MAN'S PLEASURE OR GOD'S WILL? (James 4:1-3)
4:1-3 Whence come feuds and whence come fights among you? Is this not their source--do they not arise because of these desires for pleasures which carry on their constant warring campaign within your members? You desire but you do not possess; you murder; you covet but you cannot obtain. You fight and war but you do not possess, because you do not ask. You ask but you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, for your only desire is to spend what you receive on your own pleasures.
James is setting before his people a basic question--whether their aim in life is to submit to the will of God or to gratify their own desires for the pleasures of this world? He warns that, if pleasure is the policy of life, nothing but strife and hatred and division can possibly follow. He says that the result of the over-mastering search for pleasure is polemoi (Greek #4171) "wars" and machai (Greek #3163) "battles." He means that the feverish search for pleasure issues in long-drawn-out resentments which are like wars, and sudden explosions of enmity which are like battles. The ancient moralists would have thoroughly agreed with him.
When we look at human society we so often see a seething mass of hatred and strife. Philo writes, "Consider the continual war which prevails among men even in times of peace, and which exists not only between nations and countries and cities, but also between private houses, or, I might rather say, is present with every individual man; observe the unspeakable raging storm in men's souls that is excited by the violent rush of the affairs of life; and you may well wonder whether anyone can enjoy tranquility in such a storm, and maintain calm amidst the surge of this billowing sea."
The root cause of this unceasing and bitter conflict is nothing other than desire. Philo points out that the Ten Commandments culminate in the forbidding of covetousness or desire, for desire is the worst of all the passions of the soul. "Is it not because of this passion that relations are broken, and this natural goodwill changed into desperate enmity? that great and populous countries are desolated by domestic dissensions? and land and sea filled with ever new disasters by naval battles and land campaigns? For the wars famous in tragedy...have all flowed from one source--desire either for money or glory or pleasure. Over these things the human race goes mad." Lucian writes, "All the evils which come upon man--revolutions and wars, stratagems and slaughters--spring from desire. All these things have as their fountain-head the desire for more." Plato writes, "The sole cause of wars and revolutions and battles is nothing other than the body and its desires." Cicero writes, "It is insatiable desires which overturn not only individual men, but whole families, and which even bring down the state. From desires there spring hatred, schisms, discords, seditions and wars." Desire is at the root of all the evils which ruin life and divide men.
The New Testament is clear that this overmastering desire for the pleasures of this world is always a threatening danger to the spiritual life. It is the cares and riches and pleasures of this life which combine to choke the good seed (Luke 8:14). A man can become a slave to passions and pleasures and when he does malice and envy and hatred enter into life (Titus 3:3).
The ultimate choice in life lies between pleasing oneself and pleasing God; and a world in which men's first aim is to please themselves is a battleground of savagery and division.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE PLEASURE-DOMINATED LIFE (James 4:1-3 continued)
This pleasure-dominated life has certain inevitable consequences.
(i) It sets men at each other's throats. Desires, as James sees it, are inherently warring powers. He does not mean that they war within a man--although that is also true--but that they set men warring against each other. The basic desires are for the same things--for money, for power, for prestige, for worldly possessions, for the gratification of bodily lusts. When all men are striving to possess the same things, life inevitably becomes a competitive arena. They trample each other down in the rush to grasp them. They will do anything to eliminate a rival. Obedience to the will of God draws men together, for it is that will that they should love and serve one another; obedience to the craving for pleasure drives men apart, for it drives them to internecine rivalry for the same things.
(ii) The craving for pleasure drives men to shameful deeds. It drives them to envy and to enmity; and even to murder. Before a man can arrive at a deed there must be a certain driving emotion in his heart. He may restrain himself from the things that the desire for pleasure incites him to do; but so tong as that desire is in his heart he is not safe. It may at any time explode into ruinous action.
The steps of the process are simple and terrible. A man allows himself to desire something. That thing begins to dominate his thoughts; he finds himself involuntarily thinking about it in his waking hours and dreaming of it when he sleeps. It begins to be what is aptly called a ruling passion. He begins to form imaginary schemes to obtain it; and these schemes may well involve ways of eliminating those who stand in his way. For long enough all this may go on in his mind. Then one day the imaginings may blaze into action; and he may find himself taking the terrible steps necessary to obtain his desire. Every crime in this world has come from desire which was first only a feeling in the heart but which, being nourished long enough, came in the end to action.
