James Chapter 4: Worldly Christians and the Remedy

Nov 5th, 2009 | By | Category: James, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

James Chapter 4: Worldly Christians and the Remedy

James 4:1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

James 4:2 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.

Verses 1 and 2 describe the general condition and way of conduct that existed among the Jewish brethren in dispersion (James 1:1). The King James margin contains some strong thoughts: brawlings, pleasures, and envy (instead of “kill”). Briers, thorns, and thistles all cause discomfort.

Comment: 1 John 3:15 reads, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” Slander is a form of murder.

James 4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

When the thoughts in verses 2 and 3 are combined, the Jewish brethren either failed to ask in prayer, or if they asked, they asked amiss. They consumed their prayers on their own lusts, or desires. In other words, they uttered “give me” prayers rather then trying to honor and please the Lord.

Q: What were they wrangling about? Temporal matters? Spiritual matters? Character matters?

A: There was a sectarian or party spirit with brethren trying to get other brethren to follow  them, their doctrine, and/or their conduct. What a fractious condition existed within the Church, among the consecrated!

Comment: James was amplifying verses 14-16 of the previous chapter. Where these conditions prevailed in their meetings, the brethren certainly did not go home edified. “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil [worldly, sensual, devilish] work” (James 3:16).

Reply: Sometimes it is easier to see which way things are drifting if we just sit back and ask, “What is happening? Are we getting a blessing? Is this condition constructive or destructive?”

Comment: Verse 3 is related to Jesus’ thought in Matthew 7:7 of the Sermon of the Mount: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Jesus stressed the positive aspect of asking, whereas James stressed not asking amiss. He advised the brethren to ask, but to ask for the right things. 1 John 5:14 gives the same clarification: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.”

Comment: The “lusts” of the Jewish brethren scattered abroad were pleasures, satisfying the old nature, self-gratification, and self-interest rather than interest in the Church at large. The brethren should have kept their professions pure in the public eye, honoring the Lord’s cause at all times.

James 4:4 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.

Q: Does this verse indicate that worldliness had crept into their meetings?

A: Conditions were bad. There is nothing complimentary in verses 1-4. The brethren were lusting after worldly things, and James had to talk in a tough and severe manner in order to wake them up as to their true condition. Probably the majority did not heed his instruction, but the minority with the right heart condition hearkened.

It is apparent that James had the disposition of a “son of thunder,” although by this time, that disposition had been harnessed under the power of the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:17). This son of thunder was under the Lord’s control, and he was talking strong to those who needed it. “Friendship of the world is enmity with God.” That is a powerful Scripture. Christendom today is courting the friendship of the world, including Evangelicals and the more conservative Catholics and Protestants. Friendship with the world is dangerous. An example would be

catering to people of influence in political matters. How necessary it is for the Christian to adhere to this scriptural admonition in order to survive in the race for the high calling!

Comment: 1 John 2:15 reads, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Comment: The phrase “ye adulterers and adulteresses” shows that these individuals were not false Christians coming in and stirring up the flock. They were consecrated Christians who had a relationship with the Bridegroom, but now they were adulterating themselves by having this relationship with the world.

Reply: Yes, James was associating friendship with the world with adultery. What a strong statement! “Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” Most people want to be “a friend of the world.” For the Christian, this type of adultery can occur with government, business, worldly friends, seeking popularity, etc.

Comment: We must exist in the world, so the admonition is to be in the world but not of the world.

Reply: The ship is in the ocean, but the water should not get in the ship.

Comment: 1 Corinthians 5:9,10 says, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.”

Reply: Business matters and earning one’s livelihood are one thing, but in the after-hours we must guard against courting the friendship, habits, and fellowship of the world. When the workday is done, we should separate ourselves and concentrate on the spiritual in order to survive.

Comment: John 15:19 states, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you [or should hate you].”

