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Bible: What Does James 4 Teach Us About Prayer, Spiritual Adultery, Humility, and the Brevity of Life?

Updated on July 23, 2016

Thawing Out Relations With the Lord


James 4: Prayer; Spiritual Adultery; Humility; Shortness of Life

James 4

You Have Not Because You Ask Not

Having just spoken about peace and peacemaking to conclude his last topic, James answers a question with a question.

He names the source of his audience’s interpersonal conflicts (“wars and battles”), indicating that these battles originate in their internal sensuality (“Do they not come . . . your members?”) [v. 1].

He sets up cause-effect scenarios to prove his argument.

Their unsatisfied, inordinate desires (“lust”) cause them to murder, and their hate-filled inability to gain some valuable object that someone else has (“covet”) leads them to engage in violence (v. 2a, b).

[The NASB logically groups the causes and effects together, and makes better sense than does the NKJV arrangement.

James may mean actual physical murder here, but it is more likely that he had Jesus’ “internal” murder in mind (cf. Mt. 5:21-22).]

Instead of asking God to satisfy their legitimate desires, they resort to these fleshly measures (v. 2c).

When they do decide to ask the Lord, they do not approach Him with the right motive; they want Him to give them something so that they can satisfy their own selfish pleasure (v. 3).



Unfaithfulness to the Lord Brings Chastisement

Labeling the Jews “adulterers and adulteresses” (or simply “adulteresses,” NASB), James castigates them for not understanding that by making themselves worldlings, they put themselves at odds with God (v. 4).

[In the OT, spiritual adultery pictures unfaithfulness to God.]

He questions their insensitivity to the Scripture portion that tells them that the indwelling Holy Spirit wants them for His own and is unwilling to share them with anything else (v. 5).

[Where this Scripture is James does not tell.]

God will give abundant grace to those who humble themselves (v. 6; cf. Prov. 3:34).

What Must We Do . . . ?

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The Need for Humility and Confession of Sin

Since God showers the humble with grace, James exhorts his readers to submit themselves to the Lord. With the added grace He provides, believers can then successfully resist Satanic temptation (v. 7). As they decide to become more intimate with the Lord, He will draw close to them (v. 8a). [Although the initiative to change seems to reside with the believer, the Lord must always provide grace for this repentance to occur].

Yet, in order to inaugurate this closer fellowship, believers will need to come clean by confessing their sins (“cleanse your hands”) and jettisoning their worldly mindset (“purify your hearts”) [v. 8b; cf. 1:8]. They will have to become serious about their spiritual lives by repudiating their “worldly frivolity” (v. 9). To conclude this issue, James presents an imperative that acts as a conditional sentence, saying that if they humble themselves before God, the Lord will surely exalt them (v. 10; cf. 1 Pet. 5:6).

The Law


The Brevity of Life

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Stop Judging Your Christian Brethren

Next, James turns to the problem of judging other believers. When one believer “speaks evil of a brother,” the author concludes that he “speaks evil of the law and judges the law” (v. 11a). One who judges the law (and by so doing violates the law) is in no position to judge anyone; only God, who gave the law, has the prerogative “to save and to destroy” (v. 12).

[What kind of judging is this? In 1 Corinthians 5:3 Paul writes that he has already judged a professing believer who had committed grievous sin. Here James is not referring to that kind of judging. Here it is false and defamatory; it inaccurately assigns blame where none exists, and so seeks to ruin another’s reputation].

[In what way is the believer who judges another judging the law? If he calls his brother guilty, but the law pronounces him innocent, then the one judging his brother is putting himself above the law.]

Include God in Your Plans

Moving on to another topic, James attempts to correct the perspective of certain Jewish worldlings who make long-term business plans without keeping God and spiritual reality in mind; in addition, they do not even consider the possibility that they may not live to see the next day (vv. 13-14a). After making the point that life is like an evanescent vapor, James urges these individuals to bring the Lord’s will for their lives into their strategy (v. 15). He labels their present arrogant boasting about the future as “evil” (v. 16), and indicates that if they continue to do what they know to be wrong, it becomes sin to them (v. 17).

© 2013 glynch1


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