Bible Commentaries
James 4

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

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Verses 2-4

Seeking To Please Self

"Lust" is a strong desire for a thing. Certainly, it has caused others to do wicked things. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed to satisfy his lust. Jezebel had Naboth killed to fulfill her husband's desire to have his vineyard ( 2Sa_11:1-27 ; 1Ki_21:1-16 ). The sad part is that strong desire is never fulfilled. Instead, obtaining what it wants only makes it want more. James told his readers they did not receive what they wanted because they did not direct their wants in the direction of God's will. Lust controlled their will. Coffman suggests their willful seeking for personal gratification dried up their prayers so they did not even ask God ( Jam_4:2 ).

Woods notes that it is not unusual for men to be very wicked and yet ask God's blessing on their deeds ( Mat_23:29-35 ; Joh_16:2 ). They do not receive the things for which they ask because they ask for wicked purposes. They simply want to satisfy their desire. God hears the prayers of the righteous and provides for all the needs of those who seek his kingdom first ( Jam_4:3 ; Psa_34:15 ; Mat_6:33 ).

When the church is full of lust, she seeks the love of the world and becomes a spiritual adulteress ( Jam_4:4 ). Paul told the Corinthian brethren, "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" ( 2Co_11:2 ). The church is Christ's bride and should remain faithful to his wishes ( Rom_7:1-4 ; Eph_5:23-24 ; Rev_19:6-8 ). It should be plain to all that one cannot love God and the world at the same time. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" ( Mat_6:19-24 ; Php_1:9-11 ; 1Jn_2:15-17 ).

Verses 5-6

Strongly Wanting What Belongs To Another

The first four verses of Jam_4:1-17 deal with worldly desire that is contrary to God's working. Verse 5 continues the thought by referring to a statement which is repeated in principle several times in the Old Testament. It is the plain teaching of scripture as a whole that man driven by fleshly desire covets with a selfish desire what others have ( Ecc_4:4 ; Pro_27:4 ). Of course, God is going to punish those exhibiting such an attitude ( Gen_6:5-7 ; Job_5:12-13 ).

Fleshly desires lead one in a direction contrary to God's will, or spiritual desire. They will cause one to work those things which will result in eternal judgment ( Gal_5:16-21 ; Rom_8:4-8 ; Isa_63:8-16 ).

Verses 7-8

The Means of Overcoming Fleshly Desire

God, in his great grace, provides a means of overcoming the fleshly desire that is the source of war and strife. He has promised to provide a way of escape from any temptation confronting his followers. He will not allow any of his children to face something they are unable to bear ( Rom_5:20-21 ; 1Co_10:13 ). James used a quotation from Pro_3:34 to show God works for those who live their lives according to the revelations of his Spirit. God is against those who would put themselves above others, but bestows his unmerited favor upon those who have a lowly spirit and place others above themselves. God has greater grace than any wrong desire we have and he will give us a reward far greater than all we give up ( Jam_4:6 ; Mar_10:30 ).

So, instead of yielding to wrongful desire, we should make ourselves subject to God by obeying his will. Paul reminded Timothy that a warrior fights for his leader and carefully avoids being turned aside by desires which might lead him contrary to that leader's will ( 2Ti_2:3-4 ). We must stand in battle array, which is the idea of the word "resist," against the devil. To do this, we must put on the Christian armor ( Eph_6:10-18 ) and stand steadfastly for God in loving obedience to his will that the victory might be ours ( 1Co_15:58 ; Heb_10:39 ). If we do stand against the devil, he will run from us ( Jam_4:7 ; Compare Mat_4:1-11 ).

Having resisted the devil, we should draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to us. The way to draw nigh to God is through purification. The reference here would have caused Jewish converts to remember the cleansing of the priests before they performed their duties ( Exo_30:17-21 ). Sin will not allow us to get close to God ( Isa_59:1-2 ). So, we must be cleansed from our sins ( Act_22:16 ). The heart is critical in such cleansing because the issues of life flow out of it ( Pro_4:23 ; Mat_15:19-29 ). Our cleansing comes from obeying the truth ( Jam_4:8 ; 1Pe_1:22 ).

Verses 9-10

Humble Self Before God To Be Uplifted

The desire for cleansing begins with sorrow for sin. It continues with one's repentance ( Jam_4:9 ). Such is demonstrated by David after he acknowledged sinning with Bathsheba. He sang:

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight--that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge ( Psa_51:1-4 ).