James 4:5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

“The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy” the things of the world: money, popularity, power, friendship, etc. According to human nature, these goals are desirable, but they are harmful for the new creature.

Comment: The “spirit” that inclines toward envy is the old nature.

The clause “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain” does not necessarily mean that James had a specific Scripture in mind. He was referring to the tenor of Scripture; that is, the teaching of Scripture is contrary to the conduct of those he was addressing. It is interesting that James waited until chapter 4 to open this can of worms.

Comment: Perhaps the Jewish Christians scattered abroad would not have read this entire epistle if James had started with these strong statements.

James 4:6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

Q: If verses 5 and 6 are combined, was James saying the following? At the present time, we are imperfect, so there is a constant battle going on between the flesh and the spirit, but if we humbly ask the Lord for help in overcoming the fleshly, carnal cravings, He will give us strength. That is where His grace comes in—grace and more grace.

A: Yes. God has already given grace, but “more grace” will be given to those who realize the situation and then ask for His help and for added grace to successfully withstand the lusts and cravings of the flesh and the natural man.

Comment: James 5:16 says, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” There are times when we should ask the brethren for their prayers.

James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Temptations have to be confronted in a positive manner. The matter should be taken to the Lord in prayer.

Comment: In other words, if we start to reason with a temptation and do not strongly resist the sin, we are giving the Adversary an inroad.

Reply: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you [in that particular temptation and circumstance].” Satan will not flee from you permanently, but God will give grace for that situation. The world, the flesh, and the devil will always be enemies of the new creature as long as we are in the flesh.

Comment: We have talked about the practical aspects of James. Not only did he forcefully admonish the brethren, but he gave the solution too. He told the brethren to pray correctly, to submit themselves to God, and to resist the devil. Verse 7 is a promise and a great comfort, for if we feel we are starting to slide or are failing in one area, Satan will flee from us in that area if we resist him.

Reply: We can see the positive way in which Jesus resisted three temptations of Satan in the wilderness. He strongly confronted the Adversary’s suggestions with Scripture.

Comment: The Apostle Peter also gave advice on resisting the devil. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Pet. 5:8,9).

The Epistle of James is strong language verse after verse after verse. To the strong, we should speak strongly; to the weak, we should speak weakly.

Comment: The preceding statement is interesting because James said just a few verses previous that the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, etc. James was not gentle in his epistle. Gentleness should be our general attitude but not when a serious matter needs to be dealt with.

James 4:8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

Comment: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” applies not just to our initial consecration but throughout our Christian walk.

Reply: During periods of trial and temptation, there is a special need to draw nigh to God. Through prayer and the study of His Word, we know how to confront a situation.

Comment: Here James was enlarging on the thought in James 1:8, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”

Comment: The caution against being double-minded is taken from Matthew 6:24, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve [both] God and mammon.”

Reply: Yes, it is obvious that James had the Sermon on the Mount in mind. And it is interesting that his brother, John Zebedee, had a lasting impression of the Last Supper and Jesus’ discourses that evening.

James said, “Purify your hearts, ye double minded.” How would one do this? He would become single-minded. Let “thine eye be single” (Matt. 6:22). If we realize we are doubleminded (with one foot in the world and one foot in the truth), we must change our conduct.

Double-mindedness is very subtle. For example, one might start making excuses for not attending meetings, and especially in the last days, we are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves with others of like faith (Heb. 10:25). This admonition suggests that the devil will raise all kinds of legitimate reasons for nonattendance.

Comment: It seems that obstacles arise particularly on study nights and days. Such occurrences are not a coincidence but the Adversary trying to draw us away.

Reply: Satan has various techniques to numb us spiritually. The last days, in which we are living, are very dangerous.

Comment: In one sense, James was harsh, calling the brethren sinners and double-minded, but in another sense, he was full of mercy, for he gave the brethren hope. He said, “Yes, you are sinners and double-minded, but if you turn around, if you cleanse your hands and purify your hearts, the Lord will accept you back.”

