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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

James 4

Verses 1-10

James 4:1-10 . The climax of the last paragraph leads to a diagnosis of the disease that poisoned quarrelsome Jewish communities. Faction fights were the logical outcome of unbridled passions; they “ campaign against man’ s self” ( 1 Peter 2:11), and weaken his power of control.

James 4:2 is best rendered, “ You covet, and miss what you want— then you murder. Aye, you are envious and cannot get your desire— then you fight and wage war.” It is hard to see how faction that would not stick at bloodshed could be found in a primitive Christian community; among Jews it is easily illustrated. These “ adulterous souls” ( James 4:4) have broken the marriage vow that unites God and His people; men cannot “ serve God and mammon,” or give “ friendship” at once to God and the world— they are powers at war, and neutrality cannot exist.

James 4:5 is best taken thus: “ Or do you suppose that Scripture means nothing when it tells us He is yearning jealously over the spirit He made to dwell within us?” The reference is perhaps to the general tenour of revelation, rather than to a single passage: there is no OT text verbally near to this. Nor is God’ s “ yearning” a vague sentiment, it shows itself in His “ offering more grace”— the declaration is proved by Proverbs 3:34. Note how Peter takes up James’ s words, as often ( 1 Peter 5:5; 1 Peter 5:9). For the Christian the assurance is guaranteed by the resistance of Jesus to the devil. Sinners are to put away sin from hand and heart ( cf. Isaiah 1:15 f.), and by penitence seek pardon. For an Oriental, fasting and lamentation were the spontaneous and natural expression of deep sorrow. Our Lord permits but never prescribes it, only insisting that it must be absolutely sincere and not for show ( Matthew 6:16 ff.).

Verse 11

James 4:11 f. A return to the topic of James 1:26, James 2:12, James 3:1-12. Backbiting was a conspicuous habit among these Jews, who applied to one another some of the censoriousness they freely dealt out to the Gentiles. “ Judge,” here as elsewhere, means “ condemn”— there is no opening for a judge’ s impartiality. James tells them that such conduct abrogates the royal law” of James 2:8, and makes them usurp the function of the One Lawgiver. The thought, of course, was suggested to him by Matthew 7:1 f.

Verses 13-17

James 4:13-17 . This and the next paragraph denounce the vices of the rich, in the spirit of Amos and Isaiah; that they are Jews, and not Christians, seems obvious, if this epistle is to be got into the first centuries of Christian history, when the rich had small power to oppress the poor. First comes a warning suggested presumably by the Lord’ s parable of the Rich Fool. They make plans for a year, and know not what will happen the very next day; human life is transitory as a puff of steam. They were proud of big plans which fate might turn to folly. And such idle words” ( Matthew 12:36) were not meaningless frivolities; there was “ evil” in them— it is a strong word, that which closes the Lord’ s Prayer. Finally, since these people knew how to do good— did they not boast of their Law?— and would not do it, they were guilty of sin. For the NT with one consent— here following the spirit of the prophets— makes sin mainly the failure to do right, and not merely the doing of wrong.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on James 4". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.