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Caution against Worldly-Mindedness and Its Consequences.
Against a lustful, quarrelsome disposition:
v. 1. From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
v. 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.
v. 3. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
v. 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.
v. 5. Do ye think that the Scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?
The tenor of this chapter is such as to have called forth the following remarks: "These verses reveal an appalling state of moral depravity in the Diaspora congregations; strife, self-indulgence, lust, murder, covetousness, adultery, envy, pride, and slander are rife; the conception of the nature of prayer seems to have been altogether wrong among these people, and they appear to have been given over wholly to a life of pleasure. " The rebuke of the apostle does not lack in sharpness: Whence do fights, whence do wrangles come in your midst? Is it not thence, namely, from the passions that wage war in your members? The situation in many of the Jewish Christian congregations was anything but what the Prince of Peace would advocate in His Church. There were continual bickerings, wranglings, quarrels, fights, without a chance for rest and peaceful growth, the same condition that is found in some Christian congregations also today. The apostle flatly tells his readers what the source is of all this disagreement and disorder, namely, the selfish desires, the evil lusts, the unrestrained passions which they permitted to wage war in their own members; they made no attempt to restrain the evil promptings of their heart, they made their members instruments of unrighteousness. See Romans 7:23; 1 Corinthians 9:7.
With dramatic fervor the apostle continues: You crave and do not have; you commit murder, and are full of envy, and cannot obtain it; you quarrel and fight. There can be no doubt that James is here throughout using the spiritual interpretation of the Law, calling the sins of desires and thoughts by their right name, and indicating their standing in the sight of God. The people to whom this letter was addressed were dissatisfied, they were full of desire for something else; their hopes and expectations were in a very hazy state, as is usually the case with people that are not content with their lot and believe themselves to be destined for higher things. Their hearts were full of murder and envy, they were always afraid that some other brother might attain to greater honor and prominence in the congregation, and the wish that he might be out of the way may often have been supplemented by plans for his removal. But with all the quarreling and fighting that was going on in their midst they were not gaining any spiritual advantage, their own disposition precluding the blessings of the Lord.
This condition was made still worse by another factor: You do not have on account of your not asking for it; you ask and do not receive, because you ask in a wrong manner, in order to spend it in the satisfying of your own lusts. In many cases even the formality of prayer was forgotten over the wrangling that was becoming ceaseless; and so, of course, the attainment of even good desires was out of the question. But even where the formality of prayer was observed, where they went through the gestures intended to accompany prayer, there was no chance of their being heard and receiving the object of their desires, because their prayer was made in the interest of their own selfishness, their object being to use the gifts which they might receive from God in the gratification of their own lusts; they wanted to waste His blessings in carrying out various schemes of their own, for their own benefit and aggrandizement.
In holy zeal the apostle warns them: Wanton creatures, do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity toward God? If anyone, then, chooses to be a friend of the world, he is constituted an enemy of God. Adulterers and adulteresses the apostle calls his readers, speaking generally, for their behavior not only approached idolatry, which is spiritual adultery, but their attitude toward the world endangered also their bodily chastity. There was an increasing tendency in the congregations, just as there is today, to give up the solid front against the world and its pleasures; the lusts of the world were entering into the Church. Christians did not hesitate to seek the friendship of the children of the world in order to take part in the special delights of the flesh which the children of the world foster. But then, as today, it was true that every person that became guilty of such behavior thereby constituted himself an enemy of God, placed himself into direct opposition to God and His holy will, and took the first steps toward a life of idolatry.
With challenging fervor the apostle asks: Or do you suppose that the Scripture says in vain, Even unto jealous envy that Spirit which He made to dwell in us does yearn (for us)? Such behavior as the apostle has just described is absolutely incompatible with the ideals which the Lord holds out before the Christians in His Word. See Galatians 5:17-21; Romans 8:6-8; 1 Corinthians 3:16. These and similar passages, which are found in many parts of Scriptures, indicate definitely that the Lord watches over the behavior of the Christians with jealous envy. The Holy Spirit who has come to dwell in our hearts strives unceasingly to have us acquire the same love for God and His holy will which He bears for us and for our highest development along spiritual lines. Any behavior on our part, therefore, that tends to dislodge the Holy Spirit from our hearts, will retard our spiritual growth.
