The closing verse of James chapter three makes use of an encouraging metaphor when it tells us, "Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:18). However, the following chapter -James chapter four- opens with abrupt change of focus as James will begin to address some decidedly less positive attributes.
James chapter four consists of just 369 words contained within a scant seventeen verses. However, the brevity of this chapter belies its dynamic nature, for this passage of Scripture deals with a number of important topics in a forceful and hard-hitting manner. Those topics include:
While previous chapters within this epistle have identified a number of inappropriate and ungodly behaviors, James chapter four will largely deal with the root causes associated with such actions. The aggressive tone of this chapter should also serve to focus the attention of those who are truly interested in developing God-honoring character and assist them in unearthing and uprooting the sources of such behaviors- even those that may be deeply hidden or disguised behind a veneer of spirituality.
James chapter four also helps provide us with an additional benefit as it illustrates the importance of reading the Scriptures in their entirety. You see, the language contained within this chapter is quite strong and is considerably different from what one might often expect to hear within a sermon during typical Sunday morning church service. For the person whose exposure to the Scriptures consists of a few verses mentioned within a weekly sermon, the overall character and tone of James chapter four may come as something of a shock.
As one source has observed in commenting on this chapter, "Although James has already spent half a chapter on the terrible destructive power of the tongue, it is obvious that the blame for the action cannot be placed upon the tongue itself. The tongue is only the weapon. What causes a Christian to use his tongue as a weapon against his brother? What is the real source of this warfare that ought not to be?" (1)
James chapter four will go on to examine these questions in great detail but the challenge facing the reader is this: "Can you handle the truth?"
(1) Ruben Ratzlaff and Paul T. Butler, James 4:1-3, College Press Bible Study Textbook Series © 1979, College Press
"Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?" (James 4:1).
In seeking to apply the message of James chapter four, it may be helpful to consider the original audience for this epistle. In this instance, the intended audience is identified for us in chapter one, verse one: "To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations..."
As mentioned earlier, this opening salutation represented a means of addressing those Jewish believers who were living abroad at the time this letter was originally authored. Since the early church was generally comprised of Jewish Christians who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah, it was natural to utilize this familiar and culturally relevant form of address. But as James continues his discourse with these early believers, we should remember that the inspired content of this chapter also applies to everyone who has accepted Christ by extension.
The subject of this opening verse concerns the conflicts (NET) and quarrels (NIV) that had developed among the members of the early church, two problems that James had undoubtedly seen within other congregations on a first-hand basis. Judging from the language of this verse, it appears that there was a fairly sizable number of people who failed to recognize the need for mutual respect and consideration among the members of the Christian community.
Unfortunately, James was not the only New Testament writer to express such concerns. For example, the Apostle Paul spoke of his fear of encountering similar conflicts within the church at Corinth when he wrote the following...
"...I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults" (2 Corinthians 12:20).
Like any good spiritual leader, James not only acknowledged the fact that these problems existed but also identified a motivating factor behind these behaviors as well: "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?" (NIV).
Regrettably, this type of conduct still exists among God's people today. Nevertheless, this verse (along with the verses that follow) can help us put an end to such unhealthy behaviors by identifying the sources behind these problems, thus enabling us to prayerfully seek God's assistance in addressing the root causes behind them. We'll take a closer look at one such cause next.
"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" (James 4:1-2).
As found in the passage quoted above, the word "lust" can be used to to describe "those who seek things forbidden." (1) In a general sense, "lust" refers to an intense desire to possess (or control) someone or something that belongs to someone else. It can also be used to describe the mindset of a person who uses others as a means to fulfill his or her own desires.
One problem with lust is the fact that it is never satisfied- that's why James 4:2 can say, "You lust and do not have." Another issue with the lustful desire for pleasure described within this passage is that it tends to express itself in some very unhealthy ways. For instance, consider the external behaviors that proceed from this internal mindset: conflicts... quarrels... murder... (NET).
While an external circumstance might provoke a Godly person to respond in an ungodly manner, a far more common explanation are those "...selfish desires that make war" (ERV) within us. The Biblical book of Galatians sheds some additional light on this problem when it tells us...
"...the sinful nature has its desire which is opposed to the Spirit, and the [desire of the] Spirit opposes the sinful nature; for these [two, the sinful nature and the Spirit] are in direct opposition to each other [continually in conflict], so that you [as believers] do not [always] do whatever [good things] you want to do" (Galatians 5:17 AMP).
Now this does not necessarily imply that it is wrong to enjoy pleasurable activities or seek those things that bring happiness, enjoyment, or contentment in life. After all, the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes tells us, "...people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God" (Ecclesiastes 3:13 NLT) while the New Testament book of 1 Timothy says that God has generously provided all things for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17).
