1 - 6 Friendship With the World
1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; [so] you commit murder. You are envious 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 with wrong motives, so that you may spend [it] on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore [it] says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
V1. What James says in these verses is contrary to the end of the previous chapter. There the issue is peace and here the issue is war and fights. James denounces this matter interrogatively. He does not say: ‘There are ”quarrels” and ”conflicts” among you and it should not be like that’, but asks where those quarrels and conflicts are coming from, where they come forth from. It is also significant that he speaks about “among you”, thus among the members of God’s people to whom all count themselves by their confession, whether they are reborn or not reborn.
That means that those quarrels are civil quarrels, for it is a war between citizens of the same kingdom, they are between citizens who belong to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus (Jam 2:5). Through internal battles the powers are consumed. That causes that there is no power left for the fight of the gospel in the world, in order to liberate people from the power of satan. If we have to deal with civil quarrels, then there will be no power left to fight together against false teachings, for the enemy knows how to use that situation for his benefit.
That James has to speak about “quarrels” or “wars” indicates that the disagreement lies deep. A situation of war does not start without any reason. Before a person starts a war he first has achieved deliberations and has determined strategies in utmost secrecy. Also during the war deliberation still takes place. A war is also a long-term issue by nature.
This is not the case regarding “conflicts”. conflicts often suddenly break out and quickly quenches, although the fire can keep smoldering for a long time.
Quarrels and conflicts however, have one thing in common and that is the source from where they come forth. We read that in the response of James himself to the question “what is the source”. They do not come forth from the wisdom that is from above (Jam 3:17), but from their “pleasures”. Their desires do not seek to be satisfied by what they have in the world of the Lord Jesus, but by the world around them.
In their “members”, which are the members of their body, the desires of pleasure are fighting to use these members as instruments of sin (cf. Rom 6:13; 7:23). The head center is the heart and the desires have taken that into possession. The desires have therefore captured the body and now control it. Now the result is that that body is seeking to enrich itself to the detriment of other people.
V2. But what is the result of that? James points to the consequences. They desire, but they have not. In spite of all their fighting in order to live prosperously and pleasantly they do not have that. They are occupied with quarrels and conflicts. Those matters do not fill the deepest desires of a person, but they work out something different, namely murder and manslaughter.
James speaks with a strong speech. He explains to them that what they are doing is murdering. That can refer to literally murder someone, but it also applies to committing a character murder. In the latter case a lot of slander is being spread about a person that the person is not able to function normally anymore. He feels threatened and totally withdraws himself. A person who is a target of a smear campaign is being torn down. Such campaigns come forth from people who are envious of other people, they begrudge the other to have something, in order to have it for themselves.
If you are not satisfied with what you have you are capable of acting in such a way. Do not let yourself be dragged down by feelings of dissatisfaction. Look at people who indeed let themselves be dragged down and you will draw the same conclusion that James does. These people cannot gain what they desire. They can totally be absorbed by quarrels and conflicts. He who wants to obtain something in that way only breaks things.
Then James makes clear that they do not have because they do not pray. Praying means that you are consciously dependent on God. As long as you go on with working out your own strategy to gain something, you will not succeed. Sometimes you seem to succeed, but still, the final result is that you are empty handed and especially empty hearted. Once you become aware of that you will surely start to pray.
V3. Now praying is supposed to be happening with the right mind. That means that when you pray, you surrender yourself to the will of the Lord. You make Him decide whether something is good for you or not. When your praying has got more to do with demanding than with asking then it is clear that your desires have got nothing to do with God’s will, but with your own will and the fulfilling of your own desires.
If you want to pray in accordance with God’s will and your wishes are not being fulfilled, then you can also see that as a kindness of God. For if He would have given it to you, you would have only harmed yourself by that and even harm other people and in that way dishonor Him.
Therefore it is about testing the motives of your heart. God knows the hidden motives of your heart when you pray. He precisely knows the reason why you ask Him something. He labels your prayer as wrong when He sees that your prayer is only prayed out of selfishness. Then your only intention with what you are asking for is for your own use. In this context James does not speak about using or misusing, but about “spend [it] on your own pleasures”. That indicates that there is no appreciation at all for what has been given. This is not the way God wants us to be dealing with what He gives and therefore He does not give it.
