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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

James 4

Verse 1

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

Whence. The cause of quarrels is often sought in external circumstances: internal lusts are the true origin.

Wars ... - contrast the "peace" of heavenly wisdom. "Fightings," the active carrying on of wars. 'Aleph (') B C have a second "whence" before "fightings." Tumults marked the era before the destruction of Jerusalem. James alludes to these. The members are the seat of war: thence it passes to conflict between man and man, nation and nation.

Come they not ... - an appeal to their consciences.

Lusts, [ heedonon (G2237)] - pleasures which your lust prompt you to "desire" (note, James 4:2) at the cost of your neighbour: hence, flow "fightings."

That war, [ strateuomenoon (G4754)] - 'campaign, as soldiers,' against the interests of your fellow-men, while lusting to advance self. But while warring thus against others, they war against the soul of the man himself, and against the Spirit; therefore they must be 'mortified' by the Christian (Colossians 3:5).

Verse 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.

Ye lust, [ epithumeite (G1937)] - a different word from James 4:1; ye set your mind or heart on an object.

Have not. Desire does not ensure possession. For this "ye kill" (not as margin, without authority, 'envy'). Not probably in a literal sense, but 'kill and envy' [ zeeloute (G2206)] - i:e., harass and oppress through envy (Drusius). Compare Zechariah 11:5, through envy, hate and desire to get out of your way; so are 'murderers' in God's eyes (Estius). If literal murder (Alford) were meant, it would not occur so early in the series; nor had Christians as yet reached so open criminality. In the Spirit's application to all ages, literal killing is included, from the desire to possess: so David and Ahab. There is a climax: 'ye desire,' individual lust for an object; 'ye kill and envy,' the feeling and action of individuals against individuals; "ye fight and war," the action of many against many.

Ye have not, because ye ask not. God promises to tense who pray, not fight. The petition of the lustful, murderous, and contentious is not recognized by God as prayer. If ye prayed, there would be no "wars and fightings." This last clause answers the question, James 4:1.

Verse 3

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

Some are supposed to object, But we do "ask" (cf. James 4:2). James replies, It is not enough to ask for good things, but we must ask with a good spirit. "Ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it (your object) upon (literally, in) your lusts" (literally, pleasures): not that ye may have the things you need for the service of God. Contrast James 1:5 with Matthew 6:31-32. If ye prayed aright, all your proper wants would be supplied: the improper cravings which produce "fightings" would cease. Even believers' prayers are often best answered when their desires are most thwarted.

Verse 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.

'Aleph (') A B omit "adulterers and" (which C has): read simply, Ye adulteresses.' God is the rightful husband; the men of the world are collectively one adulteress; individually, adulteresses.

The world - in so far as men's motives and acts are alien to God; e.g., selfish "lusts" (James 4:3), covetous and ambitions "wars" (James 4:1).

Enmity - not merely 'inimical,' but enmity itself (cf. 1 John 2:15).

Whosoever therefore will be, [ hos (G3739) ean (G1437) oun (G3767) bouleethee (G1014)] - 'shall be resolved to be.' Whether he succeed or not, if his wish be to be friend of the world, he renders himself, is constituted [ kathistatai (G2525)] by the very fact, 'the enemy of God.' Contrast James 2:23.

Verse 5

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

In vain - no Scripture can be so. The quotation, as in Ephesians 5:14, seems not so much from a particular passage, as gathered under inspiration from the general tenor of the Old and New Testaments (Numbers 11:29; Septuagint, Psalms 62:10 [ mee (G3361) epipotheite], 'lust not on robbery;' Proverbs 21:10; Galatians 5:17).

Spirit that dwelleth in us. 'Aleph (') B [ katookisen (G2730)] read 'that God made to dwell in us' (namely, at Pentecost). 'Does the (Holy) Spirit that (God) hath placed in us lust [ epipothei (G1971)] to (toward) envy?' (namely, as ye do in your worldly "fightings.") Certainly not: ye are walking in the flesh, not in the Spirit, while ye lust with envy against one another. The friendship of the world breeds envy; the Spirit produces very different fruit. [Alford attributes pros (G4314) fthonon (G1937) to the Holy Spirt: 'The Spirit jealously desires us for His own.' Katookesen (G2730) would mean, 'The (natural) spirit that hath its dwelling in us lusts with ( pros (G4314): toward) envy.'] Ye lust; and because ye have not what ye lust after (James 4:1-2), ye envy your neighbour who has: so the spirit of envy leads you to "fight." James refers to James 3:14; James 3:16.

Verse 6

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

But - Nay rather.

He - God. Giveth more grace - ever increasing, the further ye depart from "envy" (Bengel).

He saith. The same God who causes His Spirit to dwell in believers (James 4:5) also speaks in Scripture. The quotation is probably from Proverbs 3:34; as Proverbs 21:10 was generally referred to in James 4:5. In Hebrew it is 'scorneth the scorners'-namely, those who think 'Scripture speaketh in vain.'

Resisteth, [ antitassetai (G498)] - setteth Himself in array against; even as they, like Pharaoh, set themselves against Him. God repays sinners in their own coin. 'Pride' is the mother of "envy" (James 4:5): it is peculiarly satanic, for by it Satan fell.

The proud, [ hupereefanois (G5244)] - one who shows himself above his fellows, and so lifts himself against God.