Paul saw his own miserable condition without Christ and thanked God for the deliverance he found in Jesus. Others heard the words of the Lord and his apostles as they stressed the importance of repentance ( Rom_7:24 a-25; Act_2:37-38 ; Luk_13:1-5 ; Mat_5:4 ). Repentance is the beginning of our humbling ourselves before God. It is followed by putting the old man of sin to death in baptism so that God might exalt us, or raise us up, as a new man. Such yielding to God throughout our lives will lead to the final exaltation in heaven ( Jam_4:10 ; Rom_6:3-18 ; Rev_2:10 ; 2Pe_1:2-11 ).

Verses 11-12

Brethren Should Not Judge One Another

The verb James used in 4:11 is in the present durative tense and actually means "stop speaking evil of one another". Evidently, they had already been doing such speaking. Woods notes that evil listening should also be stopped since that encourages evil speaking. Gossipers do not like to talk to empty rooms or dead telephone lines. Remember, the law of love would require us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us ( Mat_7:12 ).

To harshly judge the motives of our brother's actions and speak against him out of that harsh judgment is to speak contrary to the law of love and judge it an unworthy one. This displays a lack of love for our brother and thus for God. John wrote, "He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes." He went on to write, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen" ( 1Jn_2:10-11 ; 1Jn_4:20 ).

God gave Jesus authority to deliver commands to the people of this age and his words will be the standard in judgment ( Jam_4:12 ; Mat_28:18-20 ; Heb_1:1-2 ). He told his disciples, "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him--the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" ( Joh_12:48 ). God has authorized Jesus to execute judgment. After he had healed a man on the Sabbath and called God his Father, the Jews sought to kill our Lord. He responded by saying, "For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man" ( Joh_5:26-27 ). Realizing the truth of what has just been said, who are we to act as judge against our brother or the law Christ delivered?

Verse 13

"Are You Listening?"

V. E. Howard, a great gospel preacher, often stopped in the middle of an important point and asked, "Are you listening?" Usually, those who were not, begin doing so at that time. James says "Come now" to get the same effect. They were making great plans for the future without bringing God into their planning. It's as if they thought it was all up to them and they were dependent on no one. Such planning without God is a serious mistake ( Jam_4:13 ).

In warning against covetousness, Jesus told a parable about a rich man. His ground brought forth a great yield. When contemplating what to do with all the abundance, the rich man failed to consider his fellow man or God's wishes. Instead, he resolved to tear down his barns and build bigger ones so that he might retire. "But God said to him, 'You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" ( Luk_12:16-21 ).

Verses 14-15

Man's Future Depends Upon God

We do not know what awaits us even a few minutes ahead on life's road, so we should not make plans as if we controlled our own future. The wise man said, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth" ( Pro_27:1 ). What kind of life do we have here on earth? By simple observation, we know it is not permanent. "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" ( Heb_9:27 ). James says our life is a vapor, or mist, or puff of smoke. Like the morning fog, it may seem to be permanent. Yet, it appears one minute and disappears the next ( Jam_4:14 ).

All of our plans for the future should be made in the full realization that those plans depend upon God. Truthfully, our very existence is dependent upon God ( Jam_4:15 ). On Mars Hill, Paul told about the Almighty. God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your won poets have said, "For we are also His offspring" ( Act_17:24-28 ).

Verses 16-17

The Sin of Boasting of Self-Sufficiency

James said some lived as though their plans in no way depended upon God and they were proud of it. Woods says the word translated "boasting" here is not used in any form in any other verse in the New Testament except for 1Jn_2:16 . There, John describes one aspect of the love of the world as the "pride of life," which is the same word. Some types of glorying are good. For instance, it is good to glory in the second coming of our Lord. It is good to be proud of our brethren. It is especially good to glory in the cross of our crucified Lord ( 1Th_2:19-20 ; 2Th_1:4 ; Gal_6:14 ). But glorying in self-sufficiency is sinful ( Jam_4:16 ).

Clearly, anyone who knows God sustains us should live his life for the Creator. Thus, James describes the intentional sin of omission. Those who knew God existed but acted as if they did not need him and left him out of their plans committed this sin. Jesus said: And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" ( Luk_12:47-48 ).

After teaching his disciples about service, Jesus also said, "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them" ( Joh_13:17 ). Jam_4:17 , combined with these other verses ought to move anyone to action who knows what the Lord asks of him.

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on James 4". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". 2014.