The problem comes when we fail to recognize the desires (and the resulting behaviors) that are generated by our sinful nature and those that find their origin within the nature of God. As one commentator has observed, "...there is a difference between sinful desires and godly desires. Sin desires to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way." (2)
(1) G1937 epithumeo Thayer’s Greek Definitions
(2) Bob Caldwell, James 4, Pride Promotes Strife http://www.ccboise.org/resources/study-materials/study-notes/james-4
"You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3).
As mentioned earlier, the Epistle of James was addressed to the first-century members of the Christian community and the modern-day Church by extension. For this reason, its important to recognize that the opening verses of James chapter four do not describe the actions of those who are outside the church but those who are within.
Previously in James 4:2 we read, "You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can't get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don't have what you want because you don't ask God for it" (NLT). This group represented those people who had chosen to bypass God by in attempting to fulfill their needs through force and/or manipulation.
James 4:3 then goes on to identify a second group of individuals who took an alternate approach that was good in theory (prayer) but very wrong in practice (i.e. the object of their prayers). You see, unlike those who had attempted fulfill their lusts on their own, this second group of men and women were engaged in an attempt to persuade God to fulfill their lusts for them. As James 4:3 explains, "...even when you do pray, your prayers are not answered, because you pray just for selfish reasons" (CEV).
Now it is important to recognize that God desires for us to bring our needs before Him. As the New Testament book of Philippians 4:6 tells us "…in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (NIV). However, if our prayers reflect an agenda that is motivated by a sense of envy, selfishness, or materialism, its crucial to stop and consider the origin of such requests.
It is possible to package our prayer requests in a beautiful box of religious sounding words but the contents of that "box" are what's really important. This is why its important to prayerfully consider the motivations that drive our requests. Even those requests that seem to be rooted in a sincere desire to honor God may hide a self-seeking motivation that we are not even aware of.
As the Apostle Paul once observed regarding himself, "My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me" (1 Corinthians 4:4 NIV). We'll look at a few questions that can help ensure that our prayer requests are aligned with the good things that God desires to give us next.
"You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (James 4:3 ESV).
In the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes we're told, "God is going to judge everything we do, whether good or bad, even things done in secret" (GNB). Knowing that God considers the motivations behind our prayer requests to be important, it may be wise to take a prayerful inventory of those things that prompt us to bring our requests to Him. For example...
While such questions may seem uncomfortable, an honest answer to each of these inquiries will help ensure that we avoid being placed in the category of individuals that James describes here: "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives..." (NIV).
In 1 Corinthians 11:31 we read, "if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." A little later, the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13). Asking these questions now may enable us to avoid an unpleasant surprise if and when God reveals the true nature of our requests to Him.
As difficult as it may be to accept, James 4:3 provides a possible explanation for the fact that our prayers may sometimes go unanswered: "...your motives are all wrong—because you continually focus on self-indulgence" (Voice). While it seems unlikely that many of God's people would approach Him in this manner, this verse suggests that we may benefit from bringing our motivations before God along with our requests of Him.
You see, the original language of this passage implies an intent to waste or squander God's response to such prayer requests. (1) Therefore, it should come as no surprise to find that God had elected to ignore such petitions- and we should expect Him to do so today as well.
This serves to remind us that there are some important limitations on the things that God will grant to us in prayer. For instance, our prayer requests should be tempered by the recognition that God is holy, a word that refers to God's absolute moral purity. Since God is completely separate or "set apart" from anything that is wrong or inappropriate, a prayer request that fails to honor His sacred character is one that He is not likely to answer.
The Scriptures also remind us that certain requirements are necessary if we desire to see God answer our prayers. Those prerequisites would include such things as...
If these qualities influence the things we pray for, then we are free to follow Jesus' message to us from the Gospel of Matthew: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7 NIV). While it is not necessarily wrong to seek those things that bring us pleasure, those requests must be aligned with God's priorities for our lives. As Jesus Himself once said...
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).
(1) G2237 hedone / G1159 dapanao Thayer’s Greek Definitions
"Yet even when you do pray, your prayers are not answered, because you pray just for selfish reasons" (James 4:3 CEV).
Its possible to be content with the things we possess- until we meet someone who has something better. Fortunately, the Biblical book of Philippians provides us with an example from the life of the Apostle Paul that can help us escape the type of mindset described here in James 4:3...
"I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me... I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:10-13 NIV).
Following his arrival in the city of Rome around AD 61, Acts 28:16 tells us that the Apostle Paul was placed under house arrest. Although Paul was given a great deal of freedom, it appears that his friends within the Philippian church had lost contact with him during this period. Some time later, they apparently discovered that Paul had been imprisoned in Rome and voluntarily supplied him with some much-needed support (see Philippians 2:25).
This was not the first time that the Philippian congregation had worked to supply Paul's needs (Philippians 4:15-17) and he expressed his heartfelt appreciation by stating, "I thank the Lord that you have again shown your care for me" (ERV). He then went on to add, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances."