(iii) The craving for pleasure in the end shuts the door of prayer. If a man's prayers are simply for the things which will gratify his desires, they are essentially selfish and, therefore, it is not possible for God to answer them. The true end of prayer is to say to God, "Thy will be done." The prayer of the man who is pleasure-dominated is: "My desires be satisfied." It is one of the grim facts of life that a selfish man can hardly ever pray aright; no one can ever pray aright until he removes self from the centre of his life and puts God there.
In this life we have to choose whether to make our main object our own desires or the will of God. And, if we choose our own desires, we have thereby separated ourselves from our fellow-men and from God.
INFIDELITY TO GOD (James 4:4-7)
4:4-7 Renegades to your vows, do you not know that love for this world is enmity to God? Whoever makes it his aim to be the friend of this world thereby becomes the enemy of God. Do you think that the saying of Scripture is only an idle saying: "God jealously yearns for the spirit which he has made to dwell within us"? But God gives the more grace. That is why Scripture says, "God sets himself against the haughty, but gives grace to the humble." So, then, submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you; draw near to God and he will draw near to you.
The King James Version makes this passage even more difficult than it is. In it the warning is addressed to adulterers and adulteresses. In the correct text the word occurs only in the feminine. Further, the word is not intended to be taken literally; the reference is not to physical but to spiritual adultery. The whole conception is based on the common Old Testament idea of Jahweh as the husband of Israel and Israel as the bride of God. "Your Maker is your husband; the Lord of hosts is his name" (Isaiah 54:5). "Surely as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 3:20). This idea of Jahweh as the husband and the nation of Israel as the wife, explains the way in which the Old Testament constantly expresses spiritual infidelity in terms of physical adultery. To make a covenant with the gods of a strange land and to sacrifice to them and to intermarry with their people is "to play the harlot after their gods" (Exodus 34:15-16). It is God's forewarning to Moses that the day will come when the people "will rise and play the harlot after the strange gods of the land, where they go to be among them," and that they will forsake him (Deuteronomy 31:16). It is Hosea's complaint that the people have played the harlot and forsaken God (Hosea 9:1). It is in this spiritual sense that the New Testament speaks of "an adulterous generation" (Matthew 16:4; Mark 8:38). And the picture came into Christian thought in the conception of the Church as the Bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:1-2; Ephesians 5:24-28; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:9).
This form of expression may offend some delicate modern ears; but the picture of Israel as the bride of God and of God as the husband of Israel has something very precious in it. It means that to disobey God is like breaking the marriage vow. It means that all sin is sin against love. It means that our relationship to God is not like the distant relationship of king and subject or master and slave, but like the intimate relationship of husband and wife. It means that when we sin we break God's heart, as the heart of one partner in a marriage may be broken by the desertion of the other.
FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD AND ENMITY WITH GOD (James 4:4-7 continued)
In this passage James says that love of the world is enmity with God and that he who is the friend of the world thereby becomes the enemy of God. It is important to understand what he means.
(i) This is not spoken out of contempt for the world. It is not spoken from the point of view which regards earth as a desert drear and which denigrates everything in the natural world. There is a story of a Puritan who was out for a walk in the country with a friend. The friend noticed a very lovely flower at the roadside and said, "That is a lovely flower." The Puritan replied, "I have learned to call nothing lovely in this lost and sinful world." That is not James' point of view; he would have agreed that this world is the creation of God; and like Jesus he would have rejoiced in its beauty.
(ii) We have already seen that the New Testament often uses the word kosmos (Greek #2889) in the sense of the world apart from God There are two New Testament passages which well illustrate what James means. Paul writes, "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God;...those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7-8). What he means is that those who insist on assessing everything by purely human standards are necessarily at variance with God. The second passage is one of the most poignant epitaphs on the Christian life in all literature: "Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me" (2 Timothy 4:10). The idea is that of worldliness. If material things are the things to which he dedicates his life, clearly he cannot dedicate his life to God. In that sense the man who has dedicated his life to the world is at enmity with God.
(iii) The best commentary on this saying is that of Jesus: "No one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24). There are two attitudes to the things of this world and the things of time. We may be so dominated by them that the world becomes our master. Or we may so use them as to serve our fellow-men and prepare ourselves for eternity, in which case the world is not our master but our servant. A man may either use the world or be used by it. To use the world as the servant of God and men is to be the friend of God, for that is what God meant the world to be. To use the world as the controller and dictator of life is to be at enmity with God, for that is what God never meant the world to be.