The humble - the unenvious, uncovetous, unambitious as to the world. Contrast James 4:4.

Verse 7

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

Submit yourselves therefore to God - so ye shall be among "the humble" (James 4:6; also James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6).

Resist the devil. Under his banner pride and envy are enlisted: "resist" (stand against) these his temptations. Faith, prayers, and heavenly wisdom are the weapons of resistance. "Submit," as a good soldier puts himself in subjection to his captain.

He will flee - a promise of God: he shall flee worsted, as he did from Christ.

Verse 8

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

Draw nigh to God - so "cleave unto Him" (Deuteronomy 30:20): namely, by prayerfully (James 4:2-3) 'resisting Satan,' who opposes our access to God.

He will draw nigh - propitious. Cleanse your hands - the outward instruments of action. None but the clean-handed can ascend into the hill of the Lord (justified through Christ, who alone, being perfectly so, 'ascended' there) (Psalms 24:3-4).

Purify your hearts, [ hagnisate (G48)] - make chaste of spiritual adultery (James 4:4; James 1:1-27:e., worldliness) your hearts, the inward source of all impurity.

Double-minded - divided between God and the world: at fault in heart; the sinner in his hands likewise.

Verse 9

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

Be afflicted ... [ talaipooreesate (G5003)] - endure misery; i:e., mourn over your wretchedness through sin. Repent with deep sorrow instead of "laughter." A blessed mourning. Contrast Isaiah 22:12-13; Luke 6:25. In James 5:1, "howl" for the doom of the impenitent-namely, at the coming destruction of Jerusalem.

Heaviness, [ kateefeian (G2726)] - falling of the countenance: casting down of the eyes.

Verse 10

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

In the sight of the Lord - as continually in the presence of Him who alone is to be exalted: the truest incentive to humility. The tree, to grow upwards, must strike its roots downward; so man, to be exalted, must have his mind deep-rooted in humility. In 1 Peter 5:6, "Humble yourselves ... under the mighty hand of God" - namely, in His providential dealings: a distinct thought.

Lift you up - partly in this world, fully in that to come.

Verse 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 3:1-18.) Evil speaking flows from the same spirit of exalting self at the expense of one's neighbour as caused the "fighting" reprobated, James 4:1. [ Mee (G3361) katalaleite (G2635): Speak not against one another.]

Brethren. Such depreciatory speaking of one another is peculiarly unbecoming in brethren.

Speaketh evil of the law - for the law. "Love thy neighbour as thyself" (James 2:8), condemns evil speaking. He who superciliously condemns others' acts and words which do not please him, aiming at the reputation of sanctity, puts his own moroseness in the place of the law (Calvin); as though the law could not perform its own office of judging, but he must pounce upon it (Bengel). This is the last mention of the law. Here the moral law applied in its spiritual fullness by Christ: "the law of liberty."

If thou judge the law, thou art not a doer ... but a judge. Our Christian calling is to be doers of the law. But in judging our brother, we judge the law, which commands us to love our brother.

Verse 12

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

There is one lawgiver. 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, 'and judge' [ ho (G3588) nomothetees (G3550) kai (G2532) kritees (G2923)], 'There is one (alone) who is (at once) Lawgiver and Judge; (namely), He who is able to save and destroy.' God alone is Lawgiver, and therefore Judge, since it is He alone who can execute His judgments: our inability in this shows our presumption in trying to be judges.

Who art thou ... The order is emphatic 'But (in 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate) thou, who art thou that,' etc. How rashly arrogant in judging thy fellows, and wresting from God the office which belongs to Him over thee and THEM alike.

Another. 'Aleph (') A B, Vulgate, read 'thy neighbour.'

Verse 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:

Go to now - `Come now:' to excite attention.

Ye that say - `boasting of the morrow.' Today or tomorrow - as if ye had the free choice of cipher day as a certainty. So 'Aleph (') B, Vulgate. But A, 'Today and tomorrow.'

Such a city - literally, this the city. This city here.

Continue there a year - spend a year. They imply that when this year is out, they purpose settling plans for years to come.

Buy and sell. Their plans are all worldly.

Verse 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.

What, [ poia (G4169)] - 'of what nature is your life? - i:e., how evanescent.

It is even. B reads 'For ye are.' A reads 'For it shall be' (James 4:13-15). The former expresses, 'Ye yourselves are transitory:' so everything of yours partakes of the same transitoriness.

And then vanisheth away - afterward vanishing as it came [ epeita (G1899) kai (G2532) afanizomenee (G853)]; afterward (as it appeared) so vanishing (Alford).

Verse 15

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

Literally, 'instead of your saying.' etc.

We shall live. 'We shall both live and do,' etc. The boaster spoke as if life and the particular action were in their power; whereas both depend entirely on the will of the Lord.

Verse 16

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

Now - as it is.

Rejoice in your boastings - ye boast in your arrogant presumptions that the future is certain to you (James 4:13).

Rejoicing, [ kaucheesis (G2746)] - boasting.

Verse 17

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

The general principle is here stated: knowledge without practice is imputed to a man as presumptuous sin. James reverts to James 1:22-24. Nothing more injures the soul than wasted impressions. Feelings exhaust themselves and evaporate, if not embodied in practice. As we will not act except we feel, so, if we will not act out our feelings, we shall soon cease to feel.

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on James 4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.