THE EPISTLE OF JAMES: Chapter 4 Warning Against Worldliness


Do Not Be a Friend of the World

James 4:1-3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

1 What is the source of wars[1] and fights[2] among you? Are they not from this source, your pleasures that wage war in your members?[3] You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. You desire, and yet you do not have, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,[4] so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

What is the source of wars and fights among you? (4:1a)

It should be noted that James’s readers were not literally involved in wars, but rather murderous hatred for others. Clearly, this letter was intended for an audience that lacked unity. Early on James dealt with those who were showing favoritism to the rich. This congregation or group of Christians did not possess the love that Jesus had spoken of when he said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) A few in the congregation were wrongly judging some while a handful ignored the needs of others. Within this group of Christians, there was a spirit of contention that should not have been. Jealousy and selfish ambition had grown in the congregation. Consequently, peace was interrupted. Therefore, the question that begs to be asked is what the basis of this infighting and aggression among these Christians is?

 Are they not from this source, your pleasures that wage war in your members? (4:1b)

James answers our question by naming the source of this warring and fighting among Christians, i.e., a battle within the heart. In other words, these ones were struggling with the desire for personal pleasure (Gr. hēdonē). From this Greek word, we get hedonism, which is devotion, especially a self-indulgence of pleasure and happiness as a way of life. These ones sought immediate gratification without any regard of whom it might affect.[5] We are imperfect, possessing human weaknesses and are mentally bent toward evil, with the natural desire toward wrongdoing. This creates turmoil within a Christian, as Paul put it,

Romans 7:21-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 I find then the law in me that when I want to do right, that evil is present in me. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and taking me captive in the law of sin which is in my members.

When a Christian fails to maintain control over his member, these cravings set in, causing conflicts within the Christian congregation. These Christians were craving the fleshly desires of self-importance, materialism and so on, which caused a tumultuous atmosphere with their brothers and sisters. Moreover, if there were any semblance of a conscience left within these battling their fleshly cravings, they would be struggling with a spiritual turmoil themselves.

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You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. You desire, and yet you do not have, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.  (4:2)

These ones had desires for things for which they should not, and had no means of fulfilling that desire, at least not honorably anyway. These cravings were allowed to grow and fester within the congregation. This greedy, envious, longing in these Christians built up until it gave rise to an unbearable, murderous spirit. Again, these ones lacked the love that Jesus said his disciples would have, ignoring fellow brothers in need, clinging to what they had while coveting things that were simply out of reach. The apostle John had this to say on the subject,

1 John 2:15-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

More murders than we would like to count have been committed because of wrong desires. This holds true of secular history as well as God’s people, both in the history of the Nation of Israel and Christianity. Think of the desire of coveting another man’s wife, another man’s position, another man’s wealth, and you can see by this one wrong desire millions of murders have taken place, from a robbery gone bad to one nation trying to conquer another nation for its wealth. The wrong desire of hatred moved Cain to kill his brother Abel. Then, we have King Ahab being encouraged by his wife Jezebel to kill Naboth for his vineyard. (Gen. 4:8; 1 Ki. 21:2-16) Think of all the atrocities committed by the bishops, cardinals and the Popes throughout the Medieval Times because they lusted for the worship of others, or they wanted a higher position within the church hierarchy.

The congregation James wrote to was unable to acquire the things that they lusted after because they had wrong desires, and there was no way they were going to be blessed by God while acting in such a manner. Because their greediness and their malicious, detestable ways left their cravings unsatisfied, they kept on fighting and warring to attain the unattainable. The Christian congregation can suffer the same strife if heavenly wisdom, unity, and peace are not pursued through the application of the Word of God. This is especially true of those who are chosen to take the lead. (Heb. 13:7, 17; Acts 20:28-30) Leaders are the backstop to the purity of the congregation because those who slip into these wrong desires can go to the point where their formalistic prayers are not being heard by God and will need help to recover spiritually.

You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (4:3)

Their prayers were toward selfish ends, as they had the wrong motives. We think of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, as he initially sought to waste his father’s money on his selfish needs. (Lu 15:14) Paul tells us that there is a “constant friction among people, who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Tim. 6:5) Jesus said that our prayers should not extend beyond asking for “our daily bread.” (Matt. 6:11) He went on to say, we should ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to us.’ (Matt. 6:33) Many do not realize that God does not listen to everyone’s prayers, just those of the righteous. Who are the righteous? They are those, who are doing their best in their circumstances to live by God’s Word daily. (Pro. 15:29; 28:9) We must be humble when we are praying. (Lu 18:9-14) We need to evidence our prayers by working on behalf of those prayers. It would do very little good to pray to God to better understand the Bible and then never read the Bible or reading any books on how to understand the Bible correctly. It will do very little good to pray for a job when unemployed if we never fill out applications because we are sitting around waiting on God to find us a job. It evidences our faith when we work on behalf of what we pray for, as this is what God expects. – Hebrews 11:6.

