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Like other divisions of this epistle this is so connected with the last, and grows out of it so naturally, that it is difficult to say where the division occurs. The writer had been speaking of envying and strife in expression through the tongue, and now puts in his plow deeper to show their source in the antecedent condition of the heart. “Lust” is not to be taken in the limited sense of sensuality, but in the broader sense of worldly pleasure or gratification of any kind.
James 4:2 presents difficulty. Consistency makes it necessary to suppose that James is here addressing Christians as throughout the epistle, and yet how incongruous to think of Christians committing murder to gratify their desires! Luther translated “kill” by “hate,” and doubtless expressed the real meaning by so doing, although James used the stronger expression in order to designate with the utmost precision the nature of that evil which, whatever may be the outward form of manifestation, is still the same.
Nor let it be thought strange that such persons should be referred to as engaging in prayer (James 4:3 ), for nothing is more common than for worldly minded Christians to supplicate heaven for the gratification of desires entirely selfish, giving no consideration either to God’s pleasure, or the well-being of their neighbors. How plainly James reveals the cause for the non-results of such prayers!
What names does he bestow upon these worldly-minded Christians (James 4:4 )? How does the language of this verse indicate that he has in mind adulterers in the moral and spiritual sense professing with the world? What shows the incompatibility of such things? James 4:5 should be read in the Revised Version, showing that the Holy Spirit who dwells in the believer is not a spirit of envy. What was their hope under such circumstances of sin, and in what direction should they look for deliverance (James 4:6 )? What prerequisite was necessary to obtain this grace (James 4:6-10 )? How did the want of humility show itself in their prayers (James 4:11-12 )?
But this worldly-mindedness took to itself various forms, and James addresses himself to another in the verses following. What false reliance is spoken of in James 4:13 ? How is it rebuked (James 4:14 )? What advice and admonition is given (James 4:15-16 )? It was not enough for them to know this truth, how does he teach them the need of acting upon it (James 4:17 )?
What further application of worldly-mindedness follows in chapter 5? Who are addressed now? What warning is given them? “Ye have laid up your treasure in the last days” is the way James 5:3 , last sentence, should be rendered. How vividly it applies today!
Are we not nearing the last days, and are not treasures heaping up as never before? What three charges are laid against the rich here (James 5:4 ; James 5:6 )? Fraud, voluptuousness, injustice! How awful to think of these things under the cloak of Christianity! Or shall we say that James is here referring to the rich outside the Christian church altogether? It is difficult to say. Notice carefully, however, the judgments coming upon these rich people. What miseries indeed!
The epistle closes as it began, with comfort for the tried and oppressed, James 5:7-20 . What hope is set before the oppressed laboring men (James 5:4-8 )? How different from the strike and the boycott? If the rich of our day be at fault, are not the poor equally so, the Word of God being the standard? What examples of long-suffering patience are set before them in James 5:10-11 ?
What closing recommendations and exhortations are set before all concerning oaths (James 5:12 )? Concerning heavenly mindedness in the opposite experiences of life (James 5:13 )? What specific directions concerning the sick (James 5:14-16 )? What testimony to the efficacy of prayer? How is it illustrated (James 5:17-18 )? With what statement of the believer’s privilege and obligation does the epistle close (James 5:19-20 )?
1. How would you connect this lesson with the last?
2. What does lust mean?
3. What difficulty is presented in this lesson?
4. What hinders prayer?
5. Who are meant by spiritual adulterers?
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Gray, James. "Commentary on James 4". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany