top of page


James 4:4-6: Spiritual Adultery

“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’? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:4-6 NKJV)

“You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that ‘he’s a fiercely jealous lover.’ And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble” James 4:4-6 MSG).

Note that James drops his customary greeting, “my brethren.” In the context, James is confronting the problem of conflicts in the church. Rather than the idyllic picture of the early church that we often have, the churches to which James wrote were at war. There was jealousy and selfish ambition (3:14,16). Members were angrily quarreling with each other. As James points out (4:1-3), the source of their conflicts was selfishness. So he devotes 4:1-12 to the theme of resolving conflicts by repenting of selfishness and humbling yourself before God.

Verse 4a: “Adulterers and adulteresses!”

Do you think James got their attention? Just a little I would imagine! Of course, in context, James is not referring to literal adultery, but uses this lurid metaphor to describe the spiritual unfaithfulness of his readers as he just outlined in James 4:1-3. Remember also that his readers were predominantly Jewish (James 1:1) and would have been familiar with God's frequent Old Testament denunciation of Israel for her spiritual harlotry, in which she repeatedly behaved much like an unfaithful, adulterous wife would to her husband.

Spiritual adultery is the unfaithfulness of the church, which is the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2; Romans 7:1-6; Revelation 21:2; 22:17).

“Spiritual adultery is unfaithfulness to God. It is having an undue fondness for the things of the world. Spiritually adultery is analogous to the unfaithfulness of one’s spouse: ‘But like a woman faithless to her lover, even so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel,’ says the LORD’ (Jeremiah 3:20; see also Isaiah 1:21; 57:8; Ezekiel 16:30).” –

“Spiritual adultery is giving unto the world that love and devotion, time and strength, which the Lord alone is entitled unto. As natural marriage is a solemn and sacred engagement which is not to be entered into lightly, constituting as it does a lifelong compact—much more should there be the most serious and self-searching deliberation before anyone openly professes to be united to the Lord.” –Arthur Pink

“James 4:4 pictures the church as the wife of God. God has made us for Himself and has given Himself to us for our enjoyment. Therefore, it is adultery when we try to be ‘friends’ with the world. If we seek from the world the pleasures we should seek in God, we are unfaithful to our marriage vows. And, what’s worse, when we go to our heavenly Husband and actually pray for the resources with which to commit adultery with the world, it is a very wicked thing. It is as though we would ask our husband for money to hire male prostitutes to provide the pleasure we don’t find in him!”–John Piper

Verse 4b: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”

“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from Him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity” (1 John 2:15-17, MSG).

“Friendship with the world” refers to a Christian loving the pleasures, enticements and lusts of society in general, a friendship that leads inevitably to forsaking the Lord, which is spiritual adultery.

The “world” here is not the earth or the physical globe on which we live. The “world” is the Devil’s system of values. The systems that operate our culture are not his. The Greek word translated “world” is kosmos, which means “the world apart from God.” The world's systems generate and sustain our government and politics, entertainment, fashion, religion, business ethics, medicine and health care, culinary tastes, social programs and institutions, education, science and technology, economics, and the use of power. The world's systems have formed much of our belief systems and attitudes, and these in turn have shaped our conduct.

“Kosmos, the sum-total of human life in the ordered world, considered apart from, alienated from, and hostile to God, and of the earthly things which seduce from God.” –Vincent

“The world system is committed to at least four major objectives, which I can summarize in four words: fortune, fame, power, pleasure. First and foremost: Fortune, money. The world system is driven by money; it feeds on materialism. Second: Fame. That is another word for popularity. Fame is the longing to be known, to be somebody in someone else's eyes. Third: Power. This is having influence, maintaining control over individuals or groups or companies or whatever. It is the desire to manipulate and maneuver others to do something for one's own benefit. Fourth: Pleasure. At its basic level, pleasure has to do with fulfilling one's sensual desires. It's the same mindset that's behind the slogan: ‘If it feels good, do it.’" –Charles Swindoll

James is referring to a love relationship with any and all specific aspects of the fallen, evil world system. John tells us, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). Friendship with the world always incites, “The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life”

Note that James is not saying we are not to love God's creation, the natural beauty of this world, nor are we not to love the world's people, God loved them with Christ’s death on Calvary. He is speaking more of material things and/or ideas that are basically anti-God and anti-Christ. It is not true that he who dies with the most toys (things) wins! In fact it is exactly the reverse, John says in 1 John 2:17, “The world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” This world will be gone sooner than we expect, and all the things of this world will be gone also, do not be lured, snared, trapped or deceived by the subtle seductions of the world system. Do not be guilty of spiritual adultery.

This pictures Christians adopting the interests of the world as their own personal interests. In a sense “friendship” pictures one falling in love with the world and that if you do this you will begin to hate God! We simply cannot have an affection for the world and for God at the same time. It is either one or the other, but not both.

Verse 4c: “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

Friend here means to have love or affection for someone or something based on association. It speaks of a friendship based on common interests and concerns. In the ancient world, friendship was used to describe special and exclusive relationship. Friend can also mean to treat somebody as one of one's own people. James is describing an attitude which is marked by friendly, affectionate regard for the godless world.

“In one sense, Christians are the greatest friends of the world, for they desire the good of all men, and seek their salvation. But, in another sense, viewing the world as a great conglomerate of evil, we are no friends of the world. There is a certain form of theology, popular nowadays…which teaches us that we ought to remove the line of demarcation between the Church and the world. This kind of teaching may be called theology, but it cometh not of God; it is a gross falsehood which we ought to abhor in the very depth of our spirit.”–Spurgeon

Romans 12:2 NLT, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

In John 17:14-18, Jesus says, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

Verse 5: “Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?’”