This last comment provides us with an important application for today. For instance, can we (like Paul) find contentment in Christ when our circumstances have not worked out according to our expectations? Can we find contentment when a ministry, relationship, or an employment situation has not prospered as we had hoped? Are we willing to seek contentment in the blessings that God has already extended to us instead of choosing to focus on those things He has elected to withhold?
Paul made a similar statement in 1 Timothy 6:6 when he said, "...godliness with contentment is great gain." Instead of seeking God for the things that others possess, we would do well to prayerfully cultivate an attitude of appreciation for the things that He has already given us and seek to do our very best with them.
"You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (James 4:4 NIV).
In the course of investigating a crime, a police detective must often establish the fact that a criminal motive exists for a potential suspect and identify how that person may have benefited from committing the crime in question.
In a manner reminiscent of a detective who aggressively questions a suspect in an attempt to uncover the facts of a case, James 4:4 subjects us to a similar interrogation in an effort to determine the truth concerning our relationship with God. In this instance, the charge is spiritual adultery. The motive is friendship with the world. The question is this: is there enough evidence to bring an indictment?
This passage draws our attention to the severity of this allegation by using the emotionally charged phrase "Adulterers and adulteresses!" (NKJV). As one commentator explains, "We use these terms to describe men and women who are unfaithful to their spouses. James uses these terms to describe men and women who are unfaithful to God. These terms can be appropriately applied to any Christian who loves the things of the world more than God..." (1)
When used in this context, the "world" serves to represent those attitudes, values, and belief systems that reject the God of the Scriptures. Jesus expressed this idea in a similar manner in the New Testament gospel of John when He said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" (John 15:18 NIV).
The Epistle of 1 John also refers "the world" in this sense when it tells us, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17).
These Scriptures carry a number of far-reaching implications that should impact our choices and decisions in virtually every area of life. You see, there is a difference in being "in" the world and "of" the world- and we'll examine some of those differences over the next few studies.
(1) Bob Caldwell, James 4, Pride Promotes Strife v.4 http://www.ccboise.org/resources/study-materials/study-notes/james-4
"You adulterers! Don't you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God" (James 4:4 NLT).
The New Testament epistle of 1 John provides us with an important piece of spiritual insight in regard to James 4:4 when it says, "We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one" (1 John 5:19 NIV). To verify the accuracy of that statement, let's take a moment to consider the routine of daily life and the people we often encounter within the world today.
For instance, would it be reasonable to say that the majority of those we encounter in life give very little (if any) thought to the existence of God as they pursue their daily agendas? For many of us, this would probably be an accurate statement. While some may admittedly embrace the concept of a "higher intelligence" or the existence of a supernatural being, those beliefs may not necessarily serve to impact their daily choices and decisions to any great degree.
You see, its possible for someone to pursue an entirely self-absorbed, self-concerned, and self-indulgent lifestyle yet still believe in "God." While studies show that large numbers of people do believe in "God," the unfortunate reality is that many of these same people still choose to live as if a God did not really exist.
If a majority of people dismiss the existence of God or view God as little more than a "higher power," then those beliefs are certain to result in the formation of a society that rejects the genuine God of the Scriptures and expresses those convictions through the choices, decisions, activities, and overall fabric of daily life.
Therefore, we should not be shocked when others dismiss the relevance of God's Word, ignore Biblical principles of conduct, or refer to God in a blasphemous or inappropriate manner. These actions do not necessarily form the basis of some great conspiracy- on the contrary, these things are exactly what we should expect in a world that is "...under the control of the evil one."
This helps explain the admonition that we find here in James 4:4: "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" (ESV). "Enmity" can be defined as a feeling of hostility, hatred, and/or opposition- and in the words of one commentator, "An enemy may be reconciled, but 'enmity' never can be reconciled." (1)
(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible, Chapter 4 verses 1-10
"Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever decides to be the world's friend makes himself God's enemy" (James 4:4 NET).
We can turn to the Biblical book of 2 Timothy to help explain why "...anyone who wants to be friends with this evil world becomes God's enemy" (ERV). While the following passage from 2 Timothy specifically addresses the societal conditions that will accompany the events of the last days, they are also widely characteristic of a world that exists today- a world that has largely turned it's back upon its Creator...
"...people will love only themselves and
their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God,
disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will
consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and
unforgiving; they will slander others and have no
They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!" (2 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT).
It seems that everyone is familiar with the attitudes and behaviors that are reflective of this passage. However, this lengthy list of worldly characteristics is something that stands in stark opposition to the character and nature of God. For instance, let's take the list spoken of here within the book of 2 Timothy and compare it to the characteristics that are found within the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians...
"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT).
Since 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love, we can say that this passage describes God's essential nature, one that is completely opposed to the general nature and character of this world. So while it is important to represent Jesus faithfully by being friendly, courteous, respectful, loving, and sincere with others, we should keep in mind that Christians are sojourners (1 Peter 2:11) within a world that has little use for Christ- and "Whoever chooses to be the world's friend makes himself God's enemy!" (CJB).
"Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, 'The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously'?" (James 4:5).
James 4:5 uncovers a number of important spiritual truths for those who are willing to closely examine this verse.
For instance, consider the use of the word "who" in describing the Spirit of God within this passage. The use of this pronoun in reference to the Spirit of God identifies the Holy Spirit as a Person who is capable of an emotional response rather than an impersonal "active force" as some cultic organizations might have us believe.
The emotional response mentioned here is jealousy, a term that is often associated with a feeling of insecurity or a lack of confidence in regard to a loved one. Since God is never threatened by a sense of insecurity, we might best understand this reference using the analogy of a marital relationship. Just as a virtuous husband or wife will not share his or her spouse with another person, God also seeks an exclusive relationship with His people and will not share that relationship with a worldly belief system that rejects Him.
Finally, this passage states, "...do you think the scripture means nothing when it says, 'The spirit that God caused to live within us has an envious yearning'?" (NET). Since there are no specific Biblical verses that can be used to support this particular reference, how then are we to understand this passage?
Well, perhaps we might answer this question with another question; did you know that the following declaration does not appear anywhere within the Bible: "Jesus died on the cross for our sins" ? Despite this reality, most would surely agree with this statement: "The Scriptures tell us that Jesus died on the cross for our sins." We can accept that statement without reservation because we recognize that it is appropriate to condense a clear Biblical truth and refer to it as "Scripture."
This helps to explain the reference found here in James 4:5. As commentator has said, "More probably is the view that James was not citing a particular passage but summarizing the truth expressed in several Old Testament passages." (1) Some of those passages might include Psalm 78:58, Joel 2:18, Hosea 11:8, Joshua 24:19-20 and the following verse from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy...
"They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding" (Deuteronomy 32:21 NIV).
(1) Guzik, Dave James 4 - The Humble Dependence of a True Faith http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/5904.htm
"But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: 'God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble' (James 4:6).
James 4:6 introduces an important Biblical concept: grace. Grace can be defined rather easily in three words: "God's unmerited favor" One source tells us that the Greek and Hebrew words for grace "...indicate...an objective relation of undeserved favor by a superior to an inferior..." (1) The word "grace" appears 128 times (2) within the New Testament alone and is often associated with God's mercy, love, and compassion.
"Grace" constitutes a basic attribute of God's character for Exodus 34:6 identifies the God of the Scriptures as "The LORD... the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness..." In the New Testament, we see Jesus as the very embodiment of this grace: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
But Jesus has not only revealed the grace of God- He has also provided access to it. Therefore, as the Living Bible paraphrases James 4:6, "...he gives us more and more strength to stand against all such evil longings. But that strength is available only to the humble because pride and humility are mortal enemies."
Humility is a mindset that reflects a modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc. (3) A person of humility recognizes the fact that any talent, skill, or ability that he or she may possess are gifts from God, an acknowledgment that should result in a sense of security as well as humility.
Jesus once provided us with an example of humility that we can adapt to many different life situations...
"If you are invited to a wedding feast, don't always head for the best seat. For if someone more respected than you shows up, the host will bring him over to where you are sitting and say, 'Let this man sit here instead.' And you, embarrassed, will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!
Do this instead-start at the foot; and when your host sees you he will come and say, 'Friend, we have a better place than this for you!' Thus you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For everyone who tries to honor himself shall be humbled; and he who humbles himself shall be honored" (Luke 14:8-11 TLB).
When it comes to an attitude of humility, the Scriptures also provide us with another important reminder as well: "Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18 HCSB).
(1) The New Dictionary of Theology
(2) New King James Version
(3) "humility". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 07 Jan. 2016. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/humility>.XIII
"Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).
We can find a practical illustration of this passage by considering the following event from Jesus' life...
"Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry. And the devil said to Him, 'If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.' But Jesus answered him, saying, 'It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'
Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, 'All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.'
And Jesus answered and said to him, 'Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.' Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, 'If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’'
And Jesus answered and said to him, 'It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’" Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time" (Luke 4:1-13).
Jesus resisted the devil by holding firm to the truth of God's Word and applying it in the face of temptation. We can follow this good example today by prayerfully making a decision to read and internalize the Scriptures on a daily basis.
So having been defeated by Jesus, the enemy withdrew from Him just as we're told in James 4:7. However, we should note that Satan did not depart from Jesus on a permanent basis- he simply did so until an opportune time arrived. This tells us that "resisting the devil" is not something we do just once- we must be prepared to do so whenever the need arises.
"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom" (James 4:8-9).
While this passage may seem to contain some unnecessarily harsh language, it is very much in line with what our author has been saying throughout this epistle. For instance, consider one recurring theme that has been reiterated throughout this letter: what we believe should have an impact on what we do.
