James - Chapter 4:1-12 Tensions and priorities
Here the author turns the tone, and seems to castigate those driven by cravings/pleasures/desires. The author seems to point to what was said in the opening chapter (cf 1:14-15), there is here two types of conflicts: internal and external.
a. The struggle within the individual
b. Passions that lead to war between individuals.
The internal divisions he speaks about here represent the "double-mindedness" he has written about in chapter 1:7-8, and here the author returns to the theme of prayer (2b-3). Double-mindedness cannot expect a response from God when it is based on a sense of disorder. And we have to consider that sometimes it is best that God does not answer some prayers.
In verse 4 the author used the word "adulterer" which goes back to the prophets of the Old Testament when they referred to the broken down relationships of the people with God as adultery, when they abandoned God for other deities. Some believe this could be a reference to those who seek favour from the Roman Empire.
And then the text returns to the "world" and this takes us to 1:27 - true religion is to remain unstained by the world. And by this it means those values that go against the values of the Kingdom.
The whole part of this passage seems to refer to the dualistic tension existing between those whose priorities seem to water down the Kingdom to not be at tension with the world. It is the tension which for so many continues even today. We live in a world where envy, jealousy, selfishness, individualism seem to be the way forward in most areas of life. The author encourages people to a different way of life. Closeness to God casts the "evil spirits" out.
It might be interesting to talk a bit about our understanding of "the humble/humbleness". What is legitimate pride? How do we recognize how much we owe our achievements to God's grace and to the gifts received from others along the path of life?
In today's final section (verses 11-12) the author goes back to speak of 'brothers and sisters' - a change of tone! James reminds them of things he has already said: 2:11-12; 3:9-10. Believers should be concerned with doing the will of God, not passing judgement on the behaviour of others. Consider this within the set up of the new church where Jewish and non-Jewish Christians came together.