Q: Is there a distinction between hands and hearts?

A: Yes. “Hands” would be outward actions and conduct, while “hearts” would be inward desires. The heart has both pure and impure desires, so a battle must be fought.

James 4:9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.

Normally speaking, the Scriptures encourage us to rejoice and be happy in the Lord and to pray that our joy will be increased. Therefore, why was the admonition negative here?

Comment: James was directing the admonition to double-minded sinners (verse 8).

Comment: The advice here is similar to Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 5. When repentance and reformation are needed, the brethren should recognize their sad, undone condition and not have a boasting, self-confident attitude.

Comment: When we see our own shortcomings and feel we are not making much progress, when we are ashamed of our condition, it helps to mourn and be contrite and feel afflicted in our desire to be straight with the Lord.

Comment: Earlier James said that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Pride went hand in hand with these sinners. To get rid of the prideful condition, the brethren needed

humbling to the point of repentance.

Reply: Various conditions call for mourning, sorrow, and weeping. Not only do the proud and the double-minded need to mourn, but if we, as individuals, have a sin that easily besets us, we

should mourn.

James 4:10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

Of course if one is lifted up, he is no longer mourning but is praying for renewal. And it is always in order to renew our consecration, especially if a drowsiness starts to overcome us. In fact, we should pray daily for renewal.

The humbling may include a period of fasting and prayerful asking for help in this direction. Although we would not confess all of our faults one to another, it is beneficial to ask for the prayers of others in some instances. Public confession is also necessary in the case of public sin.

Comment: Part of the humbling process may include restitution where another has been wronged. In other words, deeds, as well as words, are in order.

Reply: When public statements are made, it is in order to question them, especially to make sure we understand the statements.

Comment: James seemed to be referring to a more short-term, immediate lifting up, whereas the Apostle Peter said, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time [that is, at the end of our Christian walk]” (1 Peter 5:6).

Reply: The conditions requiring humility are different. For instance, Peter did not mean that we should always mourn and weep, but he did say later that since we feel the day of the Lord is approaching, we should examine ourselves and have holy conduct (2 Pet. 3:11).

James 4:11 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.

This condemnation is not criticism of a statement or of the conduct of an individual but is a judgment as to where the brother stands with the Lord. “He that … judgeth his brother[‘s standing with the Lord], … judgeth the law.” In Jesus’ sermons, John’s epistles, and Paul’s statements, some very strong criticisms are uttered. For instance: “Ye are yet carnal” (1 Cor. 3:3). “Ye have need that one teach you” (Heb. 5:12). There are occasions where it is necessary to point out the wrong, although we should not think in terms of destiny (Great Company or Second Death). We judge the matter at hand, not the destiny.

Comment: Romans 14:13 reads, “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).

James 4:12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

Comment: James was saying that judging another’s eternal welfare makes one a lawgiver, but only one Lawgiver has the ability “to save and to destroy.” Stated another way, the one Lawgiver has the ability to judge eternal welfare, whereas the brethren do not.

Q: Would verses 11 and 12 be considered a Nicolaitan spirit—to lord over others their eternal destiny?

A: Yes. As a whole, the first church was relatively pure. Jesus commended the church of Ephesus because they could “not bear them which are evil: and … hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and … hast found them liars” (Rev. 2:2). However, a minority did manifest the Nicolaitan spirit, and that leaven grew with succeeding churches. A true shepherd tries to restore one who leaves the way.

James 4:13 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:

This thought is also in the Sermon on the Mount: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. 6:34). However, James was speaking of those who plan a year in advance. Sometimes such advance planning is necessary, but James was faulting the accompanying attitude. We cannot be certain we will be on the scene a year from now. Comment: James particularly criticized those who were planning material gain.

