Are You Committing Adultery?

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Series: Stuff You've Got To Know

Are You Committing Adultery?

September 09, 2018 | Randy Smith
James 4:4-6

Are You Committing Adultery?

James 4:4–6
Sunday, September 9, 2018
>Pastor Randy Smith


 

The summer series is entitled, “Stuff You’ve Got to know.” And along these lines, I’d like to talk about a word we all are familiar with, but I am afraid not serious enough about. It is a word that is offensive to many. Many pastors don’t even mention this word in their sermons. It is not a four-letter word, but a three-letter word. Today, you’ll get a whole sermon devoted to this word. The word is sin.

Now, we know that sin is violating God’s Word – not doing the things you should and doing the things you shouldn’t. We know it’s bad. We know we are being deceived when we do it. We know it always brings consequences. And we know it brings God’s displeasure. But yet to some degree, we still continue. Why?

Perhaps there is something you never considered. Did you know that your sin, my sin, breaks God’s heart? When we choose to sin, we always tell God that other gods will bring us greater pleasure. That the God who gives us His commands is a joke and clearly not the deepest love of our affections. God takes that seriously. God calls it adultery.

I believe we know that adultery is when a person commits sexual immorality with another individual while presently in a marriage covenant. Believers and unbelievers alike know God forbids such a practice. Most can even identify it as one of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:14). But in the context of James 4:4, there is nothing to indicate that the author is talking about physical adultery as we know it. So what is he getting at that brings about such pain to the heart of God?

How many of you are familiar with the Old Testament book written by the prophet Hosea? Do you know how the story goes? Hosea’s life becomes a living parable to communicate a painful lesson to Israel.

God commands Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer (Hos. 1:2). And despite Hosea’s love, Gomer is found running after other lovers. Gomer’s immorality even leads her to the slave trade, but there is Hosea willing to forgive and willing to buy her back (redeem her) for himself (Hos. 3:2-3). It is a tragic story depicting an unequal covenant relationship where one partner is faithful and the other is not.

It does not take long to realize that the prophet’s life was a visible illustration of the present relationship that existed between God and Israel on a spiritual level. When God entered a special marriage covenant with the nation, He expected fidelity. Unfortunately Israel’s heart was divided and she ran after other gods. She was cheating on the Lord. She was committing spiritual adultery.

It is not just in Hosea that we see this metaphor of Israel’s spiritual adultery. For example, Jeremiah 3:6 says, “Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, ‘Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there.’” And in 3:30, “‘But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,’ declares the Lord” (cf. 2 Chron. 21:11, 13; Isa. 54:5; 57:3; Eze. 16:38; 23:45). Even Jesus called Israel, “An evil and adulterous generation” (Mt. 12:39; cf. Mk. 8:38).

So where else has God made a covenant? We know that He has made a covenant in these latter days with the church, the “New Covenant.” It simply goes like this. God is holy and we are not. Subsequently all people have been found guilty of sin against a holy God. Far from receiving His forgiveness, we deserve His wrath and condemnation in hell. The issue is not that God is not loving. The issue is that God is holy and just. Sin against Him must be punished. There is nothing we can do to remove our sin. But God in His love and mercy has provided a great remedy at a tremendous cost to Himself. God the Father sent God the Son to the cross to bear all our sins and receive our penalty. When Jesus Christ abolished the sin, justice was satisfied and the wrath was removed. Like Hosea redeemed Gomer, Jesus redeemed us from our spiritual slavery to sin.

And this gift of free grace is offered to all who trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And the moment we come to Christ is the moment we enter a covenant with God whereby He promises to be our God and we promise to be His people. Frequently in the Bible we see this relationship compared to a marriage (2 Cor. 11:2-3; Eph. 5:32; Rev. 21:9) where Jesus is our husband and we the church are His bride. It is a spiritual relationship, covenant and then intimacy, based upon love and fidelity.

But we have a problem. Even as believers we have a strong tendency to be led negatively by our desires (Gk-“hedone”). Failing to control our minds, our hearts attach to ungodly pursuits that they think will bring us greater happiness. We are no longer content to find our greatest satisfaction in God, and we begin to flirt and chase after and pursue union with the things contrary to the Holy Spirit.

John Piper said, “The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night… For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable” (Hunger for God, p. 14).

When we do this we are chasing down other gods, and we are cheating on the great Lover of our soul. We are breaking our marriage vows with God. We are committing spiritual adultery.

Exactly what caused James to call these Christians “adulteresses” in verse 4 is unknown. Yet we can take a solid guess. In verse 1 we read of “quarrels and conflicts.” Sinful conflicts result from pride. And I suppose as verses 2 and 3 of chapter 4 say, when you discard prayer as they did or only use prayer as an attempt to satisfy your sinful cravings, you have clearly removed Jesus Christ from being your first love. In other words, God only exists in your life to further your kingdom. You love your will more than His and He becomes a means to attain your will.

“We have tended to turn the Christian faith into ‘a relationship through Christ with a God who is the divine vending machine in the sky, there to meet our every need.’ ‘Unhappy? Unattractive? Unsuccessful? Unmarried? Unfulfilled? Come to Christ and he’ll give you everything you ask for.’ We forget God is not primarily in the business of meeting needs. When we make him out to be, we squeeze him out of his rightful place at the center of our lives and put ourselves in his place. God is in the business of being God. Christianity cannot be reduced to God meeting people’s needs, and when we attempt to do so, we invariably distort the heart of the Christian message” (David Henderson, Culture Shift).

Whatever it was, James in verse 4 simply calls it “friendship with the world” (which is obviously in opposition to “friendship with God”).

The word “world” when used in the Bible in this fashion is not a reference to people or the planet itself. It brings a negative meaning speaking of the evil system that permeates this sphere of life. Satan is described as the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4; cf. Jn. 14:30; 1 Jn. 5:19). He is the one who drives the godless, self-centered mentality we see all around us. The world is seen in the quest for personal preeminence oftentimes sought to be attained though self-love and self-glory and self-fulfillment. It is displayed in much of our entertainment. It is inspired by popular opinion and feelings. It is demonstrated in opposition to the Bible. In a nutshell, the primary problem with the world is that it is set up in opposition to Jesus Christ. And if you need visible proof, look what the world did to Jesus Christ. Can we really call “the world” our friend?

The world is subtle and deceptive. It can creep into the hearts of the most devout Christians oftentimes undetected. Sin begins to look normal and righteousness becomes strange. The approval of people means more than the approval of God. Temporal things become greater pursuits than eternal things. What we once condemned becomes considered and what was considered now becomes approved. Within time the world has a greater influence on us than we do as believers on the world and thus we are no longer a light unto the world!

That is why verse 4 tells us that friendship with the world is hostility toward God. The end of verse 4, “Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” We see the same sentiments in 1 John 2:15: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

My friends, there is absolutely no middle ground. You cannot serve two Gods any more than you would be content with your spouse pursuing another lover. Men, how would you feel if she said, “Of all my lovers, I love you the most?” We know adultery is the great enemy of marriage. Why? Because marriage is a relationship where we promise and vow fidelity to one another. Our marriage with God, if we are in Christ, is no different. God will not stand for other lovers because our marriage relationship with Him is exclusive.

The world is God’s enemy. And God takes great offense when anyone (verse 4, “whoever’) calls himself a believer and then aligns himself with a system that is in complete opposition to Him. God will not tolerate rivals. The text says those who have a love affair with the world (cf. 2 Tim. 4:10) “make [themselves] an enemy of God.”

With this in mind, consider the definitive statement made by the Apostle Paul. Galatians 6:14, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Can you say that? Do you live it out?

I remember reading how the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon said he never went more than 10 minutes each day without being in vital contact with Jesus Christ.

