“Faith vs. The World” – James 4:1-10

July 14th, 2013

James 4:1-10

“Faith vs. The World”

 Download Mp3

Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” —  James 4:6


James is certainly direct and hard-hitting with his moral theology.  Recently I was discussing this with one of my colleagues, who humorously suggested that James’ letter ought to be entitled In Your Face!–an aggressive term borrowed from the sports world.  James, The In Your Face Epistle.  James gets in our face that he might get into our hearts.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 176)


Background Information:

  • James’ purpose throughout the epistle is for professed Christians to test their faith to find out whether it is genuine or false.  He wants no one to be deceived.  Like his Lord, he wants to expose the tares among the wheat (see Mt 13:24-30).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 201)
  • (v. 2) Some of the new believers in these congregations were former Zealots, violent political activists.  Because of this, many prominent scholars believe some may have actually become violent in the churches.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 166)
  • (v. 3) There is a link between concern and consequence, in that the word “spend” that James uses here is the same word that is used in Luke 15, when we are told that the prodigal son “spent everything…and began to be in need”, and of the woman in Mark 5 who had been ill for twelve years and who, despite numerous visits to the doctors, had “spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse”.  It indicates the terrible emptiness which follows selfish praying.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 251)
  • (v. 4) Kosmos (world) does not refer to the physical earth or universe but rather to the spiritual reality of the man-centered, Satan-directed system of this present age, which is hostile to God and God’s people.  It refers to the self-centered, godless value system and mores of fallen mankind.  The goal of the world is self-glory, self-fulfillment, self-indulgence, self-satisfaction, and every other form of self-serving, all of which amounts to hostility toward God.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 193)
  • (v. 5) None of the Hebrew vocabulary of jealousy is ever translated into Greek by phthonos, which does not, as a matter of fact, occur at all in LXX.  Sophie Laws rightly says that “a writer of James’ familiarity with the LXX is highly unlikely to write of God’s jealousy in a way that neglects the usual terms and depots (unprecedented) language.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 149)
  • (v. 5) A simple solution, and perhaps the best, is to make verse 5 two independent sentences, the first a question and the second an affirmation:  “Do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose?  He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us.”  That avoids the need to find a direct citation from the OT.  (Vernon Doerksen, Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  James, 98-99)
  • (v. 5) God is jealous for the loyalties of His people.  Whether it is expressed as God’s being desirous for our spirit or as the indwelling Spirit’s being jealous for us, the effect is nearly identical.  If the reference is to the Holy Spirit, and it seems it is, this is the only place in the epistle where He is mentioned.  The yearning of the Spirit is in keeping with Paul’s description of the battle raging between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal 5:17).  (Vernon Doerksen, Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  James, 100)
  • (v. 5) Because God’s jealousy is one of his attributes, it must be infinite and eternal.  It is not something acquired, it is not something developed, it is not something prompted by circumstances, it is not something suggested by anything that we are, anything that we have, anything that we become, any obedience that we tender, any sacrifice we make or any faith we exercise.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 261)
  • (v. 6) The word for proud is huper phanos which literally means one who shows himself above other people.  Even the Greeks hated pride.  Theophrastus described it as “a certain contempt for all other people.”  Theophylact, the Christian writer, called it, “the citadel and summit of all evils.”   (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 105)
  • (vss. 6-10) The whole context, from verse 6 on, is strikingly similar to 1 Pt 5:5-9: a quotation of Prv 3:34 (v. 5b) is followed by commands to “Humble yourselves…so that in due time he [God] may exalt you” (v. 6) and to resist the devil (v. 9).  James and Peter seem to use independently a traditional teaching that connected Prv 3:34 with the need for humility and resistance of the devil.  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 147)
  • (v. 7)“Submit” sounds very passive in English, but the Greek concept is more active.  The Greek word, hypotass , is actually a compound term.  The two elements mean “arrange” and “under.”  To submit, in Scripture, is not to sit back and wait for God to issue orders.  Submission certainly includes obedience to commands, but we also submit when we arrange our lives under God’s general direction.  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 146)


The questions to be answered are . . . Why does James seem to be so relentless in pointing out the disastrous effects of following a wisdom from below?  What does he hope to accomplish?


Answers:  James is wanting us to come face to face with the seriousness of our sin.  The effects are not only eternal, but severe.  We must choose the wisdom we will follow; Christ’s from above or the world’s from below.  Our sinfulness and strife in our lives reveal the poorness of our choice.  If James were here he would say to us, “Cheer up you are a lot more sinful than you could ever dare to come to grips to confess.  But, cheer up, God is much more forgiving, patient, loving and gracious, than we ever dreamed or imagined.


