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James 4:4-5 – The Red-Light District of the Soul

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

In a conversation about the biblical writers, popular speaker Jordan Peterson once noted that they are not at all concerned about being politically correct. Today’s passage is perfect example of this.

First, in this age of “nuance” and “shades of meaning”, James presents us with a starkly black and white proposition.

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?

There is no middle ground, no room for compromise in this. Are you friends with this world? You are automatically the enemy of God. Do not pass “Go”, do not collect $200.00.

This statement alone should cause every living person to sit up and take stock of their lives. For to be the enemy of God is no small matter. In my relatively short lifespan I have had the opportunity to get on the bad side of  a fair number of individuals – some of them with considerably more power and influence than I. But were I to earn the ire of the most powerful of individuals in this world, indeed were the resources of entire nations arrayed against me, that would be but nothing compared to the anger of the holy and all-powerful Creator of the Universe. The thought of enmity with God should be enough to drive every unbeliever to his knees in repentance.

But remember that this text is directed at believers, not unbelievers. And that is what should bury this next breach of political correctness protocol on James’s part deep in our hearts.

I’m not one to lightly question the choices of scholars much more versed in the languages than I am when it comes to how they elected to translate certain texts. I do have at least some self-awareness on that point. And yet, the more I look into this text, the more I think the translators goofed – at least the ones translating the New King James Version, which is the one we have been using in these devotionals.

They begin verse 4 “Adulterers and Adulteresses!” Yet what I understand to be the best Greek texts only have one word here: μοιχαλίδες. And that ες ending is feminine. James is saying (and please pardon my French here) You whores!

That’s some tough language. That adds a whole new dimension to the “friend with the world, enmity with God” – a dimension of betrayal. It’s not just that the carnal Christian is friends with the world, it’s that he is friends with benefits. The next verse confirms, I believe, this translation.

Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

So we are not talking about a trite, playground ethic of “if you’re friends with him, you can’t be friends with me” kind of thing. No, the image James is conjuring up is of the righteous rage of a husband who comes home to find his wife in bed with her lover…who happens to be his sworn enemy. That’s the level of betrayal that takes place when members of Christ’s beloved Bride, redeemed from the slave market by His very blood, give themselves over to worldliness.

By the way, James is not the only writer to use this rather graphic imagery. Ezekiel 16 and 23 offer a couple other hair-raising examples.

So what is to be our reaction to this salvo from James? There can be only one: diligently root any vestige of worldliness out of our hearts and minds. Confess it, turn away from it, and return to our First Love.

And the next verses we look at will be especially encouraging in that regard.

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