What does James 4:5 mean?
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?
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.
James 4:1–12 builds on the end of chapter 3, describing how living according to the world's wisdom has led to great conflict among James's Christian readers. They were fighting with each other because they couldn't get what they wanted. James says that living that way is adultery. It's ''cheating'' on God. He calls them to quit their friendship with the world, humble themselves, repent from their sin, and receive God's grace. God is the Lawgiver and Judge, not man.
What was causing fights and quarrels among the Christians to whom James was writing? They were living by the world's wisdom. This false perspective says human beings should do whatever it takes to get what they want in this life, even if it hurts other people. James says that to live that way is adultery, but God gives grace. Christians should repent and move close to God again. We should trust Him to provide, to be the Judge, and to lift us up in His time. In humility, we must acknowledge that all of our plans are dependent on Him, and He can change them at any moment.
The book of James is about what it means for a Christian to live a life of complete trust in God. Chapter 4 builds on the end of chapter 3, where James described the self-seeking wisdom of the world. Following this worldliness was the cause of fights among James's Christian readers. He called them to repent and, in humility, receive God's grace. He called them to stop making their plans for business as if they could accomplish anything without God. In chapter 5, he will continue to talk about the dangers of trusting riches instead of the Lord.
The book of James is about specifically understanding what saving faith looks like. How does faith in Christ reveal itself in a believer's life? What choices does real trust in God lead us to make? Those are the questions James answers. Most scholars believe the writer was Jesus' half-brother, a son born to Joseph and Mary after Jesus' birth. James may not have come to believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Eventually, though, he became one of the leaders of the Christian church in Jerusalem. This is possibly the earliest-written of all the New Testament books, around AD 40–50. James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians scattered around the known world.
Accessed 11/30/2023 6:10:42 AM
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