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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Bible Commentary

James 4

Verses 1-17

Chapter 4

This chapter could be entitled how to win friends and influence people. Guard your tongue, bring your tongue under control, use it for good, use it to encourage to build up, don't use it to tear down, to destroy, to cut, to hurt. Your wisdom, let it be Godly wisdom let it be demonstrated in your manner of life, that is your life let it be pure. Let your life be peaceable, merciful. Now this fruit of righteousness that we desire is actually sown in peace and that fruit of righteousness will come. It is sown in peace of them that make peace. So seek to live in peace with each other, and that fruit of righteousness will come forth.

But in contrast to the peace,

Where does the wars come from the fighting's among you, [the strife]? do they not come from your own lust that is warring in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet you have not ( James 4:1-2 ).

Here James is declaring that most of the problems of man come basically from man's greed, and I would have to concur with this. I think it is the failure of our society. I think it is the failure of our government. Man's greed sooner or later gets in and corrupts. How corrupting is the greed of man, how it corrupts governments, the horrible thing of greed, and it's behind the wars. It is behind the fighting. It's behind the striving. That desire to have what belongs to someone else. The fighting, the wars among us. And yet we have not because he said,

because we ask not ( James 4:2 ).

You know a lot of these things that we desire, if we would just ask the Lord about them, and if it is right, God will give it to us. If it is not right he won't, because you can ask and receive not because you ask amiss, just to consume it on your own lusts. You see, people misunderstand the purpose of prayer. The purpose of prayer is never to get your will done upon the earth. And yet, how often we think of prayer as just that, the agency by which I can get my whims and wishes accomplished. "Now Lord I want you to do this and I want you to do that and I've got this list of things I want you to do before Friday." And we think of prayer as a marvelous agency by which I can get all my wishes and all my desires accomplished.

I thought of prayer in that light for years. I was always trying to make deals with God. Now you do this and I will do this. How can you lose, trying to strike a bargain with the Lord? And I used prayer, or sought to use prayer, as a means by which I could fulfill my desires. I know a lot about this verse,

you ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, to consume it upon your own lusts ( James 4:3 ).

I prayed for some of those beautiful custom cars that use to drive around Santa Ana when I was in High school. Man, how I prayed for some of those cars. Well, they were for sale, but believe me; I was wanting it to consume it on my own lusts. Oh, I tried to strike a deal with God. I told him I would pick up kids and bring them to Sunday school. "You know Lord, I will give you the use of it a couple hours a week, after all." Boy, did my mind have plans for the rest of the week, cruising down Newport Beach.

So many of our prayers have selfish motivation behind them, and many times the selfish motivation is actually hid from us. But if I really begin to probe I find that behind the prayer there is a strong selfish motivation. There's my son; he's going astray a little bit. He is doing things I don't approve of, I wish he wasn't doing these things. I'm becoming concerned. He is coming in too late at night. He is running with bad companions. "Oh, God, turn my son around, bring him to a real commitment with Jesus Christ." In the deep deep of my heart, I'm thinking what if he should get in trouble, be arrested. Boy, what kind of headlines would that make? "Pastor's Son Arrested." I will be a disgrace to the family. We would have to go through the embarrassment of him being in jail. "Oh Lord save him, you know, bring him around," but what am I really thinking.

Here's a husband, not walking with the Lord; "Oh God save my husband. Lord help him make a commitment to Jesus Christ." And in my heart I am thinking, "Boy it would be so nice if he were saved, I think he would treat me nicer, he would probably say grace before the meals and I think it is so wonderful when a family says grace before the meals. He would even go to church with me, and oh I wish he were sitting by me in church. Oh, Lord, save my husband." You see it is not that he is a rebel against God and he is going to be destroyed if he is not changed. It's not really for him, but it is for the conveniences that it might bring to me.

Prayer is not an agency by which my will is to be accomplished upon the earth. The purpose of prayer is to get God's will to be accomplished upon the earth, and so many times we ask and receive not because the motive behind our asking is really that of accomplishing my will rather than God's will. And if my will is in conflict with God's will, God is not going to change His will to accommodate me, for God is not subservient to me, I am subservient to Him. And the purpose of prayer is never to change the mind of God to see things my way. It isn't to persuade a reluctant God to do things my way. The real thrust and purpose of prayer is to get God's will done. That's why many times we ask and receive not because we ask amiss. Our own desires are too much entwined into it.