You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16:13).  Neutrality is impossible.  Either the mind is set on the flesh or on the Spirit (Rom 8:5-8).  (Vernon Doerksen, Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  James, 98)


Friendship with the world and friendship with God are mutually exclusive.  “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?”  Paul asks rhetorically (2 Cor 6:14-17).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 194)


Spend it on your pleasures (James 4:3).  What is wrong with us that we are looking out for OUR pleasures.  We are married to Christ!   We should be concerned about HIS Pleasures . . . what we can do to please HIM! (1 Cor 7:1-7, 32-35).


The Word for the Day is . . . Grace!


What is James trying to teach us here in these 10 important verses😕

I.  Choosing worldly or selfish desires centered on wisdom from below presupposes and nurtures pride which produces unfulfilled prayers as well as all sorts of discord and battles. (Jas 4:1-3; see also; Lk 8:14; Rom 7:14-23; Gal 5:17-24; Eph 4:26-27; Ti 3:1-3; Jas 3:14-16; 2 Pt 2:13; 1 Jn 2:15-17)


Early NT Church fights:

*       Members of the Corinthian church were competing against each other in worship and suing each other in court (1 Cor 6:1-8)

*       The Galatian church was biting and devouring each other (Gal 5:15)

*       The Ephesian church was encouraged by Paul to cultivate unity (Eph 4:1-6)

*       Two women in Philippi were arguing and diving the church (Phil 4:1-3)

*        Paul and Barnabas argued so severely they could no longer work with one another (Acts 15)


Two OT stories that encompass the devastating effects of evil desire gone to seed:  David and Bathsheba (2 Sm 11) and King Ahab and Jezerbel with Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kg 21).


Just as pride was the beginning of sin so too is humility the beginning of Christian discipline.  —St. Augustine (paraphrased)


But why is pride singled out for such terrible condemnation?  Thomas Manton sums up the Bible’s answer to that question like this: “Other sins are more hateful to man, because they bring disgrace…but the Lord hateth it because it is a sin that sets itself most against him.  Other sins are against his law, this is against his being and sovereignty.  Pride doth not only withdraw the heart from God, but lifteth it up against God…Besides, pride is the cause of all other sins.”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 269)


There is nothing wrong with wanting a pleasurable life.  God gives us good gifts that he wants us to enjoy (Jas 1:17; Eph 4:7; 1 Tm 4:4-5; 6:17).  But, having friendship with the world involves seeking pleasure at others’ expense or at the expense of obeying God.  Pleasure that keeps us from pleasing God is sinful; pleasure from God’s rich bounty is good. (NIV: Life Application Study Bible, 2250)


People who are at war with themselves because of selfish desires are always unhappy people.  They never enjoy life.  Instead of being thankful for the blessings they do have, they complain about the blessings they do not have.  They cannot get along with other people because they are always envying others for what they have and do.  They are always looking for that “magic something” that will change their lives, when the real problem is within their own hearts.  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 121)


God hates the sin of pride (Prv 6:16-17), and He will chasten the proud believer until he is humbled.  We have a tendency to treat sin too lightly, even to laugh about it (“let your laughter be turned into mourning”).  But sin is serious, and one mark of true humility is facing the seriousness of sin and dealing with our disobedience.  “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Ps 51:17).  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 126-27)


Plato writes, “The sole cause of wars and revolutions and battles is nothing other than the body and its desires.”  Cicero writes, “It is insatiable desires which overturn not only individual men, but whole families, and which even bring down the state.  From desires there spring hatred, schisms, discords, seditions and wars.”  Desire is at the root of all the evils which ruin life and divide men.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 99)


If a man’s prayers are simply for the things which will gratify his desires, they are essentially selfish and, therefore, it is not possible for God to answer them.  The true end of prayer is to say to God, “Thy will be done.”  The prayer of the man who is pleasure-dominated is: “My desires be satisfied.”  It is one of the grim facts of life that a selfish man can hardly ever pray aright; no one can ever pray aright until he removes self from the center of his life and puts God there.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 100-01)


It (pride) shuts itself off from God for three reasons.

