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3. Unbridled lust ( Jam_4:1-3 )
(Vv. 1-3). The apostle has spoken of disorder and strife amongst the professing people of God. Now he asks, “From whence come wars and fightings among you?” He traces the wars amongst the people of God to the lusts of the heart finding expression in the members of the body. To gratify lust the flesh is prepared to kill and fight. In a literal sense this is true of the world and its wars. In a moral sense, if we are bent on carrying out our own wills, the flesh will ruthlessly belittle and override everyone that hinders the fulfilment of our desires.
If our desires are legitimate, there is no need to fight amongst ourselves to obtain them; we can ask of God. It is true, however, that we may not obtain an answer to our prayers, because we may ask with the wrong motive of gratifying some lust.
4. The friendship of the world ( Jam_4:4 )
(V. 4). The lust of the flesh leads the apostle to warn us against the friendship of the world, which offers every opportunity to gratify lust. The world is marked by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. It has manifested its enmity to God by rejecting and crucifying the Son of God. For one professing faith in the Lord Jesus to enter into friendship with the world that has crucified the Son of God is to commit spiritual adultery. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” Our attitude towards the world plainly declares our attitude towards God. “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth”, states the apostle Paul ( 1Ti_5:6 ). Habits of worldly self-indulgence bring death between the soul and God. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him”, writes the apostle John ( 1Jn_2:15 ). “Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God”, says the apostle James.
5. The pride of the flesh ( Jam_4:5-10 )
(Vv. 5, 6). The apostle proceeds to show that behind the friendship of the world there lies the pride of the flesh. Desirous of being somewhat, the flesh naturally turns to the world, seeking to find in its riches, social position and honours that which will gratify its craving for distinction. It is not in vain that Scripture warns us against the world; and the Spirit that dwells in Christians will not lead us to lust after the things of the world. On the contrary, the Spirit gives grace to resist the world and the flesh, as it is written, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” If we are content to be little and nothing in this world, there is power and grace to resist the flesh and the world.
(V. 7). To meet the pride of the flesh seven exhortations follow. All are so opposed to the natural pride of our hearts that nothing but grace ministered by the Spirit will enable us in any measure to answer to them.
Firstly, the apostle says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” Grace alone will lead to submission. The sense of the grace and goodness of God will give such confidence in God that the soul will gladly give up its own will and submit to God. Instead of seeking to be somebody and something in the world, the Christian will cheerfully accept the circumstances that God orders. The Lord Jesus is the perfect example of One whose confidence in God led Him to submit perfectly to God. In the presence of the most sorrowful circumstances, when rejected by the cities in which He had wrought His miracles of love, He said, “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight” ( Mat_11:26 ).
Secondly, the apostle exhorts, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Submitting to God and being content with such things as we have will enable us to resist the devil's temptations to exalt ourselves by the things of this world. As in the temptations of our Lord, the devil may tempt us by natural needs, by religious advancement, or by worldly possessions. If, however, his temptations are met by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, his wiles will be detected and he will not be able to stand against the grace of the Spirit that dwells in us. The Lord has triumphed over Satan and, in His grace, we can so resist the devil that he has to flee.
(V. 8). Thirdly, we are exhorted, “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you.” The devil resisted has to flee, leaving the soul free to draw nigh to God and to find that He is very nigh to us. If, like the Lord in His perfect path, we set Him always before us, we shall find, even as He did, that He is at our right hand and, with His being near to us, we shall not be moved ( Psa_16:8 ). Drawing near to God is the expression of the active confidence in Him and dependence upon Him, of a heart moved by grace to find that His throne is a throne of grace.
Fourthly, the apostle says, “Cleanse your hands.” If we are to draw nigh to God, we must judge every act unsuited to His holy presence, not putting our hands to anything that defiles.
Fifthly, the exhortation is, “Purify your hearts, ye double-minded.” It is not enough to cleanse the hands; we must also judge the evil of our hearts. The Pharisees could make much show of outward purification by washing the hands, but the Lord has to say, “Their heart is far from Me” ( Mar_7:3 ; Mar_7:6 ). The one who ascends the hill of the Lord and stands in His holy place must have “clean hands, and a pure heart” ( Psa_24:4 ). The heart is the seat of the Christian's affections. These need to be purged of every object not compatible with God's will.
