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James 4:5

ESV Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
NIV Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?
NASB Or do you think that the Scripture says to no purpose, 'He jealously desires the Spirit whom He has made to dwell in us'?
CSB Or do you think it's without reason that the Scripture says: The spirit he made to dwell in us envies intensely?
NLT Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him.
KJV Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

What does James 4:5 mean?

In the previous verse, James said an alarming thing: There is an approach to life that feels normal to us as human beings. It can even become normal for Christians. And yet, the approach James condemns is cheating on God just as much as an unfaithful wife is cheating on her husband. It makes us God's enemy.

What is this approach? It is living according to the world's wisdom, rather than God's. It is allowing our lives to be driven by envy for what we want and ambition to get it at any cost. It is the attitude which excuses fighting, quarreling, and conflict with other Christians.

Now James asks another rhetorical question to make a point. Bible scholars note that this is one of the most difficult verses to translate in all of the New Testament. This is reflected in the various translations, which record it quite differently. This is not because of a confusion over the words themselves, but a question about the perspective James is speaking from. This translation issue has to do with how we read the original Greek text.

There are two ways to view this text. First, James may mean that the Old Testament says God is jealous for the spirit—our spirit or His Holy Spirit—which He has caused to live in us. If this is the case, James does not seem to be making a direct quote, but previewing a direct quote he will use in the next verse. The second possibility is that James means that the spirit that God has caused to live in us—our human spirit—tends to become intensely envious.

As it turns out, the Bible teaches both of these ideas elsewhere. The question here is not whether or not either of these interpretations is valid. Rather, there is debate over which one James really intends. Scholars tend to agree that the first idea is what James has in mind. Namely, that God is jealous—in the sense of being concerned and involved—for the Holy Spirit He has made to live inside of those who have trusted in Christ.

In other words, if we continue to live according to the world's wisdom, God takes our choice not to trust Him very personally. He is jealous for us. He won't easily allow us to continue to lead lives of self-service and self-reliance when He has placed His Spirit in us.
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