We are fooling ourselves if we are using God in our prayers simply for what we can get out of him. This sort of prayer is actually idolatry. How we may ask, is it idolatry? The pagans believe they can force a god to give them whatever they want by using special words or phrases in their prayers. Jesus told us plainly, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8) We can pray for things, but what we pray for must be in harmony with God’s will and purposes. If we are praying for a job that is going to require us to work 65 hours a week, causing us to have no family life, and miss our Christian meetings, do we believe that God is going to bless our efforts?

James 4:4-6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

You adulteresses,[6] do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity[7] toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose, “The spirit that dwells in us strongly desires to envy”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

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You adulteresses (4:4a)

James is not one to hold anything back just as he had done at 2:20, where he called his readers, who said that they had faith but had no works that should result from that faith claim, “O foolish man.” James here in his standard denunciation style called out his readers once more with the charge, “adulteresses!” Scripture refers to those who abandon God as “an adulterer,” i.e., a spiritual adultery. (Isa. 57:3; Matt. 12:39) Conversely, Paul said of the Christian congregation, “I betrothed you [Christians] to one husband so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” (2 Cor. 11:2) Therefore, James’ admonition to these ones makes it all too clear that they are no longer spiritually pure and clean in the eyes of God.

do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity toward God? (4:4b)

Christians should be very cautious as to whom they have as a friend. A friend (Gr. philos) is defined as an intimate relationship or bond with another. Christians would not have a close friend whose habits God would detest, who’s thinking, and worldview is contrary to God’s Word. If we as humans were exacting about people we would have as an intimate friend, would this not also be the case with our sovereign Creator of the heavens, earth, and humanity. The apostle John wrote of “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16) The spirit of this world is like poisonous gas, which is next to impossible to escape, as it is in the air of humanity that is alienated from God. This contaminated air proceeds from the ruler of the world, Satan, and if we breathe it in regularly, we will begin to adopt their goals, beliefs, attitude, thinking, speech, conduct, and worldview. This spirit controls the world without them ever knowing; it is demonic and separate from God. Satan controls humanity by his catering to the fallen flesh, our human weaknesses, resulting in enmity toward God. The world’s way of thinking and resultant conduct is in opposition to the Holy Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.

Many Christians have believed that they can be friends with the above person and not be affected by their worldly personality, thinking that they will win him over to the faith. As Edward D. Andrews has written elsewhere, ‘if a dirty glove and a clean glove come into contact, dirt comes off on the clean glove, and the clean glove does not make the dirty glove cleaner.’ How then can we win one over to the faith? We do so by keeping a controlled distance. We will study the Bible with one from the world. We will invite them to the meetings. We will invite them to Christian gatherings. After they have turned toward the truth, taking steps in that direction, we will invite them places that we would go as Christians. Once they are regularly attending meetings, studying the Bible regularly and moving toward abandoning bad habits, we will then bond with them more intimately. However, we never do worldly things, in order to attract ones from the world, ever.[8]


Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (4:4c)

Continuing his point, James writes, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” These ones reject God because his standards and values would get in the way of the self-indulgent, pleasure-seeking lifestyle. They know that choosing God is also choosing to obey him, choosing to live by his Word. Those of the world have a devotion, especially to a life of debauchery, to wrong desires, seeking happiness as a way of life, by feeding their fallen flesh. (I John 2:3-6) When we choose to follow God, it is the whole heart, whole soul, whole mind and whole strength. (Mark 12:30) Not only can we not walk on both sides of this choice, but also there is no walking on the line, or even seeing how close we can get to the line without going over to the other side. Jesus said in prayer to his Father, “they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:14) If we are to be no part of the world truly, we must make sacrifices for his part, never lacking,  or wavering in our loyalty to Christ.

Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose, “The spirit that dwells in us strongly desires to envy”? (4:5)

Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose, introduces the reader to the bent toward envy? There is no text in the Hebrew Old Testament that the quoted words come from. Clearly, James was reflecting on what was being taught, or the sense of the entirety of the Hebrew Old Testament,[9] as opposed to quoting a specific text. Another alternative is that we know New Testament writers tend to paraphrase the Old Testament. On this Edward Andrews writes,

