James 4:1-11

Warning Against Worldliness

1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions[a] are 1at war within you?[b]
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 2wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
4 3You adulterous people![c] Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? 4Therefore 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 5that he has made to dwell in us"?
6 But 6he gives more grace. Therefore it says, 7"God opposes the proud, but 8gives grace to the humble."
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. 9Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 10Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. 11Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and 12purify your hearts, 13you double-minded.
9 14Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
10 15Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
11 16Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.[d] The one who speaks against a brother or 17judges 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.

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James 4:1-11 Meaning and Commentary

INTRODUCTION TO JAMES 4

In this chapter the apostle gives the true cause of contentions and strifes; and cautions against intemperance, covetousness, pride, detraction, and vain confidence. Having, in the latter part of the preceding chapter, inveighed against strife and contention, he here shows from whence they spring, from a covetous desire of riches and honour; and which yet are not obtained, because they did not ask these things of God with submission to his will; or they asked with a wrong view, namely, to gratify their lusts, Jas 4:1,3 and he dissuades from such unlawful desires, partly because they were no other than adultery; and partly because indulging them was declaring themselves enemies of God, Jas 4:4 and he deters from pride, under the name of envy, proud men being generally envious; from the sense of the Scripture, which says, not in vain, that the spirit lusts unto it; and from the consequence of it, such as are proud being resisted by the Lord, when he gives more grace to humble ones, Jas 4:5,6 hence follow several exhortations, and various duties relating to humility; as to submit to God, and resist the devil, encouraged thereunto by this motive, he will flee, Jas 4:7, to draw nigh to God in a way of religious worship, who will draw nigh in a way of grace to his people; to purity of action, and of heart, or to that which is outward and inward, Jas 4:8 to be humbled, mourn, and weep, instead of joy and laughter, Jas 4:9 to lie low before the Lord, who will raise such up, Jas 4:10 and not to speak evil of anyone, since this is judging a brother; nay, a speaking evil of the law, and a judging of that; which is to invade the prerogative of God, the lawgiver, who is able to save, and to destroy; and therefore one man should not take upon him to judge another, Jas 4:11,12 and as another instance of great neglect of God, and his providence, and disrespect unto it, the apostle takes notice of a common practice among men, and even professors of religion, who resolve to go to such a place, and continue so long, and there make merchandise, and promise themselves success; not considering what frail short lived creatures they are, and how much all depends upon the will of God; and which they should consider, submit to, and be determined by, Jas 4:13-15 and he reproves them for their boastings and joy in them, as evil, Jas 4:16, and observes, that it is not enough to know what is right and good, unless it is done; and that such knowledge is but an aggravation of the evil of sin committed, Jas 4:17.

James 4:1-11 In-Context

1 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."

Cross References 17

  • 1. Romans 7:23; 1 Peter 2:11
  • 2. [1 John 5:14]
  • 3. Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 2:2
  • 4. John 15:19; 1 John 2:15; [Matthew 6:24]
  • 5. 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16
  • 6. Isaiah 54:7, 8; See Matthew 13:12
  • 7. 1 Peter 5:5; Cited from Proverbs 3:34(Gk.)
  • 8. Isaiah 54:7, 8; See Matthew 13:12
  • 9. 1 Peter 5:8, 9; [Ephesians 4:27; Ephesians 6:11]
  • 10. 2 Chronicles 15:2; Lamentations 3:57; Zechariah 1:3; Malachi 3:7; [Luke 15:20]
  • 11. Isaiah 1:16
  • 12. Jeremiah 4:14
  • 13. James 1:8
  • 14. [Matthew 5:4]
  • 15. ver. 6; Isaiah 57:15; [Luke 1:52]; See Matthew 23:12
  • 16. 2 Corinthians 12:20; 1 Peter 2:1; [James 5:9]
  • 17. See Matthew 7:1

Footnotes 4

  • [a]. Greek pleasures; also verse 3
  • [b]. Greek in your members
  • [c]. Greek You adulteresses!
  • [d]. Or brothers and sisters
The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.