“Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’?”
Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain,
For the third time, James uses the word “Scripture” (2:8,23). The mention of Scripture here does not refer to a specific passage but to the general gist of teaching on God’s jealousy (Ex 20:5; 34:14; Ps. 42:1; 84:2; Zech. 8:2).
The Bible never speaks in “vain” in its pronouncements. The declarations of James in the previous verses are not arbitrary. Some of his readers might have thought that he was too categorical and absolute; “James should be more moderate in his writing. He should be more qualifying and relative in his message.” James argues strongly that he takes his points from the Scripture and not from the mere dead words of man.
‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’?
This sentence is one of the most difficult to interpret in James so we cannot come to a definitive meaning.
The first possibility may be the idea that the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer does not create the sin of jealousy in him. In this case, we should not capitalize the word “Spirit” because this term would refer to the human spirit (the Greek does not use capitals). The idea of this sentence would be that the friendship of the world breeds envy.
The body cannot sin by itself; it requires a “spirit” within it to commit acts of sin. Jealousy is the sadness that grieves over the success of others. This is a selfish sin. Jealousy murdered Able. Jealousy put Joseph on a course of bondage to Egypt. Jealousy put the Lord to death.
The second possibility may be that we can make the Holy Spirit jealous by our sin. The idea behind “jealously” in this interpretation is the feeling of displeasure about hearing of something grievous. The Holy Spirit is jealous that we might be wholly devoted to God.
The word “yearns” is a strong term meaning to long after or desire something greatly. This is a term of huge passion. The human spirit wholly lusts after things contrary to the will of God.
Ro 7:17 “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”
1 Co 2:12 “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”
The word “dwells” means to cause to dwell, to put within. The Holy Spirit’s jealousy longs for fellowship with the spirit that dwells in us. He is jealous for our love. Some believers committed spiritual adultery (4:4) so they needed to understand something about how God longs for His people.
1 Co 6:19 “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”
We immobilize God’s Word in our hearts when we rationalize it for our own ends.
Our propensity to sin (Ps 51:5) does not reduce the responsibility for our sin. If we rationalize sin away, we put ourselves in serious spiritual jeopardy. We need to grasp how God the Holy Spirit longs to fellowship with us.