James 4




Submission to God (4:1-10)

1 What causes fights and quarrels in the church? They are caused by our desires. What kind of desires? Evil and selfish desires. Everyone can recognize evil desires; these are the desires to commit obvious sins. But here James is not talking only about evil desires. He is also talking about selfish desires. Selfish desires are desires for good things, but they are desired for selfish reasons. For example, we may desire good things like an education, a scholarship, or a job; but it is possible to desire these things for purely selfish reasons.

Why does our desire for these good things so often cause strife and envy among us? Because we desire these things for selfish reasons. We desire them in order to benefit ourselves, not to benefit God or others. We are interested only in our own welfare, our own advantage. This is selfishness. And all selfish desires are sinful—whether they are for a good thing or an evil thing. And these selfish desires are the main cause of fights and quarrels among Christians (1 Peter 2:11).

Some Christians who fight and quarrel among themselves even say they are doing it for God’s sake. When we look at human history, we see that many evil things have been done in God’s name. Jesus warned His disciples that men would persecute and kill them, and think that they were thereby offering a service to God (John 16:2). Let us not deceive ourselves. It is with Satan we must fight, not with other believers. Such fighting and quarreling among believers is never pleasing to God. Such behavior is not for God’s sake; it is for one’s own sake.

2 In this life no man can have all he wants. Therefore, men are always greedy to get more. As soon as we receive some gift or have some desire fulfilled, we begin again to desire something else. We are never satisfied.

Instead of our always seeking, seeking, we should rather ask God for the things we need. He knows everything we need. God will give us what is necessary for our well-being. Ifthere is some good thing we desire, let us not strive and struggle to get it ourselves, but rather in faith let us ask God for it.

3 But some people will say: “I have asked God, but I haven’t received what I asked for.” Why have they not received? Because they have asked with wrong motives. That is, they have asked for selfish reasons. They have asked God for things for their own pleasure and contentment. They have asked God to grant them help and success in their work—not for the sake of God or others—but only for their own sake, for their own benefit.

Whenever we ask God for anything, we should always say, as Jesus did: “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). We must examine ourselves; we must ask ourselves: “For whose sake am I making this request to God? For my sake, or His sake?” We must say to God that whatever He gives us we will use in His service and in the service of others. This is a difficult teaching, but it is the example that Jesus Himself gave us. If we want to receive anything from God, we must ask unselfishly. And let us remember that we can never fool God. He knows our hearts. He will know whether we are asking selfishly or unselfishly.

4 You adulterous people … James here is talking to believers. Why does he call them adulterous? Because they have deserted Christ, their bridegroom, and gone off with the world. They have loved the pleasures of the world more than Christ (see 2 Corinthians 11:2-3; Ephesians 5:23). It is not possible to love God and the world at the same time (Matthew 6:24; 1 John 2:15).

5 … the spirit he caused to live in us tends to envy.11 God (or Christ) is like a faithful and longing husband, and we believers are like His bride. But we have often been unfaithful. We have left our true husband and followed after other “gods”—such as, selfish ambition and money. And so God is jealous (Exodus 20:4-5).

6 But even though we stray far from God, He continues to call us by His grace and mercy. No matter how great our sin, His GRACE is greater. He gives us more grace, so that we might return to Him and begin to love Him again.

But God does not give grace to all—only to the humble. James here quotes Proverbs 3:34 (see 1 Peter 5:5). God opposes the proud. Let the proud beware. To be an enemy of almighty God is a fearful thing.

7 We must turn from the world and its pleasures and submit to God. Together with that, we must resist the devil. Satan is always trying to draw us away from God through worldly pleasures and enticements. Therefore, we must resist him; we must resist the temptations he sends us (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Many ask: “How can I resist Satan? How can I overcome him? A temptation comes, but no matter how hard I try to resist it, I quickly fall into it” (see Romans 7:15,18-19).

How do we resist the devil? We resist him through Christ’s power. The first step is to remember that whenever we follow the devil’s wishes, we betray our Lord Jesus. The second step is to stand in Christ’s power (Ephesians 6:10-11,13). Christ’s power is always available. But we must “put on” His power, His armor. Christ’s power is like electricity. Electricity is always available, but we must turn on the switch.

Therefore, when the devil tempts us, we must tell him simply: “Away from me, Satan” (Matthew 4:10).

8 Do we want God to come near to us? If so, then we must draw near to Him. If God seems to have drawn away from us, the reason always is that we have first drawn away from Him. Why have we drawn away from God? It is always because of some sin in our lives which we are not willing to give up.

