2 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. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2–3, NKJV)
James continues to bring our focus to the driving motives behind conflicts and battles with others. Selfish cravings never satisfy one’s desire to be satisfied and fulfilled. Lust leads to fights and battles with those we believe are preventing us from acquiring our desire. Murder and greedy yearnings are never satisfied through hateful actions that deprive others of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When one’s motive is to “spend it on your pleasures,” others will be treated as disposable rather than with decency and respect. Asking God to help us achieve our goals when evil motives reside in our hearts is a hypocritical and futile approach toward God and toward life.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:8–9, NKJV)
After affirming the value of both marriage and celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, Paul gives divine counsel to those who are not married and those who are (as well as to subgroups of each) in 1 Corinthians 7:8-16. To the “unmarried and to the widows” Paul rehearsed the benefit of remaining single while exercising self-control against fleshly temptations. (Recall the context of “present distress” that further explains his divine advice, 1 Corinthians 7:25-40). It seems plausible that they had asked Paul whether a person should marry at all (7:1). He answered that remaining without a spouse was a virtuous choice, while being careful not to deny the God-given right to marry, particularly in light of its benefit against the temptations of sexual immorality (7:2). Without a doubt, if the unmarried and widows were to marry it must be a God-approved marriage. You see, not every marriage has God’s approval (Mark 6:17-18; Romans 7:3; Matthew 5:32; 19:9). We cannot legitimize any marriage that God calls “unlawful” and “adultery” without incurring His displeasure and wrath (Ephesians 5:5-7). Whether or not we are married, we must make choices that enhance and protect our moral purity.
27 Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? 28 Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared? 29 So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; Whoever touches her shall not be innocent. (Proverbs 6:27–29, NKJV)
Just as one cannot put a firebrand to his chest without getting scorched, or walk on hot coals without burning his feet, adultery will not leave the person who yields to its temptation untouched by its pain, sorrow, and regret. Then, there is the broken trust, the broken marriages, and the lives of spouses and children that are left is tatters. And for what? For a tantalizing, momentary thrill? To fulfill fleshly lust? To escape the monotony of marriage? To follow the deceptive lie that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence? Adultery is a betrayal of vows made before God and of trust mutually shared. It dishonors the bodies of those involved, while shaming God who gave the body for holiness, not moral defilement (1 Corinthians 6:16-20). Guard yourself against this transgression against your own flesh (Genesis 2:23; Ephesians 5:28-31). God’s warning is clear: “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul,” and, “Wounds and dishonor he will get, and his reproach will not be wiped away” (Proverbs 6:32, 33). God’s command against adultery is for your protection and purity (Romans 13:9). Honor your marriage by maintaining holy sexuality (Hebrews 13:4).
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints (Ephesians 5:3, NKJV)
The rise in cohabitation without marriage in America over the past 30 years is obvious. Reflective of a society that has cast off moral restraints, it is but one indicator of self-defined morality. The annual Gallup Values and Beliefs Survey (May 1-10, 2018) reports that 69% of those surveyed believe sexual activity before marriage is morally acceptable, while 42% said it is morally acceptable for teenagers to practice it. The morality of having a baby outside of marriage was approved by 65% of those polled, while 67% said gay and lesbian relationships are morally acceptable. In stark contrast, the Holy Spirit inspired apostle drew a red line in the sand that all sexual activity, before and in addition to marriage, is not to be professed among Christians. It is against who we are. We are saints (“holy ones”), called to be sanctified or set apart from such sins. We are not to participate in them or endorse them. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Christians must rise above the world’s definition of what is moral and refuse the allurements of the flesh (1 John 2:15-17).
Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. (2 Samuel 11:2, NKJV)
Solitude is not necessarily conducive to godliness. Isolation can give rise to temptations of the flesh. King David should have been leading his army on the field of battle. Instead, he stayed behind in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1). Restless and alone, he went to the cool of the roof and saw the beautiful wife of Uriah. This was not a mere glance; David gazed upon her, inspected and gave attention to her beauty while she bathed. He lusted after her, inquired about her, and took her into the bed of adultery, then murdered her husband (2 Samuel 11:3-17). We must never let down our guard against sin’s temptations. Sins of the flesh often begin in the secrecy of darkness (John 3:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8). Pornography and all manner of sexual immorality thrive when people are alone (or think they are alone). Private sins never escape God’s attention. God saw what David did (2 Samuel 11:27; Hebrews 4:13). If you are struggling with private sins, hold yourself accountable to someone you can call on for help. Pray for God’s help (Hebrews 4:16). Get busy doing God’s work. Don’t isolate yourself and give the devil a place to exploit. Build a wall of protection around your heart. If you have already yielded to sin, you can repent and be forgiven. David did, and God forgave him (Psalm 32:3-5).
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. (James 4:4, NKJV)
Whose friend are you – God’s, or the world’s? The world is the system of evil that opposes God and His will (1 John 2:15-17). A Christian cannot join hands with the world, doing and endorsing what the world does, without becoming God’s enemy. Simple as that. James uses adultery to make the point. The world celebrates adultery. When husbands and wives commit adultery, the world calls it a “love affair,” but there is nothing loving about it. The entertainment industry (movies, television, the internet, etc.) celebrates adultery. The porn industry persuades it. But, God is very clear: The sin of adultery is not a love affair, it is a lust affair (James 4:1-3; Hebrews 13:4). Jesus said, “You are My friends, if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). The worldly-minded do not love Jesus, because they do not obey Jesus. They are driven by selfish desires. They are God’s enemies. Do not be counted among them. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Ephesians 5:6-7).
24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:24–25, NKJV)
Mankind is under the wrath of God, and for good reason (Rom. 1:18-21). The refusal to honor and thank God plunged humanity into the darkness of pride and the foolishness of elevating human wisdom above God and His truth (Rom. 1:21-22). This led to idolatry – the corruption of true worship (Rom. 1:23). Idolatry (false worship) feeds on fleshly lusts. Impure worship opens the door to immoral living. When God is ignored and His truth is devalued, the boundaries of moral restraint (that are set by divine truth) are increasingly ignored. Just as false worship abandons truth for lies, immorality abandons the moral restraints of truth. Instead of honoring God with the body, it is used to fulfill the sinful lusts of the heart (1 Cor. 6:13, 15, 19). One must not think he is honoring God while using his body to fulfill the dishonorable lusts of immorality. When the truth of God is exchanged for the lie of idolatry, immorality follows. God allows it to happen, but His wrath is revealed against it. You cannot serve the god of self, and expect to be blessed by God our Creator.