The epistle of James has always been one I’ve returned to in my devotional times of study. I’ve always had trouble with it. I’ve wrestled with it quite a bit.
One of the questions I’ve had is what exactly James is communicating in chapter 4. I currently believe the central point of the chapter is that to commit a violent act is to commit an act that renders you an enemy of God.
Let’s take a look at James 3:18-4:10:
Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
James writes in chapter 3, (which keep in mind, was not actually a “chapter” until verse and chapter distinctions were added to Scripture much later) that “peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” This sets up the context for the rest of James 4, leading right into, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill.” James is contrasting peacemakers who are content, with violent perpetrators who kill for selfish gain.
James goes on to say, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” With this, James seems to suggest that “friendship with the world” is equated with violence. He elaborates further, “Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
As I’ve always heard it taught, this “friendship with the world” is portrayed as an individualistic, pietistic, escape from the world. However, as shown in James 3:18, the backdrop for James 4 is “peacemakers who sow in peace.” To be a peacemaker is not to have an individualistic faith that escapes the issues of the world, but to go into the world, in a very communal manner, and invest your heart and soul into making it more peaceful. It is not a call to escape, but a call to action. To be a pacifist is not to sit on the sidelines, but to actively seek the pacification of violent actions and situations in a non-violent manner.
This is where verses 7-10 come into play. The statements are all dictatorial in nature. Submit to God, resist the devil, come near to God, wash your hands, purify your hearts, grieve, mourn, wail, and humble yourself. All of this exists in the context of being a peacemaker, where violence is equated with being an enemy of God. These commands are to be done in the spirit of pursuing communal peace, not simply internal struggle with temptation.
For James, the world is not a place to escape from because of unclean people, or for fear of being tainted by immoral actions. It is a place, an environment, a culture, a way-of-being in which people fight and kill one another in pursuit of more. “The devil,” in this context, is using desires for more goods and status as a means to ignite this audience to harm the very world Christ so desperately wants to love through his Body. And we, the Church, are His Body.
Let us stop our petty quarrels, our fighting, our bickering, our killing, and exchange them for a spirit of gentleness, and a pursuit of peace and agape.
Friendship with violence is friendship with the world. Friendship with the world is becoming an enemy of God.
To be an enemy of God is to be at opposing forces of the Kingdom of God.
Repent, turn to Love, and seek peace.