*Minor differences ignored. Grouped by changes, with first version listed as example.
Ye adulterers. I connect this verse with the foregoing verses: for he calls them adulterers, as I think, metaphorically; for they corrupted themselves with the vanities of this world, and alienated themselves from God; as though he had said, that they had become degenerated, or were become bastards. We know how frequent, in Holy Scripture, is that marriage mentioned which God forms with us. He would have us, then, to be like a chaste virgin, as Paul says, (2-Corinthians 11:2.) This chastity is violated and corrupted by all impure affections towards the world. James, then, does not without reason compare the love of the world to adultery. They, then, who take his words literally, do not sufficiently observe the context: for he goes on still to speak against the lusts of men, which lead away those entangled with the world from God, as it follows, -- The friendship of the world. He calls it the friendship of the world when men surrender themselves to the corruptions of the world, and become slaves to them. For such and so great is the disagreement between the world and God, that as much as any one inclines to the world, so much he alienates himself from God. Hence the Scripture bids us often to renounce the world, if we wish to serve God.
Ye adulterers and adulteresses - These words are frequently used to denote those who are faithless towards God, and are frequently applied to those who forsake God for idols, Hosea 3:1; Isaiah 57:3, Isaiah 57:7; Ezek. 16; 23. It is not necessary to suppose that the apostle meant that those to whom he wrote were literally guilty of the sins here referred to; but he rather refers to those who were unfaithful to their covenant with God by neglecting their duty to him, and yielding themselves to the indulgence of their own lusts and passions. The idea is, "You have in effect broken your marriage covenant with God by loving the world more than him; and, by the indulgence of your carnal inclinations, you have violated those obligations to self-mortification and self-denial to which you were bound by your religious engagements." To convince them of the evil of this, the apostle shows them what was the true nature of that friendship of the world which they sought. It may be remarked here, that no terms could have been found which would have shown more decidedly the nature of the sin of forgetting the covenant vows of religion for the pleasures of the world, than those which the apostle uses here. It is a deeper crime to be unfaithful to God than to any created being; and it will yet be seen that even the violation of the marriage contract, great as is the sin, is a slight offence compared with unfaithfulness toward God.
Know ye not that the friendship of the world - Compare 1-John 2:15. The term world here is to be understood not of the physical world as God made it, for we could not well speak of the "friendship" of that, but of the community, or people, called "the world," in contradistinction from the people of God. Compare John 12:31; 1-Corinthians 1:20; 1-Corinthians 3:19; Galatians 4:3; Colossians 2:8. The "friendship of the world" (φιλία τοῦ κόσμου philia tou kosmou) is the love of that world; of the maxims which govern it, the principles which reign there, the ends that are sought, the amusements and gratifications which characterize it as distinguished from the church of God. It consists in setting our hearts on those things; in conforming to them; in making them the object of our pursuit with the same spirit with which they are sought by those who make no pretensions to religion. See the notes at Romans 12:2.
Is enmity with God - Is in fact hostility against God, since that world is arrayed against him. It neither obeys his laws, submits to his claims, nor seeks to honor him. To love that world is, therefore, to be arrayed against God; and the spirit which would lead us to this is, in fact, a spirit of hostility to God.
Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world - "Whoever" he may be, whether in the church or out of it. The fact of being a member of the church makes no difference in this respect, for it is as easy to be a friend of the world in the church as out of it. The phrase "whosoever will" (βούληθῇ boulēthē) implies "purpose, intention, design." It supposes that the heart is set on it; or that there is a deliberate purpose to seek the friendship of the world. It refers to that strong desire which often exists, even among professing Christians, to secure the friendship of the world; to copy its fashions and vanities; to enjoy its pleasures; and to share its pastimes and its friendships. Wherever there is a manifested purpose to find our chosen friends and associates there rather than among Christians; wherever there is a greater desire to enjoy the smiles and approbation of the world than there is to enjoy the approbation of God and the blessings of a good conscience; and wherever there is more conscious pain because we have failed to win the applause of the world, or have offended its votaries, and have sunk ourselves in its estimation, than there is because we have neglected our duty to our Saviour, and have lost the enjoyment of religion, there is the clearest proof that the heart wills or desires to be the "friend of the world."
Is the enemy of God - This is a most solemn declaration, and one of fearful import in its bearing on many who are members of the church. It settles the point that anyone, no matter what his professions, who is characteristically a friend of the world, cannot be a true Christian. In regard to the meaning of this important verse, then, it may be remarked:
(1) that there is a sense in which the love of this world, or of the physical universe, is not wrong. That kind of love for it as the work of God, which perceives the evidence of his wisdom and goodness and power in the various objects of beauty, usefulness, and grandeur, spread around us, is not evil. The world as such - the physical structure of the earth, of the mountains, forests flowers, seas, lakes, and vales - is full of illustrations of the divine character, and it cannot be wrong to contemplate those things with interest, or with warm affection toward their Creator.
(2) when that world, however, becomes our portion; when we study it only as a matter of science, without "looking through nature up to nature's God;" when we seek the wealth which it has to confer, or endeavor to appropriate as our supreme portion its lands, its minerals, its fruits; when we are satisfied with what it yields, and when in the possession or pursuit of these things, our thoughts never rise to God; and when we partake of the spirit which rules in the hearts of those who avowedly seek this world as their portion, though we profess religion, then the love of the world becomes evil, and comes in direct conflict with the spirit of true religion.