On many occasions, a New Testament writer would quote or cite an Old Testament Scripture. Many times the New Testament writer would be using the Old Testament text contextually, according to the setting, and intent of the Old Testament writer (observing the grammatical-historical sense). However, at times the New Testament writer would add to or apply the text differently than what was meant by the Old Testament writer (not observing the grammatical-historical sense). This is either a new or a progressive revelation of God, where he has inspired the New Testament writer to go beyond the intended meaning of the Old Testament writer, and carry out what is known as Inspired Sensus Plenior Application (ISPA). In this latter case, the New Testament writer is using the Old Testament text to convey another meaning to another circumstance. This does not violate the principle that all texts have just one single meaning. The Old Testament text has one meaning, and the New Testament writer’s adaptation of that text is not a second meaning, but another meaning.[10]

Here is what God said to man right after the flood, “I will never again curse the soil because of man though the bent of man’s mind may be evil from his very youth …” (Gen. 8:21, AT)[11] Yes, we are mentally bent toward evil, and part of that evil is that we can be inclined to envy. Such a spirit will lead to conflict and augments within the congregation. The love shown to Jesus made the Jewish religious leaders envious in the extreme, to the point of handing the Son of God over to Pilate to be executed. (Matt. 27:1-2, 18; Mark 15:10) The envious spirit that James speaks of is made all too clear throughout the entirety of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Envy is a product of selfishness. Solomon writes, “The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.” (Prov. 21:10) In other words, if one is envious, even of his best friend, he will resort to evil, to acquire what his friend has. The envious one’s main objective is to tear down the one who has what he wants so that he can undermine his accomplishments. Again, Solomon writes, “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” What did Solomon mean? The Holman Old Testament Commentary,

Some people determine that the way to “make it” in this sin-saturated world is to allow the competitive juices to flow. Competition per se is not evil, especially the type that seeks to make personal goals. But competition that seeks to overpower another or to make that person look stupid or inferior is sinful. This type of competition is common in our world. As Solomon will graphically demonstrate, this leads to heartache and loneliness.

In case we don’t “feel” that we are very competitive, it is time for honest evaluation. How do we respond inwardly when someone does a better job at something we value? Do we feel “beat”? If we feel that we “lost,” we know where the competitive spirit is coming from![12]

James 4:5 does present problems when it comes to translation. On this, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament writes, “The two verbal forms, which, because of itacism, were pronounced alike, have slightly different meanings: [katókisen] is causative (“the spirit which he [God] has made to dwell in us”), whereas [katókēsen] is intransitive (“the spirit [or, Spirit] which dwells in us”). The causative reading katókisen has better textual support, which suggests that God placed the Spirit within the believers, as God wanted us to be protected against losing our love for him. In other words, “the Spirit is jealous for the believers’ affection.” (Comfort 2008, 730) The intransitive katókēsen can convey two different thoughts: (1) the Spirit is jealous for our affection but does not convey that God placed it there, or (2) the spirit is a disposition (inclination or tendency), an inborn, imperfect human desire to do wrong, like envy another.[13] Kurt Richardson offers another interpretation,

The more likely reading is based upon God as Creator and as lawgiver and as the one who is giving new life to his dying creation. Humans are his perishing creatures. The spirit of life that transformed the newly formed body of the first man into a “living being” (Gen 2:7) is likely what is meant here. God is the giver of the spirit of life; it belongs to him. Moreover, the human spirit is not merely the vitality of the body (cf. 2:26) but also that which communes with God on the one hand or adulterates itself with idols on the other (cf. 1 Cor 6:17). The most natural understanding of “spirit” then is the human spirit, which gives us life and makes us spiritual beings. (Richardson 1997, 180)

However, this commentary interprets it as the spirit, inclination or disposition, which leans toward evil, of which one of the behaviors is envy. This envious spirit lies within imperfect humans and is not a behavior that God had intended for Adam and Eve, or their prospective perfect offspring prior to their choosing to rebel. It was their sin, which came into the world through Adam, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) Our inherited imperfection brings about this tendency to envy. It is not something God tolerates. Scripture clearly condemns envies, and “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” – Galatians 5:19-21.

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But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6)

Although humans are living in imperfection, being mentally bent toward evil, and possess such harmful behaviors as envy, we are not abandoned in a difficult position without help. Yes, God’s grace is far greater but should never be taken as an excuse for badness. God makes allowances for our imperfections. God “is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in faithful love. He will not always accuse us or be angry forever. He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses.” (Psa. 103:8-10, HCSB) King David goes on to write, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psa. 103:12) Plainly, the distance from the East to the West is the greatest distance something can be removed. Isaiah says God has “thrown all my sins behind your back.” (Isa. 38:17) The sense is that if our sins are behind God’s back he can no longer see them and will call them to mind no more. Micah says God “will hurl all their sins in the depths of the sea.” In those days, whatever is thrown into the sea will never be recovered. All of the above is based on how we deal with our inherited sin. If we were unrepentant, it would not apply. If we were not working toward getting our envious spirit under control, it would not apply. If we are using Spirit inspired Scripture in our lives in a correct and balanced manner, the above will apply. The apostle Paul tells us “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”–Galatians 5:16.

