Christ, but then there are others who apparently look like maybe they don’t hate God, maybe they love God. They have a certain visible morality. They have some knowledge of the revelation of the truth. They possess a certain form of worship. They have been apparently successful in some religious enterprises, and they feel badly about their sins.
Well, churches today are filled with those kind of people as they were in the time of the New Testament when it was being written and James confronts the same issue here, and you know it because we’ve been discussing it for weeks and months. And so James is looking at a group of people and he knows in that group of people, Jewish people, in an assembly of the church and he knows some of them are real and some of them aren’t. Some of them have living faith and some, as he said in chapter 2, have dead faith. Some of them are truly redeemed and some are not. Some have all the outward trappings of lovers of God but none of the inward reality.
And so all through this epistle he’s giving tests of true faith, and here he comes to this very important test. The enemies of God may be known because they are lovers of the world. They are lovers of the world. That’s how you can identify them here. Now, friendship with the world in verse 4 may sound like a Christian’s sin, but it can’t be. It can’t be a Christian’s sin here in James’ mind. We can be drawn to the world, we can do worldly things, we can entertain ourselves with worldly activities, we can have a certain desire to enter into worldly sins, but we are not lovers of the world.
We are, by definition, lovers of God. It’s one thing, as we pointed out in the use of the word here - which is the word philia - it’s one thing to do worldly things, to follow worldly patterns, to think worldly thoughts, it’s quite a - while loving God, but it’s quite another thing to have a settled, deep affection for the world. That makes one an enemy of God. And no Christian is an enemy of God. We’re His friends, as we saw last time.
So here is a means of revealing false faith: friendship with the world. And the terminology is, frankly, too strong to be referring to wayward believers who are the friends of God, sons of God, certainly not His enemies. And as I said, it’s one thing to do worldly things and hate them, it’s one thing to behave in a worldly way while loving God, it’s quite another to love the world, to love the things of the world, and to hate God.
So James brings up the test, then, of worldly love and shows the danger and destruction it causes. Let’s go back, then, to verse 1, just very briefly review. The first thing that happens when a person loves the world is conflict with others. Why? Because the dominant matter in the world is the sin of what? What is it? Starts with a P. Pride. The dominant sin in the world is pride. Therefore, you have all these people who are consumed with pride, and that creates immense conflict among them because it’s every man for himself.
And so in verse 1, he mentions the wars and the battles, and he uses a vocabulary of violence, as we saw last time, because worldliness, love of the evil system of earthly, sensual, demonic activity, inevitably creates conflict. Conflict in marriage, conflict in the home, conflict at work, conflict at school, conflict everywhere from an individual basis all the way to a national level. All that is in the world literally is the lust of the eyes, everybody lusting to fulfill himself, the lust of the flesh, everybody lusting to fulfill himself, and the pride of life, everyone consumed with his own ego.
And with those kinds of motives, everyone is really at war with everyone else because they’re all trying to do the same thing, fulfill their lusts and push themselves up the ladder a little higher. Inevitably, this creates conflict with anyone who stands in the way of the gratification of anyone’s desire.
So the first cost of worldliness, the first danger of worldliness, is conflict with others. And we went into that in detail. Secondly, we noted in verses 1 to 3, conflict with self. A person who loves the world is in tremendous conflict with himself. Why? Because he has driving lusts, driving desires which he has to a consuming point. In other words, he can’t restrain himself. Verse 1 again, these come, he says, come they not, these wars and fighting, even out of your lusts that war in your members.
The word “lust” here, hēdone, from which we get hedonism, have to do with desire for pleasure, the yearnings of self-love that demand fulfillment, the yearning for pleasure that cannot be assuaged until it is fulfilled. That kind of longing, that kind of groaning, that kind of tremendous compulsion toward the fulfillment of bodily desire and ego desire is a very cruel master - a very cruel master. These are the people of whom Jude says they walk after their own lusts. In other words, verse 17 of Jude, their conduct daily pursues the fulfillment of their lusts.
So we would say first of all, then, conflict with self - you remember? - we said involves an uncontrolled desire. An uncontrolled desire. A desire for pleasure that wages a war within a person. You say, “I didn’t think unbelievers battled.” Sure, they battle. They have a conscience, don’t they? They have guilt, don’t they? Why do you think they drink, take drugs, and go to therapists and all of that? To try to get the guilt relieved. Sure they have guilt. Sure they battle. First Peter 2:11, “The fleshly lusts that war against the soul.”