GOD, THE JEALOUS LOVER (James 4:4-7 continued)
James 4:5 is exceedingly difficult. To begin with, it is cited as a quotation from Scripture, but there is no part of Scripture of which it is, in fact, anything like a recognizable quotation. We may either assume that James is quoting from some book now lost which he regarded as Scripture; or, that he is summing up in one sentence what is the eternal sense of the Old Testament and not meaning to quote any particular passage.
Further, the translation is difficult: There are two alternative renderings which in the end give much the same sense. "He (that is, God) jealously yearns for the devotion of the spirit which he has made to dwell within us," or, "The Spirit which God has made to dwell within us jealously yearns for the full devotion of our hearts."
In either case the meaning is that God is the jealous lover who will brook no rival. The Old Testament was never afraid to apply the word jealous to God. Moses says of God to the people: "They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods" (Deuteronomy 32:16). He hears God say, "They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no God" (Deuteronomy 32:21). In insisting on his sole right to worship, God in the Ten Commandments says, "I the Lord your God am a jealous God" (Exodus 20:5). "You shall worship no other god, for the Lord whose name is Jealous is a jealous God" (Exodus 34:14). Zechariah hears God say, "Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy" (Zechariah 8:2). Jealous comes from the Greek zelos (Greek #2205) which has in it the idea of burning heat. The idea is that God loves men with such a passion that he cannot bear any other love within the hearts of men.
It may be that jealous is a word which nowadays we find it difficult to connect with God, for it has acquired a lower significance; but behind it is the amazing truth that God is the lover of the souls of men. There is a sense in which love must be diffused among all men and over all God's children; but there is also a sense in which love gives and demands an exclusive devotion to one person. It is profoundly true that a man can be in love only with one person at one time; if he thinks otherwise, he does not know the meaning of love.
THE GLORY OF HUMILITY AND THE TRAGEDY OF PRIDE (James 4:4-7 continued)
James goes on to meet an almost inevitable reaction to this picture of God as the jealous lover. If God is like that, how can any man give to him the devotion he demands? James' answer is that, if God makes a great demand, he gives great grace to fulfil it; and the greater the demand, the greater the grace God gives.
But grace has a constant characteristic--a man cannot receive it until he has realized his need of it, and has come to God humbly pleading for help. Therefore, it must always remain true that God sets himself against the proud and gives lavishly of his grace to the humble. "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." This is a quotation from Proverbs 3:34; and it is made again in 1 Peter 5:5.
What is this destructive pride? The word for proud is huperephanos (Greek #5244) which literally means one who shows himself above other people. Even the Greeks hated pride. Theophrastus described it as "a certain contempt for all other people." Theophylact, the Christian writer, called it, "the citadel and summit of all evils." Its real terror is that it is a thing of the heart. It means haughtiness; but the man who suffers from it might well appear to be walking in downcast humility, while all the time there is in his heart a vast contempt for all his fellow-men. It shuts itself off from God for three reasons.
(i) It does not know its own need. It so admires itself that it recognizes no need to be supplied. (ii) It cherishes its own independence. It will be beholden to no man and not even to God. (iii) It does not recognize its own sin. It is occupied with thinking of its own goodness and never realizes that it has any sin from which it needs to be saved. A pride like that cannot receive help, because it does not know that it needs help, and, therefore, it cannot ask.
The humility for which James pleads is no cringing thing. It has two great characteristics.
(i) It knows that if a man takes a resolute stand against the devil, he will prove him a coward. "The Devil," as Hermas puts it, "can wrestle against the Christian, but he cannot throw him." This is a truth of which the Christians were fond, for Peter says the same thing (1 Peter 5:8-9). The great example and inspiration is Jesus in his own temptations. In them Jesus showed that the devil is not invincible; when he is confronted with the word of God, he can be put to flight. The Christian has the humility which knows that he must fight his battles with the tempter, not in his own power, but in the power of God.
(ii) It knows that it has the greatest privilege of all, access to God. This is a tremendous thing, for the right of approach to God under the old order of things belonged only to the priests (Exodus 19:22). The office of the priest was to come near to God for sin-stained people (Ezekiel 44:13). But through the work of Jesus Christ any man can come boldly before the throne of God, certain that he will find mercy and grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). There was a time when only the High Priest might enter the Holy of Holies, but we have a new and a living way, a better hope by which we draw near to God (Hebrews 7:19).