If we were to apply this theme to the passage quoted above, we might say that a genuine, Biblical faith will cause us to "wash our hands" of wrongdoing. This idea is related to the ceremonial purification rites that are found within the Old Testament (see Exodus 30:17-21) and later came to represent the idea of turning away from sin (see Psalm 24:3-4 and Psalm 26:6). (1)
An authentic Biblical faith will also serve to "purify our hearts" from anything that is impure or inappropriate. As mentioned earlier, the "heart" refers to our innermost being in a physical, emotional, or spiritual sense; therefore we can say that James is encouraging us to perform an internal cleansing to accompany the external act of "washing our hands" from wrongdoing. These concepts can also be found in a general sense within the Old Testament book of Proverbs...
"He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble" (Proverbs 28:13-14).
Real Biblical faith should also prompt a genuine sense of regret regarding the sins we have committed: "Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy" (NLT). This passage tells us that it is not enough to simply feel sorry for doing something wrong; instead, the appropriate response is to be honest and upfront with God concerning such things, renounce them, and ask Him to help us to make choices that honor Him.
These acts help encompass the Biblical concept of "repentance." Repentance literally means "to change one's mind" and evokes the image of a person driving an automobile who stops from traveling in the wrong direction by turning back to head in the right direction. This, in turn, will cause us to draw near to God who will then draw near to us as we're told here in James 4:8.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley, James 4 [James 4:8] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International. http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL11/VOL11_04.htmlXV
"Be humble in the Lord's presence, and he will honor you" (James 4:10 CEV).
"If you plan to build a tall house of virtues, you must first lay deep foundations of humility" (Augustine).
"Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of your self less" (C.S. Lewis).
"What difference does it make to you what someone else becomes, or says, or does? You do not need to answer for others, only for yourself" (Thomas a Kempis).
Maintaining an attitude of humility often becomes easier when we first stop to remember who God is and then stop to remember who we are. A person who humbly approaches God through Christ with the recognition that He is genuinely worthy of love, respect, honor, and worship is someone who is honest with himself and with God as well.
A person of genuine humility honors the One who has given us all we possess. On the other hand, the corresponding negative characteristics of arrogance, conceit, or pride are all qualities that are widely disdained, even among others. As we're reminded in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, "Humility and reverence for the Lord will make you both wise and honored" (Proverbs 15:33 TLB).
Nevertheless, we must be alert to a subtle danger in this regard-
a sense of pride in the fact that we have been (or are) acting in
humility. This particular danger was humorously exposed in C.S.
classic literary work, The Screwtape Letters.
The book's plot revolves around a fictional series of letters written by a high-ranking demon to his young apprentice. In the course of instructing his protégé in the art of tempting a human being that had been assigned to him as a "patient", the senior demon advised his young pupil in an effective means of undermining his subject's sense of humility...
"Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By jove! I’m being humble’, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.
If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed." (1)
(1) "humility". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 07 Jan. 2016. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/humility>.
(2) C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters pg. 69XVI
"Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" (James 4:11-12).
The word "judge" can take on a number of different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. For instance, this word can refer to the act of forming an opinion or evaluation. It can also refer to someone one who makes an estimate as to worth, quality, or fitness. (1) When used in a Scriptural context, "judging" can mean "to distinguish, that is, decide (mentally or judicially)" (2) or, "to be of an opinion, to deem, to think." (3)
With these definitions in mind, we can say that most people probably make more judgments than they realize. For example, every item we purchase represents a type of judgment when you stop to think about it, for a person who buys an item has judged that product to be worthy of the money that he or she has spent to purchase it.
The elements of our daily schedules are also judgments as well, for people make time for the things they feel are important. The same is true of the opinions we hold and the decisions we make concerning others- each one represents a type of judgment.
Since we cannot avoid making such judgments, the question is (or should be) "what kinds of judgments are right?" James 4:11 provides us with one important guideline in this regard by issuing an injunction against speaking evil of another Christian. This restriction can be understood to prohibit things like ridicule, slander, or other forms of verbal abuse directed against another Christian as well as gossip, rumor-mongering, or unsubstantiated speculation regarding the trials and difficulties of another.
Remember that Jesus once warned, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:1-2 NIV). Jesus also said, "...I tell you this, that you must give account on Judgment Day for every idle word you speak. Your words now reflect your fate then: either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37). This should serve to remind us to be careful in our judgments, especially in our judgments of others.
(1) The American Heritage Dictionary third edition
(2) G2919 krino Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries
(3) G2919 krino Thayer’s Greek DefinitionsXVII
"Brothers and sisters, stop slandering each other. Those who slander and judge other believers slander and judge God's teachings. If you judge God's teachings, you are no longer following them. Instead, you are judging them" (James 4:11 GW).
Family relationships often provide us with insights into the character and temperament of other family members that those outside the family may not possess. This same idea can also hold true for those who represent our brothers and sisters in Christ. The way in which we handle this "inside information" concerning other members of the body of Christ often serves to reveal much about our own relationship with Him.