V4. Their total conduct is through and through worldly. James therefore justly addresses them as “adulteresses”. You cannot pursue your own pleasures without getting entangled in the world. The fulfillment of desires without God is only to be found in the world after all. Therefore if you seek the fulfillment of your desires in this world, you seek “friendship with the world”. But dealing with the world as a friend of the world is spiritual adultery. It is a denial of your relation to God. Your life shows the contrary to what you confess as a Christian.
As a Christian you say that you said goodbye to the world, that you belong to God and that you want to serve Him faithfully, but in your life you enjoy the things of the world. Through your worldly behavior you show that you are a friend of the world. The way the world goes on with and for itself still appeals to you and you follow it. The world loves that and acknowledges you as a friend. The appreciation from the side of the world is in itself very alarming already.
The flipside of this black medal is even more alarming, for it says that it is “hostility toward God”. The one is inextricably connected to the other, make no mistake about it. James is very clear about it.
He speaks so radically about it, because in these cases each compromise is an insult to God. Just think about it. You formerly belonged to the world. You have realized what the world is, how empty and how full of enmity against God it is too. That enmity has become visible at the most in the rejection of and the murder of the Lord Jesus of Whom you say that you owe your life to Him. If that is reality for you, how could you still make friends with people who are still considered to be haters of the Lord Jesus? Towards such people you can only testify of what you have found in Him yourself and pray that they also may get to know Him.
But such a testimony is out of the question if you still cooperate with the world. How could you ever speak credibly about God’s judgment over the world, if it appears from your life that you walk according to the world and that you enjoy the world very much? It comes down to whether you live for the world and therefore you are an enemy of God or you live for God and therefore you do not want to have anything to do with the world. There is not impartiality possible in this case (2Cor 6:14).
V5. To underline his strong message James refers to the speaking of the Scripture and to the yearning of the Spirit. From the Scripture there comes a statement that is not to be explained in more than one way. Wherever you read in the Scripture, you will encounter the testimony that everything that is from God cannot possibly be related to the sinful man. Everywhere in the Scripture we find that God’s people are warned not to be involved with the world. Or do you think that the Scripture says that “to no purpose” or “in vain”? Forget it. The Scripture does not speak about that in vain, except then for people who ignore the Scripture. No, the Scripture speaks clearly to those who have ears to hear.
By referring to the work of the Spirit subsequently, James shows to which extent the Word and the Spirit cooperate. What is strange to the Scripture is also strange to the Spirit. That also goes the other way around. Just as you cannot discover any relation between God and sin anywhere in the Scripture, it is neither possible that “the Spirit Who dwells in us” can make you act with “jealousy”. The Spirit Who dwells in you does not cause quarrels and conflicts. Quarrels and conflicts happen in the world and unfortunately also can happen among believers.
V6. The Spirit Who dwells in you wants to lift you up far beyond that, by giving you “greater grace”. That more grace is given to you by Him in order to enable you not to participate in that and to live for the other person and to the honor of God.
Then it is necessary for you to take the place of humility. The flesh, the world and the devil may have great power, the grace that God gives is much greater. He, however, gives that grace only to the “humble”.
Now read James 4:1-6 again.
Reflection: Which aspects in your life do you still need to label as ‘friendship toward the world’?
7 - 10 Orders
7 Submit 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 miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
V7. To receive the grace of God it is necessary to have the right mind, that of humbleness. You can show that by submitting yourself to God. That is the motive of James’ call. You will always need to be reminded of this appeal. The point is that you are not in control anymore over the desires of your heart and your whole life, but that you let go of everything and lay everything in God’s hand. Without a doubt you will then experience His grace to be living out of that consciousness.
Don’t think that you can therefore easily lean back and think that everything will run smoothly for the rest of your life. Absolutely not. You can be sure that the devil comes into action when you allow the Spirit, Who dwells in you, to work also in you. In order to stop his activities you have to resist him. The devil is all about making you act independently of God again. If you submit yourself to God you will surely be able to resist him. In this way the devil does not encounter a weak person, but the almighty God and this will surely make him run.
The Lord Jesus is the perfect example of submission to God. There was nothing that He had to submit Himself to, for His whole life has been a full submission to God. That submission led Him to the wilderness. There you see how He resisted the devil, when he approached Him to tempt Him (Mt 4:1-11). You learn from the Lord Jesus that you are able to resist the devil by the Word of God. You see the resistance also in the life of Abraham, when the king of Sodom comes to him with his trick (Gen 14:21-24).