It isn’t just believers that battle. Our battle is more intense because of the presence of new life in us, but even an unbeliever battles against the residual image of God created within him in his conscience and against that which he knows is right, and so he’s in conflict with himself. There is a raging war. And I pointed out last time, do you think Liberace wanted to die of AIDS? No. But do you think he could control it? No. He could not control a lifestyle that ended in that way because an uncontrolled desire consumes the lover of the world.
And in verse 2, we see the level of that rage, that uncontrolled desire. You lust, you kill, you fight, you war. Violent terms, violent. There is an internal hostility boiling in men that creates destruction. They are driven by the passion for self-satisfaction. And you get in the way and they get very hostile. That’s the legacy of loving the world and being controlled by the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. You not only have conflict with everybody else, but that conflict is generated on the outside because of an immense conflict on the inside.
And, of course, as society, like in our day, as society okays and approves more and more evil and flaunts it publicly, then the desires begin to run even more in an uncontrolled manner, and we’re seeing the fulfillment of Paul’s words to Timothy. Evil men are getting worse and worse, and passions are running wilder and wilder.
Secondly, it is not only, as we saw, an uncontrolled desire that characterizes lovers of the world but it is an unfulfilled desire. They can’t even fulfill it. There’s never any fulfillment in that or in any other pursuit of evil. And notice what he says in verse 2, “You lust and you have not, so you kill.” That’s how the verse should be read. You desire to have and you can’t obtain, so you fight and war. There’s a tremendous hostility because you can’t get it. You lust but you don’t have it. You desire to have but you can’t obtain. You fight and war.
You have not because you ask not. Three times he says that you have not. You can’t obtain, you have not. Passion and frustration go hand in hand. Can’t be fulfilled.
And thirdly, we said it’s not only an uncontrolled desire, an unfulfilled desire, but it’s an utterly selfish desire, utterly selfish, totally self-centered. He says in verse 2, “Yet you have not because you ask not.” You ask when you do ask and receive not because you ask for the wrong reasons in order that you may consume it on your own lusts. Let’s talk about that for a moment. This is where we left off.
You have not because you ask not. What are they really searching for? I told you earlier, they’re not searching for God, they’re searching for all the things that God gives, like joy, peace, happiness, meaning, value, hope, fulfillment. Everyone looking for that, everybody is. But they don’t want God, they just want that, and they think that’s available through their worldly loves. And so he says you have not because you ask not. All that you really would desire to have of true joy, true satisfaction, true happiness, true hope, true meaning, true purpose is available from God if you would ask. Hasn’t he said that?
Go back to chapter 1, verse 17. Every good and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Every good and perfect gift is available from who? From God. And if you ask, He’d give it. Back in chapter 1, verse 5, he said if you lack wisdom, ask God, He’ll give it liberally and hold back nothing. God is the giver of all good gifts if you’d only ask. You have not because you ask not.
But then he turns right around in verse 3 and says you ask. Well, what’s the contradiction here? Well, in verse 2, he’s saying you do not have because you do not ask God properly. Then he says when you do ask, you’re not going to get it because you ask for the wrong reasons, not for the glory of God, not for the honor of God, but that you may consume it on your own lusts. So they are really deep in the pit. They don’t ask God on His terms for all that He has, and when they do ask they ask the God of their own designing to consume it on their own lusts and they receive nothing.
Now, obviously, when he says you receive not because you ask not in verse 2 he’s not meaning that their lusts would be fulfilled if they asked God. He means that what is beyond their lusts; that is, what they really seek of true joy and true peace and true happiness and true hope and so forth is available from God but they never ask God on God’s terms. When they do ask, they ask the wrong God, the God of their own making, or they seek for it in some other source and for only the purpose of self-consumption. You don’t ask. You don’t come to God.
The word is really to beg, aiteō. You don’t plead with God. It’s a common word for the humility of an inferior as he bows before a superior, seeking for something. It’s used in Acts 3:2 of a beggar seeking alms, in Matthew 7:9 of a child asking a parent, in Ezra 8 in the Septuagint, a commoner comes before a king and the word is used. It’s used of a man before God in Matthew 7:7 and many other places. You don’t come in submission. You don’t come as a beggar before God. You don’t come in dependence. When you do come you ask amiss, kakōs, in an evil manner. That’s what that means. Motivated by personal gratification and pleasure. Typical.
