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. (Jas 4:2-4)
These Christians are incorrigible. (I know. How many of us use that word? But it fits.) The last group of people in the Bible that I had this angst about was the Corinthians in the First letter Paul wrote. James is bringing it all out in full view. He is not holding anything back.
Normally these items that he mentions would be hidden. Lust, murder and coveting are things that remain hidden until disclosed by action. (It is my thought that “murder” here is not an actual taking of another’s life. Rather, it would be the hatred that leads to murder. Jesus traces murder back to hatred without a cause and to despising your brother (Mt 5:21-22)) Rather than staying hidden, these heart attitudes are being displayed, “you fight and war” he says. Verse 1, as we saw, already puts the source of these fightings within the person themselves. James says they are out for everyone to see.
James says that the reason that they do not “have” is because they are not asking. Further he says that when they do ask (can we insert the phrase “bother to ask God”?), they don’t receive it because their motives are impure, not sincere. They ask for things that they will spend on their own pleasures. What might they be asking for? To be a teacher? To be more wealthy? To have wisdom? (So that they might have prestige?) All that would be in line with the hints the book as given us.
When Simon the sorcerer saw that Peter and John could give the Holy Spirit (Acts 8), he asked for that ability also and he offered them money. Peter rebuked him. Simon might have had kin here because here are these Christians asking God for the object of their desires and not receiving what they ask for. Because they also ask amiss! They were asking so that you can spend it on their own pleasures!
(Sidenote: God is not a cosmic vending machine so that by saying the right words in a certain order, that the desired gift pops out. Asking for wisdom is one thing, asking for the things you that you ask for, with selfish reasons, for your own indulgences, are not in line with the types of gifts God gives.)
These Christians are worldly minded and he now seems to explode at them. How would you feel if someone called you an adulterous person? In this context adultery is clearly a spiritual ailment rather than the typical sexual sin. (Either way is still bad) Israel was guilty of playing the harlot with other nations and God condemned them for it. Here also these Christians are doing the same thing. Even today we see this same characteristic.
You have a choice. How long will you go limping between two sides? Choose this day whom you will serve. If you wish to be a friend of the world, you will be an enemy of God. Notice: the person who wants to be friends with the world MAKES himself an enemy of God. After all God did to make peace with you, you now wish to make him your enemy?
Now I don’t want you to think that James is telling them that they are lost here. Not yet. He has, after all called them beloved brethren in this letter. However, he is warning them in no uncertain terms that the path they are on is not a good one. If you continue to become friends with the world, an enemy of God you will also be. Enemies are destroyed. This might be an uncomfortable thing for them to hear, it certainly is for us today.
The sad truth is for those that leave God’s grace, that they were not snatched, they were not forced, and they were not overwhelmed by Satan’s might. No, they were enticed and drawn away; they saw the attractions of the world and like a child wander toward the pretty balloons and entertainment. They gave into their own desires and made friends with the world. They themselves make themselves to be God’s enemy.