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Bible Commentaries

Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures

James 4

Verses 1-6

Strife and Envy James explains that it is our human nature to create strife and discord among a congregation because of our unregenerated hearts desired evil things. This causes our prayers to be unanswered.

James 4:1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

James 4:1 “From whence come wars and fightings among you” - Word Study on “wars” The Greek word πόλεμοι (wars) refers to fightings on a large scale that make up a war.

Word Study on “fightings” The Greek word μαχαι (fightings) refers to individual battles that make up a war. Note that the Greek word for “sword” ( μαχαιρα ) is in the same family of words.

Comments James probably used the two Greek words πόλεμοι and μαχαι as synonyms, although they have slightly different meanings.

James 4:1 “come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members” Word Study on “that war” The Greek verb στρατευομένων (to war) has a noun form that means “a soldier” ( στράτευμα ).

Comments - James 4:1 tells us that envy and strife come about because of our own evil desires. James made a similar statement in James 1:13-14, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”

James 4:2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

James 4:2 “ye kill” Comments - In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discussed the sin of murder in the context of one's heart and getting along with a brother (Matthew 5:21-26). This passage also discusses the same motives that Jesus discussed. James is addressing believers who were not literally killing, but were harboring hatred in their hearts.

James 4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

James 4:3 Comments - Note these insightful words from Sadhu Sundar Singh regarding prayer.

“Oftentimes men pray to the Father in My name, but do not abide in Me, that is, they take My name into their mouths and on their lips, but not into their hearts and lives. That is the reason why they do not obtain what they pray for. But when I abide in them and they in Me, then whatever they ask from the Father they receive, because they pray under the direction of the Holy Spirit in that condition. The Holy Spirit shows them what will glorify the Father and be best for themselves and for others. Otherwise they will get such an answer as a bad son got from a governor whom his father had served with great courage and honour. When the son presented a petition in his father’s name and asked for some employment and favour, the governor pointed out to him his evil life and habits, and said, ‘Do not petition me in your father’s name, but first go and act according to his example. Let his high worth be not on your lips only, but carry it into your life, and then your petition will be accepted.’ Between the prayers of those who worship and praise Me with their lips only and of those who do so from their heart there is a very great difference. For instance, one who was a true worshipper was constantly praying for another that his eyes might be opened and that he might accept the truth, while the other was a worshipper in name only often prayed in his enmity against My true worshipper that he might be struck blind. Finally the prayers of the true worshipper were heard by the loving will of God, and he who was formerly only a hypocrite received spiritual sight. With his heart full of joy this man became a true believer, and a sincere and lasting brother of My true servant.” [116]

[116] Sadhu Sundar Singh, At the Master’s Feet, translated by Arthur Parker (London: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1922) [on-line], accessed 26 October 2008, available from; Internet, “III Prayer,” section 3, part 7-8.

James 4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

James 4:4 “Ye adulterers and adulteresses” - Comments - The nation of Israel became an adulteress by looking to other nations. Thus, this phrase is similar to what God called Israel in the Old Testament when they worshipped other gods. It is like a wife leaving a husband and going into whoredom because there is no longer any love for the husband (or God).

James 4:4 “know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God” Comments - James has just accused his readers praying for things to squander it upon their fleshly passions and lusts (James 4:3). Thus, their friendship with the world means that these Christians are indulging in worldly lusts just like the world, and become their friends in order to partake of such sins. James has previously described this type of reason as “earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:15).

James 4:3, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”

James 3:15, “This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.”

James 4:5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

James 4:5 Comments There are a number of ways to translate James 4:5. It may be translated, “The scripture is not vain (empty) when it says that the spirit in man lusts enviously.” They were suffering due to being worldly-minded. This is not a “positive thinking” message. It is much harsher than that. Sin is prominent, since the context of this passage is discussing the fact that men are being led by fleshly passions, and not by their spirit.

Translation, “The scripture is not in vain when it says, ‘man’s inner spirit is constantly desiring enviously, i.e., the spirit of life which God gave us’.” The subject of this translation is “the spirit” ( το πνευμα ).

In contrast, if “the spirit” is the object of the sentence, then this is a reference to “a jealous God.” Note Exodus 20:5.

Exodus 20:5, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God , visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;”

James 4:6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

James 4:6 Comments God’s grace is not equally distributed among men. His grace abounds upon the humble and is withheld to the proud.

Verses 1-12

Slow to Wrath: Overcoming Strife by Submitting Ourselves unto God (Crucifying our Fleshly Lusts) Another trial of faith is with our temper. We can see this being an issue in a local congregation, where Jewish synagogues traditionally consisted of those who struggled for power and influence in the local community.