(i) It does not know its own need.  It so admires itself that it recognizes no need to be supplied.  (ii) It cherishes its own independence.  It will be beholden to no man and not even to God.  (iii) It does not recognize its own sin.  It is occupied with thinking of its own goodness and never realizes that it has any sin from which it needs to be saved.  A pride like that cannot receive help, because it does not know that it needs help, and, therefore, it cannot ask.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 106)


All our desires and passions are like an armed camp within us, ready at a moment’s notice to declare war against anyone who stands in the way of some personal gratification on which we have set our hearts.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 142)


A Christian faced with unsatisfactory or broken relationships–or the threat of such–remembers that anyone who lacks wisdom can ask for it.  But as there, so here, God (as Calvin remarks on Jn 15:7) does not permit us undisciplined asking.  James wanted to know, in 1:5-8, if our hearts are solidly loyal to the Lord from whom we seek wisdom; here he simply charges that the one thing our hearts are solidly loyal to is our personal satisfactions.  Therefore the prayer for peace-making wisdom seems to fall on deaf ears.  Interestingly, however, James does not say that God does not hear, but that we do not receive (3).  He always hears; there is no such thing as unheard prayer or, for that matter, unanswered prayer.  But time and again the answer has to be ‘no’ or ‘not yet’, because we are incapable of receiving the heavenly gift.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 143-44)


It is deplorable that the Christian church has so often been characterized by such bitter controversies.  The 17th century Jewish philosopher Spinoza observed: “I have often wondered that persons who make boast of professing the Christian religion–namely love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men–should quarrel with such rancorous animosity, and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than the virtues which they profess, is the readiest criteria of their faith.”  Some battles are, to be sure, worth fighting; but even then they must be fought without sacrificing Christian principles and virtues.  We do not know what the disputes that James refers to were about.  At any rate, James seems to be bothered more by the selfish spirit and bitterness of the quarrels than by the rights and wrongs of the various viewpoints.  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 138-39)


In summary, James’ message is: “You don’t have what you desire because you don’t desire God.”  James is preparing us for a crucial lesson: Until we look at all of life, including our strongest desires, from the perspective of God’s plans and priorities for us, our life will be constantly hounded by the awareness that we do not have.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 93)


The Christian is called to fight against fighting!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 234)


Apart from Jas 4:3, which we shall study in our next chapter, Jesus spoke of the devastating effects when a man was “choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures” (Lk 8:14); Paul wrote of people “enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures” (Ti 3:3); and Peter condemned those whose “idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight” (2 Pt 2:13).  A pleasure-seeking, hedonistic spirit of life says that if a thing is enjoyable it must be good; if it is good I must have it, and I must have it whenever I want it.  But let us apply this in context.  Why does James say that this kind of thing produces “fights and quarrels”?  The simple answer is surely that a man can only satisfy all of his own self-centered desires by conflicting with the desires of other people.  One of the fundamental bases for unity and harmony is that, as part of our total submission to God’s Word, we should be concerned about “the interests of others” (Phil 2:4) and we ignore this principle at our peril.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 236)


“I will do everything I want to do whenever I want to do it.”  Now the terrifying thing is that when a man acts like that, there is a price to be paid and almost inevitably part of the price will be conflict with other people.  Arrogant self-assertion is never the way to peace and it is exactly at this point that the advocates of our so-called “permissive society” display the most guilty ignorance of all.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 237)


The thought is as guilty as the deed; in fact, it is the parent of it.  It has been said that a man is not what he thinks he is; but what he thinks, he is.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 242)


How many troubles and tragedies have begun, festered and gathered their mad momentum in the mind–especially a mind that is lazy, undisciplined, unguarded!  The biblical defense in this area is clear.  Writing to the Colossians, Paul says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col 3:1, 2); while in his letter to the Philippians he says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Phil 4:8).  In that second verse, the Amplified Bible adds the phrase “fix your minds on them”, and that helps to hammer home the sense of discipline built into Paul’s words.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 243)


The best cure for hedonism is the attempt to practice it!  -John Macmurray


Adam must have been created with a tremendously strong desire, one that kept him utterly pure and obedient to the will of God, perhaps for a very long time.  Now that man is fallen, his desire is twisted, warped and perverted, but it is still almost unbelievably strong.  It seeks to rip aside anything that stands in its way.  Unfulfilled desire produces tension, strife, irrational actions and can even go as far as murder.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 245-46)


Here, surely, is a lesson we must never stop learning.  Just as a triangle will never fill a circle, so a man’s selfish desires will never fill his deepest needs.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 248)


Matthew Henry once wrote, “It should kill these lusts to think of their disappointment,” but the unspiritual man is a fatal optimist; he goes on hoping, trying, scheming, striving.  There are few clearer evidences of the presence and persistence of indwelling sin than the futile and fatal pursuit of that which cannot satisfy.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 248)


Simply stated, we are involved in conflicts because of our desires for pleasure or lusts that are in conflict within our very selves.  We are at war inwardly so it is natural for us to be at war outwardly.  (Paul A. Cedar, The Communicator’s Commentary: James, 79)


It is pride that makes us lust and covet and envy and murder and fight and war.  Pride is to the life of the flesh what humility is to the life of the Spirit.  It is at the very foundation of the lifestyle which displeases God.  Pride always brings contention.  (Paul A. Cedar, The Communicator’s Commentary: James, 80)


It is possible to pray for many good things in the wrong way.  For instance, it is possible to pray for the conversion of one’s parents or children primarily because it would be so much better to live in a Christian home.  It is possible to pray for the conversion of a workmate because he is a difficult fellow with whom to work and life would be so much more comfortable if he was converted.  It is possible to pray for a missionary need to be met in order to avoid the pressure of the need.  It is possible to pray for the success of your church, your fellowship, your Christian work or organization because that would increase its stature.  What is your concern when you pray?  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 251)


In the NT, the Greek term for “world,” kosmos, is ordinarily used to mean “the world apart from God.”  It signifies a self-centered, Satan-controlled philosophy that is hostile toward God.  Believers war when they attempt to satisfy their inner desires by worldly motivation.  Kosmos motivation means handling conflicts by fighting, pushing, and demanding until you get exactly what you want, when you want it.  It’s saying, “Lord, Your way is not the best way for me.  I know what’s best, and I will satisfy my needs by doing it the world’s way instead of Yours.”  (Charles R. Swindoll, James: Practical and Authentic Living, 136-37)


God hates “haughty eyes” (Prv 6:17) and detests those who have a proud heart (Prv 16:5).  Pride causes quarrels (Prv 13:10) and leads to destruction (Prv 16:18).  “Since God resists the proud, the believer must learn to hate pride and to clothe himself with humility.”  God, however, will esteem the person “who is humble and contrite in spirit” (Isa 66:2).  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 137)


The desire to fulfill these pleasures comes, of course, from selfishness, which is opposed to God and the Word of God.  Unbelieving, ungodly hedonists are “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tm 3:2-4, emphasis added; cf. Jude 16-18).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 187)


When any strong, sinful lust is not gratified, the worldly person is prone to lash out in angry frustration, sometimes even committing murder.  Even the Pharisees, who lusted for the personal satisfaction of having a reputation for virtue and holiness, murdered the Savior who unmasked their hypocrisy.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 189)


As would be expected, worldly, ungodly desire not only is uncontrolled and unfulfilled but also is selfish.  That James uses you and your six times in these two sentences indicates that the churches to whom he is writing included some, perhaps many, of the worldly people he describes here and addresses directly.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 190)


Christians have a nature so utterly distinct from the lovers of the world, the followers of Satan, that they should never entertain any of the ways or hold any of the loyalties that characterize unbelievers.

Believers not only are to be separated from the world but dead to the world.  Like Paul, they should say, “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).  Contrary to Demas, who “loved this present world” and deserted Paul and the church (2 Tm 4:10) we are to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Ti 2:12).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 194)


The old nature, with its self-seeking focus on personal pleasure, battles against the new nature (cf. Rom 7:21-23; Gal 5:17), and selfish pleasure-seeking dominates.  This in turn fosters a self-focus which naturally diminishes the importance of others and enthrones one’s pleasures as the goal of life.  This brings relational war with those around us, especially others in the church.  Such narcissistic embrace of one’s own pleasure as the chief end of life, whether it be sensual, materialistic, professional, or positional, is the bane of the church.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 167)


II.  Our attraction to and desire for the world and the wisdom from below causes us to be an adulterous enemy against our jealous Husband God/Christ. (Jas 4:4-5; see also: Ex 34:14-16; 20:5; Dt 32:16-21; Isa 54:4-6; Jer 3:8-20; Ezek ch 16; Bk of Hosea; Zech 8:2; Mt 12:39; 16:4; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:24-28; Col 1:21; Rev 19:7; 21:9)


The Jewish Christians who read this letter would understand this picture of “spiritual adultery” because the prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Hosea used it when rebuking Judah for her sins (see Jer 3:1-5; Ezek 23; and Hosea 1-2).  By adopting the sinful ways of the other nations, and by worshiping their gods, the nation of Judah committed adultery against her God.  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 123)


Before a man can arrive at a deed there must be a certain driving emotion in his heart.  He may restrain himself from the things that the desire for pleasure incites him to do; but so long as that desire is in his heart he is not safe.  It may at any time explode into ruinous action.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 100)


Every crime in this world has come from desire which was first only a feeling in the heart but which, being nourished long enough, came in the end to action.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 100)


The picture of Israel as the bride of God and of God as the husband of Israel has something very precious in it.  It means that to disobey God is like breaking the marriage vow.  It means that all sin is sin against love.  It means that our relationship to God is not like the distant relationship of king and subject or master and slave, but like the intimate relationship of husband and wife.  It means that when we sin we break God’s heart, as the heart of one partner in a marriage may be broken by the desertion of the other.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 102)


A man may either use the world or be used by it.  To use the world as the servant of God and men is to be the friend of God, for that is what God meant the world to be.  To use the world as the controller and dictator of life is to be at enmity with God, for that is what God never meant the world to be.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 103)


Jealous comes from the Greek zēlos which has in it the idea of burning heat.  The idea is that God loves men with such a passion that he cannot bear any other love within the hearts of men.

It may be that jealous is a word which nowadays we find it difficult to connect with God, for it has acquired a lower significance; but behind it is the amazing truth that God is the lover of the souls of men.  There is a sense in which love must be diffused among all men and over all God’s children; but there is also a sense in which love gives and demands an exclusive devotion to one person.  It is profoundly true that a man can be in love only with one person at one time; if he thinks otherwise, he does not know the meaning of love.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 104-05)


Prayer is not asking God for what we want, it is asking God for what he wants!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 251)


There is a simple but clear principle here: if you cannot pray about it, then you will not profit from it.  That principle can be written across the whole of life.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 247)


Is your prayer defective in its context?  Are there whole areas of your life about which you never pray?  Are there issues which you never take to the throne of grace?  Is it, therefore surprising that things do not seem to work out?  Of how many good, legitimate, godly things, of how many blessings for yourself and other people could it be said: “You do not have because you do not ask God”?  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 247)


Here, then, is the backslider unmasked: he is guilty of spiritual adultery by sinning against God’s love; he is guilty of antagonism by sinning against God’s law; he is guilty of audacity by sinning against God’s light.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 258)


In his book Blessing out of Buffetings, Alan Redpath says, “The jealousy of God…is the greatest flame that burns in the heart of deity…a concern for the purity, the holiness, the greatness, the glory of his people.”  What a marvelous, humbling thing it is that God should have a passionate concern that we should be a pure, holy, great and glorious people!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 261)


He is jealous for you now, jealous for your spiritual welfare, jealous for you in every temptation and in every trial, jealous lest you should be robbed by covetousness, compromise, worldliness, prayerlessness or disobedience in any shape or form.  He is jealous that you should have that fullness of blessing, those riches of grace that he longs to bestow upon every one of his people.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 261)


As Jesus says in the parable of the sower, “the desires for other things come in and choke the word [of God], making it unfruitful” (Mk 4:19; also see Lk 8:14).  In time, man becomes a slave to the desires of his heart and separates himself from God (Rom 1:24; 2 Tm 4:3; Jas 1:14; 2 Pt 3:3; Jude 16, 18).  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 130)


Jesus’ true friends are those who have received Him as Lord and Savior, who share a common cause, common interests, and common objectives.  And those who truly love Him will also “love one another” (v. 17).  Finally, He explains that those who truly love Him will not love the world or be loved by the world, since the world is the hostile enemy of God.  Jesus confirmed that reality when He said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (vv. 18-19; cf. 17:14).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 193)


First, we must understand that God is the author of all pleasure.  There is a revealing passage in C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, when he has the Senior Devil say to his understudy, Wormwood: “Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground.  I know we have won many a soul through pleasure.  All the same, it is His invention, not ours.  He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one.  All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.  Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural.  An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.  (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast, 50)  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 170-71)


If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.  Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased. —C. S. Lewis (John Piper; in Desiring God,  88)


III.  God gives grace to the humble to assist us to respond in repentance to His kindness, mercy, patience, love and grace and by faith adore Him and seek the wisdom from above which is the only true way to find fulfillment of our desires. (Jas 4:6-10; see also: 2 Chr 7:14; Ps 34:8; 37:4;  Prv 3:34; Jn 1:16; 10:10; Rom 2:4; 1 Cor 15:10)


Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee, O Lord. — St. Augustine


There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any other created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus.  — Blaise Pascal


What comfort there is in this verse!  It tells us that God is tirelessly on our side.  He never falters in respect of our needs, he always has more grace at hand for us.  He is never less than sufficient, he always has more and yet more to give.  Whatever we may forfeit when we put self first, we cannot forfeit our salvation, for there is always more grace.  No matter what we do to him, he is never beaten.  We may play false to the grace of election, contradict the grace of reconciliation, overlook the grace of election, contradict the grace of reconciliation, overlook the grace of indwelling–but he gives more grace.  Even if we were to turn to him and say, “What I have received so far is much less than enough,” he would reply, “Well, you may have more.”  His resources are never at an end, his patience is never exhausted, his initiative never stops, his generosity knows no limit; he gives more grace.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 150)


How easy it would be to keep a daily time with God if only we had, to begin with, a more vivid sense of his presence–in other words, we want the promise to come before the command!  But we learnt at the outset (6-7) that more grace is given to those who set their feet on the path of obedience.  God enriches with the grace of his presence those who obey his command to seek his presence.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 152)


There is, however, a requirement for the experience of this grace: humility.  This is the force of the quotation from Prv 3:34 and it becomes the dominant motif in the commands in vv. 7-10.  God’s gift of sustaining grace can be received only by those willing to admit their need and accept the gift.  The proud, on the other hand, meet only resistance from God.  This is a theme that sounds throughout the OT (cf. Ps 18:27; 34:18; 51:17; 72:4; 138:6; Isa 61:1; Zp 3:11-12).  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 147)


If we were to take time to study the biblical development of the word “savior”, we would discover that some of its fundamental meanings include “preserver” and “deliverer”, and if we apply Paul’s words with those definitions in mind we come to a perfectly satisfying explanation.  God is the Savior of all men.  Every moment that a man enjoys the benefits of a healthy body, God is saving him from illness; if a man is sane, God is saving him from a diseased mind; to whatever degree a man knows the truth about any subject whatever, God is saving him from error; when a man has food to eat and water to drink, God is saving him from starvation; every moment of good in a man’s life is possible because God is saving him from the forces of evil; every thought, word and deed that has the slightest element of rightness about it is possible because God is at work saving that man from utter and complete corruption; in every moment of life, God is saving him from death.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 264)


If a person is consumed with worldly lusts, desires, ambitions, pride, and love, he has no claim on this greater grace.

Antitossomai (is opposed) was used as a military term depicting a full army ready for battle.  God is in full battle array, as it were, against the proud, because pride is the basic sin from which all others issue.  It is not always manifested in ways that other men can see, but it is never hidden from God’s eyes.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 199)


The picture James gives here is of a proud, defiant sinner, setting himself up as his real god, not simply in self-centeredness but in self-worship.  He is an enemy of the true God and has not part in His grace.  Consequently, and finally, therefore, the worldly person’s conflict with God involves a forfeiture of divine forgiveness.  God has no use for the proud, because they put themselves beyond His grace.

God does, however, give grace to the humble.  He has always done so.  Through Isaiah, He assured His ancient people Israel that “to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isa 66:2).  The first and foundational Beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” that is, the humble, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3).  Just as pride is the root of all sin, so humility is the root of all righteousness.  It is only when the things of the world are no longer admired and sought, when self-concern is replaced with concern for God’s glory, that God’s Spirit can work His sovereign and gracious will in a heart, changing it from being an enemy to being a friend.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 200)


To stand with the Lord is to stand against everything sinful and worldly that formerly was appealing, corrupting, and enslaving.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 205)


Man is naturally made to seek pleasure.  Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensees:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.  (Kent Hughes; Preaching the Word, James, Faith That Works, 171)


Jonathan Edwards’ list of Revival killers from his book Thoughts on Revival (as taken from Tim Keller’s message “A Counter-Cultural Community of Grace”)

  • Spirutal pride makes you more aware of other’s faults than you are of your own.   But humility dispossess you to be far more aware of your own faults than others.
  • Pride leads you (when you speak of other’s faults) to have an air of contempt and distain.  But a humble person means that whenever you do speak of others’ faults, you only ever do it with grief and mercy.
  • Pride leads you to quickly separate from people you have criticized or who criticize you.  But spiritual humility means you stick with people even though difficult relationships.  You don’t give up on them.
  • A proud person is dogmatic and sure about every point of belief.  They have no distinction between major and minor points of belief because every point is a major point.
  • A proud person either loves to confront (because they like winning) or proud people refuse to confront because they don’t want criticism and controversy.  But, a humble person confronts necessarily.  If you over love or hate confronting, you are not humble.
  • A proud person is often not happy and sorry for themselves.   Proud people are filled with self-pity because A)- They are so sure they know how life should go.   B)- They are sure they deserve a good life.  But, humble people say, “Oh, I deserve to be cast off, but only by God’s grace am I living and I don’t know what is best for me.  As a result proud people are always filled with self-pity and unhappy with life and humble people seldom have self-pity at all.