You know, there are people in the world, people who love the world, who ask God for things. But all for the wrong reasons - all for the wrong reasons. You ask in order that you may consume it upon your lusts. The NAS says that you may spend it on your pleasure. He uses the word hēdone again, hedonism. You may spend it on your pleasure or literally in your pleasures. And that’s in the emphatic position in the verse. So what they’re saying is you ask so that in your pleasures you may spend it, indicating that that is the sphere of the intended use of what you want, purely for pleasure.
That’s how it is for people who love the world. They exist for pleasure. They exist for the thrill of the moment. The word “spend” is to spend freely, to literally spend everything, to throw it around. In fact, that’s the very same verb used in Luke 15:14 of the prodigal son who spent everything on riotous living. You ask in order that you may have it so you may spend it riotously without thought on your own pleasure. And you’re never going to have the fulfillment of those things. God does not fill the requests of people seeking worldly things for the sole purpose of selfish and sensual pleasure.
So you’re left with a terrible conflict within yourself. First of all, if you’re in love with the world, you’re at odds with everybody else in the world because they’re all stepping on each other’s neck to get what they want. And everybody is expendable in the process. Everybody.
Secondly, you’re not only at odds in hostility with everybody in the world but you’re having tremendous anxiety within yourself because (one) your desires are out of control, (two) your desires which are out of control are unfulfilled, and (three) your out-of-control, unfulfilled desires have one goal and that is to be spent wildly on your own pleasure. And the seeds of self-destruction are built right in, says James.
So friendship with the world sets up an ongoing conflict with others who stand in the way of a worldling’s passionate desires, and it also includes a personal internal conflict and frustration as one is mastered by desire. That’s why we have a generation of people who are so angry, so hostile, so bitter, so hateful, so full of revenge. They’re in love with the world. And all that is in the world is a whole lot of lust and a whole lot of pride. And it is in conflict with a person and everybody in his environment.
But worse than that, and now we come to verses 4 to 6, friendship with the world means conflict with God. Friendship with the world puts you in conflict with God. And this is really frightening. Three aspects. Number one is personal hostility to God - personal hostility to God, verse 4, “You adulteresses.” The Authorized version adds adulterers and - and some scribe put that in just to equalize the sexes but that’s not how it is in the original text. “You adulteresses”
Now, James is writing to Jewish readers who are very familiar with that kind of terminology. And he’s using it in a sort of metaphorical sense. He’s not talking about actual women who are actually adulteresses, he is talking about unfaithfulness. He’s talking about a prostitution of life. The word “adulteresses” would immediately remind his Jewish readers that Israel was an adulteress wife. They would remember, for example, Hosea 1:2 where Israel is designed - is designated, rather, as an unfaithful wife of Jehovah God.
Such a term, by the way, it’s interesting to note, was never used in the Scripture for Gentiles because only Israel could commit adultery because only Israel had a covenant relationship to God. You see? Gentiles could be fornicators in a metaphorical sense but only Jews could be adulteresses. Israel was the covenant bride of God, the wife of God, as it were, as symbolized in the relationship of Hosea and Gomer. And when Israel went a-whoring after other gods, Israel became an adulteress. And because James is writing to Jews, this term is very vivid and very understood.
And by the way, it’s not a term that only James uses in reference to Jews, I believe it’s used also by our Lord on a couple of occasions, but in verse 39 of Matthew 12, He answered and said to them - that is, the Pharisees and scribes - “An evil and adulteress generation.” That’s what He called them. You also are guilty of adultery; that is, you have violated the national covenant with God. And He repeats it again in chapter 16 of Matthew with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, “A wicked and adulteress generation,” He says again. You’ll find it in Mark 8:38.
So for Israel, because of their covenant relationship to God, to abandon God was to commit spiritual adultery. Now, adultery is in the simple definition sexual sin by a married person. In other words, one who’s unfaithful to a partner. And that is precisely what James is saying, he’s saying you have been unfaithful as Jews to the covenant that your people had with God. Their worldly love, their love of the world was a state of spiritual idolatry which constituted them attaching themselves to another deity, which was adultery, spiritually speaking.