You see, the New Testament book of Galatians uses the term "...household of faith" to refer to the members of the Christian community (Galatians 6:10). Other Biblical translations render this portion of Scripture as "the family of faith" (NIV), "the family of believers" (GW), or "the community of faith" (MSG). Because we are members of this family, we may be privy to the flaws and weaknesses of other members of this household, insights that others may not be aware of.
If God provides us with such insight into the life of another member of our church family, it helps to remember that we are not necessarily obligated to share that knowledge with everyone, and we are certainly not to share that information in a disparaging or judgmental manner. Instead, those insights should prompt us to pray on behalf of such others.
We should also notice that James connected the word "slander" with judgment in the passage quoted above. This concept involves communicating a false statement that is designed to injure another person's reputation. We can help avoid this type of response by making an effort to separate the person in question from his or her actions.
Let's take the example of someone who has made a foolish decision. Rather than referring to such a person as a fool, we might instead say, "You acted very foolishly." In this manner, we limit our judgment to the action of the person involved and avoid passing judgment upon (and potentially slandering) a brother or sister in Christ who has been made in God's image.
As James 4:12 will go on to remind us, there is only one Lawgiver
and Judge. The
person who seeks to establish his or her own personal standard of
removes God from the judicial bench and assumes His place- and as
we're told in
verse eleven, "...your job is to obey the law, not to judge
it applies to you" (NLT).
"Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge" (James 4:11 NIV).
One commentator provides us with a useful observation regarding the passage found here in James 4:11...
"...there is a fine line between defamation of character here spoken against and the proper admonition and rebuke of sinning brethren. Perhaps the greatest difference in the two actions is the motive.
A Christian rebuke that comes from a desire of sincere love and a desire to bring blessings to a fellow saint is a virtuous action that James commends in Jas_5:19-20. Yet the same rebuke that comes from a desire to cover up one’s own sin, or to make oneself look good in comparison with the brother, (even if the rebuke is deserved) makes one a law-giver...
Though there is a fine line between the two actions, there is a great gulf between the results of the two actions. Proper admonition and rebuke given in love has a real opportunity to bring repentance and save a soul from death. Improper admonition given for selfish purposes brings only resentment and strife. The proper consideration in bringing rebuke is to 'consider thyself, lest thou also be tempted' (Gal_6:1)." (1)
Its important to recognize that our judgments should be tempered by two filters- love and respect. While it is true that there may be times when the most loving thing we can do for someone is to tell that person the truth in no uncertain terms, the Scriptures also advise us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). This generally involves communicating the truth in a manner that respects another person's God-given worth and the feelings of those who may be involved.
We should also recognize that there may be times when it is appropriate to simply allow others to experience and learn from the results of their decisions. This does not mean that we are obligated to silently watch as others continue down a sinful, unethical, or self-destructive path. However it may often be more prudent to quietly allow circumstances to unfold and avoid the temptation to immediately question the wisdom of another person's decision.
If we perceive that another Christian is struggling with a difficult spiritual lesson, the most loving and respectful thing we can often do is avoid entering the classroom to disrupt that lesson with our "help." Sometimes the best response is to simply pray and wait until that class is dismissed.
(1) Donald Fream, A Chain
Of Jewels From James And Jude James 4:11-12 College Press
Study Textbook Series © 1979, College Press
"There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you--who are you to judge your neighbor?" (James 4:12 NIV).
Before we continue on to the remainder of James chapter four, we should pause to consider one final observation on the subject of judgment as found within the Biblical book of Romans...
"Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters... Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand...
You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat... Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way" (Romans 14:1,4,10,13 NIV).
These verses provide us with a number of important parameters to consider in formulating our judgments of others. These considerations would include...
In addition, the book of Romans also cautions us against establishing a double standard in our judgment of others...
"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things... So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?" (Romans 2:1,3 NIV).
Finally, one commentator provides us with some important final thoughts to close out this portion of Scripture...
"Judging, criticizing, or comparing makes one look better at another's expense. This is another inappropriate use of the tongue. In James 4:11, James addresses his readers as "brothers" and the object of their criticism as "brothers" ...This obviously refers to a Christian setting, but by using "neighbor" (cf. James 2:8) in James 4:12, he widens the specific admonition into a general command." (1)
(1) Dr. Bob Utley, James 4 Word And Phrase Study http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL11/VOL11_04.htmlXX
"Look here, you who say, 'Today or
we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We
business there and make a profit.' How do you know what your
be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it's here
while, then it's gone.
What you ought to say is, 'If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that'" (James 4:13-15 NLT).
Today's study will be turned over in its entirety to a commentator who makes brilliant use of the literary device of sarcasm to illustrate the message contained here within James 4:13-15...
"Look here, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow…"
Of course, we shall be alive and in health tomorrow. No emergency will arise, no sickness lay us low, no sudden death overtake us. Tomorrow is our apple, and we'll cut it up like we please.
