We’ve said week by week that James is determined to demonstrate that if Christian faith is real, it must be a transformative faith. It must be a faith that is seen, not just heard. It must be a faith that shows up in actions, not just in words. It must be a faith that is lived, not just believed. As we saw last week, he is concerned that the Christian community be living good lives that display the wisdom of God.
For these reasons, some critics of the book of James have suggested that James is overly occupied with "good works" and is not concerned enough with the living faith of the heart. Or to put it another way, is James more concerned with the outside of the person than the inside? If so, doesn’t that contradict a major message of the New Testament, that Jesus is more concerned with the “inside of the cup” rather than the squeaky clean outside (Matt 23:25)? Yet that criticism of James isn’t fair. This passage in James 4:1-12 demonstrates that James sees the core problem in the lives of his friends as a problem of “divided hearts.” In this section, James draws on a long tradition in the Old Testament of using the marriage relationship as an analogy for God’s relationship with his people (see Isaiah 54:5, Ezekiel 16:6). While God has committed himself wholeheartedly in covenant relationship with his people, the prophets grieve that God’s people have strayed after other lovers. God desires his people to return, to come back to the covenant relationship of love, and for the relationship to be restored.
In this section, James echoes that prophetic tradition as he indicts his friends as “adulterous people” (4:4). He does not mean that they have literally committed adultery, but that they have strayed from the Lord as their true loyalty and affection. James desires that that they would recognize the ways that they have no longer given their hearts true and total loyalty to the Lord, and to return to covenant faithfulness to him alone.
This Sunday we’ll take James’ words seriously for ourselves, and consider ways we too have “adulterous hearts.” As we celebrate the Lord’s supper, we have a beautiful opportunity to again return to the Lord who loves us, who has given everything for us that we might belong to him forever.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?