Online Bible Commentary
At War with God
James 4:1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"? 6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." (NKJV)
James, the head of the church in Jerusalem, is writing to first century Christian Jews who have been dispersed from Jerusalem. He specifically is writing to teachers of the Gospel. Therefore, in keeping with the context we know that this passage has to do with war in the church, and not wars between nations.
James begins this passage by proclaiming that “wars and fights come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members” (v. 1). He is saying that those who war with others in the church, and even with God, do so because of their own human desires. The word “members’ refers to the human body, not the church body. It may refer to jealousy, envy, covetousness, or any other selfish desire to fulfill our personal pleasures. This is a desire for worldly pleasures.
“You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war” (v. 2a). People will go to great lengths to get what they want, including committing murder. James is likely not saying that murder had been committed in the church. He is making the point that some believers may have murder in their hearts to get what they want, to fulfill their worldly desires. They are not allowing the Holy Spirit to control their lives. Instead, they are being controlled by the things of the world.
The solution to this, and every problem, is prayer. Some of these Christians are not content because they do not have a prayer life. “Yet you do not have because you do not ask” (v. 2b). Others, who do have a prayer life, ask with the wrong motives. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (v. 3). God is not going to grant a prayer request that is made simply to gratify worldly pleasures. He wants to know that we will use His gifts wisely, to promote the Kingdom of God.
James describes these Christians as “adulterers and adulteresses” (v. 4a). They are committing spiritual adultery. They are putting the things of the world before the things of God. Friendship with the world is “enmity with God” (v. 4b). Jesus said we are either with Him or against Him (Mt. 12:30). They are against Him, at this time. They are at war with God. There is need for change.
They are at war with God because they have chosen the things of the world over God. God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5). This is the Scripture referred to in verse five. It is not a Scripture said “in vain” (v. 5a). God, "the (Holy) Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously” (v. 5b). He is jealous and yearns for our love and faithfulness. When we sin, He grieves (Eph. 4:30).
It is clear in this passage that James is writing of Christians and not false Christians, or unbelievers. It is clear, firstly, because he is calling for them to pray for what they want (vv. 2-3). God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers unless they are reaching out to him for salvation. Secondly, it is clear that these are Christians because the Holy Spirit dwells in these people (v. 5). Paul, who was definitely a Christian, also was challenged by worldliness (Ro. 7:13-25).
When we need more grace, God “gives more grace” (v. 6a), but not to the proud and haughty, not to those who intentionally sin and then demand God’s grace. For "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (v. 6b, Pr. 3:34). The humble receive God’s grace, not the proud.
So, the solution to worldliness, or any sin, is to humble ourselves before God. We do this through prayer. We come to Him and humbly confess our sin. We repent, making a conscious decision to turn from this sin. We ask forgiveness for our sin.
God then gives us the grace to break this sin pattern. The Holy Spirit helps us to resist this sin. We must take the first step and resist the next time we are confronted. Once we take that baby step, showing God that we are serious, the Holy Spirit immediately jumps into action. He helps us, strengthens us in our resolve. It is a constant war, but one worth waging. We may still lose some battles, but we can win the war, as long as we are not at war with God.