Thirdmill Study Bible

Notes on James 4:4-5:12

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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.

Judge your neighbor? - James 4:12

James warns those who are speaking against neighbors or even other members of the congregation, there is one lawgiver and judge. Only God can establish what is right (Lawgiver) and, then, evaluate fairly (Judge) how well His standards are being met. By judging their neighbors, members of the community are not only violating the command to love their neighbor, they also mimic our first parents’ fall into sin by violating the first commandment.

Wisdom and the Future. - James 4:13-5:12

In three different sections, James deals with issues related to how to make wise plans for the future. We do not know what tomorrow holds. Our resources and ability to control outcomes are much more limited than we realize. We cannot assume that any of our plans will turn out the way we want. James does not say, “it is futile to make plans.” Rather, he counsels the Christian community to submit their plans to God (4:13-17), to share their material resources (5:1-6), and to expect challenges that require patient endurance in faith (5:7-12).

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