James continues to focus in on the subject of envy and its consequences in chapter 4. Is it possible that his concern with this subject reflects how he as Jesus' brother acted toward Him while He was on earth? We cannot know for sure, but James is certainly familiar with the sin of envy, and he calls on us to become more aware of how pervasively it influences us.
Fights and quarrels arise from envy, he says (4:1–2). Instead of asking God for something we want and patiently awaiting His timing in all humility, we strive to get it for ourselves. The first fight broke out in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve tried to steal from God. The second fight broke out in the land of Eden when Cain killed Abel because Abel had received an honor and Cain had not. The sphere of envy and strife is called the "world" by James (4:4–5). If Christians join the world, they are committing spiritual adultery against God and become His enemy (compare 2 Corinthians 11:2–3 and Genesis 3:12). We must look to our heavenly Husband and Friend for the things of this world, not join with the devil and seize them for ourselves (James 4:7).
The fact is that Christians are by no means immune to envy. If your fellow worker receives a promotion, and you think you deserved it more than he, you envy. If your friend gets something nice and new, and you cannot afford something similar, you envy. If someone else is asked to serve as elder in the church, you envy. James hammers away at this subject because it is so pervasive, rooted so deep in our hearts, and is so destructive.
When we see envy for what it is, we are driven by horror to abase ourselves before God and beg for cleansing. James tells us to grieve, mourn, and wail. He does not mean for us to do this all the time, of course. But what God is saying here is that from time to time, we need to take a good long look in the mirror, assess our envy and depravity for what it is, and spend some time in serious mourning and wailing before Him. Every now and then we need to dredge out the canals of our lives, and take some time to work on the purity of our hearts.
When was the last time you spent a day or part of a day in prayer and fasting, reading the psalms, going deep inside yourself before God and crying out to Him? We all need this from time to time. Otherwise our lives become glib and our hearts become hard. Target those areas of your life, like envy, where you know God desires change.