If our envy has moved us to seek out persons in the world, who are influential and prominent, hoping that their success will become our success, we will be making ourselves a friend of the world. Rather, we should humbly walk with God and his people, as any perceived losses that we have suffered due to the faith will never be missed upon Christ’s return. We need to give of ourselves fully, knowing that God’s grace is abundantly available to help us conquer the world.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” is a quote from a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament (c. 280-150 B.C.E.), known as the Septuagint. It is a translation of Proverbs 3:34. The humble one will seek God, looking for help through prayer, as well as acting on behalf of that prayer. In other words, he will apply God’s inspired Word, and if necessary, seek the counseling from the pastor. Whatever is needed in order to overcome an envious spirit, he will do with the help of God and God’s people. The apostle Peter tells us “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”– 1 Peter 5:5.

James 4:7-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

  7 Submit therefore to God. Stand against[14] 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. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the eyes of[15] the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Submit therefore to God. Stand against the devil and he will flee from you. (4:7)

How can Christians receive the grace of God mentioned in verse 6? They can do so by submitting themselves to God. To submit to God means that we place ourselves under his sovereignty, in which we fully commit ourselves to obeying him in all things. The Greek verb (hypotasso) means ‘to submit, be subject, and, in general, communicates some sense of hierarchy.’ (Mounce 2006, 695) This submission to God is voluntary in every aspect of the Christian life. This includes the does and don’ts of Scripture, and also the things that God provides for us or allows us to go through, knowing his way is always best. Peter tells us “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” (1 Pet. 5:6) In this, we are placing our will under the control of the Father.

Part of our submission to God is that we take a stand against the Satan the Devil. (See Eph. 4:27; 6:11-12; 1 Tim. 3:6-7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9) As Satan is actually the god of this world at this time (2 Cor. 4:3-4; John 14:30), to resist him is to be no part of the world. As we saw, to be a part of the world would make us an enemy of God. Satan’s world caters to the fallen flesh, such as individuality, absolute freedom, self-importance, self-interest, love of self, fame, reputation, covetousness, and the like. The word “devil” translates the Greek diabolos, which means “slanderer.” The Devil brought humanity into the current turmoil by originally slandering God. The main objective of the Devil is to separate us from God by his deception. Many times, this is also accomplished through false religious leaders as well.

When we stand against the devil, we are told by James that he will flee from us. This is the case because we have help from the one who conquered the world, Jesus Christ (John 16:33), as well as the helper he sent us, the Holy Spirit. (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7) The Devil tried to tempt Jesus as well. However, when Jesus used the Scriptures against him, he fled from Jesus. (Matt 4:1-11) In the book of Job, we learned that God put a hedge around Job and his house and all that he had, blessing him. (Job 1:10) Why did God protect Job in this way? If there were no protective wall around the righteous, the Devil and his demons could just arbitrarily kill every faithful person: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, John, Peter, and Paul, to mention just a few. In fact, Peter wrote, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (1 Pet. 3:13) Therefore, Christians can conquer the Devil through the power of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (4:8a)

James first addressed the fact that one must not be a friend of the world if he is going to draw near to God. The Hebrew Old Testament spoke of God’s people, the Israelites, ‘coming near to Jehovah.’ (Ex. 19:22; Jer. 30:21; Ez. 44:13) In the New Testament, we have the Father sending humanity his only-begotten Son. (John 3:16) The apostle John tells us, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only-begotten one from the Father, full of grace and truth.” As we learn from the example, Christ set while on earth, it is by prayer, repentance, obedience and exclusive devotion to God that Christians can draw near to God. “Now the Spirit of God came upon Azariah, the son of Oded, and he went out before Asa and said to him, ‘hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: Jehovah is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.’” (2 Chron. 15:1-2) As we ‘get to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent’ (John 17:3), we will learn more fully of his love, power, wisdom, and justice, which will guide us in the way that we should go, as he draws near us as well.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (4:8b)

The book of James accuses his readers of being guilty of wars at 4:1 and murder at 2:11. Obviously, as was mentioned earlier, James was not talking about literal wars and murder. Rather, he was speaking of ones that were guilty of murderous hatred for others, infighting, slander, and the like. This is why he told them to cleanse their hands. This would have sounded familiar to those familiar with Isaiah, which reads,

Isaiah 1:15-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
Yes, even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full[16] of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,

James’ readers were sinners in more ways than inherited sin or just occasionally committing a sin, they were living in sin and needed to repent, i.e., turnaround from their bad ways. Hands in a figurative sense had many different meanings, but James is using them to symbolize deeds, as almost all work, especially in Bible times, was carried out with the hands. The sinful actions that these ones were carrying out spiritually polluted their hands. Many times, within Scripture, the heart is used figuratively for “the center of the self, of its feeling and willing, has purity as one of its chief virtues (cf. Matt 5:8; 1 Tim 1:5).” (Richardson 1997, 187) Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15:19) Our heart “is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9), which brings forth sinful thinking, leading to sinful works if cultivated. Therefore, we must cleanse the inner person, which will result in good works, which also is facilitated by the power of the Holy Spirit.