According to those attempting to discredit the Bible, this verse “proves” that the Bible is false since the supposed quotation is found nowhere in scripture. If it is true that there is a missing quote in the Bible, then some would perceive it as bringing into doubt the validity of the book of James. If the Bible is called into question, then Christianity’s foundation crumbles.

“Such a suggestion raises the question as to what the correct translation is for the passage. Several solutions have been presented, with the most likely being that James did not intend to quote a specific verse, but instead was referring to ideas and concepts found throughout the Old Testament.” –

The New Living Translation is a good rendering of this verse: “Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him” (James 4:5 NLT).

In this verse James gave scriptural support for what he just asserted in James 4:4. However, he did not quote a particular verse but evidently summarized the scriptural teaching on God’s jealousy.

The Spirit which dwells in us jealously yearns for the entire devotion of the heart! God’s people who love the world have committed spiritual adultery against Him but God (or His Spirit) jealously longs for their love.

“Why is God a jealous God? It is important to understand how the word ‘jealous’ is used. Its use in Exodus 20:5 to describe God is different from how it is used to describe the sin of jealousy (Galatians 5:20). When we use the word ‘jealous,’ we use it in the sense of being envious of someone who has something we do not have. A person might be jealous or envious of another person because he or she has a nice car or home (possessions). Or a person might be jealous or envious of another person because of some ability or skill that other person has (such as athletic ability). Another example would be that one person might be jealous or envious of another because of his or her beauty.

In Exodus 20:5, it is not that God is jealous or envious because someone has something He wants or needs. Exodus 20:4-5 says, ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God...’ Notice that God is jealous when someone gives to another something that rightly belongs to Him.” –

God had jealously guarded His people Israel from the deceitfulness of deceivers who sought to draw their affections away from Himself (cf. Hosea 2:19-20; 4:12; 6:4; 11:8). Paul felt the same concern for the Corinthians. His jealousy was in that sense “godly” (God-like). 2 Corinthians 11:2, “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

Verse 6: “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”

“The Greek for grace word is Charis, that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness, ie: grace of speech, good will, loving-kindness, favor of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.” –Bible Study

Grace is God's unmerited or unearned favor, His goodness toward those who have no claim on, nor reason to expect divine favor. Salvation is not by our achievements, but it is a gift from God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).

If you have drifted from God into any form of spiritual adultery, don’t miss James’ words, “He gives a more grace.” You may be thinking, “But you don’t know what I’ve done!” True, but God does, and His Word plainly states, “He gives a more grace.”, it is grace greater than all of our trials and burdens that draws us to the Lord Jesus Himself as our all in all.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,

He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;

To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,

To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,

When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,

When we reach the end of our hoarded resources

Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,

His power no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

–Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932)

“This is the grace we need to live victorious lives as believers. James is talking about grace that is greater than the mess you may be in right now. It doesn’t matter how big the mess is or what you’ve been through, the grace that is available to you in Christ is bigger than your mess.” –Tony Evans

“Despite the natural, unbelieving, worldly hearts of men, God nevertheless gives greater grace; but He does not give it to His proud and ungodly enemies… ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ In other words, if a person is consumed with worldly lusts, desires, ambitions, pride, and love, he has no claim on this greater grace.”–John MacArthur

Psalm 138:6, “Though the Lord is on high, yet He regards the lowly; but the proud He knows from afar.”

Proverbs 3:34, “Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble.”

Proverbs 29:23, “A man’s pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor.”

“God resists the proud.” Pride is the death of grace. The proud person does not believe he or she needs grace. To draw upon the grace of God we must cultivate the attitude of humility which continually recognizes its need. In the context of James 4, the proud are those who have made themselves friends with the godless (even anti-God) world system.

The Greek word for “proud” is huperephanos, literally means one who shows himself above other people. He does not consider himself to be just above other men but on a level equal to or higher than God Himself! This man who because of his feeling of personal superiority, regards others with haughtiness. He is puffed up with a high opinion of himself, and thus regards others with contempt, as if they were unworthy of any social interactions.

“The proud man or woman has a little altar in their heart where they bow down before themselves and this causes their eyes to look at all others with a silent contempt. Look out! This sin is subtly deceptive but ever lurking to pounce (Genesis 4:5-8). Cain failed to heed God's clear warning.” –Robertson (slightly edited)

The story is told of a young Scottish minister who walked proudly into the pulpit to preach his first sermon. He had a brilliant mind and a good education and was confident of himself as he faced his first congregation. But the longer he preached, the more conscious everyone was that “the Lord was not in the wind.” He finished his message quickly and came down from the pulpit with his head bowed, his pride now gone. Afterward, one of the members said to him, “If you had gone into the pulpit the way you came down, you might have come down from the pulpit the way you went up.”

“Those who look down on others with scorn shall be looked down upon with contempt ere long. The Lord abhors a proud look. What a reason for repentance and humiliation! How much better to be humble than to provoke God to humble us in his wrath! A considerable number of clauses occur in this passage in the future tense; how forcibly are we thus brought to remember that our present joy or sorrow is not to have so much weight with us as the great and eternal future!” –Spurgeon

“A small cathedral outside Bethlehem marks the supposed birthplace of Jesus. Behind a high altar in the church is a cave, a little cavern lit by silver lamps. You can enter the main edifice and admire the ancient church. You can also enter the quiet cave where a star embedded in the floor recognizes the birth of the King. There is one stipulation, however. You have to stoop. The door is so low you can’t go in standing up. The same is true of the Christ. You can see the world standing tall, but to witness the Savior, you have to get [down] on your knees.”–Max Lucado

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

You Might Also Like:
bottom of page