From a book entitled This is the Language of your heart (as taken from Tim Keller’s message A Counter-Cultural Community of Grace)

  • Why should I be selfish when I am full of real wealth and love?
  • Why should I be defensive when all charges against me have been dismissed by the real judge?
  • Why should I be offended when I have the real love of the king of the Universe?
  • Why should I begrudge when I am washed in forgiveness in the Lord now?


CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What does this message have to do with Christ and meJames gives 10 commands from the life of Jesus to restore, and renew our relationship with Jesus by encouraging humility:


James has a problem: his readers are being corrupted by bitter envy and selfish ambition leading to fights and quarrels.  He has a goal: to help them learn to live in love and at peace with each other.  Therefore he has a prescription for them: repentance.  That is what his ten imperatives provide–a forceful call to repentance as the requisite to love and peace in the community.  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 148)



A-  Submit to God your faithful, loving husband and friend. (Jas 4:7a; see also: Jn 2:5; Rom 8:6-9; 10:1-4; 13:1-7; 1 Cor 14:34; 16:15-16; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18; 1 Tim 2:11; Heb 5:7; 12:9; 13:17; 1 Pt 2:13, 18; 5:5-6)


We are to aggressively pursue submissiveness.


Submission to God is revealed in submission to others.  So when you have a recalcitrant child, he does not submit to God (no matter what he tells his youth group leader).  If he will not tidy up his bedroom at his mother’s request; he does not submit to God.  If a wife is cantankerous, nagging, like a dripping tap; she does not submit to God.  If a husband is bombastic, sarcastic, demanding, unloving, hypercritical; he does not submit to God.  If a man will not submit to civil jurisdiction; he does not submit to God. (from Alistair Begg in a sermon entitled “Submitting to God – Part 1”)


In life there is one sin which can be said to be the basis of all others; and that is forgetting that we are creatures and that God is creator.  When a man realizes his essential creatureliness, he realizes his essential helplessness and goes to the source from which that helplessness can alone be supplied.

Such a dependence begets the only real independence; for then a man faces life not in his own strength but in God’s and is given victory.  So long as a man regards himself as independent of God he is on the way to ultimate collapse and to defeat.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 110)


Submission to God brings people to a new awareness of their condition and shortcomings.  As God draws near to us, we ought to sense our unworthiness.  After all, we are being allowed to approach the holy, perfect God.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 105)


When Jesus began to teach doctrines that stripped away the pride and the arrogance of man, when he began to show that a man could only be saved when he cast himself wholeheartedly on the grace and mercy of God, many of them drifted away, never to return.  They were disciples, they were learners, they were listeners; but they set limits on what they were prepared to accept and believe.  Is the point becoming clear?  A true disciple must be governed by what he is taught.  He must submit to it, and to submit to God includes submission to his doctrines.  As Jesus himself put it, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (Jn 8:31).  Submission to his doctrine was the seal of their discipleship.  When we come to the Bible, we are to stand under it even when we cannot understand it!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 277)


Martin Luther was able to say, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 278)


I remember speaking to Czechoslovakian pastors who had been imprisoned during the era of Stalin in Moscow and Novotny in Prague and they told me, “In prison, we learned not to ask ‘Why?’ but just to say, ‘Praise the Lord’.”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 279)


We begin our relationship with God by submitting to Him (v. 7).  And that is the way we walk with Him day by day.  He is the Lord–the Master, and we are the servants–the willing slaves.  In order to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Lk 9:23).  There is no other way to be a Christian.  Our wills need to be committed to know the will of God and to do it.  (Paul A. Cedar, The Communicator’s Commentary: James, 84)


Salvation involves submitting to God as Lord and Savior, but also brings the desire for a true relationship with Him.  Seeking salvation is seeking God (cf. Ps 42:1; Mt 7:7-11).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 205-06)


B-  Resist the Devil and his wisdom from below. (Jas 4:7b; see also: Rom 8:31, 37; Eph 6:10-18; 1 Jn 4:4)