"...we are going to a certain town"
The weather will be good; transportation will be available; we shall meet with no accident; no car will be wrecked, airplane fall, or train derail; we shall arrive exactly as planned.
"...and will stay there a year."
Lodging will be available to us, and at a price we can afford; no problems! No rioting shall break out; no epidemic shall occur; no war will break out; no disastrous fire will hinder; no earthquake will level the city; no flood will sweep it away. No thieves or robbers shall injure us!
"We will do business there..."
Ah yes! Goods will be available, and of the kind, quality and price we want; financing the operation will be no impediment; there will be no shortages, no damaged freight, no ruined merchandise, no change in style or taste that would hinder trade; no city regulation, no competition, no shortage of labor - nothing will get in the way!
"and make a profit..."
Of course, buyers for our products will be plentiful; they will have the money; they will wish to purchase our goods, at a prince substantially higher than we paid; the profits will roll in!
What should be thought of such godless planning? As Harper said, 'The sin of these men was not in planning for the future, but in failing to consider God in their plans.'...It is not necessary to apply these verses (through James 4:17) to the rich only. All people, regardless of wealth, social standing or any other condition, who make their life plans without respect to the will of God are the ones remonstrated (1)
(1) Coffman, James Burton, Commentary on James 4:13 Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?bk=58&ch=4 Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.XXI
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that'" (James 4:13-15).
It is extremely presumptuous to make plans for an unknown future with little or no concern for our Creator. Nevertheless, it seems that virtually everyone falls victim to such thinking from time to time.
For instance, we may casually say, "see you later" or "talk to you tomorrow" as if those things were certain to occur. We study and work and plan with the confident expectation of many good years of life ahead. We pursue the educational choices and career paths that are sure to provide us with a "future." We marry and look forward with self-assurance to many happy years with the person we've fallen in love with.
Yet how many of us stop to consider this question: how much time do we really have? How many of us have ever truly considered the possibility that we may not live past next week or next month or next year? While those who live with a serious illness or professionals who engage in dangerous occupations may face such questions daily, how many of the rest of us awake in the morning with the acknowledgment that we might find ourselves in the very presence of God before the day concludes?
The truth is that our lives can pass very quickly. Perhaps this is why Psalm 39:4 tells us, "Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life..." Psalm 144:4 later goes on to remind us, "Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow."
While we may have the reasonable expectation of long life, there are certainly no guarantees. As we're told in James 4:14, "What do you know about tomorrow? How can you be so sure about your life? It is nothing more than mist that appears for only a little while before it disappears" (CEV).In light of this, we would do well to follow the advice found within James 4:15: "… you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." Remember that there is nothing we possess that God has not allowed us to have- including those future days that may be allotted to us (Psalm 139:16). This realization should cause us to be respectful and thankful to the God who has provided us with everything we have today.
"You should know better than to say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to the city. We will do business there for a year and make a lot of money!' What do you know about tomorrow?
How can you be so sure about your life? It is nothing more than mist that appears for only a little while before it disappears. You should say, 'If the Lord lets us live, we will do these things'" (James 4:13-15 CEV).
James 4:13-15 presents us with an illustration of someone who has scheduled the events of the upcoming year with an attitude of confident assurance. For instance, notice that the person in our hypothetical example seems to have spent a considerable amount of effort in formulating this set of plans. He or she has already addressed the schedule for departure, the people who should be involved in this project, the location, the duration, the work that is scheduled to take place, and the anticipated result. (1)
Yet despite these great efforts, the person in our illustration has made a serious error in crafting these elaborate plans: he or she has given no apparent consideration to the God who controls the future. You see, the Old Testament book of Proverbs tells us, "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). This serves to remind us of an important reality: God holds dominion over the future and He can change, adapt, or delay our plans as He sees fit.
Since we don't know what the future holds, there is one principle that can help us ensure that God remains at the center of our plans: live as if Jesus is certain to return soon to examine our work and plan as if God is going to bless us with a long, good life. A person who abides by this simple precept is someone who will be well-positioned to exercise good judgment in the routine decisions of everyday life and make a positive long-term impact as well
A truly wise person is someone makes certain to factor God's sovereignty into the daily equation of life for today and the future as well. Remember that God will always direct us in the way that is best if we seek to put Him first. As Jesus Himself reminded us, "...seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:33-34 NIV).
(1) William MacDonald, Believer's Bible Commentary, James 4:13, pg. 2238XXIII
"Listen carefully, those of you who make
your plans and say, 'We are traveling to this city in the next
few days. We’ll stay there for one year while our business
explodes and revenue is up.' The reality is you have no idea
where your life will take you tomorrow.
You are like a mist that appears one moment and then vanishes another. It would be best to say, 'If it is the Lord’s will and we live long enough, we hope to do this project or pursue that dream'" (James 4:13-15 Voice).
