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Bible Commentaries

Bell's Commentary on the Bible

James 4

Verses 1-10

  1. INTRO:
    1. If you were to read only vs.1a (just the question) you might come to a different conclusion!
      1. They come from: my wife; my kids; my boss! [We’ll see, no, they come from “me”!]
    2. Forget the chapter break...we move right from the fork tongue of ch.3 to the result of its venom in ch.4 wars & fights!
      1. Q: How many fights have you picked in your lifetime? (physical fights; emotional fights w/your parents, w/spouse, w/children, a co-worker, another Christian)
      2. Fighting is something that comes to us naturally. Because we’re born with a scrappy nature that prefers going for the jugular, to giving in.
      3. Fighting started just steps outside the front gate of Eden. In the field stands Cain…& there lies Abel! :(
    3. World Wide Military Expenditures: (2008 #’s)
      1. U.S. Spent 623 Billion; Rest-of-world 500 Billion [next would be China 65 Billion]
      2. According to New Internationalist magazine, “Global military expenditure is now running well over $1 million per minute.”
    4. Unfortunately, it isn’t much different within the church!
      1. Of the early church it was said, “Behold how they love one another!” Today, people might say, “Behold how they compete w/one another!”
        1. Why is it sometimes so difficult for God’s people to get along?
      2. Among you – who? See 3:1;4:11 [The wars amongst us are caused by wars within us!]
    5. Here James addresses the Pollution of the human heart & the Solution to this problem.
    1. THE POLLUTION! (1-5)
    2. (1) Wars/quarrels refers to corporate fighting (a campaign of war); whereas Fights/conflicts refers to individual battles.
      1. When it comes to church fights we see everything from hand to hand combat to all out war! [From real bullets, to verbal bullets]
        1. In Ireland today the Catholics & Protestants still have on their boxing gloves!
        2. Seminaries spar over doctrinal issues (Calvinism vs. Arminianism; The timing of the 2nd Coming of Christ)
          1. 2 ministers got into a fight about what they considered to be an important doctrinal matter. They settled the fight when the first minister told the second: "Look, what are we fighting over? We're both striving to do the Lord's work. You do it your way and I'll do it His way!"
        3. Christian authors fire dirty ink at other authors, proving again “the Pen is mightier than the sword!”
        4. Right down to our own church. We have our own “Euodias and Syntyche’s”.
        5. We have Denominational splits; Church splits; Christian Friend splits; & even Christian Husband/Wife splits! [I guess it’s our “Pugnacious Nature!”]
      2. No wonder why James deals with the problem of conflicts among Christians.
        1. Fighting, worshiping, fighting some more; here we are 2000 yrs later still the same.
        2. We’re like kids on a playground. We’re scrapin 1 minute, playing together the next.
    3. So, who started all this? (i.e. fighting)
      1. 2 things: an inner desire/pleasures & an outer desire/the world.
    4. [#1] Self Lovers! - Pleasures.
    5. Pleasure – desire or passion [A neutral term; context determines. Can be evil/good]
      1. Pleasure is not wrong(i.e. Buddhism)…only a “driving desire for pleasures”.
      2. This word ηδονη/hedone/hay-do-nay [where we get Hedonism]
        1. Hedonism = pleasure is the chief good in life.
        2. The Christian life is not a life of saying, “No”! [But of affirmation & enjoyment]
        3. We ought to be the biggest Pleasure seekers in this universe! Really? Yep! Because, God is the author of all true pleasure!
          1. This is where John Piper develops his Christian Hedonism idea, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
            1. Based upon the Westminster Shorter Catechism “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Or as Piper suggests, "to glorify God by enjoying Him forever."
          2. The Key: We just must not seek pleasure from the wrong source & in the wrong way!
        4. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Q: How often does the bible speak of joy, enjoyment, pleasure?
        5. We must immerse ourselves in His pleasures by immersing ourselves in Him!
        6. Ps.16:11 In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
        7. Ps.37:4 Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
    6. 3 problems if pleasure is left unchecked!
      1. Murder - most of us have only killed w/our thoughts. Assassinating someone else’s character.
      2. Fight & war/quarrels - those murderous thoughts spur us on to wound w/words.
      3. Total breakdown in prayer - Why? Because we’re too busy fighting.
        1. We’d rather slug things out rather than surrender the situation to God.
          1. Here he anticipates a fighters response “I did to ask & He didn’t answer”.
        2. But that’s because even our prayers can become selfish. Asking God w/wrong motives (3) [Requests were legit; Reasons was illegit!]
