Jamesby Douglas Estes
Up to now, James has been addressing his readers warmly as ″brothers and sisters″ (James 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:10, 12). In this section, however, he coldly addresses them as ″adulterous people ″ (4:4). These words seem harsh to us today, but James is not accusing his readers of sexual immorality; rather, he is following the Old Testament tradition of using adultery as a dysphemism (vulgar expression to make a point) to describe someone who has been unfaithful to God (see Jeremiah 3:8; Ezekiel 16:32).
Why would James switch to such sharp language? The root of the problem is that some of his readers have demonstrated ″friendship with the world″ (James 4:4). James is asking his readers whether they know that being friendly with the world (humanity's attempts to create their own society apart from God) is the same as hating God.
To our modern ears, this allegation might seem a bit extreme. The key, however, is in the word ″friendship″-a word that has taken on numerous meanings today, especially with the rise of social media. To James and his readers, ″friendship″ would have meant ″strong companionship″ or even ″allegiance″.
James is not suggesting that those who have acquainted themselves (a weak relationship) with the world are haters of God. Rather, he is saying that if you ally yourself to the world (a strong relationship), your allegiance demonstrates a profound ″enmity against God″ (v. 4). Since people are a special creation of God, and He loves us, if people hate Him and unite with the world, they have shared themselves with the world and are ″adulterous″ in their union with God.
If you ally yourself with the world, you are an enemy of God; James does not suggest there is any middle ground. To defend his argument, he cites Scripture twice.
The first reference (v. 5) is not clear to us today, as it is a very difficult verse to translate. James could be trying to remind us that God is jealous for us, as His Spirit who lives in us compels Him to be that way. Or, he could be warning us that our human nature is full of selfishness, and this is what propels us towards an allegiance with the world. Either way, God's grace is greater (v. 6).
The second reference is from Proverbs 3:34, which James adapts to emphasise that when we do not ally ourselves with the world but submit ourselves to God and His will for our lives, He will not oppose our work but in fact support it through His great grace for us.
There is wisdom from the world, and there is wisdom from God. When we listen to God, we reject the world, and God, who is good, pours out His grace upon us. Let us break our allegiances to the world and recommit ourselves daily to the goodness of God.
How do we commit ″adultery″ towards God in our everyday lives?
What does it look like to ″unfriend″ the world?