Now speaking in a spiritual sense he says,

You adulterers and adulteresses ( James 4:4 ),

This is speaking in a spiritual sense not physical in this particular passage. There are other passages that speak about in a physical sense but this happens to be spiritual because it is dealing with the love that is in your heart, the love for the world and the worldly things. You have been joined to Christ as His bride. Your chief love is to be directed towards Him. He is the one to whom you have been joined in marriage and if you begin to love something other than Him, more than Him, than you have committed spiritual adultery in your heart.

As God in the Old Testament was constantly accusing the people of Israel of adultery when they began to worship the other gods, so God speaks here against your love for the world.

Know ye not that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? and whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do you not think that you think that the scriptures speak in vain?" [The question mark should be there. And probably the second should also be a question.] do or does the spirit that dwells in you lust to envy? ( James 4:4-5 ).

Now surely the spirit of God doesn't lead us to envy, it doesn't desire to envy. The scriptures do not speak in vain. The love of the world, the things of the world is spiritual adultery. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. For he that hath the love of the world in his heart, hath not the love of the Father. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, are of the world and are not of God" ( 1 John 2:15-16 ). Coupled, "know ye not that friendship with world is enmity with God." If you're going to be a friend of the world, if your going to be doing the worldly things, engrossed in worldly things, caught up in worldly things, your heart is in the worldly things. You're putting yourself in the position of being an enemy of God.

But God gives more grace. Wherefore He saith, God resists the proud but He gives grace to the humble. Therefore submit yourselves to God and resist the Devil ( James 4:6-7 ).

Now it is the Devil that seeks to entice us to find fulfillment in the world by lying to us and telling us that we can find all the contentment, and joy and happiness that we desire if we will just turn from God's path and walk after our own desires of the flesh. Satan's appeal is so strong because he appeals to that, which I am interested in, my flesh, the desires of my flesh. And he is basically saying, "Hey, go for it. You'll find that fulfillment, you'll find that excitement, you'll find what you're looking for, just go for it. Go for the flesh." And God is saying, "No, that's death. If you really want life, spiritual life, then seek after the Spirit, and the things that are of the Spirit. Walk after the Spirit."

There is a warfare between your flesh and your spirit. And Satan is there to encourage you to go after the Spirit and the Lord is there to encourage...I mean he is there to encourage you to go after the flesh and the Lord is there to encourage you to go after the Spirit. So submit yourself to God, and resist the Devil,

and he will flee from you ( James 4:7 ).

I like that. I think that many times our problem is just that we really aren't standing up for right. We're not really resisting, as we should, the Devil. I think that there are important keys in life and in this spiritual life and this warfare that we are in. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against these principalities and powers" ( Ephesians 6:12 ). And I think the first thing is the recognition that they do exist. And I think that we need to recognize the source of the attack against us. Many times we can't deal with it because we don't recognize that is a spiritual battle and I'm really involved a battle against this force of evil, this spirit of evil, Satan himself or one of his emissaries. Once I recognize the source of my problem, than I can begin to deal with it. But so many times we are told to pass it off. "Well I'm just irritable today. I'm just miserable. I'm just ready to chew up anybody that gets in my way. Out of sorts, didn't get enough sleep last night. But you know." But we don't recognize that this is a real spiritual conquest. This whole thing that I feel, this heaviness and all is actually a satanic source, a power that is trying to defeat me.

Now if I failed to recognize it I can just go on in this miserable way all day long. But if I recognize that "hey this isn't of God, this isn't of God's Spirit, this isn't how God would want me to be, this is an attack of Satan against me." Recognizing it, I deal with it by resisting it. Resisting the Devil and he will flee.

And then the third "R" is rejoicing. So recognize, resist and then rejoice in the victory we have in Jesus Christ, over every principality and power that might come against us. I don't have to be irritable. I don't have to be cranky. I can resist the Devil, that mood, that spirit that he is trying to bring me under. And I can rejoice for I have the full victory in Jesus Christ, and it's amazing how it can change the whole atmosphere around you.

Now the second part of this is

draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you ( James 4:8 ).

You see here I am, in the midst of the battle here. Resist the Devil, he'll flee, but on the other hand draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you. I love that. All I have to do is just start drawing near to the Lord.

