A Study in James 4
James 4:1-3 – 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. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
This week is an interesting week. It is Thanksgiving here in the USA and, yet, we are a country divided. Thoughts of Ferguson and racial divide fill our homes as we sit to thank the Creator for our food and friends and families.
Even as we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, there are many families who are divided as they sit down to dinner. I remember days when I used to sit down with my side of the family and my now ex-wife’s side of the family for Thanksgiving feast in the months prior to the divorce. It was going to happen. The date was set for me to move out, and yet, there was a tenuous peace; a peace similar to the many cease fires that Israel has had with any choice of Middle Eastern countries.
This week, James speaks to us about pride.
Like in previous chapters, James starts out by not pulling any punches. He asks us what causes the fights and arguments among us.
There are some key words we need to look at here in the original language. The Greek words for “fights and quarrels” are polemos and mache. Polemos is a war campaign. It can mean something ongoing. Mache is a word that means the individual conflicts in a war. When James speaks of “you” in this passage, he uses the word melos. Melos, easily translated means members. So what James is speaking about in this beginning passage is arguing among members of the Christian church.
Let’s go back to my Thanksgiving dinner. We were all members of a single family yet we could not get along. We all claimed Christ as our Savior yet the littlest disagreement would turn into a full blown war.
Unfortunately, the people who we are supposed to love the most are the ones we argue with the most. Psychologists and other people who are much smarter than me say it is because we are with them for longer periods of time and that they see us at our best and our worst and sometimes it is just too much to handle.
But I have a different answer.
While we each sin, it is important for us to understand how to handle sin. There are people who say you need to immediately and severely confront them. There are those who say you need to confront but be loving. There are those who say you need to let them figure it out on their own. And many others.
Unfortunately, when two or more people get together and cannot agree on how to tackle the sin issue, a bigger sin rears its ugly head.
Pride leads to murder and covetousness.
Ok, Fred, I am sure all of your former inlaws were not murdered by your hand, so what do you mean?
James is looking back at the Sermon on the Mount when he chooses his language. Murder is more than the actual killing. Now this may drive my lawyer friends a little crazy, but murder is a condition of the heart that shows itself outwardly through anger.
James goes on to say the reasons you still have these feelings is because of a couple of reasons. Either you are simply not asking God to take them away or you are asking with the wrong motives. God is a God of the heart. He looks to not just our actions, but our faith and our motives. That is why our works alone cannot save us.
We need to remember that the purpose of prayer is not to change God’s mind to equate with ours. He isn’t a genie in a bottle that we can control. The purpose of prayer is to calibrate ourselves with His will and ask Him to accomplish His will through us and our circumstances. See Matthew 6:10 if you have questions about that.
James 4:4-5 – 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. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
Moving into verses 4 and 5, James speaks to us about something that really affects the church today. He speaks about the danger of being “friends with the world.” The verses call out both adulterers and adulteresses but in the original Greek, only adulteresses are called out. Many feel that this is a verse about literal sexual adultery, but using only the term adulteress, we need to look at it a different way. God is the “husband” and the church is the “bride.” How can the church have a relationship with the world and yet claim faithfulness to God.
There is a small issue that comes up here is that the Scripture that James shares cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. The two leading theories as to this are that either James is citing universal truths from the Old Testament or James 4:5 is two separate sentences and that the Scripture quoted refer to what he said in verse 4.
Regardless, the message to the church is that we need to be friends with God. Take a look around at the multiple denominations out there. It is easy to see which are focused on being a friend to the world and an enemy to God. They are the churches that make mature Christians wonder about them while the world praises them.
James 4:6-10 – But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 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. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Speaking of the world’s praise, as James moves into verses 6-10, we start to see him talking about humility. He tells us that God will give us the grace to be able to serve God as we should, but that only comes through serving humbly.
Grace and pride can be seen, somewhat, as opposites. Pride demands that God bless me based on my good works. But grace demands nothing. Grace is given only on the basis of who God is. And the humility we show is not a work to receive the grace. Humility simply puts us in the correct state to receive the grace he provides.
So to receive grace, we need to submit to God. In my young adult class a few weeks ago we discussed this exact same idea. We need to order ourselves under God. Basically we need to give up our kingdom to live in the kingdom of God.
When we begin to give up our kingdoms, Satan will come in, like he did with Christ, and offer us a greater kingdom. But we are called to resist the devil. And James tells us that if we resist the devil, we are promised that he will flee from us. This does not mean we need to exorcise Satan out of us. Keep in mind that light and dark cannot coexist in the same space. This means that Satan cannot possess a believer. We need to look on Satan as who he is, a conquered enemy.
James tells us to “resist” the devil. Resist is made up of two separate Greek words meaning stand and against. Therefore we must stand against the devil.
Next, James tells us to draw near to God and we have the promise that He will draw nearer to us. Know this, when we find ourselves away from God, it is not God that is doing the drifting. I have heard people say that the church is changing. That is the church. That is not God. God is immovable. So in order for us to get closer to God, we need to act, make the conscious decision that we want to get nearer to Him.
I like this story to illustrate it. An elderly couple is driving down the road and as they are talking, the wife, sitting in the passenger seat, notices as cars are coming toward them that there are other couples in those cars and in each car, the woman was sitting very close to the man. She looked at her husband and asked, “Why don’t we sit that close anymore?” The husband, the driver, answered, “It wasn’t me that moved.” If we are away from God, we need to realize that He has not moved. It is us, His bride, who has moved away.
James 4:11-12 – 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?
In verses 11-12, James speaks about hatred. This is hatred of our fellow brethren. James echoes John in 1 John 4:20 by basically saying that we cannot hate one another. This hatred is basically another form of pride. It is our arrogance. When we have the right humility before God, we cannot just judge a brother off the cuff.
James 4:13-16 – 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.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Looking at verse 13, James is telling us that it is prideful for us to make plans outside of the sovereignty of God. We do not know what will happen tomorrow. Why make a plan for our worldly success when all we have is the assurance of today and the mission to preach the Gospel?
He asks us to look at the fragile state of our lives.
Please note, James is not telling us not to plan for anything. But we should make our plans based around the will and desire of God. If we make our plans, seek to build our kingdoms, and go after success without first seeking God in the equation, then we are boasting and prideful.
James 4:17 – Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Knowing that humility and submission to God is far easier to speak about than live, James makes it very clear on the mind of God: we are accountable for humility and dependence on God.
Next week I will end this series on the Book of James. James ends with a couple warnings and some applications for us to practice, a fitting way to end any discussion about godly living.