Modern Bible Commentary on James 4

Where do wars and fightings among you come from? Don’t they come from your pleasures that war in your members? You lust, and don’t have. You murder and covet, and can’t obtain. You fight and make war. You don’t have, because you don’t ask. You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:1-3, WEB).

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 adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward 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 lives in us yearns jealously”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace 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.

Be subject therefore 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. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom.

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 Don’t speak against one another, brothers. He who speaks against a brother and judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge. 12 Only one is the lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge another?

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 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow let’s go into this city, and spend a year there, trade, and make a profit.” 14 Whereas you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. For what is your life? For you are a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. 15 For you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will both live, and do this or that.” 16 But now you glory in your boasting. All such boasting is evil. 17 To him therefore who knows to do good, and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.

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)

Translation by World English Bible (WEB)—public domain.

I am so thankful for the World English Bible Translation. This is their mission statement: “The Holy Bible is God’s Word. It belongs to God. He gave it to us freely, and we who have worked on this translation freely give it to you by dedicating it to the Public Domain.”

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