Chapter 4:1-6 (ESV) - What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 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. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 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. 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”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Question to consider: What is the root cause of jealousy and selfish ambition?
James warned against bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in the hearts of his readers and, by extension, to the entire church through the ages. Instead of giving into these things, he exhorted us to seek after the wisdom from above. Let the Lord sow seeds of wisdom and peace in us so that we may reap a harvest of righteousness. If instead we continue to sow jealousy and selfish ambition, we can expect a life filled with quarrels and fights. These are born out of covetousness and envy, and if allowed to fester, will produce theft and murder to get what we think we deserve. We should ask God to take care of our daily needs. Of course, if our intent in asking is to indulge our passions, we should not expect God to grant such requests.
James calls these passions adulterous because when we act this way, we are being unfaithful to God. We are uniting ourselves to the world instead of to God just as an unfaithful spouse unites with someone outside of the marital covenant. We either belong to Christ or to the world. To try and be both is to be double-minded as James wrote about back in chapter one after saying that God grants wisdom generously to all who ask in faith.
This wisdom is given generously through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and in whom God jealously yearns. God’s jealousy here is not the same unjust, unfaithful jealousy we experience as sinful creatures. Sinful jealousy is a desire to possess something that is not ours to possess. For instance, Cain was jealous of Abel because God accepted Abel’s sacrifice instead of his own. Rather than repenting and offering a true sacrifice in faith, Cain murdered his brother. God, however, is the one who gave us our spirit, the breath of life. We belong to Him, especially if we are united with Him in Christ, and He will not share us with the world or its manufactured gods.
Thankfully, we worship a God who gives more grace! Even though we get distracted by the things of this world and act as God’s enemies, He still continues to extend grace to us when we repent and turn to Him. Every week, we gather around God’s word to illuminate our need for Christ. Every week we confess our sins and receive forgiveness in the name of Christ. Every week we gather around God’s table to receive His grace and mercy.
Dear heavenly father, please examine our hearts and show us where we have made friendship with the world and acted as Your enemy. Thank You for giving us the grace we need rather than the judgment we deserve. May we extend that same grace to those who sin against us and turn from jealousy and selfish ambition. Amen.