The Old Testament makes very much of this. It is a rather ringing theme. In fact, I was thinking of Psalm 73, verse 27, “For lo, they that are from thee shall perish. Thou hast destroyed all those who play the harlot, departing from thee.” An indictment again of the Jews among Israel who played the harlot and departed from God. You find it again in Isaiah, Jeremiah, in Ezekiel, and, as I mentioned, in Hosea.
In a sense, it is equal to apostasy. You get that? It’s equal to apostasy. It means to be near God and then to turn against God. For a Jew, it meant to be a part of the nation or the people who were in covenant relationship to God as a nation, though not all of them were as individuals, but then to depart from God was a kind of spiritual adultery.
We might say, in terms of where James is writing, that he has in mind professing Christians, people who attach themselves outwardly to the covenant people of God, namely the church. They apparently maintain some interest, some verbal commitment to God and Christ, and yet they hold a deep affection for the evil system which Jesus said in the parable of the soils, “Chokes out the gospel before they can ever be saved and bear fruit.” And they then become like the wicked adulteress Jews of Israel who were unfaithful to God.
It’s a great term for people who attach themselves to the church, who attach themselves to Christianity but then, with their tremendous consuming love for the world, give nothing to God and give themselves wholly to the world and thus are adulteresses. That’s what he has in mind. There’s really no middle point. One is either the faithful friend of God or His enemy, either a faithful lover of God or an adulteress. Jesus said, “He that is not with me is” - what? - “against me.” Against me.
And in Acts 8 in verse 21, Peter says to Simon, “You have neither part nor lot in this matter for your heart is not right in the sight of God.” It’s either one or the other. Your heart isn’t right in the sight of God, you have no part in the Holy Spirit and in what He’s doing. One or the other.
So James writes, “You adulteresses, you who have made an outward profession of union with God in Christ and then cultivated a love with the world, you adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Whosoever therefore will - the word “will” is an interesting word, from boulomai. It basically means the will of desire or the will of choosing one thing over another.
There’s another word, thelō. Thelō means to sort of wish. We would say, “Well, I wish a certain thing would happen.” “I wish my old aunt would die and leave me all her money.” That’s a wish. Or “I wish I’d get a promotion” or “I wish something really good would come about in my relationship with my husband, I wish that.” That’s not the word here.
This is the word - although they are often apparently interchangeable - that seems to have the strength that says I choose this, I determine this, I desire this in a deliberate choice, choosing one thing over another. It is seemingly to me a more objective determination. And so he says, “Don’t you know that whoever will make a definitive choice to be a friend of the world becomes the enemy of God?” Now, notice again, it almost gets lost here, whosoever therefore will or literally chooses to be a friend of the world, a philia, one who has a settled and deep affection for the world, the world being the evil system.
Then the little word “is,” do you see that little word, “is”? That’s really not what the Greek word should be there. The word is a lot more than “is.” Kathistatai means to make oneself, to make himself, to take a stand as, to be rendered as, to be constituted as. It is a decisive act, it is an act with finality that ushers you into a state of being. So it could read this way: Whosoever therefore deliberately chooses to be deeply affectionate for the evil system takes his stand as the enemy of God. That’s the idea.
The enemy of God - what a frightening thought. I want to be God’s friend, don’t you? I want to be God’s friend. In the parable of Luke 19, verse 27, He says, “Take my enemies and slay them.” Take my enemies and slay them. I don’t want to be the enemy of God. It’s a frightening thought. Robert Johnson writing in the last century on this particular passage said, “To constitute oneself an enemy of God is to remain in spiritual death and grow more fit daily for eternal death, to have the Almighty King of the universe as your foe.”
So what does this verse say? That the first element of conflict with God is a personal hostility from God. If you love the world then, one, you’re in conflict with everybody else. Two, you’re in conflict with yourself. Three, you’re in conflict with God. And it shows up in His personal hostility toward you. That’s a frightening thought God is personally the enemy of those who are lovers of the world’s system.
There’s a second thing. Not only does friendship with the world mean that you are the personal enemy of God, but secondly - we could say so much more about that but let me keep moving for time’s sake. The second thing is this conflict with God demonstrates a disregard for Scripture - it demonstrates a disregard for Scripture. Now, verse 5 is very difficult, very difficult to understand. And I’ve gone around and around the barn so many times that I’m dizzy on this verse. And I want you to know you can’t be dogmatic here, there are so many options and none of them can be conclusively affirmed by the biblical data. I’ll explain that in a minute.