(3) the statement in this verse is, therefore, one of most fearful import for many professors of religion. There are many in the church who, so far as human judgment can go, are characteristically lovers of the world. This is shown:
(a) by their conformity to it in all in which the world is distinguished from the church as such;
(b) in their seeking the friendship of the world, or their finding their friends there rather than among Christians;
(c) in preferring the amusements of the world to the scenes where spiritually-minded Christians find their chief happiness;
(d) in pursuing the same pleasures that the people of the world do, with the same expense, the same extravagance, the same luxury;
(e) in making their worldly interests the great object of living, and everything else subordinate to that.
This spirit exists in all cases where no worldly interest is sacrificed for religion; where everything that religion peculiarly requires is sacrificed for the world. If this be so, then there are many professing Christians who are the "enemies of God." See the notes at Philippians 3:18. They have never known what is true friendship for him, and by their lives they show that they can be ranked only among his foes. It becomes every professing Christian, therefore, to examine himself with the deepest earnestness to determine whether he is characteristically a friend of the world or of God; whether he is living for this life only, or is animated by the high and pure principles of those who are the friends of God. The great Searcher of hearts cannot be deceived, and soon our appropriate place will be assigned us, and our final Judge will determine to which class of the two great divisions of the human family we belong - to those who are the friends of the world, or to those who are the friends of God.
Ye adulterers and adulteresses - The Jews, because of their covenant with God, are represented as being espoused to him; and hence their idolatry, and their iniquity in general, are represented under the notion of adultery. And although they had not since the Babylonish captivity been guilty of idolatry; according to the letter; yet what is intended by idolatry, having their hearts estranged from God, and seeking their portion in this life and out of God, is that of which the Jews were then notoriously guilty. And I rather think that it is in this sense especially that St. James uses the words. "Lo! they that are far from thee shall perish; thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee." But perhaps something more than spiritual adultery is intended. See James 4:9.
The friendship of the world - The world was their god; here they committed their spiritual adultery; and they cultivated this friendship in order that they might gain this end.
The word μοιχαλιδες, adulteresses, is wanting in the Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Vulgate, and one copy of the Itala.
Whosoever - will be a friend of the world - How strange it is that people professing Christianity can suppose that with a worldly spirit, worldly companions, and their lives governed by worldly maxims, they can be in the favor of God, or ever get to the kingdom of heaven! When the world gets into the Church, the Church becomes a painted sepulchre; its spiritual vitality being extinct.
(3) Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
(3) Another reason why such unbridled lusts and pleasures are utterly to be condemned, that is, because he who gives himself to the world divorces himself from God, and breaks the band of that holy and spiritual marriage.
Ye adulterers and adulteresses,.... Not who were literally such, but in a figurative and metaphorical sense: as he is an adulterer that removes his affections from his own wife, and sets them upon another woman; and she is an adulteress that loves not her husband, but places her love upon another man; so such men and women are adulterers and adulteresses, who, instead of loving God, whom they ought to love with all their hearts and souls, set their affections upon the world, and the things of it: the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Ethiopic versions, leave out the word "adulteresses": these the apostle addresses in the following manner;
know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? that an immoderate love for the good things of the world, and a prevailing desire after the evil things of it, and a delight in the company and conversation of the men of the world, and a conformity to, and compliance with, the sinful manners and customs of the world, are so many declarations of war with God, and acts of hostility upon him; and show the enmity of the mind against him, and must be highly displeasing to him, and resented by him:
whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God; whoever is in league with the one must be an enemy to the other; God and mammon cannot be loved and served by the same persons, at the same time; the one will be loved, and the other hated; the one will be attended to, and the other neglected: this may be known both from reason and from Scripture, particularly from Matthew 6:24.
The oldest manuscripts omit "adulterers and," and read simply, "Ye adulteresses." God is the rightful husband; the men of the world are regarded collectively as one adulteress, and individually as adulteresses.
the world--in so far as the men of it and their motives and acts are aliens to God, for example, its selfish "lusts" (James 4:3), and covetous and ambitious "wars and fightings" (James 4:1).
enmity--not merely "inimical"; a state of enmity, and that enmity itself. Compare 1-John 2:15, "love . . . the world . . . the love of the Father."
whosoever . . . will be--The Greek is emphatic, "shall be resolved to be." Whether he succeed or not, if his wish be to be the friend of the world, he renders himself, becomes (so the Greek for "is") by the very fact, "the enemy of God." Contrast "Abraham the friend of God."
Ye adulteresses. Adulterous spouses of Christ who commit fornication with the world. It is spiritual adultery that is meant.
The friendship of the world. Since the prince of this world is opposed to Christ and the spirit of the world is also opposed, one cannot love the ways of the world and love God also. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24).
That the scripture saith in vain The reference is to Deut., chapter 32, where God's love and jealousy of his people are described.
Long unto envying. Long for our love even to the envy of the worldly objects which have secured it. The Revision suggests the idea, which harmonizes with the thought in James 4:4. A freer translation will make it plainer. "The spirit that he (God) hath placed in us desireth us jealously," that is, desires we should not commit adultery with the world, but be wholly devoted to God, as those espoused to God in Christ, and even envies the world which has secured our love.
Ye adulterers and adulteresses - Who have broken your faith with God, your rightful spouse. Know ye not that the friendship or love of the world - The desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, and the pride of life, or courting the favour of worldly men, is enmity against God? Whosoever desireth to be a friend of the world - Whosoever seeks either the happiness or favour of it, does thereby constitute himself an enemy of God; and can he expect to obtain anything of him?
*More commentary available at chapter level.