Thirdmill Study Bible

Notes on James 4:1-12

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Submit Your Desires to God. - James 4:1-12

James opens this section with a question: “What causes quarrels and fights among you?” His answer is inner conflict and misdirected desires. In other words, James briefly explores the selfish ambition characteristic of earthly(see 3:14-16). Submitting those desires in humility to God, the source of heavenly wisdom (see notes for 3:17-18) is the cure for the conflict James describes here.

Quarrels and disputes - James 4:1

James asks this question to draw attention to the sources of his readers’ quarrels and disputes. James pinpoints the desires that fight within us (Rom. 7:23; 1 Pet. 2:11; Jam 3:14-16), desires that characterize earthly wisdom.

Spiritual infidelity - James 4:4

Taking a cue from the prophets (Is. 54:5-6; Jer. 3:20), and the portrait of the foolish in Proverbs 6-7, James calls his readers adulteresses and warns them about friendship with the world. Such strong warning is warranted because continuing spiritual infidelity will make them God’s enemy.

Respond to this grace - James 4:5-6

God’s Spirit is jealous for the covenant loyalty of his people (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). Several passages in Scripture mention God’s jealousy for his people and his own glory (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24; Josh 24:19; Joel 2:18; Nah. 1:2). The Spirit’s work is to convict God’s people of sin, and to guide their judgment in the ways of righteousness (see notes on John 16:8-11). This grace is at work in their hearts and between them to sanctify them for the Lord and his purposes. Citing Prov. 3:34 (cf. Ps 138:6), James encourages his readers to respond to this grace by remembering that God opposes the proud but gives continuous grace to the humble.

Come close to God - James 4:7-8

To submit their selfish desires to God, James’ readers must resist the devil, the ultimate source of earthly wisdom (see note on 3:15). Because of the Spirit’s grace (1 Pet. 5:8-9; Eph. 4:27; 6:11), the devil will flee when a Christian resists him. James assures his readers that when they come close to God, he will receive them. God promises his people that if they truly repent, he will forgive their sins and restore their fellowship.

Grief, sadness and gloom - James 4:9-10

What does repentance look like? James encourages public, corporate expressions of grief, sadness and gloom over their sins. Sorrow over and confession of sin in worship marks an authentic Christian community. The gracious work of the Holy Spirit enables the congregation and its members to humble themselves before God (see notes on 4:5-6), and to leave the timing of their vindication and exaltation in His hands (cf. Matt 23:12; Jam. 1:9-10; 4:6).

Do not Slander - James 4:11

James concludes his comments about the desires and practices which cause conflict in the community by returning to the subject of speech (see notes on 3:1-12). His warning against slander is rooted in God’s Law (cf. Ex 20:16), which rules out “bearing false witness against your neighbor.” The one who speaks against his fellow church member or neighbor judges them and God’s Law (cf. Prov. 10:18; 11:13; 20:19; Matt. 15:19; Eph. 4:31) by picking which portion of the law shows them in a more favorable light in contrast to their neighbor. This harmful speech violates James’ warnings about boasting (3:15) and jealousy (4:14, 16) as well as his summary of “the royal law” in 2:8.

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