James here briefly gets away from talking about controlling the tongue (he’ll return to it later), and starts talking about the third way that faith expresses itself: purity.
He said back in James 1:26 that an essential part of true religion or faith is, “…to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Here he goes into more detail as to what he means.
There were more than a few among those James was writing to that had ambitions of becoming a teacher in the church. And as we saw before, James cautioned them, saying not everyone should become teachers because they will be judged more strictly. (3:1)
He then says, “Do you really think you’re wise and understanding enough to be a teacher? Look at your hearts! Many of you are harboring envy and selfish ambition in your heart. That kind of “wisdom” comes from the devil, not God. And all that kind of wisdom will lead to is evil. (13-16)
Having said that, he gets to the true root of the problem. These people were being polluted by the world. And it was affecting how they thought and acted.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on our pleasures. (4:1-3)
In short, he’s saying, “Look at you! You’re so in love with this world that you actually hate and envy those who have more than you. And because of that, you’re constantly fighting and quarreling with them. But not only is your love for the world affecting your relationship with others, it’s affecting your relationship with God. The only reason you talk to God at all is that you hope to get the things of this world. And God won’t honor that.”
James then gets really harsh.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (4)
James echoes here the words of the Old Testament prophets, who compared the people of Israel to whores and adulteresses (Ezekiel 16 and the entire book of Hosea for example).
When we love the world, it incites envy in the heart of God (5). We often think of envy as a bad thing, but there is a righteous kind of envy. A husband or wife has righteous envy when their spouse cheats on them. And when we turn our backs on God to whom we rightfully belong in order to pursue this world, he envies intensely.
And yet, if we will return to him, he always shows us grace (6). So James tells us,
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners, and purify our hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up. (7-9)
What kind of faith do you have? Is it a double-minded faith? One that claims to believe in God, and yet prostitutes itself by seeking the things of this world?
We are called to be priests of God, holy and pure. And as priests washed their hands and purified themselves before approaching God, so we need to wash our spiritual hands which are stained with sin and purify our hearts before God. We are not to indulge in the “joy” of worldliness. Rather we are to repent of it.
How about you? Are you being polluted by this world? Or does your heart belong to God alone?