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James 3:1-4:6, Part 2

by Karl Kemp  
5/19/2012 / Bible Studies

We will finish this study of James 3:1-4:10 here in Part 2, starting with James 3:14.

(14) But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition [or, strife] in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. [Compare Rom. 2:8; James 3:16; and 5:19. All sin lies against the truth. Things like bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (or, strife) do not come from God, and they are in opposition to His truth (and wisdom, and righteousness).] (15) This wisdom is not that which comes down from above [It does not come from God (cf. James 1:17).], but is earthly [cf. 1 Cor. 2:6; 3:19], natural [Compare 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 1:12; Jude 1:19. The Greek behind this word ("natural") is the feminine adjective "psuchiche," agreeing with the noun for wisdom in the Greek, which is feminine. This adjective was derived from the Greek noun "psuche," which is typically translated "soul" or "life" in the New Testament. When it is translated life, it is the life of this world, as contrasted with the life of God (spiritual/eternal life by the Spirit of God). The BAGD Greek Lexicon gives "unspiritual" as the meaning of the adjective here in James 3:15 (unspiritual in the sense of being devoid of the Holy Spirit). The NIV and the margin of the NASB have "unspiritual."], demonic [The NIV has "of the devil." Note "set on fire by hell" in James 3:6.]. (16) For where jealousy and selfish ambition [or, strife] exist [cf. James 3:14], there is disorder and every evil thing. [These things are "earthly, natural/unspiritual, demonic"; they do not come from God/the Spirit of God; they are not associated with the wisdom of God.] (17) But the wisdom from above [from God/the Spirit of God] is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. (18) And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. [The "fruit" that results from God's people walking in His wisdom (by His grace/Spirit) is "righteousness" (living in accordance with His will/Word). One major point that James makes here is that righteousness will not be the result if God's people do not walk in peace. As I mentioned, there is a strong emphasis in James 3:13-18 on the need for peace, gentleness, divine order, etc. These things are important, and some Christians, very much including some in positions of leadership, often need to be reminded of these things. James 1:20 illustrates this point, "for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." To the extent that God's people are walking in the wisdom/truth of God and in the Spirit of God there will be peace (peace with God, peace among God's people, peace in the heart of God's people) and there will be righteousness.] (4:1) What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? [[As I mentioned, you could get the very wrong idea from James 4:1-10 (as with other statements by James) that James intended these words of James 4:1-10 to apply to all his readers, even to all Christians. Some Christians understand these verses that way. I am confident that James had no such intention. It is important to see that James would not have considered people who continued in that sinful state (without repentance) to be true Christians. In James 4:4 he says that such people are hostile toward God and enemies of God, not children/people of God.]] Is not the source [of quarrels and conflicts among you] your pleasures [The NIV has "desires."] that wage war in your members? [[The warfare originates in the heart (cf., e.g., Mark 7:20-23). All Christians know something of an inner warfare in that the old man has not been annihilated yet. (It will not be annihilated until we are glorified.) Galatians 5:17 is one of the most important verses that mentions this warfare (also see Rom. 8:12-14). But Gal. 5:17, when read in context with Gal. 5:16, shows (as do Rom. 8:12-14) that Christians are enabled by the Spirit to win every battle and not sin (not that the warfare is always easy or enjoyable, or that the victory is automatic). Galatians 5:16 clearly shows that when Christians walk in/by/after the Holy Spirit (which they can do, and are required to do, on a continuous basis by faith), they will not sin. We must fix our hearts on God, on His Word, and on His righteousness. God does not tolerate a divided heart/double-mindedness (see under James 4:8). I was surprised, pleasantly surprised, that many commentators often made this point, and in strong, unambiguous ways.]] (4:2) You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. [Most agree that James was not speaking, at least not for the most part (cf. James 5:6a), of literal murder. All Christians have wrong desires at times, but wrong desires do not constitute sin as long as the Christian resists them in the power of the Holy Spirit (e.g., Gal. 5:16, 17; Rom. 8:12-14). (These super-important verses are discussed in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," for one place.)] You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. [God wants His people to look to Him and to ask Him for all the things they need (e.g., Matt. 6:25-33), but Matt. 6:33 shows that asking will not yield the desired results if His people do not seek Him first (not things) and His kingdom and His righteousness, which includes living right before Him by His grace through faith. First John 3:22 confirms that we must live right before God (by His grace through faith) if we want our prayers to be answered. First John 5:14, 15 teach us that we must ask in accordance with the Father's will. James 1:5-8, along with many other verses, show that we must pray in faith, without doubting in our hearts.] (4:3) You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. [The things that are asked for in such prayers would not be in accordance with God's will or His righteousness.] (4:4) You adulteresses [cf. Matt. 12:39], do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God [cf. Rom. 8:7]? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world [cf. Matt. 6:24; John 15:19; James 1:27; 1 John 2:15-17; and 4:1-6] makes himself an enemy of God. [[James certainly did not mean to say that all his readers (or all Christians) were "adulteresses" against God. (I had a footnote: D. Edmond Hiebert ("Epistle of James" [Moody, 1979], page 250), speaking of the word adulteresses here in James 4:4 says, "the plural here implies that James is directing his rebuke at those individuals who were unfaithful to their covenant with Christ as the Bridegroom of the church.") My point is confirmed by many verses throughout this epistle. If they actually were "adulteresses" against God, they would have made themselves "enemies" of God. There is a big difference between being a child of God and being an enemy of God. Some of the people that James called adulteresses probably had never become born-again Christians; such people could repent and submit to the gospel in faith and become true Christians. Some probably were totally backsliden Christians; they could repent. (I had a footnote: I believe that we can always counsel backsliden Christians who are wondering if God will accept them back into fellowship that the answer is yes. The fact that they have a desire to repent demonstrates that God hasn't given up on them.) And some probably were Christians who had a serious problem with a less-than-total commitment to God and His righteousness. James spoke to those he called adulteresses in powerful terms to help wake them up that they might repent from their unacceptable state of Christianity.

