Last night I talked to Nick (my brother), and he agreed that the “dirty” passages in the Bible are where boys go when bored in church. So, James 4:4-10 at least starts off like one of these passages, but why does he call his readers a bad name? “You whores,” is a little strong, isn’t it?
Well, James is sort of an all or nothing guy. He already has a bad reputation. Martin Luther called James “an epistle of straw” (that’s what you start fires with!), because the letter sounds way too legalistic. Luther didn’t find enough gospel in it, not enough Jesus.
Personally, I think Luther just didn’t look hard enough. I think he got stuck on James 2 (faith without works is dead) and forgot about this passage.
James is giving us the gospel in a big way in this chapter, and he starts his explanation of it by calling his readers whores. Why? Because people who think they have it all together don’t need anything (or anyone).
His readers were trying to have their cake and eat it too, trying to be God’s kids but remain friends of the world. They think they’re alright. They think they are good people (I go to church!). Yet, even as they align themselves with Jesus (I’m a Christian!), they see no contradiction in maintaining their worldly, self-serving ways. They are trying to serve two masters. And didn’t Jesus say something about that (Mt. 6:24, Lk. 16:13)?
James lets them have it: “don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with, hatred toward, God???” This is why he calls them whores. Serving the one true God is not enough for them; they want to straddle the fence. But fence straddlers aren’t the sort of people God looks on kindly.
It still seems harsh, though, right? Adulterers? Whores? Well, James isn’t the first to describe God’s people this way.
Jeremiah says Judah played the whore “with stone and tree” (Jer. 3:8-9) (yuck, right?). Ezekiel tells a very long story of Jerusalem the Whore (Ezek. 16). God told the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute to stand as an allegory for God’s relationship to unfaithful Israel. Jesus called those who disbelieved “an evil and adulterous generation” (Mt. 12:39, 16:4, Mk. 8:38).
Why the tough language? Because God’s grace is that strong, stubborn and comprehensive. Throughout Scripture, he gives us a picture of marriage between himself and his people. He was Israel’s husband (Hosea, Ezek. 16). The image in Eph. 5 is of the church (us) as the bride of Christ (God).
But how can GOD be someone’s husband??? We don’t normally ask that question. We don’t normally ask that question because we don’t normally think about who God is.
Most of the time we hear sermons about how God wants us to be good, but we rarely hear of the fact that God is good, but not good like you or I could be if only we tried harder. He is good beyond any hope we could have in our own ability. All creation sings his praises and it does so because of the Lord’s awesome, majestic goodness. And this God - the one who made all things, rules over all things, sees and knows and gives existence to all things -, this God calls us his people though we rebel. He calls us his bride, his own true love, though we could never earn his affection.
When I put my faith in that which is not God, I too commit adultery. Be it a new car/computer/cell phone, a break from work, the affection of another, or my own morality or abilities, if I am relying on anything or anyone besides Christ, I make myself a whore. And the reason I say “whore” (and not “just a guy who makes mistakes like everybody else”) is not because I have low self-esteem (my wife can attest to that). My sin makes me a whore because I have experienced the all-surpassing love, mercy, majesty and grace of Almighty God who so loved those who hated him that he became flesh, dwelt among us, so loved us that he lived as we should have, died as we should have, redeemed us to himself, and gives us all the blessings of life-everlasting with him.
When I take that love and still look for pleasure elsewhere, you better believe I’m a whore.