Tough Love: James’ Words Still Hit Close To Home


You adulterous people! Wow! The Apostle James is not mincing words here. The term “adulterous” needs to be understood here in the way that James is using it. The common image used to describe the covenant between God and his people in the early Church was that of a marriage bond. To break that bond was to be adulterous, unfaithful to God’s love.

This chapter of James begins with a powerful psychological observation about the cause of the fights and quarrels we often experience between each other. “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” (verses 1-2) And here is the kicker, James tells us that our desires are not fulfilled either because we do not ask God, or when we do ask God, we do not get what we desire because we ask “with the wrong motives.” (verse 3)

The message at the center of today’s passage is that all too often we love and even trust the world, more than we love and trust God. To be a friend of the world can take many forms. It can be putting more value on money, or more time into the accumulation of “things,” thinking that in these “worldly” endeavors we will find the happiness and contentment we desire. But these things, money, power, fame, the things of the world are empty, infertile, finite and, in the end, they can neither bring us happiness, nor can they save us. Indeed, all too often, our “greed” for these things is the source of all that is evil and unjust in the world. It is the grace of God alone that saves everything, that gives all that is good, true and beautiful its meaning and truest affects, not the things of the world.

To know God’s law and, then, to turn away from it by putting our trust in earthly ideologies, or things, is to break the “marriage bond” of our covenant with God. In doing so we become adulterers. It is the world that divides us, because its vision is limited by ego biases and ignorance. God unites, not through abstract ideas, but by the living force of his love for us—all of us. And God calls us as Christian believers to live out of that same love in the world by being forgivers, by praying for those who persecute us, by serving and lifting up those that are “the least” among us. He calls us to love others, in the manner in which he loved us when he came among us in Christ Jesus. It is not in power, then, but in humility that we find what we most desire. “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” (verse 6) As Christians, we are to be holy and bright contradictions to the dark and empty promises of the world. The world can give us nothing eternal, but we Christians can help bring the Eternal into the world through our complete submission to the love of God and by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Lord, give us the grace of an ever-growing faith and courage so that we may be in the world but not of it. Help us to know and to submit to your holy and life-giving will more each day. Though we are weak, make us your instruments of mercy, hospitality, generosity, forgiveness and love in the world. Give us the inner strength we need to choose each day to love you more than the world. We desire to be your children, not your enemies. We pray this fervent prayer trusting in the power of your most holy name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.