The Christian must have humility, but it is a humility which gives him dauntless courage and knows that the way to God is open to the most fearful saint.
GODLY PURITY (James 4:8-10)
4:8-10 Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be afflicted and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to sorrow, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourself before God and then he will exalt you.
In James' thought the ethical demand of Christianity is never far away. He has talked about the grace which God gives to the humble and which enables a man to meet his great demands. But James is sure that there is something needed beyond asking and passive receiving. He is sure that moral effort is a prime necessity.
His appeal is addressed to sinners. The word used for sinner is hamartolos (Greek #268), which means the hardened sinner, the man whose sin is obvious and notorious. Suidas defines hamartoloi (Greek #268) as "those who choose to live in company with disobedience to the law, and who love a corrupt life." From such people James demands a moral reform which will embrace both their outward conduct and their inner desires. He demands both clean hands and a pure heart (Psalms 24:4).
The phrase cleanse your hands originally denoted nothing more than ceremonial cleansing, the ritual washing with water which made a man ceremonially fit to approach the worship of God. The priests must wash and bathe themselves before they entered on their service (Exodus 30:19-21; Leviticus 16:4). The orthodox Jew must ceremonially wash his hands before he ate (Mark 7:3). But men came to see that God required much more than an outward washing; and so the phrase came to stand for moral purity. "I wash my hands in innocence," says the Psalmist (Psalms 26:6). It is Isaiah's demand that men should "wash yourselves; make yourselves clean," and that is equated with ceasing to do evil (Isaiah 1:16). In the letter to Timothy men are urged to lift holy hands to God in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8). The history of the phrase shows a deepening consciousness of what God demanded. Men began by thinking in terms of an outward washing, a ritual thing; and ended by seeing that the demand of God was moral, not ritual.
Biblical thought demands a fourfold cleansing. It demands a cleansing of the lips (Isaiah 6:5-6). It demands a cleansing of the hands (Psalms 24:4). It demands a cleansing of the heart (Psalms 73:13). It demands a cleansing of the mind (James 4:8). That is to say, the ethical demand of the Bible is that a man's words and deeds and emotions and thoughts should all be purified. Inwardly and outwardly a man must be clean, for only the pure in heart shall see God (Matthew 5:8).
THE GODLY SORROW (James 4:8-10 continued)
In his demand for a godly sorrow James is going back to the fact that Jesus had said, "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:20-26). We must not read into this passage something James does not mean. He is not denying the joy of the Christian life. He is not demanding that men should live a gloom-encompassed life in a shadowed world. He is doing two things. He is pleading for sobriety in place of frivolousness, and is doing so with all the intensity of one whose natural instincts are puritan; and he is describing, not the end, but the beginning of the Christian life. He demands three things.
(i) He demands what he calls affliction. The verb is talaiporein (Greek #5003) and it can describe--Thucydides so uses it--the experiences of an army whose food is gone and who have no shelter from the stormy weather. What James is here demanding is a voluntary abstinence from lavish luxury and effeminate comfort. He is talking to people who are in love with the world; and he is pleading with them not to make luxury and comfort the standards by which they judge all life. It is discipline which produces the scholar; it is rigorous training which creates the athlete; and it is a wise abstinence which produces the Christian who knows how to use the world and its gifts aright.
(ii) He demands that they should mourn, that their laughter should be turned to sorrow and their joy to gloom. Here, James is describing the first step of the Christian life which is taken when a man is confronted with God and with his own sin. That is a daunting experience. When Wesley preached to the miners of Kingswood, they were moved to such grief that the tears made runnels as they ran down the grime of their faces. But that is by no means the end of the Christian life. The terrible sorrow of the realization of sin moves on to the thrilling joy of sins forgiven. But to get to the second stage a man must go through the first. James is demanding that these self-satisfied, luxury-loving, unworried hearers of his should be confronted with their sins and should be ashamed, grief-stricken and afraid; for only then can they reach out for grace and go on to a joy far greater than their earthbound pleasures.
(iii) He demands that they should weep. It is perhaps not reading too much into this to say that James may well be thinking of tears of sympathy. Up to this time these luxury-loving people have lived in utter selfishness, quite insensitive to what the poet called "the world's rain of tears." James is insisting that the griefs and the needs of others should pierce the armour of their own pleasure and comfort. A man is not a Christian until he becomes aware of the poignant cry of that humanity for which Christ died.