(V. 9). Sixthly, the apostle says, “Be afflicted and mourn.” If led by the grace of the Spirit of God, we shall feel the solemn condition of the professing people of God, and in their sorrowful condition we shall find no ground for rejoicing. The Christian has indeed his joys which no man can take from him, and he can rejoice in the grace of God that works in the midst of the evil of the closing days. Nevertheless, the hollow laughter of the professing religious world and its false joys, by which it deludes itself and seeks some relief from its miseries, will lead the heart that is touched by grace to mourn and weep.
(V. 10). Seventhly, the apostle says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.” We may well be humbled as we think of the condition of the professing people of God, but above all we are to be humbled because of what we find in our own hearts. The humbling is to be in the presence of the Lord. It is an inward work by which the soul is made conscious of its own littleness in the presence of God's greatness. The natural tendency is to seek to exalt ourselves before one another; only grace will lead us to humble ourselves before the Lord. As we so do, in His own time He will lift us up. Attempting to lift ourselves up, we shall be humbled.
It will be noticed that these seven exhortations imply that we are in the midst of a vast profession characterised by the evils against which we are warned. So far from submitting to God and resisting the devil, Christendom is increasingly rebelling against God and submitting to the devil. Careless in its ways and lustful in its affections, it passes on its way with laughter and gaiety instead of affliction and mourning, proud of its achievements instead of being humbled by its condition. Moreover, to answer to these exhortations is only possible in the power and grace of the Spirit that dwells in us (verse 5). To those led by the Spirit the condition of the vast profession will rebuke pride, and lead them to humble themselves before God, to find grace in the midst of all the failure, and glory in the day to come, when those who humble themselves now will be lifted up, for “many that are first shall be last; and the last first” ( Mar_10:31 ).
6. Speaking evil of one another ( Jam_4:11 ; Jam_4:12 )
(Vv. 11, 12). The apostle has warned us against the pride of the flesh that seeks to exalt self. He now warns us against the effort to belittle others by speaking evil of them. To speak evil of others is an indirect attempt to exalt self. Thus evil-speaking is the outcome of self-importance. Love would not, and could not, speak evil. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Hence evil-speaking is the sure index that pride and malice, rather than love, have found place in the heart.
Moreover, the one speaking evil of his brother has forgotten the royal law, which exhorts us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Again, the law explicitly states, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” According to the standard of the law, our brother, so far from being disparaged, is to be an object of love, and his reputation safe at the lips of his brethren. When it is otherwise, we are not even living according to the standard of the law. Clearly, then, to speak evil against our brother is to speak against the law; instead of being doers of the law, we act as if we were above the law. We judge the law rather than allowing the law to judge us. Moreover, to transgress the law is to slight the Lawgiver and to usurp His place. If our brother has done wrong, the Lawgiver is able to save or to judge according to His perfect wisdom. Who are we that we should judge one another?
Are we then to be indifferent to evil in one another? Far from it. Other Scriptures instruct us as to how to deal with evil when the sad necessity arises. This Scripture warns us against speaking evil. The one that speaks evil against his brother is not dealing with the evil and has no intention of doing so. He is simply speaking evil in order to disparage his brother. Well for us to remember, when tempted to gratify a little bit of vindictive malice by speaking evil of our brother, that we not only sink below what is proper to a Christian, but we do not even fulfil the righteousness of the law.
7. Self-will and self-confidence ( Jam_4:13-17 )
Finally, the apostle warns us of two evils that are often found together - the self-will that leaves God out of our circumstances (verses 13, 14), and the self-confidence that leads to boasting in our own activities (verses 15-17).
(Vv. 13, 14). Without reference to God or our brethren, the flesh can say, “we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain.” Self-will decides where to go, how long to stay, and what shall be done. There is not necessarily anything wrong in these things. The wrong is that God is not in all our thoughts. The life of self-will is a life without God. Life is viewed as if our days were at our disposal. We forget that we know not what may be on the morrow, and that our life is but a vapour.
(Vv. 15-17). On account of the uncertainty of our circumstances and the transitory character of life, our wisdom is to walk in lowly dependence upon the Lord, and in all our walk and ways to say, “If the Lord will”. Alas! the flesh can not only boast in doing its own will, but rejoice in its boasting. We are therefore warned that, when we know what is good and yet in self-will refuse to do good, it is sin. The apostle does not say to do evil is sin, but not to do good, when we know what is right, is sin.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on James 4". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent