Several months ago, someone said to me, “I’ve finally figured out what is wrong with this world. Everyone is only interested in what they can get for themselves.”
This non-Christian woman pegged the spirit of our age, but also uttered a biblical definition of what God calls sin. James describes it in straight-forward language also . . .
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 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. Or 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’”? (James 4:1–5)
The sad reality is that James is speaking to Christians! The spirit of the age had permeated their lives in the early church, but we cannot point fingers for the same attitudes are very real spiritual dangers in the church of today. Yet rather than looking at others, I have to listen to what God says to me.
“You do not have, because you do not ask” is a reminder that I must ask God for what I need or want rather than covet it in someone else and wind up in conflict with them because of my sinful attitude. If I don’t ask God, I ought not be surprised if His blessings elude me.
James isn’t saying God will grant my sinful and selfish desires, but when I pray His Spirit begins to purify my desires just as Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Of course this is not only about selfish praying. God tells me to seek His will and honor Him. While not all pleasure is wrong, the Bible reminds me that even ordinary activities are for the glory of God. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) How much more should my prayers be focused to that end, not merely to satisfy my own wants?
Those who first received this letter from James were in danger and may not have realized the seriousness of their prayerlessness and quarreling. He may have shocked them by using the language of the Old Testament that describes unfaithfulness to God as “adultery.” Being a friend of the world by going along with this selfish spirit of the age is exactly that. It also makes those who do it an enemy of God rather than an object of His pleasure.
To put it into perspective, loving my husband means recoiling in horror if anything comes along to threaten our faithfulness to one another. In plain language, if he or I want what we are not supposed to have, we are in great danger of ruining our relationship. God wants me to have a similar response to anything that threatens my faithfulness to Him. He would never betray or abandon me. His love is secure and eternal. He promises me that nothing can separate me from His love . . .
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35–39)
He has every right to expect me to ask Him to take care of my needs, but also that all my desires are entirely faithful to Him. Otherwise, I would be in terrible spiritual danger.