James is the only writer to use the expression double-minded, which refers to their impurity of heart and their failure to trust in God. The Greek is literally speaking of two-souled ones, meaning they are trusting in both God and something else: self, world, money, and the like. We likely recall that James said the one who asks God for wisdom and doubts was a double-minded man. In other words, he is an indecisive man, namely, wavering in mind. This one fails to ask God because he is not certain God will or can answer him. Another aspect of this is, one who may ask, but does not have faith either, so he depends on his own wisdom; and then, blames God when things do not go as he had hoped. James said of this man; he is “unstable in all his ways.” James’ readers were wavering between being a friend to God and being friends with the world, that is, figuratively, adultery.

We need to be every vigilant in our relationship with God. Our inherited sin and human weaknesses, coupled with Satan’s world catering to our fallen flesh, will contribute to our drifting away (Heb. 2:1), drawing away (3:12-13), falling away (6:6), becoming sluggish (6:12), grow weary or fainthearted (12:3), or turning away (12:25). One can move away from the Christian faith for many different reasons, and it can be sudden, or so slow that we do not even realize it is taking place. (See Rom. 7:18-19) Therefore, we must employ constant, unending watchfulness.

Be miserable and mourn and weep; (4:9a)

James tells his readers to be miserable and mourn and weep, when we know that Christians are not to Christians to be miserable, continuously having some sad view of life, bringing about sad expressions. In fact, Paul said Christians are to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:2) If a Christian is evidencing sadness, it should be the result of a repentant heart. (2 Cor. 7:10-11) Some claiming to be Christians are, in fact, friends with the world and have very little recognizable traits that they are Christian, except when they are at Christian meetings. If we are heading in that direction, we should be saddened by our spiritually weak state, which should motivate us to make the needed corrections. When we pray and then act on our prayers, knowing that God has forgiven us, we have a clean conscience and find the joy that we were lacking.

let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. (4:9b)

James wants his readers to realize the weightiness of their sins fully, when he writes, let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. The Old Testament often refers to the laughter of the stupid one or the fool, i.e., the stupid one who ridicules the notion of living a righteous life and without a care in the world goes along in a life of idleness and desire of the fallen flesh. (See Pro. 10:23; Eccl. 7:6) Jesus even commented on such a fool, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Lu 6:25b) James and Jesus were rebuking those who believe that they can be friends of the world while saying they are also a servant of God. James wanted them to wake up from their path, this free from care, lighthearted approach to life, and notice it is not the path to salvation. Rather, they need to feel disappointed and mourn over their plight, realizing their need to improve their spirituality. – Matthew 5:3-4.

Humble yourselves in the eyes of the Lord, and he will exalt you. (4:10)

Jesus Christ said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12) Sin means missing the mark of perfection, which we simply do from birth. However, sin is also anything not in agreement with, conflicting with, God’s character, values, morals, ethics, and ideals, as well as his will and purposes; i.e., anything that can stain our relationship with God. Therefore, we must humble ourselves before God, not thinking more of ourselves than necessary. King David said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps. 51:17) There is nothing that we can do, which will restore our relationship with God, aside from confessing our sins to him and accepting our human weaknesses. Thus, we need to remove the self-important or carefree attitude toward our sinful nature. We must come to the realization that our self-worth is in the fact that God created our parents and he loves faithful humanity; then, we will find favor. If we do this, we will have a feeling of intense or extreme happiness or exhilaration, knowing the sin has been removed by Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. (Matt 20:28; Rom 5:12; 1 John 2:1) Yes, God will renew our disposition, and we can then feel free from any hypocrisy in our sharing of God’s loving-kindness, as well as of his will and purposes.

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James 4:11-12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 11 Do not speak against one another, brothers. 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. 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?

Do not speak against one another, brothers. 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.  (4:11)

Three times within this one verse, James talks of “speaking against. The Greek term (katalaleo) describes ‘speaking against, often involving speaking evil of, to speak evil of, to slander, slander.’ (Louw and Nida 1996, LN 33.388) Moreover, it describes one who accuses someone, with a suggestion of the false and exaggerated.’[17] (Bromiley and Friedrich 1964-, TDNT Volume 4, Page 3) We must keep in mind that Scripture does not say that it is wrong to speak out against wrongdoing, or anything that is contrary to God’s Word. For example, the overseers within a congregation counsel on that quite often. Moreover, Christians are to report any serious sin or practice of sin to the church leaders. In addition, if one has been personally wronged,[18] a specific approach needs to take place. In other words, the one who has been personally wronged would go to the person privately. If unsuccessful, they would take another as a witness. If there were still no progress, she or he would take it to the church leaders.

James has already warned against anger (James 1:19–20), favoritism (James 2:1–13), cursing (James 3:9–10), and wars and fights (James 4:1–2). Here James is dealing with another aspect of an incorrect attitude toward one’s brother. It is a powerfully grave personal view that is now being considered. Here again, James refers to his readers as “brothers,” because this will let them know just how egregious their wrongdoing is. Many times in life, one who lacks love and compassion for another will seek to elevate himself by slandering another, seeking to make him look inferior by comparison. The psalmist describes such a person, “You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.” (Ps. 50:20) In addition, a sanctimonious, smug and haughty attitude can make a person disposed toward being critical of others and their human weaknesses, even to the point of accusing them or inferring they are guilty of wrongdoing. (John 9:13-16, 28, 34) Regardless of why the slander of another has no place within the Christian congregation. (See Lev. 19:16; Pro. 3:29-30) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23); therefore, the tendency to backbite, gossip or even slander is within us all, so James’ counsel is very beneficial.

We can internally evaluate the conduct of another because we must be able to determine who is a good or bad association for our children or us. However, we are not to judge one as to their standing before God, as a righteous one or an unrighteous one. Jesus said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” (Matt. 7:1; See Rom. 2:1; 14:1–3) We are not to be overly critical of others, always finding fault, being opinionated. This is true of our perception of non-Christians, and especially of our spiritual brothers and sisters. This is the gossip, backbiting, and judging, which James condemns. This wrongful speak toward our brothers is speaking against the law, judging the law, i.e., “the law of liberty.” (Jam. 2:8, 12) Again, this “law of liberty” is a reference not to the Mosaic Law, but to the new covenant, in which the Father declared, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:33) Christians are under the principles behind the Mosaic Law, not some lengthy code of rules and regulations, but rather under the inspired, inerrant Word of God, which enables them to know the will of the Father. (Matt. 7:21-23; 1 John 2:15-17; Gal. 5:1, 13-14) With a critical and judgmental attitude, we place ourselves in the judgment seat. In this, we are setting aside God’s laws, inferring that they need not be obeyed. Christians are obligated to obey God’s Word, not be judgmental of it so that we begin to rationalize or justify our violation of it. When we slander others, we are in opposition to the God of love (1 John 4:8) and suggest that we need not obey.

There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (4:12)

The Scripture makes it clear whom the lawgiver and judge is, the Father, who is spoken of at Isaiah 33:22, “For Jehovah is our judge; Jehovah is our lawgiver; Jehovah is our king; he will save us.” He is the sovereign of the universe, the life giver to spirit creatures, to humans and to animals, which means it is his standards and rules. It is he who determines who does and who does not receive salvation. James spells out what sort of judging is being discussed when he adds, he who is able to save and to destroy. One day before Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the Son said to his disciples, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” Who gave the Son this authority? Jesus had said it was the Father earlier to the Pharisees


The Authority of the Son

John 5:19-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

So Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever things that One does, these things the Son does likewise. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him all the things he himself does. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them alive, so also the Son makes alive whom he wants to. 22 For the Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, 23in order that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

The Son said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Matt. 10:28) The ones that James is referring to, those that are slandering and judging their brother, most likely are not fully aware of the seriousness of placing themselves on the judgment seat, trying to assume the authority that was given to the Son by the Father! Why would we ever want to live by our human imperfection when we have the perfect lawgiver and judge? The Psalmist wrote, “The law of the Lord is blameless, restoring the soul; the testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple.” (Ps. 19:7) Let us walk through the Bible from beginning to end and see exactly why James’ counsel is so very important.

Deuteronomy 12:32 (UASV)

“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.


Proverbs 30:5-6 (UASV)

Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words,
lest he reprove you and you be found a liar.

Revelation 22:18 (UASV)

18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book;

While no created has the authority to determine for themselves that something is acceptable when God’s Word condemns it, it is just as egregious for any created being to suggest that God’s law prohibits something, when it is acceptable. On this Isaiah writes, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20) Wise King Solomon said, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to Jehovah.” (Pro. 17:15) Jesus condemned the Jewish religious leaders for just this thing, as their overzealousness of the Law moved them to add hundreds of rules that the common people had to carry out, which were not an obligation and hundreds of rules that prohibited things, when in it was, in fact, acceptable under the Law. James did not want his brothers making this same error of going beyond what the Scriptures said.