Reply: Yes. This epistle to the Jews was addressed to two classes: (1) the truly consecrated and (2) nominal Christian Jews. Proof that the latter are included is the scathing denunciation of “rich men” in the beginning of chapter 5. The criticism of holding back wages would not apply to the consecrated, although that spirit can have some wholesome lessons. Not only is the long-range forecast improper for the Christian, but the love of money is the root of much evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Our thoughts should be on the future in heaven, not on the future down here.

Comment: The Christian should use a more common-sense approach by planning for what is reasonable but not letting those plans consume his days. He should not stockpile and hoard. Reply: Yes, the words “get gain” are very significant.

Comment: We are told to seek “first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these

things shall be added” (Matt. 6:33).

James 4:14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

Several Scriptures come to mind. “O remember that my life is wind: mine eye shall no more see good” (Job 7:7). “Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah” (Psa. 39:5).

“For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth” (Psa. 102:3). “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away” (1 Pet. 1:24).

James 4:15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.

Comment: These Scriptures are so practical for our daily living. When Jesus said, “Take no anxious thought for tomorrow,” we might think, “Well, I will take thought for tomorrow, but I will not worry about it.” But here James was saying that whatever plans we have—for a house, for retirement, for a job, etc.—we must realize they are not set in stone but “if the Lord will.”

Reply: The expression “if the Lord will” gave rise to the acronym D.V.M. (“God willing” in Latin).

James 4:16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

The Jews were rejoicing in their “boastings” in connection with business successes. They boasted in their arrogance, self-assurance, and self-gratification of lusts. Under the Law, a Jew who obeyed got material rewards. Hence when a Jew became a Christian, he had to change his thinking. Prosperity and worldly gain were not signs of spiritual obedience and growth. Worldliness was a definite problem.

Paul said, “All they in Asia have forsaken me” (2 Tim. 1:15 paraphrase). What a devastating experience, even though the “all” would not mean literally every single one of the brethren! Years ago The New York Times had articles about missionaries who had gone to Africa to lay down their lives on behalf of the people, but later the people killed them. As a result, the missionary effort there dried up. How disappointing to those who witnessed this collapse!

Comment: Paul rebuked the Corinthians for boasting of their magnanimous attitude toward a gross sinner in their midst (1 Cor. 5:2,6).

James 4:17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Knowing “to do good” would mean to have a knowledge of what is proper to do. Knowing but not doing is sin. The Apostle Peter said, “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Pet. 2:21). And Jesus said, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (John 9:41).

Comment: It is better to be either hot or cold than to be lukewarm (Rev. 3:15,16).

Comment: Under the Law, sins of ignorance had to be atoned for once the individual became aware that sin was involved.

Reply: The laws in chapters 1-7 of Leviticus applied to sins that were committed ignorantly.

When the individual became cognizant of his sin, he had to offer a certain type of animal. Sins committed against knowledge (that is, willful sins) cannot be summarily forgiven but must be expiated.

Comment: Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin…. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:22,24).

Reply: Satan has a clever stratagem today. The people are not supposed to do or say anything that is biased (anti-Semitic, anti-Black, etc.). It is even getting to the point where those who know too much about the Bible are considered cults. All of these restrictions are done in the guise of liberty, whereas actually the opposite is true. This policy is fettering and/or curbing straight talk and truth. People get offended and can even sue for statements uttered. Sexual harassment charges can be filed for imagined wrongs in offices. Instead of liberty, this condition is one of despotism. Satan is working up to persecution of “cults.” Not only are Christians targets, but there are unfavorable remarks about Israel, the nominal people of God.

The news media writes as if Israel deliberately and without provocation seeks to kill Arabs.

Comment: Verse 17 is discussing sins of omission. Sin is not just committing a wrong act, but it is also failing to do things that should be done.

Reply: Yes, that is the particular slant.

Q: Wasn’t the boasting here in verse 17 in connection with material prosperity?

A: Yes, that may have been the particular theme, as verified by the beginning of the next chapter.


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