1. Strife and Envy James 4:1-6

2. The Path of Life James 4:7-10

Verses 1-17

The Path of Faith and Patience - Once James lays the foundational truths in our lives that there are two ways to face trials, with humility or with pride, by becoming doers of God’s Word or by yielding to our own lusts (James 1:2-27), we are ready to receive much wisdom from God to help us overcome anything. James will then take us through a course of learning how to walk by faith in every area of our lives. He will show us how we demonstrate our faith by not showing partiality (James 2:1-26), by taming our tongue (James 3:1-18), and by managing our temper (James 4:1 to James 5:6).

Outline - Note the proposed outline:

1. Quick to Hear James 2:1-26

2. Slow to Speak James 3:1-18

3. Slow to Wrath James 4:1-12

4. Covetousness James 4:13 to James 5:6

5. Final Appeal: Patience and Prayer James 5:7-18

James 2:1-26 Quick to Hear: Overcoming Partiality by Refusing to Judge the Poor and Showing Him Mercy (Submitting our Hearts to God) One of the greatest temptations of the flesh is to show partiality among the various social classes of a church congregation. In James 2:1-26 we find a teaching on having faith towards God without showing partiality towards others. James 2:1-26 paints a picture of Jewish believers gathering in the synagogue (James 2:2) according to their tradition. They show partiality by seating the rich Jews in good seats near the front to be seen by others, while making the poor Jews sit or stand in the back. We know from the writings of Eusebius that James, the first bishop of the church in Jerusalem, worshipped and prayed in the Temple, showing that he sought to coexist with non-believing Jews as much as possible ( Ecclesiastical History 2.23.1-25). Thus, Jewish believers would have continued their tradition of worshiping in the Temple in Jerusalem and attending the synagogue as well as assembling with local believers. I have seen the partiality described in James 2:1-26 many times while a missionary in Africa, where the rich were seated in the front at functions and the poor stood outside on in the rear. This African custom was adopted by their churches as well, providing a vivid picture of this warning against showing partiality among the early church.

Outline - Here is a proposed outline:

1. Facing the Temptation of Showing Partiality James 2:1-7

2. The Path of Death James 2:8-13

3. The Path of Life James 2:14-26

Other Passages on Partiality - We find a similar passage of Scripture regarding warnings against partiality in 1 Corinthians 3:1 to 1 Corinthians 4:21, in which Paul teaches the Corinthians to stop showing partiality towards church leaders.

Verses 7-10

The Path of Life The way we overcome this trial is to submit ourselves to God by repenting of our sins and by resisting the devil, who puts these evil temptations within us.

Humility - James 1:9 tells the humble person to rejoice in his exaltation. It is this humility that will open a man’s heart to the ways of God so that he can pray in faith and walk in the wisdom that will help him persevere in the midst of trials. We are told in James 1:21 to receive God’s Word in meekness. When we ask God for wisdom, we must be meek enough in heart to receive God’s Word as His reply to us. As we obey this word from God, which we call wisdom, we learn to walk by faith. Thus, the body of this Epistle explains this walk of faith. It is this faith that allows a man to access God in prayer as Elijah did for wisdom so that he can endure trials like Job. The author will then close this topic on faith in James 4:7-10 by asking us to submit to God and humble ourselves in His sight.

James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7 “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” Word Study on “flee” Strong says the Greek word “flee” ( φευ ́ γω ) (G5343) means, “to run away, to shun, to vanish.” The Enhanced Strong says it is used 31 times in the New Testament, being translated in the KJV as “flee 26, escape 3, flee away 2.” Kenneth Hagin notes that this verb means, “to run from as if in terror.” [117] In other words, demons have a tremendous fear of the name of Jesus Christ and will flee in terror when a child of God uses this wonderful Name.

[117] Kenneth Hagin, I Believe In Visions (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Faith Library Publications, c1984, 1986), 89.

Comments - Why does James bring the devil into this discussion at this point? The answer can be found by looking back as the author’s comparison of earthly wisdom with divine wisdom in James 3:13-18. We note that earthly wisdom is described as “earthly, sensual, devilish” in this passage. The term devilish means that demons influence man’s ways of thinking, which affects his behaviour. Such demonic influence is behind the jealousy and strife mentioned in this passage, since these two vices are the outward manifestations of being earthly-minded. It is jealousy and strife that serves as the root cause of contention between believers within the body of Christ.

James 4:7 verse teaches us that every believer has been given authority over the devil. James did not tell them to send a message to Paul that prayer clothes be sent to them. Peter told these believers that they themselves had the same authority that Peter and Paul had to cast the devil out of their lives. Note this parallel passage in the first epistle of Peter.

1 Peter 5:8-9, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”

We should draw near to God to receive divine wisdom, and we should resist the devil and his influences in our life to draw us into sin with ungodly wisdom.

James 4:7 Comments - How often we as believers must not neglect this divine truth in God's Word. We go on for years as a minister. We draw near to God. Then, when temptation comes, we consider it, rather than quickly remembering to stand up and resist the devil.

