Imagine coming home, walking up the stairs, and finding your spouse in bed with someone else. It happens–all too often–and leads to deeply fractured relationships, divorces, and even crimes of passion.
James tells his readers, after having rebuked them for contentiousness and covetousness in JAM 4.1-3, that they have been “caught in the act”:
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (JAM 4.4)
In our minds, adultery goes way beyond friendship. But James is pointing out what these Jewish readers have known all their lives. For centuries, the Old Testament Scriptures had been taught in the Temple and in the synagogues. Many times–and especially in the book of Hosea–God compares Israel with an adulterous woman who has scorned her devoted husband to consort with other lovers. This bold, clear analogy illustrated for the Jews–and it illustrates for us–the ease with which we can slip into spiritual adultery by pursuing worldly wisdom (JAM 3.13-18) and pleasures (JAM 4.1-3). Here, James gets at the very heart of his letter by making it clear that abandoning the truth of Scripture in favour of earthly values is adultery of the soul.
Notice that James says, “…whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Adultery is not rape. It’s consensual–a conscious decision to break one’s vows, abandon one’s spouse to lust or misguided affection, and commit an act of defiance against God. But God is immutable–His character doesn’t change and He doesn’t vacillate between one position and another. He is always our Friend–He is the “Friend of sinners”–and is always there waiting for us when we repent and seek his forgiveness for our sins. (1 JOH 1.9)
James tells us why our sin is such a serious matter to God:
“Or do you suppose it is to no avail that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? ” (JAM 4.5)
Jesus, as the Lover of our souls, as the Bridegroom of the Church, yearns for our affection, our devotion, our obedience. In fact, the love between married people is a mirror–albeit cracked and hazy and blemished–of God’s love for us. When we wander, like Hosea, He pursues us and longs for our return to His embrace.
With all we have in Him, it’s a wonder we would ever want to leave.