Modern Bible Commentary on James 4

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

The apostle James does not hold back. He informs his audience that the drama they have stirred up is because of their own sinful nature. They fight and quarrel because of their broken hearts. They covet what others have, so they become merciless and angry.

James continues. When people don’t get what they want from God, they blame him. Their self-focus is alarming and it is evident they are not asking God with the proper attitude. The apostle warns them to stop asking with the wrong motives–that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. Instead, seek the will of God.

What is God’s will? I believe Romans 12:2 states it best: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” In other words, stop following the idols of this darkened world–renew your mind in Christ. When you pray for the Holy Spirit to guide, convict, and lead you to do his will, you are asking in the type of tone where He will hear and gladly answer.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us ? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle James continues to scold his listeners. He calls them “adulterous” people. This is an interesting terminology to use, but it makes sense as it relates to our relationship with God. As the church of Christ, we are His bride. God made a covenant with us when He died on the cross for our sins. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might receive the righteousness of God.

When we love the world and the pleasures of this fleeting life more than God, we are committing spiritual adultery. Instead, God must take first place in our lives. We are to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. The Lord can even have a righteous jealousy when we flirt with other false gods–like bowing down to money, fame, or fortune.

Thankfully, when we mess up, He gives us more grace. That’s why Scripture says God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.

If you are a proud person, it is very difficult for God to extend grace. This is because proud people don’t like to accept help outside of themselves. They are arrogant and try to fix things with their own wit and reason.

However, this is not the way we should live as Christians. We must rely on the promises of God.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

As Christians, it is imperative that we submit to God. This type of submission should not be associated with an unhealthy notion of total control the culture perceives it to be. While God should reign supreme over our decisions, He leads in a gracious and loving way. When we submit to Him, he protects us from evil and rids us of unrighteousness. God is a protector and warrior for us.

When the devil tempts us, God gives us the power to resist him. If we resist, he will flee from us. Believe me, if we fail to cling to the Lord when Satan tempts us, we will utterly fail. For Satan is sly and more cunning than you think. Therefore, flee and immediately go to God.

Furthermore, the Bible tells us to wash our hands and purify our hearts. This means we ought to confess our sins. When we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of all our sins, and cleanse us from unrighteousness. As we grieve, mourn, and wail over our sin, keep in mind God’s provisions in grace. He has cast your sins as far as the east is from the west, and will remember them no more. We serve an awesome Creator.

Why does James become so sorrowful here. He says we should change our laughter to mourning and our joy to gloom. I think this is because of the reality of sin. It’s better to be honest, sober, and cognizant of our moral failures than to be naïve and think our rebellion doesn’t have consequences. Moreover, when a person is able to see themselves for who they really are, a sinner in need of a Savior, then the Lord can bring healing and restoration. It’s only when we humble ourselves and seek God’s face that a true born-again experience can occur.

11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 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?

This topic of slandering and gossiping against our brothers and sisters is an important reminder in today’s culture. It seems as if slander is a common theme. By listening to just two minutes of the news, you will be exposed to slander. And let’s be clear. Anyone who speaks against someone or judges them speaks against the law. In other words, you are claiming to be the “expert” and replacement of the perfect Law. But there is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the Lord Almighty. Let Him be the final judge!

In Romans 12:19, God tells us, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.” This is an important verse to understand because it shows who is in control. It’s not our role to be the avenger. This type of spirit only leads to harboring bitterness and hatred towards others. Instead, pray for your enemies and love those who persecute you. Let God be the final judge concerning these matters. You will save yourselves a lot of heartache when you do this!

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

In the final verses of this chapter, the apostle James warns His fellow Jews and Gentile Christians not to focus or worry so much about the future. For we do not know what will even happen tomorrow. Instead, we ought to trust in God–lean not on our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct our paths.

Moreover, God reminds us of our mortality. For instance, he states we are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Life is so fast. Life is also a vulnerable place. Instead of worrying about trying to control a life we ultimately have no control over, we should trust in the Lord instead. The Lord’s will is ultimately up to Him, not us.

Finally, when we recognize God’s sovereignty, I think we are less tempted to be boastful and arrogant. Human wisdom and accomplishments will never be able to replace the Almighty Lord. Our endeavors and ambitions fall short at the glory and majesty of our Lord. So then, let’s not boast. Boasting is evil. Also, if anyone knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. It’s therefore crucial to be honest with your own heart and seek to live a righteous life before our King.

Commentary written by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div)

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