Caution against Worldly-Mindedness and Its Consequences.
Against a lustful, quarrelsome disposition:
v. 1. From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
v. 2. Ye lust and have not; ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
v. 3. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
v. 4. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye 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.
v. 5. Do ye think that the Scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?
The tenor of this chapter is such as to have called forth the following remarks: "These verses reveal an appalling state of moral depravity in the Diaspora congregations; strife, self-indulgence, lust, murder, covetousness, adultery, envy, pride, and slander are rife; the conception of the nature of prayer seems to have been altogether wrong among these people, and they appear to have been given over wholly to a life of pleasure. " The rebuke of the apostle does not lack in sharpness: Whence do fights, whence do wrangles come in your midst? Is it not thence, namely, from the passions that wage war in your members? The situation in many of the Jewish Christian congregations was anything but what the Prince of Peace would advocate in His Church. There were continual bickerings, wranglings, quarrels, fights, without a chance for rest and peaceful growth, the same condition that is found in some Christian congregations also today. The apostle flatly tells his readers what the source is of all this disagreement and disorder, namely, the selfish desires, the evil lusts, the unrestrained passions which they permitted to wage war in their own members; they made no attempt to restrain the evil promptings of their heart, they made their members instruments of unrighteousness. See Rom_7:23; 1Co_9:7.
With dramatic fervor the apostle continues: You crave and do not have; you commit murder, and are full of envy, and cannot obtain it; you quarrel and fight. There can be no doubt that James is here throughout using the spiritual interpretation of the Law, calling the sins of desires and thoughts by their right name, and indicating their standing in the sight of God. The people to whom this letter was addressed were dissatisfied, they were full of desire for something else; their hopes and expectations were in a very hazy state, as is usually the case with people that are not content with their lot and believe themselves to be destined for higher things. Their hearts were full of murder and envy, they were always afraid that some other brother might attain to greater honor and prominence in the congregation, and the wish that he might be out of the way may often have been supplemented by plans for his removal. But with all the quarreling and fighting that was going on in their midst they were not gaining any spiritual advantage, their own disposition precluding the blessings of the Lord.
This condition was made still worse by another factor: You do not have on account of your not asking for it; you ask and do not receive, because you ask in a wrong manner, in order to spend it in the satisfying of your own lusts. In many cases even the formality of prayer was forgotten over the wrangling that was becoming ceaseless; and so, of course, the attainment of even good desires was out of the question. But even where the formality of prayer was observed, where they went through the gestures intended to accompany prayer, there was no chance of their being heard and receiving the object of their desires, because their prayer was made in the interest of their own selfishness, their object being to use the gifts which they might receive from God in the gratification of their own lusts; they wanted to waste His blessings in carrying out various schemes of their own, for their own benefit and aggrandizement.
In holy zeal the apostle warns them: Wanton creatures, do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity toward God? If anyone, then, chooses to be a friend of the world, he is constituted an enemy of God. Adulterers and adulteresses the apostle calls his readers, speaking generally, for their behavior not only approached idolatry, which is spiritual adultery, but their attitude toward the world endangered also their bodily chastity. There was an increasing tendency in the congregations, just as there is today, to give up the solid front against the world and its pleasures; the lusts of the world were entering into the Church. Christians did not hesitate to seek the friendship of the children of the world in order to take part in the special delights of the flesh which the children of the world foster. But then, as today, it was true that every person that became guilty of such behavior thereby constituted himself an enemy of God, placed himself into direct opposition to God and His holy will, and took the first steps toward a life of idolatry.
With challenging fervor the apostle asks: Or do you suppose that the Scripture says in vain, Even unto jealous envy that Spirit which He made to dwell in us does yearn (for us)? Such behavior as the apostle has just described is absolutely incompatible with the ideals which the Lord holds out before the Christians in His Word. See Gal_5:17-21; Rom_8:6-8; 1Co_3:16. These and similar passages, which are found in many parts of Scriptures, indicate definitely that the Lord watches over the behavior of the Christians with jealous envy. The Holy Spirit who has come to dwell in our hearts strives unceasingly to have us acquire the same love for God and His holy will which He bears for us and for our highest development along spiritual lines. Any behavior on our part, therefore, that tends to dislodge the Holy Spirit from our hearts, will retard our spiritual growth.