The Great Hindrance to Friendship with God – Gleanings from James 4:1-10

I am preaching through a series entitled: 2:42 – Routine Investments in Redemptive Friendships. This coming Sunday we will address “The Great Hindrance to Friendship with God.” Below are some gleanings and insights put together by our pastoral intern from Covenant Seminary, Nathan Lucy. They were very helpful to me personally and I commend them to you.

Gleanings from and paraphrases of
The Epistle of James
Joseph B. Mayor
Commentary on 4:1-10
Pages 225 – 227

The same surroundings may be to one [person] a channel of divine influence, to another the very embodiment of the worldly spirit…. Fashion, politics, religion; the criminal, the [student], the working-man; all have their separate worlds…. Incalculable mischief has been caused by the imagination that the worldly spirit could be avoided by keeping out of some particular society which [people] chose to identify with the world. The world is in the heart of man. (225)

My paraphrase: [Because sinful desires come from within our hearts, we would be mistaken to blame our circumstances (family life, friend group, pressure to climb the corporate ladder, school, university Greek culture, the hospital work atmosphere) for our worldliness.]

*

St. James in the text tells us that the cause of quarreling is our eagerness to get the world’s good things, which are palpably limited in quantity, and often derive their chief value in our eyes from their difficulty of attainment. The fact of this limitation inevitably leaves many disappointed of their desire. But even the successful are not satisfied. No sooner is the coveted object attained, that the procession of disillusion commences. There is a moment’s delight at the victory over our rivals, and again the cloud of disappointment settles over us. We feel that, once more, happiness has eluded our grasp, and we are filled with envy and jealousy of those whom we fancy to be in any respect more fortunate than ourselves, till in the end we find our nearest approach to happiness in striving to prevent or destroy the happiness of others. How is this to be remedied? The Stoics answered: “by ceasing to desire.” The Christian answer is: “By desiring to be, and to do, what God wills, and by desiring others’ good along with and as a part of our own.” (226)

My paraphrase: [The good things of this world, although genuinely good, are not good enough to fulfill our deepest longings. Whenever we try to get good things to fulfill those longings, we will be disappointed. Whether we fail or succeed, we will be disappointed. So should we numb ourselves to desire (like the Stoics)? No! We should desire the Lord, the Lord’s will—our glorifying and enjoying him, and becoming the others-loving people he made us to be.]

*

We think jealousy a defect in human love; how much more in Divine!… [James’ phrase] is really a parable in which the soul is represented as standing between two rival wooers, God and the world. The strongest human passion is boldly taken to represent the Divine longing for the entire possession of the human heart… for the expulsion of every thought and feeling which interferes with the recovery of the Divine image in man and the attainment of the perfect ideal of humanity…. The Divine jealousy… desires nothing but the best good of the beloved object, and hates nothing but that which would injure and degrade it. (226-227)

My paraphrase: [God’s jealousy is not the wicked kind of jealousy that distorts love. Rather, his longing for us to love him in return is so passionate that only the passionate word “jealousy” can describe his longing. He passionately longs for us to be restored in his image, to become as fully, perfectly human as Christ himself. He is jealous for our sake, and hates only what threatens harm to us.]

*

The Divine jealousy having ordained that the world shall never give satisfaction, he who seeks his happiness there cannot but feel himself continually thwarted in his ambitions, until at last he conceives himself to be the victim of some jealous and hostile power seated upon the throne of the universe. Yet “He giveth more grace.” Underneath the dark suspicion which blots out heaven from our eyes we are dimly conscious of an appeal to feelings long lost sight of and all but extinct within us. In the Prodigal’s heart there begins to arise a loathing, not only for the husks with which he has striven to satisfy the cravings of the immortal soul, but also a loathing for his own folly and sin, and a longing for the home which he has forsaken, joined with the sense of his own unworthiness, which makes him fear least he should have lost it for ever. To one thus humbled grace is given in full measure: the soul, which could never satisfy its thirst from earthly cisterns, finds never-failing supplies of happiness in that inner union with God which is typified by the well of water springing up unto everlasting life. (227)

My paraphrase: [God sovereignly prohibits people from finding satisfaction apart from him. When our selfish ambitions are thwarted again and again, we can become bitter and suspicious of him. Yet the ‘prodigal’ learns to loathe his foolishness, and at the same time awakens to his longing for the home he rejected, and also recognizes his unworthiness to return. This is the humility of the one to whom God gives grace. The prodigal leaves selfish ambition and comes home to fulfilling friendship with the Father.]

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