So, then, in words deliberately chosen to waken the sleeping soul, James demands that his hearers should substitute the way of abstinence for the way of luxury; that they should become aware of their own sins and mourn for them; and that they should become conscious of the world's need and weep for it.
THE GODLY HUMILITY (James 4:8-10 continued)
James concludes with the demand for a godly humility. All through the Bible there runs the conviction that it is only the humble who can know the blessings of God. God will save the humble person (Job 22:29). A man's pride will bring him low; but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit (Proverbs 29:23). God dwells on high, but he is also with him that is of a humble and a contrite spirit (Isaiah 57:15). They that fear the Lord will humble their souls in his sight, and the greater a man is the more he ought to humble himself, if he is to find favour in the sight of God (Sirach 2:17; Sirach 3:17). Jesus himself repeatedly declared that it was the man who humbled himself who alone would be exalted (Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11).
Only when a man realizes his own ignorance will he ask God's guidance. Only when a man realizes his own poverty in the things that matter will he pray for the riches of God's grace. Only when a man realizes his weakness in necessary things will he come to draw upon God's strength. Only when a man realizes his own sin will he realize his need of a Saviour and of God's forgiveness.
In life there is one sin which can be said to be the basis of all others; and that is forgetting that we are creatures and that God is creator. When a man realizes his essential creatureliness, he realizes his essential helplessness and goes to the source from which that helplessness can alone be supplied.
Such a dependence begets the only real independence; for then a man faces life not in his own strength but in God's and is given victory. So long as a man regards himself as independent of God he is on the way to ultimate collapse and to defeat.
THE SIN OF JUDGING OTHERS (James 4:11-12)
4:11-12 Stop talking harshly about each other. He who speaks harshly of his brother, or who judges his brother, speaks harshly of the law and judges the law; and, if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. One is law-giver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge your neighbour?
The word James uses for to speak harshly of, or, to slander is katalalein (Greek #2635). Usually this verb means to slander someone when he is not there to defend himself. This sin slander (the noun is katalalia, Greek #2636) is condemned all through the Bible. It is the Psalmist's accusation against the wicked man: "You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother's son" (Psalms 50:20). The Psalmist hears God saying, "Him who slanders his neighbour secretly I will destroy" (Psalms 101:5). Paul lists it among the sins which are characteristic of the unredeemed evil of the pagan world (Romans 1:30); and it is one of the sins which he fears to find in the warring Church of Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:20). It is significant to note that in both these passages slander comes in immediate connection with gossip. Katalalia (Greek #2636) is the sin of those who meet in corners and gather in little groups and pass on confidential tidbits of information which destroy the good name of those who are not there to defend themselves. The same sin is condemned by Peter (1 Peter 2:1).
There is great necessity for this warning. People are slow to realize that there are few sins which the Bible so unsparingly condemns as the sin of irresponsible and malicious gossip. There are few activities in which the average person finds more delight than this; to tell and to listen to the slanderous story--especially about some distinguished person--is for most people a fascinating activity. We do well to remember what God thinks of it. James condemns it for two fundamental reasons.
(i) It is a breach of the royal law that we should love our neighbour as ourselves (James 2:8; Leviticus 19:18). Obviously a man cannot love his neighbour as himself and speak slanderous evil about him. Now, if a man breaks a law knowingly, he sets himself above the law. That is to say, he has made himself a judge of the law. But a man's duty is not to judge the law, but to obey it. So the man who speaks evil of his neighbour has appointed himself a judge of the law and taken to himself the right to break it, and therefore stands condemned.
(ii) It is an infringement of the prerogative of God. To slander our neighbour is, in fact, to pass judgment upon him. And no human being has any right to judge any other human; the right of judgment belongs to God alone.
It is God alone who is able to save and to destroy. This great prerogative runs all through Scripture. "I kill and I make alive," says God (Deuteronomy 32:39). "The Lord kills and brings to life," says Hannah in her prayer (1 Samuel 2:6). "Am I God to kill and to make alive?" is the shocked question of the Israelite king to whom Naaman came with a demand for a cure for his leprosy (2 Kings 5:7). Jesus warns that we should not fear men, who at the worst can only kill the body, but should fear him who can destroy both body and soul (Matthew 10:28). As the Psalmist had it, it is to God alone that the issues of life and of death belong (Psalms 68:20). To judge another is to take to ourselves a right to do what God alone has the right to do; and he is a reckless man who deliberately infringes the prerogatives of God.