V8. To be able to resist the devil you need to be in the sanctuary. There you see the greatness and power of God. Therefore you are being exhorted to draw near to God. It is indeed important that you draw near in faith (Heb 11:6). When you do that you experience that God is drawing near to you. He will make you aware that He is defending you against the power of the enemy. To be in the presence of God demands a practice that is in accordance with God’s holiness. Your submission to God must be seen in your deeds. Your hands show that. Your hands show to the people around you what you are doing.
It is good to consider that your actions come forth out of your heart. It is your hands that actually lead you to act. In order to be in God’s presence and to experience His protection, your hands are to be cleansed. That means that you need to have put away whatever does not belong there out of your life. You can hardly draw near to God while there are things in your life of which you know that God is speaking to you about those things. It is better to say that certain malpractices that you still maintain are depriving you from the desire to draw near to God.
Because man is able to draw near to God in a wrong mind (e.g. Lk 18:10-12), James also points to the disposition of the heart. Your heart should be purified from ulterior motives. James already talked about praying in a wrong way, meaning that you can pray with wrong intentions (verse 3). Now he appeals to you to purify your heart from those wrong intentions. God desires “truth in the innermost being” (Psa 51:6). You can purify your heart from wrong intentions by praying: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psa 139:23-24).
James addresses his readers as “double-minded”. Does he have to address you like that? Literally, a double-minded person means a person with a ‘double soul’. It indicates that a person is faltering between two opinions when he has to choose between two choices. Then you are tossed to and fro between both choices, while you inwardly know what the good choice is.
You find a good illustration of that in the history of Elijah on mount Carmel. Being led by Ahab and Jezebel the people find themselves in the realm and power of the idol worshipping and Elijah serves the true God. When Elijah challenges Ahab to a clash between God and the idols he called the people and the false prophets on mount Carmel together. When then the people draw near to Elijah he says: “How long [will] you hesitate between two opinions?” (1Kgs 18:21).
Have you already made your final choice, or do you still falter between two opinions? Subject yourself to the authority of James and make a clean sweep with your life when there are things of which you know that they hinder your service for God.
As you have read in the first verses of this letter, James writes to the whole of God’s old people, the twelve tribes. Of this people many have not been born again. He tells the people as a whole that they should be miserable and have to weep and mourn. It is a miscalculation that has fatal consequences when a person thinks to be sharing the blessings of God’s people automatically, simply because of the fact that he is an Israelite by birth.
It is a miscalculation of the highest order that you also see in Christianity. A lot of people count themselves to be a member of God’s people and claim to be Christians, simply and only because they belong to a church by their baptism or because they have Christian parents. What applies to these people is the word of the Lord Jesus that they are wretched and miserable, blind and naked (Rev 3:17).
V9. It is crucial that such people realize the tragedy of their situation. He who gets the true picture of the world will surely become aware of his tragedy. The world is a system that functions as a fun fair. There is fun for everyone, but it is a fun fair of death. God will judge that. He who ponders on it just for a moment, must feel the emptiness. As long as a person remains in the world among his so-called friends, he will give the impression that everything is all right. He laughs and drinks together with them as if life is a big party. But at home in his room he finds himself deeply miserable. He is overwhelmed by emptiness.
If he could and would only want to take up the courage and be honest about the life he is living, he would then definitely come to the conclusion that he doesn’t want to be part of it any longer. He will certainly come to realize that God must judge that. He also will realize that God will judge him too. After all, his life is a tragedy, full of disgusted deeds. It is justified that a fear arises for God’s judgment.
V10. The moment that he acknowledges that he starts up the road to blessing. That road begins with admitting his own hopeless situation without having any possibility to liberate himself from it (Lk 15:14-20). Then that will be the end of the laughing with which he fooled himself as if it was all fun. He who learns to see himself in the light of God cannot but only weep and mourn. There comes repentance and a desire for forgiveness. The empty fun of the world, the laughing without real happiness changes into weeping and sorrow. In this way the sinner humbles himself before the Lord.
Once he comes to that point, he gets the assurance that the Lord will lift him up. It is an exceptional promise for a sorrowful sinner. He will share in the exaltation of the Lord Jesus, Who has freely humbled Himself. God will deal with the sorrowful sinner in the same way He has done to the Lord Jesus – exalt Him –, when the sinner does what the Lord Jesus has done – humbled Himself.
Beside to the unconverted sinner, the call also applies to those who are born again. The situation around you gives you absolutely no reason to express joy, but rather to express sadness. For those who have lost the sense to do that, the same exhortation applies as to the sinner who fully lives in such a situation.
In the so-called beatitudes the Lord Jesus speaks out a particular ‘blessed’ about those ‘who mourn’ (Mt 5:4). Those are His followers who could very well sense how everything in the world is in rebellion against Him. They share in His feelings about the rebellion of the world and the resistance against everything that is His. In return He wants to give them His joy (Jn 15:11). That is a joy that has its origin in that other world of which He is the center. You experience this joy when you share with others what you have found in the Lord Jesus (1Jn 1:3-4).
When you live in the world you sometimes share with others, but you always lose what you share. Everything you share in the world of the Lord Jesus with others, enriches your spiritual life. Whatever you share you will not lose and you will never lose the profit. It can only increase.
Now read James 4:7-10 again.
Reflection: Which orders (these are not kind requests!) does James give in these verses? Which of them apply to you?
11 - 17 Against Judging and Boasting
11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge [of it]. 12 There is [only] one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are [just] a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, [you ought] to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows [the] right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
V11. At the beginning of this chapter James had to speak about quarrels and conflicts. These are outbreaks of disputes whereby parties openly stand against one another and are hostile to each another. In the portion you have now read he mentions another evil that is found among them. He addresses his readers on speaking evil of one another. That seems to be less serious than having quarrels and conflicts. Quarrels and conflicts are immediately visible. Speaking evil, however, can happen while you are enjoying a cup of coffee with another person and with an expression of concern on your face.
Of course in reality there is no mention of real concern. Real concern for the brother or sister of whom you are speaking evil, would be that you yourself address him or her about that evil. Then I only assume that the matters you discuss are real evil too. Speaking evil does not have to indicate that you speak untruth. The point is that wrong practices or proclamations have been observed.
Nevertheless James prohibits speaking evil of one another. When you speak evil of a brother you put him in a bad light and you exalt yourself above him. Evil is evil and you need to label it as that too, but speaking evil is a demonic action. When you see or hear something that is evil you should first consult the Lord about it and afterwards speak with the person in question.
To speak against a brother is both speaking against the law and judging the law that condemns the evil (Lev 19:16). The law has to condemn the evil, but due to your slander it has no chance to do that. You keep the right to yourself and you arrogate yourself as an examiner of the evil. By keeping the law outside the evil and making your own judgment on the evil, you speak evil of the law and you exalt yourself as a judge. You judge the law as not being able to judge and in that way you contempt the law of God. Then you adopt, instead of obeying the law, a self-made law as a standard for the judgment of the evil.
V12. You not only set aside the law of God and take the place of the law, but you even take the place of God as the “Lawgiver and Judge”. That is a far-reaching arrogance. After all, God is sovereign (cf. Rom 9:11), for only He is able to save and perish. He saves on the basis of the work of His Son, but He will also destroy everyone who rejects His Son. That is the context in which you should see the question: “Who are you who judge your neighbor?” Therefore every arrogance to judge one’s fellow man should crumble towards the majesty of God as Lawgiver and Judge and as Savior and Destroyer.
It is also important to consider that it is not about judging public evil. The point here is judging one another and speaking evil of one another. Besides, we also cannot and are even not supposed to judge the intentions of one another (Mt 7:1). What James is saying is not in contrast to judging the evil in the church. There we are supposed to judge the visible evil (1Cor 5:12-13).
V13. Out of consideration for others, James has admonished not to speak evil and not to judge. In that way he rebukes the wrong attitude of his readers as people who always arrogate themselves to know best. With this attitude they reveal a spirit of exaltation above others. That independent spirit also expresses itself differently in their life, namely in their own life with regard to the plans they make. They make plans to which city or cities they will travel to do business and of course to make profit as much as they possibly could.
