By Rony Kozman, Ph. D.
Assistant professor of Biblical Studies, Samford University
Faith on Display in Facing the Enemy
The sinful nature is self-centered and keeps us in conflict. (1-3)
James 3:13–16 contrasts the wisdom that comes from above (i.e., from God) with the wisdom that is from below. Whereas the wisdom from above is “peaceable, gentle” and is characterized by peace (v. 17), the wisdom from below is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish” (v. 15), is characterized by “bitter envy and selfish ambition” (v. 15) and results in “disorder and wickedness of every kind” (v. 16).
This wisdom from below that generates disorder in the community is picked up again in chapter 4 when James asks about the origin of the “wars and fights” (v. 1).
The wars and fights in the community erupt from the passions that are warring in their bodies. In other words, the conflicts in the community begin from the wars within each person. This is a problem of passion or unbridled desire that takes people captive and subjugates them. This results in “murder” (i.e., conflict in the community) since they prioritize fulfilling their passions, even if it means and requires conflict with others.
The world is hostile to God. (4–5)
Perhaps it is spiritual adultery that underlies the passions that dominate us. We see this in James’s accusation, “Adulterers!”
When we are fixated on satisfying our pleasures and getting what we desire, we ally ourselves with the world. In the language of James, we pursue “friendship with the world.” To pursue our desires and become friends with the world is to make ourselves hostile to God.
We cannot be friends with both God and the world. To be friends with one is to be at odds with the other. And to be friends with the world is to be unfaithful to God. Hence, the charge of adultery.
The charge of “murder” (v. 2) and of “adultery” (v. 4) are not accusations of literal murder and adultery in the audience, but get to the root of Israel’s law which prohibited both murder and adultery (Ex. 20:13–14).
When we persist in conflict with each other, we are violating the spirit of the prohibition against murder since underneath murder is the attempt to secure what one desires. And by friendship with the world and desiring the things of the world, we commit adultery against God.
You can stand against Satan only as you submit to God and draw near to Him. (6–10)
The antidote to our hostility to God and friendship with the devil is to pursue the opposite: “draw near to God” and “resist the devil.” We see here that when we heed our passions and seek them out, we are not only friends with the world, but we are also listening to the wisdom of the devil. James calls us to resist our passions, the wisdom of the world and the devil. Instead, we are to draw close to God.
James calls us to repentance and humility. And we put on this humility by heeding his exhortation to “lament and mourn and weep.” James sounds like Israel’s prophets in his appeal.
While we might think we need to feel remorse before we can act in repentance, James exhorts his audience to weep as an act of repentance of humility. We are not to wait until we feel sorry. Rather, we are to lament and grieve and draw near to God. This is our act of repentance.