I'll quote part of what George M. Stulac said regarding James 4:4 ("James" [Inter-Varsity Press, 1993], page 144). He is commenting on the seriousness of the need to choose between friendship with God and friendship with the world. "...the seriousness of the one alternative is made clear with the shocking terms: you adulterous people, hatred toward God, and enemy of God. It all sounds so offensive that we are tempted to think that he must be addressing non-Christians rhetorically.... Here, however, he must be addressing his Christian readers [I would say he is addressing some of his "Christian" readers; to the extent the shoe fits, they must repent], for his immediate message is still too closely connected to the hypocritical wisdom and the fights and quarrels among you from 3:13 and 4:1. But he is again warning those who call themselves Christians that they may be false Christians who are really enemies of God.

James simply writes with a stronger conviction of the seriousness of sin than most of us are willing to hold. In fact he writes with a sense of moral outrage. ... We should accept James terms [e.g., adulteresses], learn from his acute sense of moral right and wrong, and apply it to ourselves in fear of the judgment that comes to any who are not true Christians. Harboring bitter envy and selfish ambition, with the actions of fighting and quarreling, makes us adulterous people who are treating God with hatred and enmity."

I'll quote part of what Peter H. Davids said here ("Commentary on James" [Eerdmans, 1982], page 161). "Two diametrically opposed pairs are presented: friendship and enmity are used to underline the polar opposition between God and the world. Here is a radical ethical dualism of the type found in 1 John 2:15-17 and elsewhere in the Johannine corpus [written by the apostle John]. The world is not the created order or the earth, but the whole system of humanity (its institutions, structures, values, and mores) as organized without God. [The god of this world is the devil.] ... There is no middle point, no compromise. One is either God's friend or his enemy.... This is precisely the point Jesus made (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13): one must be '100 percent.' Even the cultivate the world is disastrous, for that inner disposition not just a compromiser or a poor Christian, but an enemy of God!"

I'll quote part of what Douglas Moo said here ("James," page 144). "James use of 'adulteresses' thus serves to characterize his readers as the unfaithful people of God. ... Certainly James readers were not overtly disclaiming God and consciously deciding to follow the world instead. But their 'jealousy,' 'selfish ambition' and 'unrestrained passion,' exhibiting as they did 'earthly, unspiritual and devilish' attitudes (3:15), amounted to just that. God will brook no rival, and when the believer behaves in a way characteristic of the world, he demonstrates that, at that point, his allegiance is to the world rather that to God. By drawing out the ultimate consequences of worldly behavior in this way, James seeks to prick the consciences of his readers and to stimulate their repentance. They need to recognize that their selfish, quarrelsome behavior is a serious matter indeed."