          1. ​​​​​​​Example: If you only pray for your own cravings & passions; rather than Gods glory, God’s service, or consideration for other people.
            1. Such prayers are an insult to God!
        3. Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best;​​​​​​​ God finds it hard to give because He would give the best, and man will not take it. (MacDonald in George MacDonald, An Anthology, p. 130)
    7. [#2] World Lovers! - the world.
      1. Adulteresses – Warning against Wandering! [One who is unfaithful to his wedding vows]
        1. Stop any affairs with the world!
        2. Returning from Sunday School 1 day, where the 10 Commandments had been the topic, a boy asked his father, "Daddy, what does it mean when it says, Thou shalt not commit agriculture?" To which he have his son the smooth reply: "Son, that just means that you're not supposed to plow another man's field."
    8. They had fallen in love with the world!
      1. i.e. the world apart from God - It signifies a self-centered, Satan-controlled philosophy that is hostile toward God.
    9. It is right for the church to be in the world; It is wrong for the world to be in the church!
      1. It is right for a boat to be in the water; It is wrong for water to be in the boat!
    10. Because Abraham was separated from sin, he was the friend of God; but ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Lot was the friend of the world.
      1. “A whole generation of Christians has come up believing that it is possible to accept Christ w/o forsaking the world.” A.W. Tozer
      2. Friend of the world - a warm, familiar attitude toward the evil world. Adapting the worlds set of values. It’s wanting what the world wants.
      3. Wants (4b) - i.e. Chooses (not slips into; but chooses to befriend the world, thus automatically becomes God’s enemy)
    11. Let’s break it down to some specific examples: (Charles Swindoll: James; pg.137.)
      1. If you are a gifted person w/leadership capabilities not being used, you may have a tendency to be impatient & manipulate circumstances to push yourself to the front.
        1. God says, “Wait, let Me open the doors. Take advantage of this time away from the limelight to deepen you trust in Me.”
      2. If you are single & eager to get married, you may be tempted to panic & hurry into a marriage relationship.
        1. But God’s advice would be, “Don’t run ahead of Me, I know your desires. Lean on Me & I’ll help you find the right mate.”
      3. If you’ve worked hard & have done a good job, but somebody else received the credit. The world says that you should fight for your rights! Promote yourself, because if you don’t, nobody else will.
        1. But God’s viewpoint runs, “There is no need to clamor for recognition. You’re here to do your work for My glory, not yours. I have seen the good that you have done & I will reward you.” [For God is not unjust to forget your work & labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, & do minister]Heb6:10
    12. Illustration: Suppose that in a certain community lives a man and his wife who love each other very much. Across the street lives a man who develops a hatred for the woman’s husband. One night he invades their home and kills him. Although he is arrested, a loophole in the law allows him to escape punishment, and he is released to return to the community. Now imagine that in a few short weeks you see the widow and her husband’s murderer walking down the street together. Her hand is slipped into his arm and she looks smilingly into his face. She says to him, “I’m so happy.” What would you say about a woman like that? - Surely you would brand her as disloyal to her husband’s memory and unworthy to bear his name.
      1. We must never forget that this godless world hated Jesus enough to kill Him.
      2. One who walks hand in hand with a system headed by our Lord’s enemies and becomes friendly with them is disloyal to Jesus Christ.
      3. Only those who keep themselves unspotted from the world(1:27) have a right to bear the name Christian.
      4. Remember, the Spirit yearns jealously(5) [NIV the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely]
    13. THE SOLUTION! (6-10)
    14. (6) God will give you grace, more grace - abundant grace to those who are willing to humble themselves & wait.
      1. Not saving’s grace enough! Regardless of your situation or need…ALWAYS!
    15. Note, James makes a humble sandwich between vs.7-10 here (humble: end of 6, beg of 10)
      1. What’s in-between these “humble buns” are 4 slices of cold-cut commands, that help us in becoming humble. [Submit to God; Resist the Devil; Draw near to God; cleanse & purify]
      2. These are steps to breaking off our love affair w/the world!
    16. [1] Submit to God! - Cease fighting & surrender your will to His control.
