“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 4:5
Explanation of the Text: The text for today is one of the most difficult in the New Testament to interpret. There are a wide range of views on how the text should be structured and interpret. Ultimately, most commentators will agree that in its difficulty of interpretation, it is hard to be dogmatic about the exact phrasing. However, each of them would also agree with some general principles that come out of the text as well. This particular text is difficult to translate because of the following reasons:
1) In the phrase ‘He yearns’ the word ‘he’ is not part of the original text.
2) The capitalization of the word ‘spirit’ is confusing because the Greek text did not use punctuation.
3) James refers to Scripture, and yet the phrase that he quotes is not found in Scripture.
With that said, let’s work our way through the verse to the best of our ability and draw out some of those points.
James begins verse 5 with a question that introduces his quote, by referring readers to the Scripture and questioning their commitment to it. While the phrase James is quoting cannot be found in Scripture itself, it seems that he is quoting a basic truth that his found in Scripture, even if the exact words aren’t used. In essence, he is paraphrasing for his readers. This phrase, or question, could be reworded to say something like, ‘Do you think that what was written in Scripture is useless or without purpose?” or “Do you hold the Scripture in high regard and thus acknowledge its teaching….?” This is important because James is pointing them to the authority of Scripture. The question forces each person to examine and question what their personal attitude is towards Scripture. Scripture is authoritative for every aspect of living (2 Timothy3:16). As such, it is worthy to be obeyed and applied to daily living. Therefore, in asking the question, “Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says….?” James is implying to the believers they must be committed to the very Word of God and its authority in everyday living.
The second part of the verse, which is the quote James uses. There are two words that add to the confusion of this text. They are ‘jealously’ and ‘spirit.’ Each is confusing because they can both be interpreted two different ways. Jealously can be interpreted possibly as a sinful jealousy that is contrary to God’s character and call upon a believer’s life. It can also be interpreted as a righteous jealousy of God in which His love is manifested, meaning that His love for us is so intense that He longs to have a relationship with us, even when we turn our back on Him and make friends with the world. The second word is spirit, which can either refer to the Holy Spirit which God has given to indwell every believer, or it can refer to the spirit that was placed in man during creation.
It seems that the most probable interpretation lies in the following understanding:
A) Based on its usage in the New Testament, the word for jealousy is generally used to refer to a negative, or sinful jealousy, and thus, it makes sense that the use would be consistent here.
B) Sprit would most likely refer to the Holy Spirit that is made to indwell us. Logically, a reference to man’s spirit, which is sinful, does not seem consistent with the text, especially since God is altogether holy and desires believers to be holy.
Based on this understanding, there are two renderings of the verse that make sense. “The first is this: ‘Or do you consider that Scripture speaks in this meaningless way: “The Spirit he made dwell in us yearns with sinful jealousy”?’ The second is this: ‘Or do you think scripture speaks meaninglessly, Does the Spirit he made to indwell us yearn with sinful jealousy?’” Based on these renderings, there is an important conclusion to be reached, which is that sinful jealousy is not compatible with being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Regardless of the specific way in which one interprets the syntax of the verse, and even the semantics of it, the core truths remain. In this verse there is a connection between trusting Jesus Christ and holding the authority of Scripture in high view; unbelievers are in a continued state of conflict refusing to acknowledge their separation from God. Finally, there is danger of believers succumbing to worldliness, which conflicts with being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which is not of the world.
While this is only one interpretation of this verse, it seems to be the most likely view. However, it is important to note that there are a number of valid views. The important thing to note is that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture, therefore if one of those views does contradict, it can be considered invalid. Second, of those that are deemed valid, it is important to not cause conflict and division over them. The interpretation of James 4:5 is not of major doctrinal significance and is simply a minor theological difference. Therefore, it is unprofitable to split the people of God over this one verse. Douglas Moo reminds us that no matter what view one holds to, this verse reminds every believer that God has a claim on each of our lives.
Examination & Application of the Text: After the lengthy review of the text today, it is easy to walk away from the text content because we learned something. However, a study of God’s word requires both an understanding of it AND an application of it. Therefore, I find it important to spend some minutes discussing application of the text, even if briefly.
First, we noted throughout that the text impels us to consider the authority of God’s Word in our lives. The single most important authority for daily living is the Bible. It is the way in which God communicates with us, directing our paths to righteousness in Christlikeness. Therefore, there is a requirement to examine your commitment to Scripture. Second, make it a priority to be in the word on a daily basis. Thirdly, implement its teachings as part of everyday living.
Second, there is a recognition through this text that conflict exists between being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and with worldliness. There is only one way to reconcile this and it is to get rid of the world in one’s life. This means putting the practicalities of Scripture into an active role in our lives. In other words the worldliness in our lives must be replaced with righteousness. The two cannot exist together, and as a follow of Jesus Christ, who has said, “Yes Lord, I will deny myself, pick up my cross, and follow you!” He must be the priority. Seeking after his ways, his will, and his word, there can be no room for the ways, will, and word of the world in our lives. Replace it.
Finally, as Douglas Moo pointed to, God has a claim on each of our lives. Recognition of God’s claim requires a submission to Him and putting into action, the first two points of application that were discussed.
Perhaps the challenge of today can be, as a way of loving God, get rid of that flesh versus spiritual battle that wages a war inside of us by denying worldliness’ reign in our lives.
 D. Edmond Hiebert, James, (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2009), 230.
 J. A. Motyer, The Message of James: The Tests of Faith, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), 149.
 IBID, 150.
 John MacArthur Jr, James, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), 198.
 Douglas Moo, James, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 150.