I'll also quote part of what Ralph P. Martin said under this verse ("James" [Word, 1988], page 148). "No room for compromise is permitted, as James concludes in the final sentence of the verse: 'Anyone who is determined to be the world's friend sets himself at enmity (lit. 'as an enemy') with God.' ... Those who go this way 'constitute themselves' opponents of God. Not that they intend to fall away from God; but rather James is pointing out that such worldly behavior borders seriously on apostasy. He is suggesting that some of the readers do not appreciate that their deliberate choice to befriend the world is actually an action that sets them against God. So he has to summon them to repentance. ... While James seems to be suggesting that the Christians of 4:4 are not without hope (though woefully misguided) [they can still repent], he is quite clear when he says that their present conduct is deplorable and ranks them with the ungodly."]] (4:5) Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose [In that the following "quotation" does not come directly from any verse in the Old Testament, I agree with the many commentators who believe James was referring to an important theme that is found in several verses in the Old Testament. (I'll list some verses that present this theme as we continue.)]: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? [[This verse is not easy, as demonstrated by the differing translations and interpretations. There is only one view that satisfies me. That view is given, for example, in the BAGD Greek Lexicon: Under "epipotheo," the Greek verb translated "He...desires" by the NASB. BAGD says the meaning probably is, "he (God) yearns jealously over the spirit." The translation of the NASB would be satisfactory, in my opinion, if "Spirit" were changed to "spirit." The Greek noun pneuma is the same whether the Holy Spirit or the human spirit (or an evil spirit) is meant. The context in which the word is used typically shows how the word is to be understood; here there is much difference of opinion, but I believe the human spirit is meant.

The point is that God jealously desires/yearns jealously over the spirit/heart of His people in the sense that He demands that His people love Him and be faithful to Him with all their spirits/hearts/lives. The Bible, from the beginning to the end, demonstrates that God will not tolerate His people's unfaithfulness through worshiping other gods, or through other forms of rebellion/sin. The Bible frequently says that God is a jealous God (e.g., Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; and 32:16, 32). Hebrews 12:9 says, "Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?"

The view that I have presented regarding the meaning of James 4:5 is a common view, probably the most common view found in the commentaries. Stulac, for example, favors the view that the human spirit is spoken of here, and he says, "the meaning is that God jealously desires us to belong wholeheartedly to him" ("James," page 146).

I'll also quote part of what Moo said here ("James," pages 146, 147). "If...verse 5b depicts the jealousy of God for us [and this is the viewpoint that Moo favors], verse 6a will emphasize that God's grace is completely adequate to meet the requirements imposed on us by that jealousy. Our God is 'a consuming fire' and his demands on us may seem terrifying. But our God is also merciful, gracious, all-loving, and willingly supplies all that we need to meet his all-encompassing demands. ....' "

It is interesting that James did not mention the Holy Spirit in this epistle, assuming, as I do, that the human spirit is referred to in this verse. The all-important work of the Holy Spirit is included, however, in the "greater grace" that God gives, and we can see His work other places in this epistle (including the new birth of James 1:18).]] (4:6) But [or, "And" (Greek "de")] He gives a greater grace. [[In the Greek of this verse, the word translated "greater" comes first, which puts some emphasis on this word. Greater than the power of sin (the sin that wants to reign over us; the sin pictured, for example, in James 4:1-5) is the transforming/sanctifying grace of God made available to us in Christ Jesus. This is a big part of what the gospel is all about. Forgiveness for our sins is a very important part of the gospel, but far more important is the transformation to righteous and holy living through union with Christ Jesus in the power of His blood and the power of His Spirit. In other words we must truly love God and be faithful to Him from our hearts (by His grace through faith) with top priority. God hates sin!

I'll quote part of what Donald W. Burdick said under this verse ("Expositor's Bible Commentary," Vol. 12 [Zondervan, 1981], page 194). He is giving the viewpoint he prefers for James 4:4-6, "...God has set a high standard for wholehearted love and devotion on the part of his people, but he gives grace that is greater than the rigorous demand he has made. ... The reference to the gift of grace looks back to God's demand for loyalty (vv. 4-5). God in grace gives his people the help they need to resist the appeal of the world and to remain loyal to him."