A well-known minister tells the testimony of how he was once tempted to take his life. His son had died almost a year earlier in a tragedy. One night, depresses and alone in a motel room as he continued to travel and sing for the Lord as a minister, he sat at the edge of his bed and began to take steps to take his life. Instead of following through with this plan, he first called a dear friend on the phone. This friend began to pray for him and said that a demon, which had been standing over him, was now fleeing. It took another minister to pray for this minister. Sometimes, we forget how important it is to continue to resist the devil, even as we are strong in the Lord.

James 4:7 Comments - Note how this verse does not day that we are to pray that God would deliver us, but rather, we ourselves are to take authority over the problem. Remember the opening verse of this epistle which tells us to count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations. The next verse says that our faith is being tested. We must take spiritual authority over the situation and stand firm without moving away from the plan that God has for us to follow.

James 4:8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

James 4:8 “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” Comments - God tells us that if we will draw near to Him, then He will respond by drawing near to us. The reason God does not draw near us first within the context of James 4:8 is because He wants us to desire Him, and to demonstrate our love towards Him. He has already made the initial move when He sent His precious Son to shed His blood on Calvary and make a way for us to draw near to him. However, we must now demonstrate our love towards Him by seeking Him first above the cares of this world.

Illustration (1) - When I left the Southern Baptist denomination in 1983 and began working in Alethia Fellowship Church in Panama City, Florida, I went through a time when all of my family and church friends withdrew from me. I felt like I had no friend on earth, just Jesus. Besides Him, no one was standing with me in my walk. But, during that first year as a non-denominational believer, as I drew near to God for my strength, the Lord gave me two supernatural experiences. These two experiences were the fulfillment of His Word, that as I drew near to Him, he would draw near to me.

One night, after study in the Bible until about 1:00 a.m. on a Monday morning, as I laid down to sleep, the presence of God began to slowly fill me and eventually flood my room. At first I tried to go off of sleep and could not. If got up and sang and worship and laid back down. After three or four hours of this, with God’s presence getting stronger, A verse out of 1 Peter 1:8, as a song, came to me “Joy unspeakable and full of glory’. That verse was it! It described just the way I was feeling at that moment, full of such joy I could not put it into words, and full of glory, or singing worship and praise to His name. Finally, about 5:00 a.m. in the morning, I told the Lord that I could not bear much more and the Holy Spirit's anointing subsided.

One day while just sitting on my bedside, being quite before the Lord, I heard singing, with my spirit, not my physical ears. The most beautiful, anointed song I had ever heard. I believe it was a chorus of angel singing.

The Lord drew near me during those times I needed Him most and those two experiences were timely for my life, very needful at that time.

Illustration (2) - Benny Hinn gives an illustration of James 4:8. [118] In the 1970’s he had a vision in which he saw himself sitting bound and sickly, with a dark cloud overshadowing him. As he looked about in this vision, he saw the Lord Jesus Christ standing and saying to him, “Come”. In his vision, Benny Hinn wanted to say, “How can he come, when he is all bound up and weak. Why don’t you go to him and set him free.” As Jesus continued to say, “Come”, the Benny Hinn in the vision exerted all of his strength to reach forth his arms to Jesus. As he did so, the force of the dark cloud began to hold him back. But as Benny Hinn became determined to stretch forth his arms to Jesus, he found more strength to do so. As the Benny Hinn in the vision gained some strength, he began to move toward Jesus. As Benny Hinn began to move to Jesus, Jesus began to move toward Benny Hinn. This continued until the two met halfway and fell into each other’s arms. All of a sudden, the Benny Hinn in his vision seemed to disappear into the body of Jesus Christ. At this point, Benny Hinn remembered the words of James 4:8, “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you.” Jesus said, “In me, you are always free. But when you walk away from Me, you become bound.”

[118] Benny Hinn, This is Your Day (Irving, Texas), on Trinity Broadcasting Network (Santa Ana, California, 6 January 2003), television program.

James 4:8 “Cleanse your hands....purify your hearts” Comments - This refers to our outward actions and our inner motives (Psalms 24:3).

Psalms 24:3, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart ; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.”

James 4:8 “ye double minded” Scripture References - Note:

James 1:8, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”

James 4:6-8 Comments - James 4:6 is similar to 1 Peter 5:5.

1 Peter 5:5, “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humbl e.”

James 4:7-8 is similar to 1 Peter 5:6-9.

1 Peter 5:6-9, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”

James 4:9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.

James 4:9 Comments - In the Old Testament, they sought God and drew near to Him by renting their garments, shaving their heads, falling upon the ground, and worshipping God.

Illustration - See how a righteous man reacts to trials in Job 1:20.

