Bible Commentary on James - Lesson V

Posted on Jul 19 2011 at 11:17:52 AM in Religion & Spirituality

The Epistle of James 4:1-17.

1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
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.
3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
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.
5 Do ye think that the Scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?
6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith,
but giveth grace unto the humble.
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded.
9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
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.
12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
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:
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.
15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Verse 1.
Wars and fightings. The Jews had carried out various insurrections against the Romans by this time. The stated purpose was to defend their religion, and gain their freedom from oppression, which they claimed as their right. The result was much bloodshed and misery. There were also factions among the Jews that sometimes became violent. There were massacres and plundering.

In the provinces – Egypt, Syria, and others. Jews felt compelled to war against heathens, to wipe out idolatry, etc. There were massacres on both sides. James points out that the true motives were from very earthly desires: power, influence, plunder, covetousness. This is true on a world scale – one country or king wants more territory, the property of others. Any means are accounted as necessary and acceptable. This includes killing, burning, general destruction, until the enemy gives up and is taken over.

At this time, Christians were not responsible for any violent confrontations. They had no power to raise resistance to their enemies, or to become aggressive themselves.

Verse 2.
He now describes the fruitlessness of such continual covetousness. These people are constantly wanting more, as others have. They keep doing things to try to get more – but gain no advantage. They should have realized that their luster and their actions to gain them are all wrong. The right way, for believers, is to pray to God for His blessings.

Verse 3.
There are those that may claim that they pray. Yet, they actually only pray that God help them to realize their selfish desires, to consume it upon their lusts.

Verse 4.
The covenant with God was represented as being married to God. Therefore their turning to idolatry or iniquity is described as adultery. They looked for worldly advantage, thereby becoming the enemy of God.

Verse 5.
Do you think concerning these things, that Scripture is false, or that the Holy Spirit causes envy? Never! Contentment with what God provides is more like it.

Verse 6.
But even more in the grace of God is the peace that cannot be experienced in envy or the pursuit of whatever one is envious of. Those that are proud think of their own power, popularity, influence, or worldly gain. They claim they have done this, regardless of God. The humble depend on God, and God therefore grants them grace.

Verse 7.
The best advice. Submit unto God. Resist the devil and he will flee. Jesus has overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. Therefore we also are more than conquerors, through Him!

Verse 8.
We may approach God as our heavenly Father through Christ. He likewise draws near unto us. Your whole life must be changed. Cleanse your hands, purify your hearts. Separate yourselves from the world. Consecrate yourselves to God. This is the path of sanctification. Consecrated unto God's service. God does His part in the indwelling Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide the reborn heart and mind.

Hands must be cleansed from worldly earthly works. Hearts must be set apart to one side – that of God. One can not serve both God and mammon.

Verse 9.
This description indicates that many of his intended audience had lived a 'very dissolute life'. What they had enjoyed and considered reasons for laughter were holding them in sin. They must rethink their values: mourn and weep, realize their sin.

Verse 10.
To seek forgiveness, humbly before God – God will lift them up.

Verse 11.
Cease from the all too common practice of speaking of others' faults or indiscretions, back-biting, or factions, divisions, etc. This must be especially true of fellow believers – all these are against God's law. To do otherwise is to judge against the Law and condemn to the Law. A doer of the law cannot do this.

Verse 12.
There is One lawgiver – God Almighty. No man has the right to take this role upon himself. Only God can rightly judge the heart of man.

Verse 13.
Come on now, you who say that you will do this or that thing, today or tomorrow. What presumption! You plan to stay a year, buy and sell, and make a good profit. This was a common practice of merchants in those days. But a wise person must keep in mind the shortness and unpredictable nature of human life.

Verse 14.
No one actually has any control over what will come in the future. Death is never acceptable. One's life will always appear to be too short. A human life appears like a cloud of smoke that lasts a little while and then disappears.

Verse 15.
Only God knows and controls the future. The Godly person should acknowledge this in making any plans. All plans are contingent on the will of the Lord.

Verse 16.
Rejoicing in boasting. This is the the proud, the self-made, self-sufficient, mover and shaker. He calls all around to look at him and his great success. God is given no credit or even acknowledged. James calls such rejoicing pure evil.

Verse 17.
Now that I have warned you, you can no longer plead ignorance. He who expects God's direction and help must walk uprightly before Him. No one can expect God to be our friend if we work against Him.


This article was written by my father T.O.D. Johnston, who was licensed to preach the Gospel by Paran Baptist Church on May 26, 1979. He has been a student of Scripture since 1972. View more lessons at his Bible Study Lessons page.

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Created: Jul 19 2011 at 11:17:52 AM
Updated: Jul 19 2011 at 11:17:52 AM
Language: English