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Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
James 4



Other Authors
Verses 10-17

The Lord willing

James 4:10-17

James 4:10. When men, before the Lord and from their hearts, acknowledge their sinfulness and unworthiness, seek the grace and mercy of God in Christ and walk humbly before God, owning their dependence on his grace, then he will lift them from the dunghill, give them a place and a name in his favour.

James 4:11. Here is an evil of which we are all too guilty: speaking of another person in a critical, judgmental way. We are more prone to find fault than to encourage, to point out failures than to praise virtue, to repeat the bad rather than the good. One can never exalt himself by discrediting another! Gossip and criticism are not acceptable even if the report be true. Our words should be guided by love as well as truth (Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 11:13).

In speaking evil of and judging a brother, we usurp God’s office, an act of power that does not belong to us! We sit in the chair of judge and sentencer (Romans 14:4). The law forbids rash judgment, gossip and evil speaking. In doing this we in effect become judges of the law. We are taking upon ourselves to decide which law is greatest – the one our brother broke or the one we despise by judging him.

James 4:12. Only God is the Lawgiver and the Judge. He is able and willing to save by Jesus Christ even those who have despised his law. He is also able to destroy those who refuse to be humbled and to seek mercy. ‘Who are you that presume to pass judgment on your brother or neighbour? You can neither save nor destroy! You have no access to his heart or mind. You have no knowledge of the extent of his failure, nor the extent of his repentance’ (Jude 1:9).

James 4:13. The apostle does not condemn buying and selling of merchandise or the lawful practice of going about one’s business. He is rebuking those who resolve upon those things without consulting the will of God or considering the uncertainty and frailty of human life. We say that we are going here or there, that we are going to do this or that, as if these things are in our power and we have no dependence on the providence and blessings of God (1 Samuel 2:6-8; Deuteronomy 32:39; John 3:27).

James 4:14. You and I know nothing of tomorrow, not even if we will live until then. We cannot foresee what shall befall us tomorrow. Therefore it is stupidity and haughtiness to determine on this course or that without the will of God, in whom we live, move and have our being!

‘What is your life?’ Or, what is the nature of your life? You are but a wisp of vapor, a puff of smoke, a mist that is visible for a little while and then disappears. The reference is to the breath of man which cannot be depended upon (Job 14:1-5; Psalms 103:13-16).

James 4:15. Instead of saying we will go to such-and-such a place, and we will do this or that, it should be said, ‘If the Lord is willing, we shall live and we shall do this or that.’ This is the condition of doing anything: is it agreeable to the sovereign will of the Lord, by which everything in the world comes to pass? (Romans 1:10; 1 Corinthians 4:19; Hebrews 6:3.)

James 4:16. ‘As it is, you boast presumptuously of tomorrow, of the continuance of life, of going to certain places and doing certain things. All such boasting and planning without regard to the will and providence of our Lord is evil.’ When we make plans and blueprints without a reference to the will of the Lord, we are expressing independence and ascribing too much to our power and will, as if our lives and fortunes were in our own hands.

James 4:17. A person who knows what is right in regard to the above (putting a watch on our tongues, sowing discord among brethren, slander and evil speaking and idle boasting concerning our lives and daily activities) and does not do what is right, to him it is sin!

A warning concerning riches

James 5:1-6

James 4:1. ‘Go to now, ye rich men.’ All rich men are not addressed here. Some wealthy men love Christ, love others and make good use of their riches for the glory of God, the preaching of the gospel and the relief of human suffering. The apostle writes to rich men who assemble with the church, who profess religion, but who, notwithstanding their profession, are not rich toward God, but are laying up treasures for themselves, boasting of their wealth and not making use of their substance for the glory of God and the good of others.

‘Weep and lament for the miseries that shall come upon you.’ These are eternal miseries that await all unbelievers and hypocrites. It is not possible that a man can know and love Christ who loves material wealth, has no compassion for the needy and does not give of himself and his substance to preach the gospel around the world (1 John 3:17-18; Luke 12:19-21).

James 4:2-3. Material riches, clothes, estates, houses and lands are all corruptible things and will one day rot and lie in ruins (1 Corinthians 7:31). You have more clothes than you can wear, but instead of sharing them, you allow them to decay. Your gold and silver is rusting on the shelf and in bank vaults while people are in need of the gospel and assistance. Instead of making use of your substance in trade, in support of the poor and in the preaching of the gospel, you hoard and cherish it. The decay and rust of this wealth will come forth as a testimony against you at the judgment and it will prove to be a burning fire that will torment you in hell (Luke 16:25).

‘You heap treasure together for the last days.’ In your selfishness and covetousness you gather together riches, valuables, gold and silver for a rich and prosperous old age. Instead of comfort, you will find that you have accumulated the wrath of God (Matthew 6:19-21).

The Lord has made us stewards of his grace and of the gifts of his grace, whether they be spiritual or material. Let us be good stewards, putting to use for his glory and the happiness of others all that passes through our hearts or hands (Luke 6:33-38).

James 4:4. Much of this rusting gold and decaying possessions was accumulated by not paying your employees and workers fair and just wages. You have prospered abundantly through their labour; by working them for a pittance and not sharing with them, you have become rich. Their cries for vengeance and justice have come to the ears of the Lord of hosts (Leviticus 19:13; Jeremiah 22:13).

James 4:5-6. Here on earth you have enjoyed soft, luxurious living, while others have toiled and laboured for bare necessities. You have lived in self-indulgence and self-gratification while your servants lived in want. Like beasts that are fattened up by the farmer for the slaughter, like the turkey that is fed well for weeks before being cooked, you are fattening yourselves for God’s wrath. When men add to the misery and bitterness of others (when it is in their power to relieve this misery), the oppressed cannot change this injustice, but God can (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).

Perhaps we will say, ‘I am not rich and am not likely to be.’ There is still a warning for us all in regard to material possessions. We are responsible on a smaller scale for what God puts into our hands. What little or much I have belongs to my Father, and I resolve to use it for his glory and the good of others (Proverbs 11:24; Matthew 6:31-34; 1 Chronicles 29:12-16).

Nine Bible words in regard to giving

1. Grace (2 Corinthians 8:7).

2. Love (2 Corinthians 8:8).

3. Willing (2 Corinthians 8:12).

4. Proportion (1 Corinthians 16:2).

5. Everyone (1 Corinthians 16:2).

6. Bountifully (liberally) (2 Corinthians 9:5-6).

7. Cheerfully (voluntarily) (2 Corinthians 9:7).

8. Unto the Lord (Matthew 6:1-5).

9. Forget not (Hebrews 13:16).


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Bibliography Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on James 4:4". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 2013.

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