Abundant Grace - Notes on James 4:5-6
James 4 speaks against spiritual adultery, citing the history of Israel’s idolatry by using the phrase, “Ye adulterous people,” as appears in similar terms in the book of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea. James calls the believers to faithfulness or fidelity to the Lord, and not to be “a friend of the world.”
James 4:5– “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’?”— This verse is one that is challenging, for even Greek scholars differ somewhat in how the original is translated:
(1) James attributes his statement in verse 5 to “the Scripture.” James’ exact quote, however, cannot be found in the O.T. Nevertheless, the sense of what James is conveying is undeniably laid in the O.T., which is referred to in the N.T. as “the Scriptures.” James directs the believers’ attention in this verse to the whole of the Scriptures!
(2) The word, “spirit,” in James 4:5 is not capitalized in some translations (eg., ESV, NLT), but capitalized in others (eg., NASB). Here are two differing translations:
- The NLT translates verse 5 in this way: “What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy?”
- NASB translates verse 5 as: “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’?”
On the one hand, the NLT is in keeping with the context, as James did rebuke the quarreling that is occurring in the congregation, the cause of which is bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, characteristic of an unregenerate heart— that is, James is speaking to those who profess belief but whose works deny their profession of faith.
On the other hand, the NASB is in keeping with the context, too, for James does speak against spiritual adultery, which is committed by those who are considered the people of God. In this context, James is speaking to genuine believers-- reminding them that the Spirit of God dwells in them. Therefore, they are to walk in fidelity to the Lord.
In sum, James’ words in verse 5 speak to both groups-- those in the congregation who merely profess faith but deny it by their works; and, those in the congregation who possess genuine faith but are in need of reminder to walk worthy of their calling. (Such is God’s Word— described in Hebrews 4:12 as “sharper than a double-edged sword,” able to judge our innermost thoughts and intents of the heart.)
James 4:6– “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”— To oppose signifies to rage against, as in a battle! James makes this truth explicit-- “God opposes the proud.” Therefore, his call is for humility-- “God gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore, for the sinner who humbles himself in repentance before a holy God, there is grace! For the believer who humbles himself before His Father, confessing his sins, there is grace! He is faithful and just to forgive! Consider listening to the words of these hymns: 1) He Giveth More Grace; 2) Marvelous Grace of Our Loving Lord; 3) The Lord is My Salvation. Ponder upon the truths on which these songs are based; and marvel again at God’s Amazing Grace!