Job 1:20, “Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,”

We, also, are to fast and pray and seek God’s face. Fasting afflicts the body. By it, we deny our flesh the pleasures of this world. Note also:

Isaiah 22:12, “And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth:”

James 4:10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

Verses 11-12

The Path of Death If we continue to speak evil of one another, which sows strife and discord among the brethren, we will be on the path of death. We see pride raising up its ugly head James 4:11 in those who continue to speak evil of others.

James 4:11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

James 4:11 Comments - The quickest way to allow pride to enter our heart is by judging one another. The manifestation of a proud heart is an evil tongue towards others. This activity will lead to arrogant boasting, as the author warns in James 4:16.

James 4:16, “But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.”

Many times we pronounce someone’s wrong actions when we do not know the entire situation or the man’s heart towards God. This is the person who can tell you what’s wrong in everyone’s life but their own.

James 4:12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

Verses 13-17

Covetousness: Overcoming Worldly Covetousness by Committing our Ways unto God (Trusting God in the Financial Realm) Another trial of faith we face is the temptation to worldly gain. We can see this being an issue in a local congregation, where Jewish synagogues traditionally consisted of those who struggled for power and influence in the local community.

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

1. The Temptation to Boast James 4:13-14

2. The Path of Life James 4:15-17

3. The Path of Death James 5:1-6

Note these insightful words from Frances J. Roberts regarding human strategies:

“Thou needest make no plans nor resort to any clever strategy. Keep yourself in the love of God. Pray in the Spirit. Rejoice evermore. Set your affections upon Christ. God will do through you and for His glory such things as it pleases Him to do, and thou shalt rejoice with Him.” [119]

[119] Frances J. Roberts, Come Away My Beloved (Ojai, California: King’s Farspan, Inc., 1973), 83.

James 4:13-14 The Temptation to Boast James tells those of us who boast in our gains tomorrow that our lives are but a vapour, and we do not know what tomorrow holds.

James 4:13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:

James 4:13 Comments - We hear in James 4:13 the mindset of an entrepreneur who is in the quest for business opportunities. In contrast, a normal employee does not think about such adventures, but rather, looks to his boss for financial security. Such a confession in James 4:13 is a businessman’s way of looking for opportunities that provide him with wealth and ultimately security. The Jews were shrewd businessmen and such a confession would have been typical of them moving about the Empire from city to city, approaching the local synagogues, looking for partnerships or opportunities to make financial gain. James is warning that this boast places a person’s trust is in his own abilities rather than in God’s divine provision.

James 4:14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

James 4:14 “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow” Scripture Reference - Note a similar verse:

Proverbs 27:1, “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”

James 4:14 “It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” - Comments - On two occasions in the epistle of James the Lord reminds us of the brevity of our lives (James 1:9-11, James 4:14). This reminder is placed within the message of the underlying theme of James, which is the perseverance of the saints. In James 1:9-11 we find an illustration in nature of the brevity of our lives. For we see how quickly it appears in all of its beauty. Within days it withers and dies.

Scripture Reference - Note similar verses:

Psalms 39:5, “Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths. And my age is as nothing before You; Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor . Selah. ( NKJV)

Psalms 144:4, “ Man is like a breath ; His days are like a passing shadow.” ( NKJV)

James 4:14 Comments - James 4:14 says that we do not know what shall be on the morrow. This is because God wants us to learn to trust Him day by day. However, there are many occasions in which the Holy Spirit will reveal future events to us in order to protect us or to give us guidance or to prepare us for future events. For example, see find in the Scriptures that Paul and Peter knew their death was eminent, by special revelation. But most people do not know the day of their death.

2 Timothy 4:6, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”

2 Peter 1:14, “Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.”

James 4:15-17 The Path of Life The way we overcome covetousness for this world’s goods is to commit our ways unto the Lord.

James 4:15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

James 4:15 Comments James 4:15 describes the pray of consecration. While we all have dreams and goals that we want to strive to reach in this life, the mature Christian knows that yielding to God’s will and plan is the best decision in life. Thus, we should always preface our prayers with a willingness to accept God’s will for our lives. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father to be delivered from the Cross, but followed this request by consecrating Himself to God’s will (Luke 22:42). Paul makes a similar statement in his plans to visit the Corinthians by saying, “I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will…” (1 Corinthians 4:19)

Luke 22:42, “Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”

1 Corinthians 4:19, “But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power.”

James 4:16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

James 4:16 Comments - They boast about the accomplishments that they have achieved and talk about what they want to pursue. This is sin also.

James 4:17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

James 4:17 Comments - James 4:17 closes the discourse on true religion (James 1:21). This statement in James 4:17 of “knowing to do good” is a reference to the preceding discourse of how to walk in genuine faith towards God.

Scripture Reference - Note a similar passage:

Numbers 15:27-31, “And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them. But the soul that doeth ought resumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.”

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Bibliographical Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on James 4". Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. 2013.