A humble state of mind demanded of Christians:
v. 6. But He giveth more grace. Wherefore He saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
v. 7. Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
v. 8. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
v. 9. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness.
v. 10. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.
All sins may be said to have their root and origin in the pride of the human heart, which refuses to bow to the will of the Lord. Christians, therefore, will deny themselves and depend upon the help promised from above: But He gives greater grace; wherefore He says: God sets Himself against the proud; to the humble, however, He gives grace. If the Spirit, who has made His abode with us, can but perform His work unhindered by willful transgressions and outbursts of evil lust, then the Lord, through His work in our hearts, will give us grace for a life of proper sanctification. For this truth we have the authority of the Word, in which the Holy Spirit Himself gives us the assurance that, while God always resists the proud, it is His good pleasure to give grace to the humble. See 1 Peter 5:5. A Christian's constant effort, then, will be to conquer and vanquish the natural pride of his heart, through the power of the Spirit that lives in him, and always to offer to the Lord a heart that is willing to hear and to keep His will. Note that the divinity of the Holy Spirit is plainly taught in this passage.
The need of this attitude is spoken of by the apostle: Submit yourselves, then, to God; but set yourselves against the devil, and he will flee from you. That is the characteristic of the believers of all times, that they overcome the haughtiness and pride of their evil nature more and more, and place themselves, with all their gifts and abilities, in the hands of God, whether for good days or for bad, Psalms 37:5. As the Lord teaches them in His Word, so do they unhesitatingly follow, even though it means entire denial of self. And in performing this part of their Christian calling, they will set themselves against, they will resist with all the power at their command, the wiles and temptations of the devil. It is a matter of ceaseless vigilance, of tireless battling; but there is only one outcome possible, namely, the flight of the devil. With God and the Word on our side, the victory is bound to be ours.
This necessitates what the apostle further urges: Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. The more closely our new, regenerated, sanctified nature draws to the Lord, the more firmly we are united with Him in faith and love on the basis of His Word, the better will be our chances of overcoming all the enemies that try to draw us away from the Lord. But to such as are loath to do that the apostle says: Purify your hands, you sinners, and make chaste your hearts, you double-minded. Wherever there are men that call themselves Christians and still long after the flesh-pots of the world, they must be brought back to their right minds by such a loud call to loyalty. They should purify the hands that have become soiled by any contact with the filthy matters of this world; they should see to it that their hearts, whose allegiance they have tried to divide between God and the world, turn all alone to the Lord and His will.
In most cases this would make necessary a return to the Lord by a real repentance: Undergo hardship and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned to lamentation, and your joy to depression. Throughout this passage a person may find many allusions to the Old Testament calls to repentance, such as were uttered by the prophets. The fact of their having turned from the Lord and become guilty of such trespasses as the apostle has enumerated, should cause the guilty ones to feel miserable and afflicted; their sins should call forth mourning and weeping on their part, as evidences of a genuine change of heart. Whereas they formerly laughed in the boisterous manner of the world and with the children of this world, they should now substitute bitter lamentation; whereas they found their joy in the delights tending to idolatry, the thought of their transgression should cause them to feel dejected and depressed in spirit.
If this attitude would be found among them, a true repentance of the heart, then they would also have the assurance: Be humbled before the Lord, and He will exalt you. So long as pride is the dominating trait in a person's life and works, so long God will resist the efforts of such a person. But if a poor sinner has thrown overboard all his self-righteousness, all the sinful pride of his heart, and lays before the Lord a broken and a contrite heart, then the Lord Himself will exalt him, will pardon his sins and accept him through the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior.
Against uncharitable judging:
v. 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.
v. 12. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy; who art thou that judgest another?
The humility which is required of Christians will show itself not only in their behavior toward God, but also toward their neighbor. Against the commonest form of transgression in this respect the apostle writes: Do not speak against one another, brethren. The fact that the Christians are brethren is in itself a reason why they should not indulge in uncharitable criticism. For, as James explains: He that speaks against his brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the Law and judges the Law; but if thou judgest the Law, thou art not a doer of the Law, but a judge. To speak evil of a brother, to criticize and condemn one's brother in an uncharitable manner is against the will of God, against His holy Law, against the Eighth Commandment. A person, therefore, that becomes guilty of such behavior against his brother becomes guilty of a transgression of the Law. To say that the Law did not cover this case meant to misinterpret the Law, and this action, in turn, was equivalent to criticizing and condemning the Law. Surely, then, a person who presumed upon such conduct was not a doer of the Law, but a judge of the Law, and a poor one at that.