I'll also quote part of what Walter W. Wessel said under James 4:5, 6 ("Wycliffe Bible Commentary" [Moody Press, 1962], page 1437). "There are a number of possible translations of the words that follow, but it is in keeping with the context to follow the RSV, which makes God, not spirit, the subject of the verb: He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us. God is a jealous God [Wessel listed some verses to back up this point], and hence he will not tolerate divided allegiance. No specific OT passage contains the words of this verse, but many passages express a similar sentiment.

The difficulties of living wholly for God in a wicked world are many, but he giveth more grace, which here seems to mean 'gracious help.' And this gracious aid God makes available, as Prov. 3:34 declares, not to proud, self-sufficient persons, but to humble, dependent men."

I'll quote part of what David P. Nystrom said here ("James" [Zondervan, 1997], page 228). "In verse 6 James holds out a lifeline to those who have apparently been ignorant of the gravity of their situation. God's grace, he says, is still available and abundant for them. God's demands can be harsh, but he always provides the means to follow him. ... James probably has in view a panoply of gifts, such as wisdom, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, salvation, Jesus Christ himself, and many others."

I'll also quote part of what James H. Ropes said under this verse ("Epistle of James" [T. & T. Clark, printed in 1978], page 265). "God makes rigorous requirements of devotion, but gives gracious help in order that men may be able to render the undivided allegiance which he exacts [requires/demands]. ... The comparative [greater] is most naturally taken as meaning 'greater grace in view of greater requirement.' [The grace must be sufficient to meet the need.] ... The context seems to require that [grace] be understood of the 'gracious gift' of aid to fulfil the requirement of whole-hearted allegiance." (Now back to James 4:6.)]] Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." [James quoted from Prov. 3:34 (the Septuagint); compare Matt. 23:12; 1 Pet. 5:5. Based on what these quoted words say, all who call themselves Christians must humble themselves before God, and they must appropriate and continuously walk in His sufficient, transforming/sanctifying grace. What a privilege!] (4:7) Submit therefore to God. [Cf. 1 Pet. 5:6.] Resist the devil and he will flee from you. [[Compare Eph. 4:27; 6:10-18; and 1 Pet. 5:8-10. All Christians must " God." This is not optional (those who aren't submitted to God aren't true Christians), but it is a great privilege to be submitted to God, and it yields great blessings. This is what we were created for; this is what we were saved for.

Part of what is involved in submitting to God is resisting the devil, who is an enemy of God and the ruler of the kingdom of sin, and who is (in some ways) behind all sin (cf. 1 John 3:8-12). Again, this is not optional, but it is a great privilege and a great blessing to be able to resist the devil. The devil (or sin) never does anything that is really good for man; his work always leads toward darkness, death, and destruction. It is true, however, that the things the devil (and sin) offers men look good - through deception and lies. To the extent Christians submit to God and resist the devil, they will not sin.]] (4:8) [In this verse James further deals with what is involved in submitting to God and resisting the devil. These words (along with the words of 4:6, 7, and much other Scripture) make it clear that Christians have their part to play as they submit to God in repentance and faith and resist the devil - God does not just make all things work for the good of His people while they are passive. Faith is active!] Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. [Compare 2 Chron. 15:2; Zech. 1:3; and Mal. 3:7. As James continues he tells his readers (speaking to those who have not been living fully for God but who have been living in sin to one degree or another) what is involved in drawing near to God. Both of the things that James goes on to mention in this verse also fit in the category of resisting the devil (and sin and this world system).] Cleanse your hands, you sinners [Compare Job 17:9; Isa. 1:16; and 1 Tim. 2:8. James is not speaking of Christians asking for forgiveness here, as important as that is. He is speaking of the need for Christians to stop sinning (by the grace of God in Christ). The Greek verb translated "cleanse" here is often used in the New Testament, as it is here, of a sanctifying type of cleansing/purifying. (I had a footnote: For a start see the discussion of 2 Cor. 7:1 on pages 182, 183 of my book "Holiness and Victory Over Sin." Other important cross-references are listed there.)]; and purify your hearts [cf. Jer. 4:14; 1 Pet. 1:22; and 1 John. 3:3], you double-minded. [[The sin problem originates in the heart, so it is obvious that the solution to the sin problem must first and foremost purify the hearts of men. To understand James' words here we must see the connection between having a sinful heart and being double-minded. Many Christians would not see the connection because they (wrongly) think only of the head when they hear the word mind. See above under James 3:10 for some important information regarding the meaning of the Greek adjective that is translated "double-minded" here. Being double-minded is mostly a problem of the heart. Christians do not have the power in themselves to purify their hearts, but they must take some initiative to learn what God's word teaches regarding the need to be pure and how to appropriate and cooperate with His sanctifying/purifying grace. The fact that we are sanctified by God's grace does not mean that we can be passive - again, faith is active. God must receive all the glory for our being transformed/purified, but He will not be glorified to the extent that we do not walk in faith (a faith that is based on what God's Word actually teaches) and appropriate His sufficient grace.