So what I’m going to do is tell you a few things that I think might be as good as any opinion. Now, you understand that? I’m not going to be dogmatic, but once I tell it to you, I’m just going to go on and preach it as if it were the truth because it’s as good an answer as any, but there might be others and I’m not certainly going to be dogmatic because it’s an almost impossible verse to both understand and even to put together in the right word order and make sense out of. But let’s look at it, verse 5.
It just so happens, however, that I think the Authorized version or the King James translated it right. And that’s great. I think, to be honest with you, the NAS is not as desirable a translation, and if you have that Bible, you can look along and you’ll see a large “S” in front of Spirit. I think it ought to be a small “S” and that changes the entire significance of the verse. But again it’s arbitrary because it’s the same word and they didn’t capitalize anything in the Greek manuscripts. Verse 5, “Do you think,” or do you suppose, “that the Scripture says in vain the spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy?”
Now let’s look at this for a minute. Do you suppose that the Scripture says in vain - now he brings up the Scripture - that the Scripture says graphē legei a very common New Testament term for a scriptural quote. In other words, you who are friends of the world, you who are lusting after the world, you who are pursuing the pleasure of your own body and mind, you who are - as Ephesians says - controlled by the desires of the mind and the desires of the flesh, do you think that the Scripture says for nothing that the spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy?
Don’t you realize that you are living out exactly the spiritual diagnosis? Don’t you realize that? Don’t you realize, in a sense, that you are a living proof of the veracity of Scripture? Don’t you know that Scripture says that this is how people live? That natural man has within him a spirit that lusts to envy? And if that’s the way you are, don’t you know that you’re that natural man? Don’t you know you’re not a Christian if you love the world? Why? Because you’re an enemy of God. Two, because you are literally disregarding the scriptural diagnosis of yourself.
Now, what is curious about this verse is it says, “Do you suppose that the Scripture says in vain” - Do you think the Bible’s talking for nothing? That’s pretty easy to translate. And then it goes on to say the spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy. And the natural thing you’re going to think is, “Well, that’s a quote out of Scripture. Do you suppose the Scripture says for nothing [da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da]?” But that quote isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. That’s why it’s a difficult verse. He says, “Do you suppose the Scripture says in vain” and then quotes something that isn’t Scripture.
There is no such scripture anywhere in the Bible, not even in the Hebrew or in the Septuagint Greek version do we find anything like that. You say, “Well, then, what does it mean?” I think it is simply a composite of the essence of general scriptural teaching. There could be a lot of scriptures that could contribute to this idea and he is just talking generally. “Do you think that the Scripture says for nothing that naturally man has within him a spirit that is bent on evil?” It’s just a general statement, a sort of composite of what Scripture teaches. It could have in mind a lot of different passages.
I was just kind of looking through Genesis. In fact, I started in Genesis and just started going through the Bible, chapter by chapter, trying to find all the things that might feed in to that kind of a statement. And I started to discover such things in chapter 4 where it talks about Cain and his offering and Cain was very angry and his countenance fell. And the Lord said to Cain - ”Why are you angry and why is your countenance fallen? And if you do well shall you not be accepted and if you do not well, sin lies at the door and unto you shall be his desire and you shall rule over him.”
And it begins to talk about sin and evil desire and the desire that sin has to compel and to drive and to control. And you go through Genesis and you see it illustrated again and again, chapter 6, verse 5, “God saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only” - what? - “evil continually.” And again, that’s the same concept. You go through Genesis, I found several other places. You go into Proverbs, you’re going to find the same kind of thing there, as well as in the prophets.
I found Proverbs 21, I think it’s verse 10, “The soul of the wicked desires evil.” You come to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately” - what? - “wicked.”
So it’s very difficult to sort of fit this verse in some way, but the best we can do is to say that what James is saying here is if you are the friend of the world, you are thinking that Scripture says for nothing that the spirit within you is lusting to envy. Are you so foolish as to defy that scriptural diagnosis, go on with your lusting, go on with your worldliness and still think you’re a Christian? That seems to be as reasonable an interpretation as any. And again I say, we can’t be dogmatic. But the idea here is that Scripture generally teaches that the spirit within man lusts to envy. The evil impulse is there.