People that indulge in this pastime should remember: One it is who is Lawgiver and Judge, who is able to save and to destroy; but who art thou that judgest thy neighbor? Here the arrogant impertinence of one that judges his neighbor in an uncharitable manner is set forth. For he is presuming to discharge the functions of an office which belongs to God alone, since He it is that gave the Law, and He it is that will condemn the transgressors and punish the guilty. The passage reminds one strongly of Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:37; Romans 2:1. For a mere man to criticize and condemn his neighbor, except in cases where the Lord Himself has charged the congregation with carrying out His condemnation, is altogether unwarranted, and is resented by God as an interference with His authority. The passage contains a warning which cannot be repeated too often.
Trust in God's providence essential:
v. 13. Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain,
v. 14. whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away.
v. 15. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that.
v. 16. But now ye rejoice in your boastings, All such rejoicing is evil.
v. 17. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
In the preceding verses the apostle has rebuked the presumption of men both against the Lord and against the brethren. He here speaks of another form of arrogance, one which coolly disregards the Lord's providence and His rule over the world; Come now, you that say, Today or tomorrow we shall journey to this or that city; we shall spend a year there in doing business and making money, you who do not know what tomorrow will bring. The impertinent independence which is shown in the attitude of many people is here skillfully and realistically brought out. Speeches similar to this may be heard any day in all cities of Christendom. The government and providence of the Lord is calmly disregarded. People make their plans for journeys, for the expansion of their business, for the accumulating of wealth without taking the Lord into account. And yet they do not know what the morrow will bring, or even whether they will live to see the morrow!
This the apostle brings out splendidly: For what is your life? For you are a vapor which is visible for a little while, and afterwards it passes away. Just as everything in this world is uncertain and unstable, so this truth holds with regard to the life of man. Who will say how long it is to last, with the evidence on every hand that it is the most uncertain quantity that we can think of? The life of man is truly like a vapor, like a puff of steam, like a wreath of mist floating in the air one moment, and gone the next, Job 14:1-2; Psalms 90:5-6. How idle and foolish, therefore, to speak and act as though we were masters of our life and of our destiny, except as under God's guidance!
The proper attitude is that pictured by the apostle: Instead of your saying, If the Lord wills it and we live, and we shall do this or that, or, If the Lord wills it, we shall live. Our entire life with all its vicissitudes is in the hand of the Lord, under His government. Arrogant independence, therefore, has no room in the life of the Christian. All his plans are subject to approval or rejection by the Lord, under whose will the believer bows at all times. As our prayers with regard to earthly blessings are always conditioned upon His good pleasure, so all the various paths and byways of our life should be placed in His guiding hand, for He knoweth best.
Lest anyone take this admonition lightly, the apostle adds: But now you are boasting in your proud pretensions; all such boasting is evil. To maintain an attitude of proud indifference to the government of the Lord and to His control of the affairs of human life, is exhibiting a pride of mind which cannot be reconciled with true Christianity; it is an evil boasting in which many people are prone to indulge. Many a person that placed his will over against that of the Lord has found out to his sorrow that the Lord will not be mocked, not even in the so-called trifles of every-day life. And so the concluding warning comes with solemn emphasis: To him that knows to do the good and does not do it, to him it is sin. This principle is upheld also by Jesus, Luke 12:47-48. Some of the Christians may have erred with regard to the several points made by the apostle in this chapter through thoughtlessness. This fact would not have excused them, but it would have been a charitable explanation of their behavior. Now, however, that the facts of the will of God have been discussed at such length, even the last shred of an excuse is taken away. Anyone who disregards the points which are here set forth for the sanctification of believers has no one but himself to blame if the full measure of stripes is laid upon him by the judgment of the Lord. For it is not only sins of commission that are subject to condemnation, but also sins of omission, of not doing that which is right in the sight of God. This word should be heeded also in our days with the carefulness which it deserves.
The apostle cautions his readers against any display of lust, envy, and worldly-mindedness, demanding of them true humility, the absence of uncharitable judging, and trust in God's providence and government.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on James 4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent