Summary: James chapter 4 asks us questions that convict us and call us to humble submission to God.
Submit Yourselves to God
4 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
Boasting About Tomorrow
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
Just listen to these questions:
1. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
2. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? (or “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? or `To envy earnestly desires the spirit that did dwell in us,')
3. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
4. What is your life?
Just listening to these questions and the instruction that follows them says a lot about the people James is writing to in this letter. Think about the language he uses here that builds an image of their behavior.
Fighting and quarreling, desires that battle within you. Adulterous people, friends of the world and enemies of God. Slanderers and those who are judging their neighbors.
These images alone give us a pretty bleak and uninviting picture of the original audience of this letter. Are these real Christian people? Is this the church Jesus died for?
In thinking about this letter carefully, it appears to be written to Christians who are less committed to Christ than what we usually think of when we consider the early church. Many times we think of the early Christians as deeply faithful, persecuted and valiantly giving up their lives for the faith. This did indeed happen at times, but not constantly and everywhere. In fact, it seems that most of the Christians of all times have had the same struggles that we have today. When we read the letters Jesus sends to the churches in Revelation we discover that only two out of the seven churches of Asia are in good healthy standing and do not receive a rebuke.
James writes to people who are just like us. He tells us what we need most in this life. We all need a faith that works, a faith that motivates us to live for Christ humbly and obediently. We all need to focus on God and His goodness and kindness toward us so that we will be changed by His character to become more like Him and less like this sinful world we live in.
Isn’t God good? Isn’t he patient not to give up on us?
What kind of God do we serve? What is the Lord of heaven and earth like? He is both fearsome and loving at the same time.