Letter to James Chapter 4

A Letter From James, Part 4

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series A Letter From James

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

This study will cover chapter four of the letter from James.  You’ll see he still has plenty of good advice for living a victorious Christian life in our times, and he gives it to us in no uncertain terms.  Not for the faint of heart.

Submit Yourselves to God

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:1-3).

James used very strong language here. His words for fights and quarrels can mean anything up to actual wars between nations. His point was whether it’s an issue between two people or two countries, it begins with the desires of the flesh. One person covets what another person has, and instead of asking God for it, he “goes to war” with the other person to get it. Even when he does ask God he doesn’t receive what he covets because his motives aren’t pure. He’s only looking to gratify the desires of his flesh.

The Lord promised us an abundant life (John 10:10), and He loves to give good gifts to His children (Matt. 7:11), but that doesn’t mean He will provide every selfish desire of our flesh. Some things we want simply aren’t good for us. They draw us away from Him, not toward Him.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:4-6).

By the term “adulterous people” James was talking about those whose loyalties are divided between the things of God and the things of this world. Like a man with a wife and a mistress, they can’t be fully devoted to either. Putting it another way, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). The more enamored we are with the things of this world, the more difficult it is to serve the Lord.

In spite of the Lord’s promise of an abundant life, many believers go out ahead of Him and mortgage their futures for “the finer things in life”. After all, that’s what everyone around them is doing. And when they get them they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished for themselves. Then, after a few years of making monthly payments, they realize they’re enslaved to the lifestyle they’ve created. Their desire to live for the Lord may be real, but their ability is curtailed by the obligations they’ve undertaken in an effort to satisfy the desires of the flesh.

This is why Paul urged us to present our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord, to be used for His glory. He admonished us not to conform to the pattern of this world, which is to satisfy the desires of the flesh, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:1-2). He wanted us to avoid this divided loyalty Jesus and James spoke against.

In the meantime, God longs for the Spirit He caused to dwell in us to be made manifest in our life. He gives us more grace, waiting for us to humble ourselves and proclaim Him to be Lord of our life so He can show us His favor by helping us free ourselves from the situation we’ve created. He knows that it’s not the things of this world, but His blessing that makes us rich, and He adds no sorrow to it (Proverbs 10:22). There are no monthly payments associated with the Lord’s blessings.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:7-10).

When we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil’s manipulation of our worldly desires, he will flee from us. No matter when it happens in our life, when we come near to God, He will come near to us. The Holy Spirit will begin to show us how little value our life has been to the One who gave it to us. We’ll wash our hands of our pursuit of worldly desires and purify our hearts from the double minded attempt to serve two masters. We’ll realize the things that once brought us such pride and self satisfaction have only blinded us to what’s really important. Then we’ll humble ourselves before the Lord and He will lift us up.

Speaking from experience, I can tell you that it’s never too late for you to do this. So don’t bemoan the fact that you’ve wasted so much of your life in the pursuit of false pleasures, rejoice in the fact that the Lord can take what’s left of it and use it to do wonderful things. Remember, He’s been jealously longing for the opportunity to do so (James 4:5). All you have to do is offer it to Him.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12).

It’s popular these days to look for evidence of a Godly life in other believers. We call it being a fruit inspector, but in reality that’s just a more acceptable way to describe the fact that we’re judging them. Jesus told us not to do this (Matt. 7:1-5). Paul told us not to do it (1 Cor. 4:5). Yet we do it just the same.

Boasting About Tomorrow

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them (James 4:13-17).

Most believers routinely make worldly plans for the future not knowing whether they’ll live long enough to fulfill them. It’s an indication that they’re focused on the desires of the flesh, and are not being guided by the Spirit.

In obligating themselves to these plans for their future, they become too busy for the good deeds they could be performing each day. If they’re rushing to get to work on time, what can they do when the Holy Spirit prompts them to stop and help someone who needs it? They have to ignore Him. From an eternal perspective, isn’t this putting things backwards? Will the Lord commend them for their focus on worldly success, or are the little things they could do for Him each day of greater value to the Kingdom?

They say they have to fulfill their responsibilities to work and family, but God has promised to meet all the needs of those who seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:31-33). Are they trusting in Him or in themselves? People who don’t leave enough room in their day to follow the prompting the Holy Spirit are saying the things of this world are more important to them than the things of the next one.

Living by faith is such a paradigm shift from the way of the world that many believers can’t even imagine what it would look like, let alone figure out how to do it. Any thoughts they have of serving the Lord are relegated to the “someday” category while the self-created demands of their worldly life fill their conscious minds today. Meanwhile, the Lord waits patiently for them to realize that nothing they’re working so hard for will bring them the fulfillment they seek.

When they finally do turn to Him, they find He will happily accept any little bits of time they have left to offer Him, and will help them find more as their desire to serve Him increases. And increase it will, because there’s no greater sense of fulfillment than that which comes from demonstrating the Lord’s love in our simple acts of kindness toward others.

Anyone can begin by just resolving to give to everyone who asks (Luke 6:30). The Lord didn’t tell us to evaluate whether we think the beggar asking for a handout deserves it. He said, “Feed the hungry.” Wondering if we’re “enabling” him is just looking for an excuse not to help. What the person does with the money we give him is between him and the Lord. Our purpose in giving is to demonstrate our gratitude for the love the Lord has expressed to us. With this as our motive, we’ll get the money back anyway (Luke 6:38).

In Closing

James didn’t mince any words in this chapter so neither did I. If you’re one of the few Christians to whom this doesn’t apply, then feel free to ignore everything we’ve said. But surveys have consistently shown that over 90% of Christians today live lives that, with the exception of a few hours on Sunday mornings, are indistinguishable from their unbelieving neighbors. It is this group that needs to listen and take heart. Your time on Earth is rapidly coming to an end. Whatever you’re going to do to express your gratitude for the free gift of eternal life you’ve been given, the time to do it is now. See you next time 07-11-15

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  • Erik Bergum

    Like many other believers, I have fallen into the trap of acting the same way as non believers. I wholeheartely agree and believe that the majority of Christians act and live the same way as non-believers. Very sad but true.

  • it is very liberating to stop obsessing over plans and goals. my goal now is to stay close to the Lord no matter what. it can be bumpy at times, but I have the divine seat belt!
    And i am constantly amazed at His provision and surprises.

  • Arnfinn strømme

    Very well written and instructive article.