And Scripture doesn’t say that for nothing. It doesn’t say that the spirit of man lusts jealously for nothing but rather to define what man is in his fallenness and to set him up to be judged. The evil impulses of man’s heart draw him toward worldliness, and a worldly life brings one into a conflict with God. So in conflict with God, there’s a personal hostility from God to man. There’s a disregard for the scriptural diagnosis of man’s disease as some men would go around saying I’m a Christian, I’m a believer, I belong to God, and yet they’re driven, controlled by that lust that characterizes natural man.
So conflict with God, then, involves being God’s enemy and disregarding the diagnosis of His Word. Thirdly, and lastly, conflict with God - and this is the saddest thing of all - results in the forfeiture of forgiveness. The forfeiture of forgiveness. But He gives more grace in spite of the heart of man, in spite of his propensity to lust toward evil things, God gives more grace, in spite of man’s evil impulse, in spite of man being His enemy, He gives more grace. But to whom? Well, now he does quote Scripture, and he’s quoting from Proverbs 3:34.
By the way, it’s also quoted by Peter in 1 Peter 5:5, but this is Proverbs 34 - pardon me, Proverbs 3:34. “God resists the proud but gives grace unto” - whom? - “the humble.” God resists the proud. Boy, this is a direct shot. If you’re consumed with your lusts, if you’re consumed with your pride, if you’re going around parading that you’re a true believer but you are passionately in love with the world and you are controlled by lusting envy, which is the diagnosis of the heart of fallen, unregenerate men, you’re never going to experience grace. He does give grace, but He gives grace only to the humble. And the Lord fights the proud. They are His enemies.
The word for pride here is quite an interesting thing. It has the word above and then the word to show off. It’s somebody who sort of shows himself as if he were above everybody else. He’s exalted in his own mind. The lovers of the world are the enemies of God. The lovers of the world are those who parade a certain kind of outward belief in God, perhaps. They attach themselves to the church, but the truth is their affections are toward the world. And secondly, they are controlled by that internal evil impulse that characterizes unregenerate men but they will not look at the reality of that diagnosis.
Thus, though grace is available, it’s not for them because in their pride, they will not repent. The picture here is a defiant sinner setting himself up as God, worshiping himself as sort of a self-deity, boasting in his pride, and cut off from the grace of God. I don’t need to say that pride causes all other sins, you know that. It sets the will up against the Creator. It sets the will of the creature against the will of the Creator. So my pride is pitted against God.
Who are the proud here? They are the ones who are the friends of the world, the ones who lust for the world, the ones who are driven by desires of the flesh and mind, the ones who are led by their own ego. They’re the enemies of God. And God hates those proud people. God hated us when we were proud before His gracious Spirit humbled us. In Proverbs 6:17, God hates a proud look, it says. In Proverbs 16, you know these verses, verse 5, everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord. Verse 18, pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Back in - is it chapter 13? Verse 10, by pride comes nothing but contention, not only with men, I might add, but also with God. Now notice in James chapter 4 verse 6 - just briefly as we bring it to a conclusion - he says God resists the proud. The word “resist” is a very interesting word. It’s the word antitassō. Now, that word is a military word and what it basically means is God - it depicts a full army ready for battle. It has the idea of God setting His troops to do battle against the proud. The world is filled with pride.
It isn’t always that pompous external pride, but it’s that pitting one’s will against the will of God, and God sets His army in military array to do war and battle against the proud - very vivid language. But He gives grace - what a wonderful way to finish - unto the humble. He gives - present tense, always true - grace to the humble. What kind of grace? Saving grace, forgiving grace. Verse 10 says it, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He’ll lift you up.” Isaiah 66:2, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit and trembles at my Word.”
God has always exalted the humble man. What does it mean by that? What does humble mean? Broken over what? Sin. Sorrowful and repentant over rebellion against God, that’s being humble. Whosoever shall exalt himself, Jesus said in Matthew 23, shall be abased and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. God is gracious to the humble.
By the way, I believe that humility is the treasure house in which all other virtues are contained. It is the treasure chest in which all other virtues are contained. Humility is the essence of a right spirit. And when a person comes to the point where they are humbled, they seek no longer the fulfillment of the flesh, they seek no longer the driving pleasures of lust that pit them against the will of God, but the Spirit of God breaks that desire in their heart and by sovereign grace gives them a longing for what is right and a hunger for righteousness. Then they receive the grace of God.