      1. “If you will not submit, your faith is a lie, your hope is a delusion, your prayer is an insult, your peace is presumption, your end will be despair.” Spurgeon at His Best
    17. [2] Resist the Devil! - resist his promptings.
    18. Illustration: Sheep ranchers have tried just about everything to stop crafty coyotes from killing their sheep. They has used odor sprays, electric fences, & scare-coyotes. Have placed battery-operated radios near them. Corralled them at night, herded them at day.
      1. Then they discovered the llama - the aggressive, funny-looking, afraid-of-nothing llama. Llamas don’t appear to be afraid of anything, When they see something, they put their head up and walk straight toward it. That is aggressive behavior as far as the coyote is concerned, and they won’t have anything to do with that. Coyotes are opportunists, and llamas take that opportunity away.
      2. Apparently llamas know the truth of what James writes: “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you”. The moment we sense his attack through temptation is the moment we should face it and deal with it for what it is.
      3. You are either resisting the devil or resisting the Lord! Which one?
    19. [3] Draw Near to God! - stay close to God, by developing a loving companionship.
    20. [4] Cleanse your hands & Purify your hearts! - cleanse yourself from any moral defilement that may have created enmity between ourselves & others, or God.
      1. (9) Are you laughing when you should be weeping over your sins?
      2. He’s appealing for godly sorrow, the intense kind that grows out of a deep awareness of our sin.
    21. So, how are fights stopped? Vs.10!
    22. Humble Yourselves! - Say, “uncle” to the Spirit’s promptings & surrender to God, letting Him do your fighting.
      1. Humility...the mother of all virtues!
    23. Humility’s 2-fold blessing: God will give you grace, more grace! (6) God will lift you up.
      1. Job 5:11 he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
      2. Hudson Taylor once noted, "God uses men who are weak and feeble enough to lean on him."

Verses 11-17

  1. INTRO:
    1. Oh the Games People Play (best selling book 1964; The Psychology of Human Relationships)!
      1. It was about subtle ways people manipulate others, w/o them even aware.
      2. A book, Games Christians Play, came out in 1967. Taking readers behind the scenes in the Christian community, to reveal games played beneath a religious veneer.
        1. [Oh yes, in 1968, there was a Joe South song by that name]
      3. We as Christians play games like: The, I know more than you do game… “When you have been a Christian as long as I have…” (like they were born in a choir loft? - or, saved at age2?)
    2. James introduces us to the most widely played game among Christians then/now…
      1. Playing God w/Others (11,12) & Playing God w/Yourself (13-17).
      2. As Satan manipulated Adam & Eve into playing his rebellion game, all of us have been born w/a natural passion for wanting to be God in our own lives & in the lives of others. (Charles Swindoll; James.)
    1. “PLAYING GOD” WITH OTHERS! (11-12)
    2. Here’s this 1st games objective: Imagine yourself as superior to other Christians, & put them down in various ways!
    3. Rule #1: You must speak evil of your brother or sister. (11a)
      1. Speak evil - to talk against, to defame, “to talk down”.
      2. It usually applied to harsh words about the person who is absent.
      3. It’s the idea of talking about 1 person, to another person, w/the goal of lowering your listener’s estimate of that 3rd person.
        1. So they’re not around to defend themselves; & little concern w/accuracy.
        2. And it’s neatly wrapped in a thin phony veneer of “Perhaps I shouldn't share this but…” or, “I don’t mean to be critical but…” or, “we need to pray for so-n-so.”
    4. Rule #2: You must judge your brother or sister. (11b)
      1. Judge - to pronounce condemnation upon someone.
      2. In order to judge someone rightly though, we must know ALL there is to know about that other person.
        1. It requires the complete understanding about that person’s thoughts & motives that only God possesses!
        2. Jesus cautioned about hypocritical judgment in Mt.7:1-5 (splinter/plank).
          1. If you see someone else doing wrong ask yourself whether the same evil in another form, is hiding inside you somewhere.
      3. The law James is probably referring to was the royal law he already mentioned in 2:8 “love your neighbor as self.”
        1. Will you set yourself above this law? Or, declare it’s a bad law?
    5. 2 Reasons why not to play this game!
    6. Reason #1: It places us in a position of authority reserved for God alone. (12a)
      1. It is highly probable we don’t have all the information on our friend, thus we could very well be mistaken, partial, misled! Only God knows the deepest facts!
