In the preceding chapter James warns believers against strife, contention, envy and pride. This behaviour is not of God, but is of the earth, sensual and devilish. In this chapter he gives the true cause of contention and strife, cautioning us against allowing this spirit to prevail.
(Vs. l.) "What causes strife, discord and quarrels (whether public or private) among you?" All of us know that these things ought not to be. We have an abundance of Scripture exhorting us to love one another, forgive, be kind, exercise patience, look not on our own welfare (but on the welfare of others) and preserve the unity of the Spirit (Ps. 133:1,2). In spite of what we are taught and what we know to be the right way, however, misunderstandings and contention arise. Why?
The real cause is the corruption of nature pride, envy, covetousness and jealousy, which, like so many soldiers, are stationed in our bodies and war against the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 17; Rom. 7:18-22). Our troubles come from within ourselves!
(Vs. 2.) "You are jealous and covet what others have" (either materially, physically or spiritually). When these lusts and desires go unfilled, you turn against those who have what you covet, becoming murderers in your hearts (for to dislike or hate another is murder). You burn with envy and anger inwardly because you are not as blessed as someone else. You are not able to obtain the happiness, contentment, usefulness and gifts you see in others. Therefore you war a against them in thought, criticism and insinuation. Perhaps the reason you do not have what you so strongly crave is that you have not asked God for it! Our carnal nature wants what it does not have and resents others who have it, which leads to bad feelings.
(Vs. 3.) "But" you may say, "I have prayed, I have asked God for gifts, blessings, talent, prosperity and happiness, but he does not give me what I asked for." Two charges are brought against us:
1. "You have not because you ask not." Murmuring and praying are not generally found in the same heart. Envy and intercession are not usually companions.
2. If you do ask God, and yet fail to receive, it is because you ask for the wrong purpose (evil, sinful motives). Your intention is to use the gift for your own pleasure and satisfaction, not for the glory of God.
(Vs. 4.) "Ye adulterers and adulteresses." This is not literal, but figurative and metaphorical. He is an adulterer who leaves his wife for another. We become adulterers in a spiritual sense when we leave Christ, our first love, and set our hearts and affections on the world and the things of the world. "Do you not know that an immoderate love for material and worldly things and a delight in the company and conversation of worldly people constitute a conflict with God?" We cannot serve two masters. It ought to be enough to have his love, grace and presence, along with the fellowship of his people (Phil. 4:11; 1 Tim. 6:8; Heb. 13:5; Matt. 6:24-34).
(Vs. 5.) There are two popular interpretations of this verse:
1. "Do you suppose that the Scripture is speaking to no purpose that says, "The Holy Spirit, whom God has caused to dwell in us, yearns over us and desires our whole heart to be dedicated to the glory of and fellowship with our Lord"?"
2. "The Scripture is clear which declares that the spirit of flesh and human nature which remains in us lusts enviously after those things which still appeal to the flesh (Rom. 7:23-25).
(Vs. 6.) But God gives us more and more grace to meet this evil tendency and all other carnal desires. His grace is sufficient to give us victory (2 Cor. 12:9). "More grace" indicates a growth in grace. But he gives his grace "to the humble", not to the proud. He gives grace to those who are sensible of their own weakness and acknowledge it, who think the worst of themselves and the best of others, who do not envy the gifts and graces of others, but rejoice at them. He not only gives grace at the first, but he gives them more grace! It may be said, "To those who have grace and humility, God gives more, and from those who have not he takes away even that which they have in common grace!"
(Vs. 7.) The way to overcome pride and defeat the spirit of envy, strife and contention is to submit ourselves to God!
1. To his will regarding gifts, talents and worldly possessions.
2. To leave it to God to make us what he would have us be.
3. To leave it to God to prosper or empty us.
4. To leave it to God to honour or humiliate us.
The way to overcome these evil tendencies is to resist them (to resist covetousness, envy, jealousy and wrong thoughts when we feel them rising within us). These thoughts and attitudes are of the devil and must be resisted.
(Vs. 8.) "You who have been overcome with and a party to contention, envy and strife, "draw close to God and he will receive you. Admit that you have sinned and need to be cleansed. Recognize that you have wavered and your affections have been divided. Purify your hearts from spiritual adultery by returning to your first love!
(Vs. 9, 10.) "As you draw near to God, be deeply penitent and weep over your disloyalty. Let your laughter be turned to grief, Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord and he will lift you up."