So James says here’s the test. Do you love the world? If you love the world, you’re in conflict with it, you’re in conflict with yourself, and worse than that, you’re in conflict with God. He is your enemy. You have disregarded His scriptural diagnosis of your condition and you go on blissfully fulfilling your own lusts and you forfeit grace because grace comes only to the humble - only to the humble.
Let me read you something that I thought was kind of interesting. Written many years ago by a man named F. F. Trench. “I’ve seen a poor blind worm on the top of a slender pole stretching every ring of its fragile form and groping all around in vacant space, tingling with impatience to climb higher but doomed to stop at the top of the pole. It was a caterpillar whom a rough wind had shaken from the green tree where it was quietly feeding, and when it found itself on the hard ground, it wandered about in dry places, seeking rest and finding none until it reached the bottom of this wall, the foot of this pole and then it climbed.
“But, you see, it has made nothing of it. The green-painted pole has a very different thing - is a very different thing from the leafy tree it used to live in. Poor creature. It’s hungry, and the reason why it runs along and stretches upward so anxiously is if happily it might find the juicy foliage it once fed on. It will never find it there. Up among the branches of the tree of life man once had his home, his resting place, and there he fed sweetly. But a rough storm of temptation shook him down [the fall of man] and now he runs about among the dry places, seeking rest and finding none.
“And you will sometimes find him, poor groveling worm, poor fallen man, trying to better himself by climbing up some painted pole, and once he gains its top, you will see him exploring blindly around in emptiness, feeling for some higher object on which to rest, some green thing for his hungry soul to feed on, pivoting and balancing himself and stretching outward and stretching upward. But the tree of life is not there. Until it comes to live on God Himself, the hungry soul of man will never be satisfied.”
There is grace. There is forgiveness. And there is an absence of conflict with God and an absence of conflict with self and an absence of conflict with others. But it’s all wrapped up in a relationship to God that is defined as loving friendship, which means we are the enemy of the world. So James says do the inventory again, will you? Are you in love with the world? In conflict with everybody? With yourself and with God? If you are, he says, do this - and let’s read verses 7 to 10.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God, resist the devil and he’ll flee from you, draw near to God and He’ll draw near to you, cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded, be afflicted and mourn and weep, let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” You know what that is? That’s an invitation to salvation. That’s an invitation to come away from the green pole to the tree of life. That’s an invitation to stop being a friend of the world and become a friend of God. That’s an invitation to stop being an enemy of God and become the enemy of the world.
We are not lovers of the world, we are lovers of God. In fact, Jesus said he that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy to be my disciple. We love God because He first loved us. And if any man have not the love of the Father in him, doesn’t belong to the Father. He’s of the world and the world passes away.
Ask yourself the question. Do I love the world? Is that where my affections are? If that’s true, I’m the enemy of God. And the life of conflict will end in a tragic judgment that lasts forever. On the contrary, there is grace if you come to Christ. Let’s bow in prayer.
Lord, this is a difficult passage in one sense to interpret and yet we trust that somehow through the stumbling words and thoughts of this man there might have been a clear message from you. Help us always to be examining ourselves and to know whether we’re in the faith and if we are in the faith to know where we stand with you.
Thank you for grace. Thank you that you give more grace and more grace and no matter how much we have or how much we need, there’s always more grace. Father, thank you for that. Thank you that your grace comes not to the proud but the humble. And, O God, thank you that when we couldn’t humble ourselves, you humbled us, that sovereignly you reached down and broke our will, sovereignly you came down to draw us away from sin and the love of the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life to begin to hate that and draw nigh to you.
And you gave us grace, grace to forgive our sins, grace to enable us to live for you. And we are those that have been humbled, admitted our sin, cried out for mercy and grace. We are those who are no longer living to fulfill our own ego and thus are not in conflict with others. We are those who are utterly fulfilled in our own hearts, those who are your friends, your children, not your enemies. We thank you for that.
But, Lord, if there are some here who in applying the test to their own hearts find that they love the world and all that is in the world and they’re driven by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, help them to know that all the conflict raging around them and in them is a result of that and the worst conflict of all is that which they have with you.
Help them to know that you’re their enemy and that they have willfully defied you and your Word and forfeited grace and forgiveness. And may they see the sin of that and come in faith to Jesus Christ, the One who died and rose again that we might who were the friends of the world become the friends of God. We pray in His blessed name Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.