How can we again draw near to God? James gives the answer: Wash your hands, you sinners. That is, we must cleanse ourselves from all sinful work and behavior. Not only that, James also adds: … purify your hearts, you double-minded. We must cleanse ourselves not only from outward sins, but also from the hidden inward sins of our hearts. God sees our inner heart and mind (1 Chronicles 28:9). He knows if we are being double-minded or not. The double-minded man tries to love God and the world at the same time. Therefore, such a man’s love for God is impure; his heart is unholy. Such a man will not be accepted by God; for only with clean hands and pure heart can we draw near to God (Psalm 24:3-4; Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14).

How can our hearts be purified? We must repent and come to Jesus; that is, we must confess our sins and turn from them. We must humble ourselves, and He will give us grace (verse 6) and come near to us. Let us thank and praise Him for showing such mercy to sinners such as us!

9 Paul says: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). Be joyful always (1 Thessalonians 5:16). But James says here: Grieve, mourn and wail. Why should we grieve, mourn, and wail? Because of our sin. Here are two truths. Paul tells us, “Rejoice,” because God loves us so much. James tells us, “Grieve,” because we love Him so little. We must rejoice in God’s goodness and in His grace. We must grieve for our sin and unholiness. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn”—that is, blessed are those who mourn for their sins (Matthew 5:4).

10 Therefore, let us humble ourselves before God. … a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17). And when we humble ourselves, God will draw near to us. He will give us grace (verse 6). And he will lift [us] up (see Matthew 5:3; Luke 18:9-14; I Peter 5:6).

Warning Against Slander (4:11-17)

11 James has been talking about our evil tongue (James 3:8) and about fights and quarrels among brothers (verse 1). Now he says: Brothers, do not slander one another. What is slander? Slander is showing our brother’s faults and weaknesses to another person. Since everyone has faults and weaknesses, slander is often true or partly true. When slander is false, it becomes false witness. But whether what we say is true or false, to talk about our brother’s faults to another is slander, and slander is a very great sin in God’s eyes.

To slander our brother and to judge him are very similar. In our heart and mind, we judge our brother; with our tongue and lips we slander him (see Matthew 7:1 and comment).

When we judge our brother, we judge the law, Christ’s law. To “judge” the law means to disobey it. When we do that, we make ourselves greater than the law. When we judge the law, we are saying that some commandments of the law are good and others are bad. We are, in effect, saying: “I will obey this command, but not that one.” We are saying: “If I want to slander or judge my brother, I’ll do so.” In this way, we make ourselves “judges” of the law.

12 But there is only one Lawgiver and Judge. When we judge the law, we are putting ourselves in God’s place, and that is the greatest sin of all. To seek to be like God is the greatest form of pride. It was for this sin that Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:5-6). Instead of humbling ourselves before God as we ought to be doing (verse 10), we are making ourselves lord and judge. What a mistake! What a sin! Because there is only one Lord and one Judge. There is only one who is able to save and destroy, namely God Himself. Only He can give men salvation or condemn them to hell. No matter how much we exalt ourselves, we cannot save ourselves. No matter how much we judge our brother, we cannot destroy or condemn him. Only God can save and destroy. Therefore, let us not dare to judge our Christian brother. Not only that, we must not even dare to judge our non-Christian neighbor.

13-15 Now James looks at another subject: the future. Does James say here that we should never plan ahead? No. We must, of course, make plans; we must look ahead. The farmer, when he plants, must look ahead to the harvest. Paul and the other apostles planned where they would go and how long they would stay there. But as we plan we must always say in our hearts: “If it is God’s will, I will do such and such” (see Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 4:19). Because our entire life is in God’s hands. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. All is uncertain. We are like a mist of water: today we are here; tomorrow we are gone. Therefore, we must never put our trust in plans; we must trust only in God. Only He is certain and never-changing. Yes, we must plan and plant the seed; but God gives the harvest (1 Corinthians 3:7). We must plan and work, but God gives us success according to His will. In Him only must we put our confidence.

16 Therefore, let us not boast in our work, in our success. All our boasting must be in God. Ifwe take for ourselves the praise that belongs to God, we sin against God. To give ourselves the praise for what God has done is a very great evil!

17 In this verse there are two very important teachings. The first is this: God will judge us according to what we know. If a small child breaks a law in ignorance, he is not punished for it; he has not sinned. On the other hand, if a grown man knowingly breaks a law, for him it is a great sin. The more a person knows, the greater will be his punishment if he disobeys God (see Luke 12:47-48; James 3:1 and comments).

The second teaching in this verse concerns sin. Many people think that sin is only doing something bad. But here James teaches that sin is also failing to do something we ought to do. Not doing something we know we should do is just as much a sin as doing something we know we shouldn’t do. Ifwe do not help our brother when he is in need, we sin against him. Likewise, if we do not believe in Jesus, we sin against Him.