"You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: 'He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us'?" (James 4:4-5)This is an extremely difficult passage to translate and understand, particularly because this scripture can be parsed and understood in so many ways. To begin with, James seems to be quoting some unknown text, either an ancient Jewish text of some New Testament writings that have not been preserved down to our time. Of all the know texts of that period, scripture or not, we know of none that fits well with James' quotation. For most scholars, the key to understanding this scripture is in knowing where to place the punctuation. The early Greek texts did not use punctuation and sentence structure was inferred by the context. The punctuation in our English versions of the scriptures have been added to fit with our language's syntax and grammar. Therefore, where one translator may place a comma, another may use a period. This variation of punctuation can change the fundamental meaning of a verse. For example, this same passage Darby translates as:
"Adulteresses, know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore is minded to be [the] friend of the world is constituted enemy of God. Think ye that the scripture speaks in vain? Does the Spirit which has taken his abode in us desire enviously?" (James 4:4-5 Darby)In this interpretation, James is not quoting scripture but his thought is really two statements: Does the scripture speak for no purpose? Does God's Spirit come to us that we might envy and covet the things of this world? For me, this seems like a much more natural and consistent expression of the thought James is trying to bring forth.
Adultery is when the love of one wanders from their spouse towards another; when one has pledged their love to someone but instead gives it to someone else. As believers, we have pledged our love to Christ. The greatest of the commands is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:5) As believers we have also been betrothed to Christ as His bride. Paul, speaking of marriage, says that it is a type of the church's relationship with Christ. "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless." (Ephesians 5:25-27)
We now belong to Christ, and James warns us against taking our affections that belong to Him and giving them away, or spending them on, the world and its system. Lust, covetousness, and envy are temptresses who seek to draw our affection away from the Lord and to give ourselves to the things of this Earth and, when we yield to their temptation, we commit adultery against our Lord. The scriptures are very clear; they speak for a purpose. Over and over they warn us against desiring the things of the flesh and of this world. Further, Paul tells us that this world, and its system, is passing away, saying it is time that "those who buy [should be], as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away." (1 Corinthians 7:30-31)
This is not to say that we must be completely done with the world, but that it no longer deserves our love. We can use and possess the things of this world, but we must not let them possess us. We must not let our love of this world tie us to this world. There is a sorrowful picture of the end of the age. John, as recorded in his Apocalypse, witnesses the judgment of Babylon and records,
"And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, 'Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.' And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her... and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, 'What city is like the great city?' And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, 'Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!'" (Revelation 18:9-11,18-19)One day, all this will come to an end. The heavens and the Earth will be destroyed and new ones take their place. In that day, some will mourn at what they've lost and others will rejoice in what they've gained. Which person will you be? Will your love of this world cause you to mourn its loss or will your love for God cause you to rejoice in having inherited eternal dwellings with Him in His new heaven and Earth? I hope that day will find me rejoicing.