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David Guzik :: Study Guide for James 4

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The Humble Dependence of a True Faith

A. The humble character of a living faith.

1. (Jas 4:1-3) Reasons for strife in the Christian community.

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

a. Where do wars and fights come from among you? James accurately describes strife among Christians with the terms wars and fights. Often, the battles that happen among Christians are bitter and severe.

b. Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? The source of wars and fights among Christians is always the same. There is some root of carnality, an internal war within the believer regarding the lusts of the flesh. No two believers, both walking in the Spirit of God towards each other, can live with wars and fights among themselves.

i. "James seems to be bothered more by the selfish spirit and bitterness of the quarrels than by the rights and wrongs of the various viewpoints." (Moo)

c. The types of desires that lead to conflict are described. Covetousness leads to conflict (you lust and do not have). Anger and animosity lead to conflict (murder).

i. Again, James looks back to the Sermon on the Mount when he uses murder to express more than actual killing, but also as an inward condition of heart, shown outwardly by anger (Matthew 5:21-22).

ii. "The word kill [murder] is startling and meant to startle; James sought to force his readers to realize the depth of the evil in their bitter hatred toward others." (Hiebert)

d. Yet you do not have because you do not ask: The reason these destructive desires exist among Christians is because they are not seeking God for their needs (you do not ask). Or, when they do ask, they ask God with purely selfish motivation (you ask amiss).

i. That you may spend it on your pleasures: Spend is the same verb used to describe the wasteful spending of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:14. Destructive desires persist, even if we pray, because our prayers may be self-centered and self-indulgent.

ii. We must remember that the purpose of prayer is not to persuade a reluctant God to do our bidding. The purpose of prayer is to align our will with His, and in partnership with Him, to ask Him to accomplish His will on this earth. (Matthew 6:10)

2. (Jas 4:4-5) A rebuke of compromise and covetousness among Christians.

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"?

a. Adulterers and adulteresses: This is a rebuke in Old Testament vocabulary. God spoke this way in the Old Testament when His people were attracted to some form of idolatry (Jeremiah 3:8-9, Ezekiel 6:9, Ezekiel 16:32, Ezekiel 23:37, and Hosea 3:1). As James sees it here, their covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5) and friendship with the world.

i. Better ancient Greek manuscripts only say you adulteresses. The addition of adulterers was probably made by an early scribe who thought James was speaking about literal sexual adultery and didn't want men excluded from the rebuke. But in the picture James uses, you adulteresses fits well, because according to the picture, God is the "husband" and we are His "wife."

b. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? James recognizes that we cannot both be friends of this world system in rebellion against God, and friends of God at the same time (Matthew 6:24). Even the desire to be a friend (wants to be a friend) of the world makes one an enemy of God.

c. The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously: The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit has a jealous yearning for our friendship with God. The Christian who lives in compromise can't help but be convicted by it.

d. The Scripture says: Why can't you find the exact words of the Scripture quoted in James 4:5 in any specific Old Testament verse? "More probably is the view that James was not citing a particular passage but summarizing the truth expressed in several Old Testament passages." (Hiebert)

i. Or, it may be that James 4:5 speaks in two independent sentences, and that the words of Scripture quoted refer to what was said in James 4:4.

3. (Jas 4:6-10) The solutions for strife: in humility, get right with God.

But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

a. But He gives more grace: The same Holy Spirit convicting us of our compromise will also grant us the grace to serve God as we should. But this grace only comes to the humble.

i. God resists the proud: Grace and pride are eternal enemies. Pride demands that God bless me in light of my merits, whether real or imagined. But grace will not deal with me on the basis of anything in me, good or bad, but only on the basis of who God is.

ii. But gives grace to the humble: It isn't as if our humility earns the grace of God. Humility merely puts us in a position to receive the gift He freely gives.

b. Therefore submit to God: In light of the grace offered to the humble, there is only one thing to do: submit to God. This means to order yourself under God, to surrender to Him as a conquering King, and start receiving the benefits of His reign.

c. Resist the devil and he will flee from you: To solve the problems of carnality and the strife it causes, we must also resist the devil. This means to stand against devil's deceptions and his efforts to intimidate. As we resist the devil, we are promised that he will flee from you.

i. Significantly, James does not recommend that demons should be cast out of believers by a third party. Instead, James simply challenges individual Christians to deal with Satan as a conquered foe who can and must be personally resisted.

ii. Resist comes from two Greek words: stand and against. James tells us to stand against the devil. Satan can be set running by the resistance of the lowliest believer who comes in the authority of what Jesus did on the cross.

d. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you: The call to draw near to God is both an invitation and a promise. It is no good to submit to God's authority and to resist the devil's attack and then fail to draw near to God. We have it as a promise: God will draw near to us as we draw near to Him.

i. If we are far from God, He hasn't distanced Himself from us. We have distanced ourselves from Him. An elderly couple drove down the road in their car with a front bench seat. As they drove, the wife noticed that in many of the other cars with couples in the front seat, the woman sat close to the man as he drove. She asked her husband, "Why is it that we don't sit that close anymore?" He simply answered, "It wasn't me who moved." If we are far from God, He hasn't moved.

e. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! As we draw near to God, we will be convicted of our sin. So we lament and mourn and weep as appropriate under the conviction of sin, and we are compelled to find cleansing at the cross.

f. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up: As we come as sinners before holy God (not as self righteous religionists, as Jesus explained in Luke 18:10-14), we appropriately humble ourselves before God. Then He will lift us up, because God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and grace - the unmerited favor of God - always lifts us up.

4. (Jas 4:11-12) The solutions for strife: get right with other people.

Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

a. Do not speak evil of one another: Humbling ourselves and getting right with God must result in our getting right with other people. When we are right with other people, it will show in the way we talk about them. So we must not speak evil of one another and not judge our brother.

i. James rightly will guard us against the illusion that we might be right with God, yet evil towards our brother. As John says, he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20)

b. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law: When we judge our brother, we put ourselves in the same place as the law, in effect judging the law. This is something that we have no authority to do, because there is one Lawgiver - so who are you to judge another?

i. "However high and orthodox our view of God's law might be, a failure actually to do it says to the world that we do not in fact put much store by it." (Moo)

c. This is an extension of the same humility that James writes about in this chapter. When we have proper humility before God, it just isn't within us to arrogantly judge our brother.

B. A humble dependence on God.

1. (Jas 4:13-16) A caution against an attitude of independence from God.

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

a. You who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit": James rebukes the kind of heart that lives and makes its plans apart from a constant awareness of the sovereignty of God, and with an underestimation of our own limitations (you do not know what will happen tomorrow).

b. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away: James asks us to consider the fragility of human life, and the fact that we live and move only at the permission of God. James will not discourage us from planning and doing, only from planning and doing apart from a reliance on God.

c. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." It is nothing but sheer arrogance that makes us think that we can live and move and have our being independent of God. This boastful arrogance is the essence of sin: a proud independence, the root of all sin, as was the case with Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-15) and Adam (Genesis 3:5-7).

2. (Jas 4:17) A challenge to live according to what we know in the Lord.

Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

a. To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin: James knows that it is far easier to think about and talk about humility and dependence on God than it is to live it. Yet he makes the mind of God plain: as we know these things, we are accountable to do them.

© 2007 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

Study Guide for Hebrews 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for 1 Peter 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for James 3 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for James 5 Next Chapter →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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