Warning Against Pride

James 4:13-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

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 your life will be like tomorrow.[19] For you are a mist appearing for a little while and then vanishing 15 Instead you ought to say,[20] “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 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.

Come now, you who says, “Today or tomorrow we go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.” (4:13)

We should never make any plans without having considered the Word of God, for we should be biblically minded. Bible principles should be embedded in our thinking to the point that what we think is what God would have wanted us to think. Such persons would never make plans that did not involve God, as they are servants of him and in essence, their lives are his. The context is as follows: verses 1-10 speaks of those who set God aside for friendship with the world. Then, verses 11-12 speak of those who have set God aside as the lawgiver and judge for their independent decisions. Now, these same ones act as though their future is absolute so they can make business plans at the disregard of God. They are self-centered that they have broken down their plans to the point of how long they will stay and just how much profit they will make.

We must understand that James is not suggesting that a person cannot travel until they have some manifestation of proof from God that it is permissible. Rather, what he is reproving is the approach by their arrogant, disrespectful, and self-assured statements. They have not considered God in their plans. For a modern-day example, suppose a husband and Father decided that he would get his family out of poverty by taking a long-haul team truck-driving job, which would have him on the road months at a time over a few years. A father is obligated to provide for his family’s needs. He is obligated to provide food, clothing, and housing for his wife and children. (1 Tim. 5:8) However, how many other Scriptures would this violate? Aside from financial means, the father is also obligated to take care of his family’s mental, spiritual and emotional needs. He is obligated to make Christian meetings, to carry out a personal Bible study with the family, spend quality time with his family, and far more. Therefore, taking such a job would evidence a lack of faith in God and an independent spirit, disregarding the Word of God in his decision.

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. For you are a mist appearing for a little while and then vanishing. (4:14)

Solomon writes, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” No human can know what the future holds, even a few minutes from the present, let alone a year from the moment of decision-making. God, on the other hand, knows what is going to take place every second into the eternal future. In fact, Solomon warns us, “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and unexpected events happen to them all.”–Ecclesiastes 9:11.

In this imperfect age of Satan, human life is both unclear and short-lived. For we “are a mist appearing for a little while and then vanishing.” Therefore, we are foolish if we think for a moment that anything other than God is secure to the point that we can build on it. (Eccl. 1:2; 2:17-18) In the business of today, we are making thousands of decisions every day, and it is quite easy to allow God to fade out of our decisions. Therefore, we should have a biblical worldview[21] because we are a serious student of God’s Word. We should never ignore that biblical mind, the mind of Christ, the whispering of the Scriptures in our ear, telling us, ‘this is the way that you should go.’


Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (4:15)

As the father and the husband, the wife, and mother, or a single Christian, male or female, we have dreams of the kind of work we want to do, the type of job, our church life, or our family life. This is perfectly fine; James is simply recommending that God be at the forefront of any decisions we make. James wants us to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” This does not mean that everything that we think, do, feel, or believe in our life is the will of God, because we are imperfect humans, and we are living in a wicked world that is ruled by Satan the Devil. This is not to say that human weaknesses, a fallen world, or Satan can foil God’s will. It means that we will not perfectly follow the lords will at every moment of our life. If we did, we would be perfect.

Being imperfect humans, who are ‘mentally bent toward evil,’ possessing a deceitful heart that is desperately sick, and a natural desire for wrongdoing, we can do but one thing. We need to heed the following verses,

 Matthew 7:21-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’

1 John 2:15-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

How are we to know the will of God? We do so through the inspired, fully inerrant Word of God. If we have a biblical worldview and we follow Scripture, interpreting it correctly, we will do the will of the Father. What we do not want to do is to adopt some cliché, repeatedly saying, ‘if the Lord wills it.’ This makes it superstitious, some routine or habit, which is using it to be noticed by others. This becomes insincere or phony and a mockery of the principle behind James’ words. We need not say it out loud but know in our heart of hearts that we seek God’s will and purposes in every decision in life, and when we fail to do so in a case of human weakness, we will correct it most of the time when it comes to our attention.

As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (4:16)

Those who have had success in business tend to boast of those successes. However, this is not the way of a true Christian. James is saying that these ones were boasting of the successes they would have in their future to the disregard of God, the very person that holds their eternal future in his hands. Yes, this is arrogant indeed. The bright lights of life have blinded these ones. They are as the apostle John said, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16) Our boasting is to result from our relationship with God. His presence has been a blessing to our lives and will continue to do so. Paul wrote, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) Paul knew that when he was weak, the power of God protected him, and this is where the boasting should lay.

The boasting and arrogance are evil because it is of the world, which is under the rulership of Satan, and this one is fooling himself if he believes it will be lasting. Oh, he may be a successful businessman his entire life, but if this arrogance remains, it will end at death. He rather should return to his dependence on God.