    7. Reason #2: Playing God ignores or excuses our own failures. (12a)
      1. One of the easiest ways to hide our sins is to expose the sins of others.
    8. Who are you to judge another? (12b)
      1. Original, the personal pronoun you is placed 1st in the sentence, “You there! Who are you…?”
        1. This turns the spotlight away from others & puts it full force on us.
    10. (13) Our lives are completely in God’s hands. Therefore, we must live trusting Him for every moment.
      1. Imagine for a moment you as the final authority over your life, then live like it.
      2. Take God completely out of the picture; don’t depend on Him; don’t even recognize His existence.
    11. Rule #1: Choose your own time & schedule. (13a) [Today or tomorrow]
    12. Rule #2: Choose your location. (13b) [we will go to such and such a city]
    13. Rule #3: Choose how much time there. (13c) [spend a year there]
    14. Rule #4: Choose your own activities around your own benefits & pleasures (13d)[trade]
    15. Rule #5: Choose how much you’ll make in profits. (13e) [make a profit]
    16. Rule #6: Choose to boast about it. (16) [now you boast in your arrogance]
    17. James isn’t coming against day planners, or advocating haphazard organization!
      1. God condones wise planning.
      2. Prov.16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
      3. Eph.5:15,16 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
      4. But are plans are always to be according to His will, acknowledging His sovereignty in our lives!
    18. 3 Reasons why we’ll never win at Playing God! (14)
    19. Reason #1: Tomorrow’s circumstances are totally uncertain. (14a) [You do not know what will happen tomorrow]
      1. An unexpected injury; sudden death of a spouse; loss of a job; can instantly change everything! [Life is so transient & brief]
      2. Wanna make the best of it then? Ask the divine Spirit to choose for you & guide you. Discover God’s will & do it.
        1. Find out where God is moving & move w/Him!
    20. Reason #2: We have no assurance of a long life. (14b) [For what is your life? It s even a vapor that appears for a little time & then vanishes away]
      1. Vapor (ἀτµίς atmis) - steam, smoke. (steam from a kettle; or smoke which the wind carried away & graphically depicts the transience of life)
      2. Vanishes - to make to disappear.
        1. Aristotle used the word of the migration of birds.
      3. Like Moses’ Psalm in Ps.90 (esp.3-6).
    21. Reason #3: We have no right to ignore God’s will. (15) [Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that]
    22. What is the Christians greatest sin against God today?
      1. Explain difference of sins of Commission (we know what not to do & we do it anyways) & Omission (we know what to do & we choose not to do it).
      2. This is why I’m always getting on us for knowing so much & doing so little.
    23. We are in so much trouble! - What do we do with this info?
      1. 30,000 children die every day of hunger & preventable disease.
        1. 13 million people die every year from infectious & parasite diseases… we know how to prevent!
      2. 1.2 billion of our neighbors live in absolute poverty. ($1 or less, a day) Thats more than population of U.S., Canada, & the whole European Union combined!
        1. 1.6 billion are very poor ($2 or less, a day)
        2. So, 2.8 billion [Thats almost 1/2 our world going to bed hungry every night]
      3. Over 1 billion people have no access to improved drinking water.
      4. Lack of Vitamin A kills a million infants a year.
      5. Iron deficiency is the most prevalent form of malnutrition worldwide, affecting an estimated 2 billion people.
      6. Iodine deficiency is the greatest single cause of mental retardation & brain damage. This effects 1.9 billion people. Can be easily prevented by adding iodine to salt.
      7. Human trafficking: $32 billion yr business. 3rd largest after drugs & weapons
        1. Children exploited in sex trade every year? 2 million.
      8. 100,000 live enslaved in the U.S. presently
        1. 17,500 new victims trafficked across our boarders each yr.
        2. Another 30,000 pass thru on their way to other International destinations.
        3. 27 million slaves in the world (50% are children)
      9. Children soldiers: 300,000. 50 countries recruit children under 18; young as age 7
    24. Q: What difference would it make to your life if you took seriously the definition of sin in verse.17? (trafficking)
      1. "In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Martin Luther King
    25. May our prayer be...“Thy will be done, in me as in Heaven!”
Copyright Statement
These files are the property of Brian Bell.
Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on James 4". "Bell's Commentary". 2017.