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This chapter, to the end of v.6, continues the subject begun in Ch.3:13. Sensual. devilish wisdom was accompanied by wars and fightings: but this proceeded from the lusts of the flesh active within the hearts of men. We must remember that James is not addressing the assembly of God, but Jews in the synagogue who at least acknowledged the Name of Jesus. It would be most abnormal and reprehensible if any assembly of saints of God were guilty of such contention.
The flesh here is exposed in its repulsive characters there is unfulfilled lust, the viciousness of virtual murder in putting another out of the way, because filled with envy; and at the same time frustration with murmuring and contention. Yet how foolish and unnecessary is all of this! "Ye have not because ye ask not." A quiet spirit of dependent faith that simply asks of God will unquestionably be answered.
But on the other hand, one may ask and receive not. Why? Because it is not faith, but fleshly desire that moves him; and if he gets what he wants, God knows it would be damaging to his own soul. Man Is lustful enough, without God also encouraging these lusts, by answering prayer of this kind.
Verse 4 is yet more rebuking to fleshly desire: those who indulge this are called adulteresses, for such desire makes them friends of a world at enmity with God: their faithfulness to the true God is compromised. It is a shameful denial of true Christian character for one who chooses to be a friend of the world is showing himself an enemy of God.
Verse 5 is more clearly given in the New Tanslation, "Think ye that the Scripture speaks In vain? Does the Spirit which has taken His abode in us desire enviously? James appeals first here to what we think of Scripture: is it truly of vital importance, or is it empty words? And secondly he appeals to the blessed fact of the dwelling of the Spirit of God in the believer. Can it be Himself in us who causes this envious desire? No it is an evil force, utterly contrary to Him, that we have allowed to work, if envy and strife are produced.
In contrast to such envy and strife, the Spirit of God gives "more grace" to overcome it. But if we do not find this grace, it is because of the pride of our own hearts, as the quotation from Proverbs 3:34 indicates. Pride of course involves confidence in self, and God cannot encourage this: but one who is humble recognizes his pressing need of the grace of God, and God gladly answers this.
But we shall not have an attitude of humility if we do not take the first step of submitting to God: the will must first be brought into subjection before it will be subject. This positive step of submission is deeply important for every believer. And on the other hand, there is that which should accompany it, the resisting of the devil. For pride is the chief weapon in the devil's armory, and it is from this that envy and strife proceed. We must therefore resist his flattering of our own pride.
If this is so, the hindrance will be removed as regards our drawing near to God; and here is where the preciousness of spiritual joy and strength is found. For God Himself will draw near to us. But this also immediately calls for the cleansing of our hands, if they have been in any way engaged in sin; and the purifying of our hearts, if there has been duplicity rather than single-mindedness.
Verse 9 may seem contradictory to Philippians 4:4: "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice." But James is attacking the laughter and joy of fleshly exuberance, which has in it no true spiritual exercise. How much better to realize the seriousness of the sufferings of Christ, by which alone we are blessed, and to have our souls "afflicted" by this, in brokenness of heart before God. Indeed, it is only such self-judgment that will lead to pure spiritual joy. For as we honestly humble ourselves In the sight of the Lord, so in marvellous grace He will lift us up, and our rejoicing then will truly be "in the Lord."
Moreover, one who is not humbled in the sight of the Lord, is liable to speak evil of others. If we realize what we are ourselves, we should not be so hasty to criticize others. Honest concern for them is a different matter; but in speaking evil of another, one is speaking evil of the law. Why so? Because the Law is not so demanding as he is that the other should be immediately judged: therefore he is judging the law as though it were lax. The critic becomes the judge, rather than himself obedient to the law. Therefore if I judge another, my self-conceit exposes me to the judgment of the one Lawgiver. And notice too that He is not only able to destroy, but able to save.
But verse 13 reproves another matter that also stems from conceit, that is, the confidence in well-laid plans for the future, which depends upon personal wisdom end ability, and with material gain as the object. This is not taking the place of a child before Father, dependent and subject. For we actually know absolutely nothing as to the future. Even our entire life is as a. vapor, appearing momentarily, then vanishing: we have no control over it. Therefore, it is only wisdom to depend utterly upon the Lord, and always modify our plans by the sensible words, "If the Lord will."
It is too common for men to rejoice in anticipation of the fulfilment of their own plans, and to speak as though these things were perfectly certain. This is boasting, of course, and all such rejoicing is evil. How precious it is however, in contrast, to rejoice in hope of the glory of God!
In view of all these things in which true instruction is given as to doing good, let me take to heart the fact that it is one thing to recognize the truth and value of such instruction, and another thing entirely to do it. How deeply serious to consider that if I know how to do good, and neglect to do it, this is sin. Our great and gracious God is not guilty of the slightest ommission of this kind. Who can dare to claim sinless perfection for himself if he honestly considers this verse? Have we done all the good it was possible for us to do?
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on James 4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30