Jews always have been a trading people. They always seek for profit. Therefore they travel from city to city. Actually, trading and making profit are not wrong in themselves. In an allegory the Lord Jesus uses trading as an occupation that happens for His sake (Lk 19:13). In that way it cannot be wrong. But the wrong thing about it is, when we are making plans for the future in the spirit of independence, thus without specifically considering God’s will in our plans. That is what James is telling his Jewish readers whom in such a way were driven by their trading spirit, that they forgot their dependence on the Lord.
V14. James warns us against the arrogant illusion that we ourselves have the future in control. We even do not have the next second at our disposal. We are to be aware that life is ephemeral and fragile. It has to be a sobering lesson to people, who think to have control over their life, when James compares their life to a vapor. For a vapor you see in a very short moment, but then it has disappeared, dissolved. There is nothing left that has the slightest meaning. That is the implication of the life of people of the world and also of those who confess to belong to God’s people, but without considering the will of the Lord.
When you consider the will of the Lord, your life is not a vapor. The life of the Lord Jesus was not a vapor and likewise the life of God’s children is not a vapor, at least when they behave themselves as children of God. When you consider the will of the Lord, you are engaged with the works the Lord has for you (Eph 2:10). Those works will follow you through all eternity (Rev 14:13). By considering the will of the Lord you will sow the seed now of which you will find the fruit again in eternity.
But life is short. Moses speaks about life as if it is a sleep (Psa 90:4-5). When we sleep the morning comes quickly. David speaks about life as a shadow that lengthens (Psa 102:11). Down in the East it gets dark quickly. To Job life is equal to a fast turning weaver’s shuttle (Job 7:6). Peter compares life to grass that today is on the field and tomorrow is thrown in an oven (1Pet 1:24-25).
We can live our short life on earth only once. The big question we could ask ourselves is: what do we do with it, who do we live for? When we realize that our ‘service time’ is that short, it will be an encouragement to do what is good for the Lord (1Cor 7:29-31).
V15. It is not wrong to make plans. Only, the point is whether these plans are made with the consideration that they are in accordance with the Lord. You are surely allowed to make plans to travel to a certain city, only, you should do that in the awareness that it can only happen when the Lord gives you the strength and preservation to do that. In making these plans we should always consider: “If the Lord wills.”
You see that James presents it positively. He doesn’t say that we should be thinking: ‘If the Lord doesn’t want it, then He will surely not allow it to happen.’ We have a Lord Who wants to reveal His will to us, also with regard to doing business and to daily life. That also goes for making plans on behalf of the work for the Lord. You see that with Paul when he visited the church at Ephesus and then departed. When he said goodbye he said that he would come back to them, though with the addition: “God willing” (Acts 18:21).
V16. James reprimands his readers for boasting in their “arrogance”. He is saying that it is in fact pride when they do not take God’s will into consideration. There is no consideration for unexpected changes in the plans that have been made; there is a short-sightedness regarding their own capacities. While assuming to having control over everything, there is blindness as to their own limitations and weaknesses. Boasting in your own abilities is therefore evil for two reasons. With regard to yourself it is pride and with regard to God it is a denial of His sovereignty.
V17. In the previous verses James rebuked his readers for their wrong attitude towards one another and towards God. They now know what is wrong and are able to derive from it what is the right to do. Now they know how to do good they will be accountable for sinning when they neglect to do good. A person who knows how to be doing good but refuses to do so, makes himself guilty of the sin of negligence (cf. Lev 5:1). The negligence of doing good, while you know that you should do it, proves that there is a lack of grace and that your own will is operating. The life of the Christian does not consist of a lot of things that he is not allowed to do, but of doing good.
The only way to be able to do good is by the power of the new life, in being conscious of the grace that we have received and in which we are being led by the Spirit. A Christian is not a kind of scout who is satisfied with committing just one good deed a day. In such a case you may wonder what he is doing the rest of the day. No, doing good is what a Christian is continuously occupied with.
When we know what is good, but block the new life, which causes that it does not expresses itself, it is sin. This principle also applies to unbelievers. How many people do know that they have to convert, but do not do that? Each person, whether he is a believer or an unbeliever, is responsible for what he knows. That is what God will hold against him and He surely will speak with him about it on His day. Let that be an exhortation for you, when you know to do something which is good, to do so indeed.
Now read James 4:11-17 again.
Reflection: Which are the two aspects of life that James is dealing with in these verses? What speaks to you?