“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 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 4:1–6).
Misdirected love treats Christ as an enemy, and James called it adulterous love in James 4:4. Misdirected love for the world system involves a commitment of misplaced desires toward another object of our affection. The world attacks us physically by appealing to the lusts (or appetites) of our flesh. It attracts us mentally by appealing to the lust of our eyes. It manipulates our wills by appealing to the pride of life This places life’s means and methods as the desired focus of our love in life instead of God (1 John 2:15, 16).
The root problem of misplaced desires is pleasure-seeking attitudes and actions (James 4:1–4).
Lusting for pleasure creates an insatiable appetite for the unobtainable. The world seduces a person through a false value system. It demands a desire exchange from the eternal to that which is temporal and cultural. This is the essence of idolatry. Idolatrous desires seek to fulfill selfish rather than spiritual goals.
In his book Radical David Platt wrote:
Somewhere along the way we have missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. . . . We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves. We desire a nice, middle class American Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism; . . . Who would never expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that He receives all our affection. We are molding Jesus into our image. The danger now is when we gather . . . in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves.
Materialism teaches that nothing exists but natural phenomena. There are no supernatural forces or entities such as God, Heaven, or Hell. A commitment to materialism makes a person a consumer of its philosophy, promises, practices, and possessions. By such actions a believer is functioning as a practical atheist and is, in essence, God’s enemy. Desires always precede deportment.
The reprehensible problem of misplaced desires is spiritual adultery (James 4:2, 4, 5).
A believer should be true to God as a wife should be true to her husband. But when a believer loves the world instead of God, he commits spiritual adultery. He is like a married woman who gives her love to another man. A believer cannot embrace both God and the world (Ps. 73:27; Matt. 6:24).
James expressed surprise and shock over his readers’ conduct. The charge of murder in James 4:2 corresponds to the sixth commandment, which is sinfulness directed toward others. The charge of adultery comes from the seventh commandment, which James used as a sinful action directed toward God. James’ Jewish readers should have known this teaching from Scripture. James stated that their conduct made the Scriptures speak in an empty or hollow way (v. 5).
The relational problem of misplaced desires mistreats the Holy Spirit (James 4:5, 6).
The Holy Spirit is resident within us as the guarantee of our salvation. He is jealous for our affection, and He yearns passionately for our love. He is grieved when we betray God by acts of sin (Eph. 4:30). The Bible says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). We treasure what we desire and desire what we treasure.
James wrote that worldly believers (the haughty) live independently from God as an adulterous enemy would live. As a result, they dishonor God and don’t receive much from Him. But godly and dependent believers (the humble) realize they are nothing and have nothing apart from God. They are happy to receive the abundant blessings God willingly gives for their faithfulness to Him.
Each day we should ask ourselves: Do we have misplaced desires that are initiating misdirected love?
Bernie Augsburger is state representative of the Illinois-Missouri Association of Regular Baptist Churches.