Summary: James diagnoses some problems in the churches to which he writes and offers some home truths concerning the Christians' having the Wrong Spirit, the Wrong Friendship and the Wrong Attitude.
HOME TRUTHS FOR CHRISTIANS
The letter written by James is very direct and personal in its message - he doesn't pull his punches. Martin Luther wasn't very keen on this book - he called it "an epistle of straw" because it didn't say much about Jesus or the Cross. But that's an incorrect reading of James's purpose - he was placing the emphasis on the relationship between faith and conduct. What we have to understand when we're reading James is that we're hearing the Sermon on the Mount in action so it's not surprising that it's very practical Christianity. Chapter 4 can conveniently be divided into three sections each offering home truths on Christian behaviour that he'd seen in his ministry. These home truths, sometimes painful to accept, are offered so that each of us can see how we, individually, measure up to this spiritual checklist.
The Wrong Spirit
James asks some pertinent questions that lead him to conclude that his readers had The Wrong Spirit (1-3). Why do wars happen? It's often because the leaders of one country want some territory or other possession belonging to another. It's the spirit of envy and greed that causes so much suffering. But what's true on the national scale applies to the individual because it's individuals who make up communities. Sadly, Christians are not exempt. Notice how James narrows it down; it's "among you." Fighting, probably not literally, but certainly squabbling, was a problem in the early church. This is something shameful for Christians, quite alien to the Spirit of Christ.
What's the cause of discord in churches? It's The wrong Spirit. The early church wasn't perfect by any means. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord" (4:2). To Corinth he wrote: "It has been reported to me … that there is quarrelling among you" (I Cor 1:11); in fact church members were even suing each other in the law courts! This sort of thing brings the Christian community into disrepute with the result that unbelievers point the finger, rightly saying that Christians are no better than anyone else! It's true all too often.
The Wrong Spirit can show itself in promoting self at the expense of others. There's a fable that illustrates this failing. There was trouble in the carpenter's workshop, and the tools were having a row. One of them said, "It's the hammer's fault. He's much too noisy. "No" said the hammer, "the blame lies with the saw. He keeps going forwards and backwards all the time." The saw protested violently, "It's the plane's fault. His work is so shallow." The plane objected. "The real trouble lies with the screwdriver. He's always going round in circles." "Nonsense," retorted the screwdriver, the trouble really began with the ruler. He's measuring other people by his own standards." And so they went on until the carpenter came in. He was making a pulpit and by the time he'd finished he had used every one of those tools. They were all necessary; none was more important than the others.