This portion of Scripture brings to mind a well-known passage from the Old Testament book of Proverbs: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV). When we seek God's direction for an unknown future, we can confidently prepare for tomorrow with the knowledge that He always has our best interests in mind.
Since each day presents us with fresh opportunity to make a positive impact for Christ, the variables of an unknown future should not prevent us from taking advantage of the opportunities for good that we encounter today. Jesus again provides us with an important reminder in this regard...
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38 NIV).
One of the more difficult emotional realities of life is often reflected in the feeling of regret we may experience in regard to the past. This is especially true of those instances where we might have taken action but avoided doing so for some reason. The belief that "I should have done something..." is one that has generated a tremendous amount of pain for untold numbers of people throughout human history.
However, the person who makes wise and prudent use of the resources that God provides today is someone who can often avoid this kind of regret tomorrow. It's been said that while we may not know what the future holds, knowing who holds the future makes all the difference- and as we're told in the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians...
"...God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, 'He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever'" (2 Corinthians 9:8-9 ESV).XXIV
"But as it is, you boast about your arrogant plans. All such boasting is evil" (James 4:16 NET).
One means of avoiding the kind of "arrogant planning" mentioned above involves an effort to cultivate a daily attitude of prayer. For instance, we might prayerfully seek God's wisdom concerning the decisions we may have to make throughout the day. We can pray for God's guidance in dealing with the unforeseen circumstances that we might encounter.
We might also ask the Lord to provide us with wisdom, perception, and discernment in our interaction with others. We can pray that God will give us favor with employers and co-workers. We might ask that He would keep us safe in our travels and that He would bless us with the qualities of graciousness, meekness, respect, and humility in representing Jesus to others.
We can also look to the experience of Israel's King David in this regard...
"The king settled into his palace, for the LORD gave him relief from all his enemies on all sides. The king said to Nathan the prophet, 'Look! I am living in a palace made from cedar, while the ark of God sits in the middle of a tent.' Nathan replied to the king, 'You should go and do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you'" (2 Samuel 7:1-3 NET).
This passage tells us that David perceived that something was amiss in the relationship between his personal home and the visible dwelling place of God. He then discussed this disparity with a trusted, God-honoring prophet named Nathan. Nathan sensed that David was planning to address this inconsistency and encouraged him to proceed based on the evidence of God's work in David's life.
However, God went on to provide Nathan with some additional information that impacted this counsel...
"'Go, tell my servant David: ‘This is what the Lord says: Do you really intend to build a house for me to live in? ...When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent'" (2 Samuel 7:5, 12-13 NET).
Notice that God did not rebuke Nathan for encouraging David to
pursue this plan even though it was actually outside His will.
Since David's life clearly reflected the evidence of God's
direction, Nathan responded in an appropriate manner. God then
graciously provided Nathan with the additional information that
was necessary to make a better-informed decision.
If we seek to honor God with our plans in a similar manner then
we can trust Him to bless us with a similar response.
"As it is, you get a certain pride in yourself in planning your future with such confidence. That sort of pride is all wrong. No doubt you agree with the above in theory. Well, remember that if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin" (James 4:16-17 Phillips).
Earlier in verse fifteen, James offered the following directive to those who lived and planned for the future without regard to God's sovereignty: "...you should say, 'If the Lord wants us to, we will live and carry out our plans'" (GW). However, one commentator alerts us to the danger of taking this wise Biblical counsel beyond its intended boundary...
"The command does not mean to keep adding the phrase, 'If the Lord wills,' to everything a person says. To do such could become another form of pride. At the same time a person’s behavior and plans should consistently demonstrate dependence upon the Lord. He may determine that at the present time patience through tribulation (Rom. 5:3) is a greater need than attaining our goals." (1)
This reminds us that it is sometimes easier to acknowledge God's sovereignty in a general sense then it is to live and plan as if that was actually the case. While we may feel as if we are open to seeking God's direction, it often becomes much more difficult to act on that belief when God elects to utilize the circumstances of life to grind down the rough edges of our character. It may also become more difficult to submit to God's direction for our future if we sense that His direction may result in less than what we envision for ourselves.
James addresses the challenge of putting this counsel into practice in the final verse of this chapter by identifying what has come to be known as a "sin of omission." Whenever we knowingly decline to do something that God has called us to do or if we fail to act in a manner that acknowledges God's sovereignty over our future plans, we effectively commit a sin of omission, or the act of omitting an obligation to God.
To quote the another commentator in closing out this section of James' epistle...
"...James concludes the paragraph by reminding us that sin consists not just in doing those things we should not, but also in failing to do those things that we should. Similarly, James’s readers are now responsible for putting into practice the attitude he has just set forth." (2)
(1) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s New iIlustrated Bible Commentary (Jas 4:15). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
(2) Elwell, W. A. (1995). Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, Jas 4:13). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.Next