We might think that to speak evil of our neighbour is not a very serious sin. But Scripture would say that it is one of the worst of all because it is a breach of the royal law and an infringement of the rights of God.
THE MISTAKEN CONFIDENCE (James 4:13-17)
4:13-17 Come now, you who say, "Today, or tomorrow, we will go into this city, and we will spend a year there, and we will trade and make a profit." People like you do not know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life like? You are like a mist which appears for a little time and then disappears. And yet you talk like that instead of saying, "If the Lord wills, we shall live, and we shall do this or that." As it is, you make your arrogant claims in your braggart ways. All such arrogant claims are evil. So then, if a man knows what is good and does not do it, that to him is sin.
Here again is a contemporary picture which James' readers would recognize, and in which they might well see their own portrait. The Jews were the great traders of the ancient world; and in many ways that world gave them every opportunity to practise their commercial abilities. This was an age of the founding of cities; and often when cities were founded and their founders were looking for citizens to occupy them, citizenship was offered freely to the Jews, for where the Jews came money and trade followed. So the picture is of a man looking at a map. He points at a certain spot on it, and says, "Here is a new city where there are great trade chances. I'll go there; I'll get in on the ground floor; I'll trade for a year or so; I'll make my fortune and come back rich." James' answer is that no man has a right to make confident plans for the future, for he does not know what even a day may bring forth. Man may propose but God disposes.
The essential uncertainty of the future was deeply impressed on the minds of men of all nations. The Hebrew sage wrote, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth" (Proverbs 27:1). Jesus told his story of the rich but foolish man who made his fortune and built up his plans for the future, and forgot that his soul might be required of him that very night (Luke 12:16-21). Ben Sirach wrote, "There is that waxeth rich by his wariness and pinching, and this is the portion of his reward: whereas, he saith, 'I have found rest and now will eat continually of my goods'; and yet he knoweth not what time shall come upon him and that death approacheth; and that he must leave these things to others and die" (Sirach 11:18-19). Seneca said: "How foolish it is for a man to make plans for his life, when not even tomorrow is in his control." And again: "No man has such rich friends that he can promise himself tomorrow." The Rabbis had a proverb: "Care not for the morrow, for ye know not what a day may bring forth. Perhaps you may not find tomorrow." Dennis Mackail was the friend of Sir James Barrie. He tells that, as Barrie grew older, he would never make an arrangement for even a social engagement at any distant date. "Short notice now!" he would always say.
James goes on. This uncertainty of life is not a cause either for fear or for inaction. it is a reason for realizing our complete dependence on God. It has always been the mark of a serious-minded man that he makes his plans in such dependence. Paul writes to the Corinthians: "I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills" (1 Corinthians 4:19). "I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits" (1 Corinthians 16:7). Xenophon writes, "May all these things be, if the gods so will. If anyone wonders that we often find the phrase written, 'if the gods will,' I would have him to know that, once he has experienced the risks of life, he will not wonder nearly so much." Plato relates a conversation between Socrates and Alcibiades. Alcibiades says: "I will do so if you wish, Socrates." Socrates answers, "Alcibiades, that is not the way to talk. And how ought you to speak? You ought to say, 'If God so wishes.'" Minucius Felix writes, "'God grant it'--it comes instinctively to the ordinary man to speak like that." Constantly among the Arabs there is heard the expressions: "Imsh' Allah--if Allah wills." The curious thing is that there seems to have been no corresponding phrase which the Jews used. In this they had to learn.
The true Christian way is not to be terrorized into fear and paralysed into inaction by the uncertainty of the future; but to commit the future and all our plans into the hands of God, always remembering that these plans may not be within God's purpose.
The man who does not remember that, is guilty of arrogant boasting. The word is alazoneia (Greek #212). Alazoneia was originally the characteristic of the wandering quack. He offered cures which were no cures and boasted of things that he was not able to do. The future is not within the hands of men and no man can arrogantly claim that he has power to decide it.
James ends with a threat. If a man knows that a thing is wrong and still continues to do it, that to him is sin. James is in effect saying, "You have been warned; the truth has been placed before your eyes." To continue now in the self-confident habit of seeking to dispose of one's own life is sin for the man who has been reminded that the future is not in his hands but in God's.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Barclay, William. "Commentary on James 4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany