Midweek Bible Study – James 4
James 4 (ESV)
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
This chapter bears much resemblance to many portions of the Sermon on the Mount and shares many of the same concepts (see the cross-reference in the beginning of this study). In verse 2 we can’t be sure if James is addressing a literal murderer or is instead equating covetous, evil desires in one’s heart with murder just like Christ does in the Sermon on the Mount. In either case, James is making it clear that evil dwells deep within the heart of every man and that is why the Gospel is so desperately needed to provide the saving cure and life-long remedy. We must always remember that the Gospel is not just for non-Christians to become saved, it is not just the ticket into Heaven, but rather is also the continuing life-blood of the Christian. The Christian must preach the Gospel to themselves anew everyday, not to become saved again (for genuine salvation is a one-time thing) but rather to continually re-orient oneself with the redemptive mission of Christ.
In verse 4, James uses “friendship with the world” language that must be clarified. James does not call Christians to not be friends with unbelievers, for that would contradict Christ’s own actions, and how then would one evangelize? Rather, James is saying that Christians must not be “friends with the world” in the sense of buying into the world’s standards and values and running after the same priorities. John Piper once said that the reason people don’t ask us to give “an account for the hope that is within us” is because all too often Christians look like they are hoping in the same things the world is. James calls the church to be at odds with the world’s misguided or corrupted priorities (for example we live in a Me-first society, yet the Gospel tells us the first shall be last and the last shall be first) yet still “friends” with the world in the sense of our arms being open to minister the Gospel.
This realization also has bearing on verse 12 which advises against judging one’s neighbor. This sounds very politically correct in our relativistic society but we must dig deeper. This doesn’t mean Christians can’t have convictions and standards. Rather, we learn elsewhere from Paul that as Christians we are called to be “fruit inspectors” examining one another’s lives inside the church, making sure we are practicing what we preach. We are not called to judge our unbelieving neighbors, for Romans 1 tells us that those without the Spirit will by nature act wickedly. Only after one has claimed to have God’s Spirit within them should we judge (examine in love) and inspect, urging one another toward Godliness.
James offers us in his own words a poignant reminder that, “the grass withers, and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” James reminds us that each day is a gift granted by the Lord and that each tomorrow is one more outpouring of God’s grace. As the children’s song reminds us, “He holds the whole world in his hands” and he also is sovereign over every one of our days – no matter how many or how few. As a result, we must acknowledge the fact that we are not the commanders of our own destiny, and when we do acknowledge this there is great liberation. There is great comfort in knowing that the God who spoke the cosmos into existence has control over our lives and not us frail sinners who cannot even tame our own tongues! Therefore, the Christian does two things. First, the Christian focuses on today, heeding the words of Christ when he told us not to worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will take care of itself and today has enough worries of its own. The Christian focuses on today, embodying the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) when he taught us to only ask for daily bread, relying on the Lord each day for new provisions. If he gives us an abundance which can be stored (or better yet, given to others) praise the Lord! If he only gives us enough for day to day, also praise the Lord! Secondly, though the Christian makes plans for the future and is prudent, he always does so with the continuing realization that God is in control and not us and whatever He wills (not us) comes to pass. Therefore, we should put James’ words into practice literally and whenever speaking of the future say, “If the Lord wills…”