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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

James 4

Verse 1

Jas 4:1. Wars and fightings are virtually the same except the first refers to a state of conflict in general and the second to the single battles of the war. James is writing of spiritual or moral things and not of warfare in its usual sense. Lusts refers to unrighteous pleasures and the strife after such gratifications is bound to bring conflicts between different members of the body of Christ.

Verse 2

Jas 4:2. Lust and have not. They had the unholy desires but were not always able to obtain what they craved, and that caused them to kill (have murderous thoughts, 1Jn 3:15) those who resisted their unrighteous desires. Fight and war is the same as wars and fightings in the first verse. In some cases they might have obtained things they had asked for had they asked for them in a lawful manner.

Verse 3

Jas 4:3. While they did not ask in the proper way, some did make unlawful demands but were refused because of the impure motive that prompted the requests. That unrighteous motive was that their personal cravings might be gratified and not that lawful benefits might be obtained. The passage as a whole (verses 1-3) pictures a group of professed disciples who were confused and unsettled in their lives, trying to partake of the same practices as those of the world, at the same time pretending to be serving the Lord in things spiritual.

Verse 4

Jas 4:4. In the temporal world a person who commits unlawful intimacy is guilty of immorality. Likewise in the realm of the family of God, those who are intimate with the sinful pleasures of the world are guilty of spiritual adultery because they are untrue to Christ, who is their lawful partner. This intimacy is here called friendship and James says it is enmity (at war) with God. On this principle James declares that a person cannot be a friend (be intimate with) of the world without being an enemy of the Lord. This is the same thing that Jesus teaches in Mat 12:30.

Verse 5

Jas 4:5. Envy and jealousy have some phases of meaning in common and hence are used to show God's great concern for the purity of His people. Exo 20:5 says He is a jealous God and Paul writes on behalf of the Lord and says he is jealous about his brethren (2Co 11:2). In Gen 6:3 the Spirit of God is said to be striving with man, that is the same Spirit that our verse says dwell-eth in us. James asked if they think that this concern of the Spirit is in vain or to no purpose. A negative answer is implied and means that the brethren should take the admonition seriously and not provoke the Lord too far.

Verse 6

Jas 4:6. James does not wish his brethren to become too downcast over the stern remarks of the preceding verses, hence the consoling remark that he giveth more grace (or favor) is made. In order to profit by His grace it is necessary to be submissive, so the statement is made concerning the proud and the humble.

Verse 7

Jas 4:7. Submit yourselves calls for a voluntary act on the part of man, else his pride will come up against the resistance of God. Resist requires more than a mere aversion to the devil; it calls for active opposition. If a disciple will put up that kind of fight he is assured of victory over the enemy.

Verse 8

Jas 4:8. This verse also indicates a voluntary action on the part of man. The Lord has made full provision for the spiritual welfare of the human creature, hence it is necessary for man to make the next move. Cleanse your hands specifies what is to be done, and ye sinners designates to whom the demand applies. No person is accused nor even specifically admonished except the guilty ones. To purify means to remove all mixture of evil desires, and the heart can be thus purified only "by [the] faith" Act 15:9. Double minded is explained at chapter 1:8.

Verse 9

Jas 4:9. This verse is directed toward those who are unconcerned about their worldliness, and who are finding joy in such activities. They should reverse all of such false grounds of gratification, after which they will have something real and lasting in which to take joy.

Verse 10

Jas 4:10. This is virtually the same admonition as in verse 6.

Verse 11

Jas 4:11. Speak not evil means to say that which slanders another and injures his reputation. This bad use of the tongue is treated in several verses of the preceding chapter. Speaketh evil of the law. One of the commandments is not to bear false witness against another (Exo 20:16), and the same is taught in many places in the New Testament (Mat 19:18; Rom 13:9). If a man claims the right to ignore this law he is thereby assuming that such a law is unnecessary. That is why James says such a person becomes a judge of the law instead of a doer.

Verse 12

Jas 4:12. There is one lawgiver who is the Lord, and no man should dare put himself up as a judge of His law. The author of the true law is able either to save or destroy ("To give over to eternal misery"--Thayer). Who art thou--why do you dare judge another or slander him?

Verse 13

Jas 4:13. Go to is from AGE, a Greek word that Thayer defines, "Come! come now!" It is a pointed expression made to someone, calling attention to foolish presumptions. The things mentioned are not necessarily wrong in themselves, but the folly is in taking it for granted that nothing can prevent it.

Verse 14

Jas 4:14. The foolishness of the matter is in the uncertainty of human existence. Regardless of what one plans to do as to whether it is right or wrong, it cannot be carried out unless he lives. The comparison to a passing cloud by James shows this to be his principal thought.

Verse 15

Jas 4:15. If the Lord will has been much strained by many whose intentions were good toward God. The expression is made to mean if the Lord does not interfere with some "providential act" that will make the plan impossible. God is not doing such things as that in these days. During the formative centuries while the Bible was being revealed and God's dealings with man were not yet fully made known, He performed various miracles to demonstrate in the ears and before the eyes of man what it means to displease Him. That is all past now and no special act is theatened to show God's favor or disfavor for what man does; that has to be learned from the written word. The thought is, therefore, that we should make all our plans subject to two provisos, namely, that the Lord wills (that it is according to His will as revealed in the Bible), and that we live to do it. The additional conjunction "and" that is in the Greek text has been omitted by the King James Version. The Englishman's Greek New Testament renders this verse as follows: "Instead of your saying [the saying expressed in verse 13; the thing they should say is], if the Lord should will and we should live, also, we may do this or that." This shows the two conditions mentioned above, and rules out any need for "special providence."

Verse 16

Jas 4:16. Rejoice in your boastings denotes they first presumed they could do whatever they wished, then used the presumption as a basis of boasting. Such rejoicing is evil because it ignores the truths set forth in verse 14.

Verse 17

Jas 4:17. Knoweth to do good has special reference to the information offered in the preceding verses. We should first learn if what we plan is right, then also remember the frailty of human life and plan accordingly. This is the way to do that which is good and not in the boastful manner as described. But the principle expressed for this special case would apply to all other relations of life.
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on James 4". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/james-4.html. 1952.