Christian, get your primary focus on Jesus Christ. Understand who He is and what He has done for you at Calvary. Find Him more attractive than anything else. Appreciate His love and fidelity to you. And once you do this, linking arms with and being entertained by and applauding and drooling over the very things that nailed Him to the cross will be outright detestable and offensive. Or from the opposite perspective: “Unless there is within us that which is above us we will soon yield to what is around us” (Alfred Gibbs).

Verse 5 has been identified by most to be the most difficult verse in all of James to translate from the original Greek. That is why we see it stated in so many ways in our different English translations. Without going into the deep explanation, I believe the best translation is found in the NASB Bible. The jealously spoken of is God’s jealousy and the Spirit spoken of is the Holy Spirit. Here is how it reads which fits so well within the context. “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us?’” (Jas. 4:5).

The topic has been God’s anger when we run after the world and commit spiritual adultery with Him. Now, if this translation is correct, we see more detail into the precious heart of God, how God wants us to turn from being His enemies in His desire that we may enjoy intimate communion with Him. God’s response is not, “How dare you,” but rather a passion to turn our hearts to His glorious, faithful and eternal love.

Let’s first take this concept of God’s jealousy. This is not sinful jealousy, but rather the righteous jealousy (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2) that desires faithfulness from a spouse. If God cared not for His people, there would be no jealousy. But it is because He values an intimate relationship (and think about that for a moment!) that He is deeply grieved when we pursue other lovers. True love is rightfully jealous. He loves His people so much that He wants us totally for Himself (wow!).

Specifically we read in verse 5 that He is jealous for the Holy Spirit that He has made to dwell in us. As Christians we are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). The Father wants the Spirit to be at home in our hearts. He wants us continually filled with the Spirit, guided by the Spirit, and walking in step with the Spirit to the exaltation of Jesus Christ.

When James claims to quote Old Testament Scripture (“Scripture speaks”) at the beginning of verse 5, he has no particular verse in mind. What he is referring to is the general theme in the Old Testament that speaks of God’s jealousy. Exodus 20:5, “You shall not worship…or serve [idols]; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” Exodus 34:14, “For you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” One more, Zechariah 8:2, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I am exceedingly jealous for Zion, yes, with great wrath I am jealous for her’” (cf. Psm. 78:58). And if this is how He felt for Israel, how much more jealous must He feel when the bride of Jesus Christ feels she needs to go elsewhere to have her needs met!

John Blanchard said, “What is more, He is jealous for you now, jealous for your spiritual welfare, jealous for you in every temptation and trial, jealous lest you should be robbed by covetousness, compromise, worldliness, prayerlessness or disobedience in any shape or form. He is jealous that you should have that fullness of blessing, those riches of grace that He longs to bestow upon every one of you His people” (Truth for Life, A Devotional Commentary on the Epistle of James).

Let’s remember that even a desire for a good thing becomes a bad thing when it becomes a ruling thing that eclipses the love of God in our hearts.

Now, I admit even despite an understanding of God’s jealousy and the strong warning about God’s hostility that this is not easy. The pull of the world can be intense. The desires we allow to be put on our hearts can seem outright irresistible. But we must always remember that God will always give what He demands (Augustine). The power of the world can be resisted because as verse 6 indicates, “He gives a greater grace” (cf. Rom. 5:20b; Heb. 4:16). He gives His children all they need to find Him more attractive than the world. In His love for us He battles on our behalf.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase,
To added affliction He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

His love has no limit, 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)

But there is a condition to receiving this grace as the remainder of verse 6 indicates. In quoting Proverbs 3:14 we read, “Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (cf. 1 Pet. 5:5).

If you want God’s empowering grace you must have a humble heart. First this means that you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, and second it means that you admit you have room to grow and need God’s strength, His help to succeed. Run to God for that grace to battle sin and not away from Him in your sin.

In verse 9 we are told to “be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” What does that tell us?

It’s that though the Christian life is one of joy, there is mourning over our sins and the sins of other believers. It is because we have the heart and mind of Christ and know how much sin breaks God heart and because of our love for God, it breaks our hearts as well.

Christian, God loves you. And in that love, the living God wants nothing to come in-between this exclusive relationship He has with you.

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