James 4:4-5 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?
At first reading, it could appear that James is saying here that envy, or intense jealousy, is part of our natural make-up as human beings made in the likeness and image of God. But Eugene Petersen’s interpretation in ‘The Message’, linking verse 5 closely to verse 4, is helpful: “You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that ‘he’s a fiercely jealous lover’.”
Petersen sees the attribute of ‘envying intensely’ (Greek: ‘pros phthonon epipothei’) as being what God does with regard to us, so that the ‘spirit he caused to live in us’ is the Holy Spirit, which is why several English have ‘Spirit’ instead of ‘spirit’ as the NIV has it. So, what James is telling us is that in the Scriptures God makes it abundantly clear that he is intensely jealous concerning his relationship to his Chosen People, his blood-bought Bride, his Church.
This is consistent with the Second Commandment: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love/mercy [chesed] to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).
In referring to the Second Commandment in his ‘Institutes’ (Bk II, Ch viii), Calvin writes: “Therefore, as the purer and chaster the husband is, the more grievously he is offended when he sees his wife inclining to a rival; so the Lord, who has betrothed us to himself in truth, declares that he burns with the hottest jealousy, whenever, neglecting the purity of his holy marriage, we defile ourselves with abominable lusts, and especially when the worship of his deity, which ought to have been most carefully kept unimpaired, is transferred to another, or adulterated with with some superstition; …”.
Do we take time to reflect on how much our holy God is committed to us in binding, exclusive, Covenant Love when we turn to him in repentance-and-faith? Do we respond to this love with the same ‘excluding-all-others’ commitment so that we don’t let anything else draw our affections away from him? “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days; let them flow in endless praise. … …Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne. Take my love; my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee” (Frances Ridley Havergal).
– Bruce Christian