Jeremiah 9:23-24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

23 Thus says Jehovah: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am Jehovah who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for I delight in these things,” declares Jehovah.

God is not saying that one cannot be wise, mighty or rich, but rather he should not fall into the wrong way of thinking, by bragging about them. To do so, would be to ignore his dependence on God. Such an attitude would be the result of a self-fantasy and arrogance. In the end, it will result in condemnation.

Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. (4:17)

These words of James in verse 17 are contextually related to what had been said in verses 14-16, i.e., boasting in ignorance as to their future successes when they have failed to consider God. If a person understands that they can indeed not accomplish anything eternally successful without God’s help and yet fails or refuses to depend on God, this is a sin. However, James’ words can by implication apply to sins of omission as well.

Thus, one who offers himself to God must carry out that commitment. He has an obligation to carry out his Christian duties, responsibilities to the best of his abilities. It is a sin if he does not do the right thing. How can this be you may ask? Well, picture him coming out of a store when he sees a very young child running into traffic. What if he has every opportunity to grab the child before it is run over, but instead, he turns his back and walks away? True, there will be no legal consequences in the human legal system. However, as a Christian before the one lawgiver and judge, the fact that he could have done what was right, what was obligated and did nothing, it would be a sin. Are there times when we failed to express Christian love toward another, especially a spiritual brother or sister, or toward God? Each time we failed to do so, it was a sin for us. Every Christian should humbly recognize his dependence on God.



James 4:5 What scripture is James quoting here?

James 4:5 Updated American standard Version (UASV)

Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose, “The spirit that dwells in us strongly desires to envy”?

There is no verse being quoted here by James, as none states these words. However, the essence of his words is found in such Scriptures as Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Proverbs 21:10; and Galatians 5:17.

Review Question

  • [ 1] What is the source of wars and fights among you?
  • [ 1] Just how bad is the sinful nature of fallen human?
  • [ 2] How are we to understand James’ words in verse 2?
  • [ 3] Why were these one’s prayers not being answered?
  • [ 4] How is friendship with the world enmity toward God?
  • [ 5] How prevalent is envy in the world today?
  • [ 6] The words, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” should move us to do what?
  • [ 7] How complete should a Christians subjection to God be?
  • [ 8] How can Christians draw close to God?
  • [ 9] How are we to understand James’ words here?
  • [ 10] How are we to humble ourselves in the eyes of God?
  • [ 11] What does James mean when he says, “He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother”?
  • [ 12] “But who are you to judge your neighbor?” Who is your neighbor?
  • [ 13] What does James mean here?
  • [ 14] Why should we not view the life we have now as being so special?
  • [ 15] What attitude should we have?
  • [ 16] Why is pride so wicked?
  • [ 17] Explain what James means here.

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[1] Or quarrels

[2] Or conflicts

[3] I.e., a conflict within you

[4] Lit., wickedly or badly

[5] See Luke 8:14;Titus 3:3; 2 Peter 2:13

[6] Or “unfaithful ones”

[7] Or “hostility”

[8] There was actually a minister, who felt that it would be okay to go to bars, to drink and evangelize. There are young ones who have started heavy metal Christian bands (oxymoron), believing they can reach young ones by using the things of the world. Andrews wrote elsewhere that this merely makes Christians ‘nine parts world and one part Christian.’

[9] See, Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Proverbs 21:10; and Galatians 5:17.

[10] New Testament Writers Use of the Old Testament

[11] The Bible–An American Translation (1935), J. M. Powis Smith and Edgar J. Goodspeed.

[12] Moore, David; Anders, Max; Akin, Daniel (2003-07-01). Holman Old Testament Commentary Volume 14 – Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (p. 56). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[13] “There is really no pneumatology, that is, doctrine of the Holy Spirit, in the Epistle of James. His specific doctrinal and practical concerns evidently did not warrant such a discussion. So the verse is probably not concerned with God either desiring his Holy Spirit to indwell believers or what Paul called grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). A second interpretive option understands the Holy Spirit as desiring believers. But both these options, while not contrary to scriptural truth at all, are not likely interpretations.” (Richardson 1997, 180)

[14] I.e., resist or oppose

[15] Or in the presence of or before

[16] Or covered with

[17] See 1 Peter 2:12

[18] Being personally wronged is dealing with minor things, such as bad behavior toward another. This is not dealing with spiritual, mental or physical abuse, or crimes against another. These should be reported to the church leaders, and if a crime, to the police.

[19] Or what will happen tomorrow. What kind of life is yours?

[20] Lit Instead of your saying

[21] A biblical world view is ideas and beliefs through which a Christian interprets the world and interacts with it.

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