I'll quote part of what Moo said here ("James," pages 148, 149). "...the term [double-minded/two-souled] brings forcibly to mind the 'doubleness' of the Christian who seeks to become 'a friend of the world' (4:4). ... To allow 'the world' to entice us away from a total, single-minded allegiance to God is to become people who are divided in loyalties, 'double-minded' and spiritually unstable." Moo goes on to speak of their need to repent.] (4:9) Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. [These words (of James 4:9), spoken in context with what else James said, were aimed (at least for the most part) at his readers who needed to do some serious repenting; they were not aimed at all Christians.] (10) Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you [[I prefer the translation of the NIV here, "and he will lift you up"; the KJV and the NKJV have essentially the same thing, "and He shall/will lift you up."]. Compare Job 5:11; James 4:6. If James readers who had not totally given their hearts to God would now humble themselves before Him, they could begin to receive (and to cooperate with) His "greater grace," as discussed in James 4:6-8. God would then lift them up from their sinful state to where they should be, and must be, as Christians.

I'll quote part of what Stulac said under James 4:4-10 ("James," pages 147-151). "Altogether, the paragraph of 4:4-6 emphasizes God's requirement of Christians: 'a total, unreserved, unwavering allegiance' to God rather than to the world (Moo ["The Letter of James"] 1985:144). It equally emphasizes that this requirement is not an achievement by which the proud can earn God's friendship, for the call to devotion is based on God's extension of grace [including His transforming/sanctifying grace] to the humble. ...

Steps to Be Taken Toward God (4:7-10). ... [James] has a prescription for them: repentance. That is what his ten imperatives provide [speaking of the ten imperatives (commands) contained in James 4:7-10] - a forceful call to repentance as the requisite to love and peace in the community [and to get rid of all the other sin]" (pages 147, 148).

Later in his discussion of James 4:7-10, Stulac discusses the meaning of God's lifting up (James 4:10) of those who heed James' exhortation to turn to God in repentance: "From the context of the intervening imperatives, James would be telling us to expect that God will come near to forgive sin, to restore joy and to strengthen the repentant sinner to live in purity and righteousness. Seeing the requirement of radical life changes in 4:7-10 expands our appreciation for that preceding promise in 4:6 - he gives us more [greater] grace. ["More grace" is the translation of the NIV, which Stulac is using.] ..." (pages 150, 151).

When we begin to see that God's grace is sufficient, we can begin to think in terms of His grace being sufficient for us to stop sinning. It is true, of course, that we were spiritually dead and sinful before we became Christians. When it comes to victory over sin, the key issue is what does God's Word say about His new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus? Does it say that His grace is sufficient for His people to be holy and stop sinning? If it does, and I believe it clearly does (as I have tried to show in much of my teaching), then we ought to start thinking, praying, talking, and walking this way (by grace through faith).

One last comment, everything I have said in this paper and other writings is aimed at a sanctifying transformation, not condemnation - we don't need more condemnation in the body of Christ, but we do need a lot more understanding of the fullness of the salvation provided for us in Christ Jesus, with the emphasis on holiness and victory over sin. We look to you Father! Your will must be done in us, in the church, and (ultimately) throughout the earth!

May God's will be fully accomplished through this paper!

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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