In this section of this epistle, James performs a spiritual check-up on his readers.
After having taught his readers how to discern between good and bad teachers (good teachers produce good things in their students by drawing upon heavenly wisdom already evident in their own lives), James leaves off speaking about teachers and does a spiritual check-up of his readers. After reviewing their symptoms and diagnosing their illness, he gives not only a prognosis for the future for those exhibiting spiritual illness, he also provides them with a spiritual prescription to bring healing.
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?
– James 4:1a
James describes what the wisdom from below that they have been feeding on is producing in them, the symptoms of an unhealthy body. The right teaching with the right motives and a sincere response produce a different result. However, when reviewing the symptoms of his readers, James notes that the fruit of their conduct is negative and destructive (quarrels and conflict). In the next section he goes on to diagnose the problem.
Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?
– James 4:1b
James begins by noting that it is a pleasure for the flesh to want its own way and thus continue the quarreling and division among the members in order to obtain it, no matter what the damage or cost. People fight over worldly things using worldly tactics and in the end the situation is usually worse, no matter who wins.
You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.
– James 4:2a
He explains how wars/quarrels begin and continue: you desire but cannot obtain (your way), you war but cannot obtain (your way), so you argue and divide.
2bYou do not have because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
– James 4:2b-3
The quarrels, wars and divisions begin and continue because the things desired are worldly things (power, honor among men, selfish ambition). These things appeal to the flesh, not the spirit. James tells them that they do not receive spiritual blessings because they do not ask for these. They would rather fight over worldly things, things that God will not give them even if they asked for them.
People rarely argue and compete over spiritual matters. For example, I have never seen a debate over the mop. No one competes over who will get to the building first on Saturday morning to mop the floors in the bathrooms. In the same way, I have never seen brethren fighting over who will go visit the sick and shut-ins. There has never been a debate or fierce competition over who will give more for the offering. We rarely struggle to see who excels at personal purity, service to the church, preaching or teaching the Word. No, we devour each other over things from below (personal honor, privilege, power, etc.), and we pursue these fleshly things with methods and tactics from below because these satisfy that part of our nature which is also from below (pride, lust for control, selfishness).
Let us briefly review what we have so far:
- Symptoms: Quarreling and division.
- Diagnosis: Desire for things from below and using tactics from below to acquire these.
In the following verses James will give a prognosis or opinion as to what the outcome of this problem will be if not corrected.
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?
– James 4:4a
He compares this conduct to adultery. The idea is that these Christians are unfaithful to Christ when they act in this way.
Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
– James 4:4b
This behavior is a sign of increasing friendship with the world. Whoever identifies himself as a friend of the world in this way, makes himself an enemy of God.
Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?
– James 4:5
God is serious about what He says in the Scriptures. The Spirit of God within us is jealous when we make friends with the world instead of pursuing our friendship with God.
30Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
– Ephesians 4:30-31
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
– James 4:6
God, however, through this same Spirit, rewards with grace and blessings those who resist these fleshly temptations to pride, selfishness and ambition. Those who resist these things by humbling themselves before God and their brethren will be lifted up by God and respected by their brethren.
The point here, and James’ prognosis, is that a Christian cannot be friends with the world (desiring worldly things and acquiring them using worldly tactics) and friends with God (desiring spiritual things and obtaining them through spiritual methods) at the same time. James’ final opinion, based on this diagnosis, is that division, arguing, unbridled ambition and constant criticism of each other are the definite marks of a worldly church, not one belonging to Christ.
The Cure for Worldliness and War
Here James prescribes three things that must be done in order to become friends with God and cure the sin of worldliness.
1. Make Your Choice
Submit therefore to God.
– James 4:7a
Christians in trouble, who are in a slide away from Christ and into division and conflict, need to choose. The choice or decision they need to make is to come under God’s rule, once and for all. For non-Christians this means a full response to the gospel for salvation that includes:
- Hearing and believing that Jesus is the divine Son of God (Mark 16:16).
