James 4:5

Friday, 16 August 2019

Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? James 4:5

The words of James 4:5 are highly debated, and manuscripts and translations vary widely in what is stated. Some say that the spirit referred to is the spirit of man. Others say it is referring to the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit, some say that the Spirit “lusts against envy,” thus tying it in with Galatians 5:17 –

“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”

In other words, this view says that the Spirit “lusts against” or wars against envy which is a fleshly emotion. Others will say (as the NKJV) that “the Spirit who dwells in us years jealousy.” The meaning is that because we are sealed with the Spirit, there is a yearning for us to do that which is right and that the “Spirit which He implanted yearns tenderly over us” (Cambridge).

On the other hand, if it is speaking of the spirit in man (not the Holy Spirit), then one might agree with Albert Barnes –

“The more obvious interpretation is to refer it to our spirit or disposition as we are by nature, and it is equivalent to saying that we are naturally prone to envy.”

The Aramaic Bible would agree with Barnes –

“And perhaps you think the Scripture says in vain, ‘The spirit that dwells within us lusts with jealousy.’”

The first main problem lies in the fact that James begins with, “Or do you think that Scripture says in vain.” The dilemma with this is that there is no verse which can be cited as the source for this. However, the Greek term used, hē graphē, is always used to indicate a quote from the recognized Jewish canon, with the exception of Peter speaking of Paul’s words and equating them to Scripture.

Many attempts to resolve this have been made, one is that it is a general principle found throughout Scripture, and not any specific quote. The noun, however, is singular, implying one quote from a single part of Scripture. For every suggested answer, there is a corresponding difficulty which seems to speak against it. Thus, there are many translations.

One thing is for certain, James is writing to fellow believers. This can be seen, again, in verse 4:11 where he notes that they are “brethren.” Further, one cannot be an adulteress (see previous verse) if that person is not married to a husband. If believers are married, they have a sign of that union. For them, that sign is the Holy Spirit. It was given first at Pentecost, and it comes to any believer since then as a seal and guarantee (Ephesians 1:13, 14) when he believes.

What makes the most sense, simply because of the context (being married to the Lord and having the seal of the marriage) is that this is speaking of the Holy Spirit in us, and that it is yearning jealousy over our actions.

This would then explain the first part of the verse concerning what the Scripture says. The Lord, again and again in the Old Testament, refers to His jealous nature. It doesn’t need to be referring to all of Scripture (meaning the noun must be plural) such as, “as it is written in the Scriptures.” Rather, it can simply be referring to any single occasion, such as –

“They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods;
With abominations they provoked Him to anger.” Deuteronomy 32:16

In this, it then would be an obvious reference to the fact that the Spirit is God; a member of the Trinity. The same God who yearned jealously over the people of Israel due to their adulterous ways now yearns jealously within each saved believer who acts in an adulterous manner. This view on James’ words is in accord with what will next be stated by him.

Life application: Surprisingly enough, this is a good verse for getting doctrine concerning the Spirit straight – not just on the issue of jealousy, but in other areas as well. God caused the Spirit to live in us. This, when taken in context, shows that the Spirit indwells the believer. Paul says this occurs the moment we believe –

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:13

There is no “separate” baptism of the Holy Spirit and there is no sign necessary to know that He resides in you (such as a specific “prayer language”). The believer is given the Holy Spirit by faith in Christ.

Another area this verse deals with indirectly is eternal salvation. If we have the Spirit of God living in us and He envies intensely, then it implies that despite our failings, He never leaves us. As Hebrews says, Jesus is the author of “eternal salvation.” The Holy Spirit will never depart the believer in Christ. As this is so, shouldn’t we live in a manner that honors God rather than bringing about discipline for our envy, selfish ambition, strife, and other wayward conflicts?

Take time today to reflect on the nature of your salvation and the eternal rewards that it implies.

Great Lord and God! Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit and thank You that He will never leave us once we have trusted in the work of Jesus. Because of Jesus’ cross, we are free from condemnation and we live with Your presence ever within us! Glory to You in the highest. Amen.

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