Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?” (James 4:4-5, N.K.J.V.)
What could possibly make God the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside each Christian, become nothing less than jealous? According to our text, it happens when the Christian chooses to be a friend to the world rather than a friend to God. Like a spurned friend, the indwelling Holy Spirit reaches the point of jealousy in His yearning to have that Christian back as a friend.
The old King James Version translates verse 5 by saying the Spirit “lusteth to envy.” The idea is that the Spirit lusts for (passionately longs for) the friendship the world has with the Christian. Putting it another way, the Spirit envies the relationship the world has with the Christian. He wishes the Christian felt about Him the way he or she feels about the world.
Kenneth Wuest, in his Untranslatable Riches From the Greek New Testament, describes the situation this way:
The indwelling Holy Spirit possessing all the potential power and help a saint needs, has a passionate desire to the point of envy. Of what is He envious, and what does He passionately desire? The context makes this clear. James is speaking here of adulterers and adulteresses in a spiritual sense. Christians who were not living in separation from the world and unto God. They had committed spiritual adultery in playing false to their Lord and in fellowshipping with the world. They were allowing their evil natures to control them, those evil natures from which they had been delivered when God saved them. The Holy Spirit is envious of any control which that fallen nature might have over the believer, and passionately desirous of Himself controlling his thoughts, words, and deeds.
You see, anytime the Christian reverts back to his or her former friendship with the world, the indwelling Holy Spirit actually gets His feelings hurt. He’s pained that the Christian would voluntarily choose the world’s friendship over His friendship. A similar passage is Ephesians 4:30, which says the Spirit can be grieved.
Christian, imagine that you and God the Holy Spirit are sitting together on the couch in your living room. You are talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. Then suddenly your phone rings. It’s your old friend the world calling. He’s just pulled into your driveway and wants you to hit the road with him for an adventure. The only stipulation is that your friend the Spirit isn’t invited. As you know, the world and the Spirit intensely dislike — the relationship might best be described as hate — each other. Truth be told, they are rivals, and so if you want to roll with the world, you’ll have to leave the Spirit behind. Besides, the world’s car is a Corvette that only has two seats, just enough room for you and him.
And so what do you do? You hang up the phone, abruptly tell the Spirit you’ve got to go, race out the door, and jump in the car with the world. And what does the Spirit do? He gets up from the couch, walks over to the window, and watches as you and the world tear out of the driveway together. That’s when that strange mix of hurting, grieving, yearning, envying, and being flat out jealous begins inside Him as His best friend has callously, flippantly, insensitively chosen His rival over Him. That is the situation James 4:4-5 is describing.
Actually, we can stretch the analogy even further. Since the Holy Spirit literally dwells inside the Christian’s body and never leaves, we can envision the Spirit being forced to tag along as the Christian has his or her time with the world. I guess the Spirit can ride in the trunk. Of course, no one riding in a car trunk has any control over where the car goes or what the driver and passenger(s) do. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 describes this as quenching the Spirit.
You should think about all this, Christian, the next time the world calls and wants to come between you and the friendship you have with the indwelling Holy Spirit. As I’ve tried to illustrate in this post, you must understand that the Holy Spirit is a person, not an “it.” He is every bit as much a person as God the Father or Jesus, and as such He has feelings. Yes, He can even get jealous, red-hot jealous, and does so each time you choose the world over Him. Because of this, you must always be on guard against that enticing phone call and that Corvette sitting in your driveway with the motor running. For one thing, that’s not a trip that will ever be in your best interests. And for another, you’ll have to deeply hurt your best friend in order to take it.