- Repenting or turning away from things that come from below and focusing on the things that are above (Luke 24:47).
- Acknowledging (confessing) faith in Christ (Matthew 10:32).
- Being baptized (immersed) in the name of Jesus to receive the forgiveness of sin and the gift (indwelling) of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38).
For the non-Christian, the first mark of submission to God is to obey all of these (confess Christ, repent of sin, be baptized). Neglecting one voids the rest because we have refused to submit completely to God’s word about salvation. For Christians, the choice is a daily decision to persevere in faith (no matter what the situation, I always put myself back into God’s hands). Christians need to do this because the temptation to return to worldly habits, things and tactics is always present and it is easy to fall.
In the cure for worldliness, therefore, James prescribes that we make a choice, once and for all, of who we are. If we choose to be Christians, then we should act like Christians with the wisdom and the conduct that comes from above.
2. Make a Stand
Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
– James 4:7b
Make a stand or defense against the devil. Many people fall or are led away because:
- They play around with sin. They are curious about what it would be like or what would happen if, etc.
- They take their time with sin. They delude themselves with rationalizations like, “Just this once. If it gets worse I’ll stop. I won’t get caught. It’s a problem but I will deal with it tomorrow, or when I feel like it or when the time is right.”
- They mistakenly believe that God does not think that their sin is really serious or will not actually punish them for it.
The devil will remain near and continue to find ways to entice you, give you reasons to give in, offer you promises of pleasure and satisfaction until you do one of two things: Give in (or give in again), or make a stand (resist, say no). He only flees when you make a stand to resist him. Otherwise he works away at your indecision until you succumb to him.
3. Draw Near to God
8Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
– James 4:8-10
If we make a stand against the devil it will become a first step in drawing closer to God. James mentions additional steps that one can take in order to do this.
Cleanse Your Hands
This is a metaphor that pictures a spiritual cleansing. We deal directly with our sins when we ask God to help us overcome the sins that we know about and reveal to us the ones that we are not aware of yet. Every sin we discard and overcome enables us to be one step closer to God.
Purify Your Hearts
James has dealt with the visible outcome (impurity, lust, pride, violence, etc.) that sin causes. Now he focuses on the source of sin (one’s heart) and the need to cultivate purity, wholeness and integrity in the inner person. He is saying, “Make up your mind once and for all. Who will you serve, God or the world? Do not be double minded. If you are going to be a Christian, do not hold back or change your mind.” This is the decision that the inner person (heart) needs to make in order to succeed as a person of faith.
James reminds his readers that it is their sins that caused Christ’s death and their own condemnation, therefore, they need to wake up to its danger. Sometimes we have greater regret over letting go our sins than sorrow over the damage they have caused in our lives and in the sufferings of Christ. Mature Christians should not be nostalgic about their former sinful lives. If God hates and forbids sin, we are wise to get rid of it and stay rid of it.
In verse 10 he summarizes the cure for worldliness in our lives and in the church:
- Draw near to God through faith, repentance and obedience.
- God will draw near to you by giving you pardon because of your faith, and this pardon will create joy in your heart. He will also draw near to you by giving you protection from the evil one which, in turn, will give you peace of mind.
- Finally, God will draw near to you by restoring His relationship with you as you become His child and He your Father, and this will create zeal in your spirit to serve Him.
Such are the rewards given to those who draw near to God.
James teaches that the cause of conflicts within ourselves, our families and the church is excessive worldliness and the desire for the satisfaction of fleshly things like pride, power, recognition and selfish ambition. Christians, therefore, need to be careful because friendliness with the world is a sign that one is gradually becoming an enemy of God. The cure that James proposes for this malady is threefold:
- Take your position with God.
- Stand firm against the devil.
- Continually do the things that will serve to draw you nearer to God and further away from the world.
If you feel that God is far away from you, it is because you have drifted away from Him.