It's so important it's how we program our minds. It's so important what we're feeding into our minds. And God help us in this corrupt age in which we are living. With all of the technology that has brought into our homes such filth. The television has been a purveyor of such evil. It can be good; television itself I mean it's a thing. It's not evil in itself, but it has the capacity to bring evil into your mind into your life, and it also has the capacity to bring good but it's how you control it, where your dial is turned. But I think of the evil that we will program into our minds as we sit there and watch the TV. And it's terrible. No wonder we're having all of these marital problems and immorality just flooding our nation. It's being planted into the minds of people day after day as they watch TV. Murders, thievery, adultery, the whole thing, it's all there. And Paul when he made the list there in Romans of these horrible things that people were doing, he said not only do they do them but they take pleasure in those that do. And how is it that a person takes pleasure in watching someone snuff someone out you know. We see these TV and on movies. People pay to see that kind of filth. Pay to pollute your mind.

And then we get caught up in the law of nature "whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap" ( Galatians 6:7 ). I'm sowing to the flesh and I begin to reap of the flesh, envying, striving, seditions, murder. How well if we would just get good inspiring music and play it in our homes. What a difference it makes. What a difference it creates within the atmosphere you see we're sowing now to the Spirit. If in the morning as your children are getting ready for school they come in for breakfast there's praise music on or maybe one of the kids albums on. You're planting into their minds and into their hearts the things of the Spirit. God knows when they get to school they're going to get all kinds of crud thrown at them. We need to counterbalance it within the home. And rather then allowing them to listen to a lot of this junk music with filthy lyrics. That we would actively encourage them by ourselves playing and listening to inspiring music. Again whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap. And if you have that kind of atmosphere, sowing to the Spirit you're going to reap the Spirit.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you double-minded ( James 4:8 ).

You know, that's the problem. David said, "Lord, unite my heart to serve thee" ( Psalms 86:11 ). The divided heart that's the problem of so many people. Yes, I want to serve the Lord. Yes, I want to follow Him. Yes, I want to spend eternity with Him, and yet there is another side of me that wants to go after the flesh and indulge the flesh.

The afflicted and mourned, weep let your laughter be turned to mourning, your joy to heaviness. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up. Speak not evil one of another brethren. He that speaks evil of his brethren judges his brother, speaks evil of the Law and judges the Law, but if you are a judge of the Law than you are not a doer of the Law, but a judge. And there is one lawgiver that is able to save and to destroy, and who are you to judge another? ( James 4:9-12 )

So forego that condemnation or judgment on another. You're not a judge of the Law. We're to be the doers of the Law, obedient to the Law.

Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain. Because you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is only a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Therefore you ought to say, if the Lord wills, and if we live, we will do this or that ( James 4:13-15 ).

So that exhortation, by James to us, to take into consideration, God's will in all of our planning, to make that a contingency to every plan. It isn't that you should've planned the future, but you should always have the contingency of the Lord's will, if it's the Lord's will. Because I don't know what tomorrow holds. I don't know whether or not I will even be here tomorrow, but if the Lord wills this is what I desire, this is what I plan to do. If the Lord doesn't will it, than I don't want to do it, but that should always be a contingency to every plan I make. I need to realize that my life is short. It's just a vapor that appears for a short moment and then vanishes. I'm here for just a short time, that I need to spend the time that I'm here in something that is worth while, in something that will last eternally. Too much of our life, too much of our effort, too much of our time is spent on things that are not eternal, things that are going to pass away.

Too many people spend their life eating cotton candy. It maybe sweet, but there is no substance. It dissolves it's gone. Those things that you do, things of the flesh, things for the flesh, they are dissolved. They are gone. They're wasted. I have so many times come to the end of the day and thought what a wasted day. Usually it's New Years Day after I've watched all the football games, and you finally get to the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten won, and I think, "oh what a wasted day." You know you use up a lot of emotion and everything else, but all I did was sit around all day long eat and watch the game. And there was a lot of things that needed to be done out in the yard. I could have spent the time more profitably. We waste too much time. We need to spend our time more profitably, in things that profit for eternity.

But you now rejoice [he said] in your boasting, and you now rejoice in that which is evil. Therefore to him who knows to do good, and doesn't do it, to him it is sin ( James 4:16-17 ).

In other words, sin isn't just something that I do that I shouldn't, sin is also something that I don't do that I should. Oh, I know I ought to do it, oh, I know I ought to go over there and help him out, but I don't. To him that knows to do good and doesn't do it, that's sin. The sin of omission, the failure to do that which I ought to do. "

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Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on James 4". "Smith's Bible Commentary". 2014.