This happens not by some incantation or spiritual assertiveness, but by becoming humble, pure, holy, righteous and loving.  That is what it means to resist the devil.  Scripture gives a clear warning against anyone who begins to think they can resist the Devil in their own might (Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13; Eph 6:10-18; Jude 1:8-10)


To have a grievance is one thing, but to nurse it is to make it grow into something bigger and therefore something worse.  Sins seldom go alone; with terrible certainty one leads to another.  The other sense in which we are to prevent the devil getting a foothold is by carefully avoiding things, places or situations that bring obvious pressures at our personal points of weakness.  Remember that the devil knows where your Achilles heel is.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 282)


Whatever power Satan may have, the Christian can be absolutely certain that he has been given the ability to overcome that power.  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 148)


“Neither give place to the devil,” cautions Paul in Eph 4:27.  Satan needs a foothold in our lives if he is going to fight against God; and we give him that foothold.  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 125)


Although our own evil tendencies (1:14) and the desires battling within us (4:1) are the immediate sources of our problems, to give in to those internal desires is to yield to the devil (see Mt 4:1-11; Lk 22:31; Jn 13:2, 27).  Satan knows that as long as he can stimulate human pride, he can delay God’s plan, even if only temporarily.  But as powerful as Satan is, his only power over believers is in his powerful temptations.  The devil can be resisted–and our resistance will cause him to flee.  Conversely, a lack of resistance will practically guarantee ongoing harassment by Satan (see also Eph 6:10-18 and 1 Pt 5:6-9).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 101)



We are commanded to “resist” the devil, to take a stand against him, now!  Those intent on submitting to God ask, “how?”


TACTICS:  God has not left us without battle plans.  Here are some of his instructions:

*   Refuse to accept Satan’s suggestion that we can be separated from Christ. Rom 8:38-39

*   Ignore the temptation to doubt God’s grace. 1 Jn 3:19-24

*   Reject the lie that we are beyond forgiveness. 1 Jn 1:9

*   Pray before, during, and after attacks by the devil. Phil 4:4-7; 1 Thes 5:16-24; Jas 1:2-8

*   Allow Christ to replace our way of thinking with his way of thinking. Phil 2:5-8; 4:8-9; Rom 12:1-2


WEAPONS: While the devil employs weapons of terror and illusion, God equips us with weapons of real power.  They are only ineffective when we leave them unused.  Among them are:

*   The belt of truth–wherever the truth is spoken and lived, the devil is unwelcome. Eph 6:14; Jn 8:32; 14:6; 17:17

*   The breastplate of righteousness–living rightly is the result of advanced training in the faith.  When we are living under God’s guidance we are on guard against the devil’s attacks.

*   The footwear of the gospel of peace–communicating the gospel is taking back territory controlled by the devil. Eph 6:14; Heb 5:12-14; 1 Pt 2:12; Eph 6:15; Mt 24:14; Rom 1:16

*   The shield of faith–our faith in Christ makes him our shield and protector. Eph 6:16; Heb 11:1; 1 Pt 1:3-5

*   The helmet of salvation–the salvation that God offers is our eternal protection. Eph 6:17; 1 Thes 5:8-9; Rom 1:16

*  The sword of the Spirit, God’s Word–the Bible is a weapon when its truth is put to use, exposing the devil’s work and helping those who are losing the battle. Eph 6:17; 2 Tm 3:16; Heb 4:12

*   Prayer–in prayer we rely on God’s help. Eph 6:18-20; Heb 4:16; Jas 5:13-16

(Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 102-03)


The Lord Jesus defeated him (Satan) at His temptation and at the Cross (Jn 12:31-33) and left him vulnerable.  He cannot hold a sinner against that sinner’s will.  He can’t even lead a believer into sin without the consent of that believer’s will.  When confronted and resisted with the truth of the gospel, he flees, releasing his hold as that repentant sinner who believes is delivered from darkness to light.  After salvation he comes again and again through the world system’s working on the flesh, but can be defeated repeatedly by the believer who has the “sword of the Spirit” and the rest of the armor (Eph 6:10-17).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 205)


C-  Come near to God and He will reciprocate. (Jas 4:8a; see also: Dt 4:29; 2 Chr 15:1-2; 28:9; Ps 145:18; Jer 29:13; Zech 1:3; Mal 3:7; 2 Cor 3:18; Heb 10:22; 1 Jn 3:2)


Step toward God, and he will sprint toward you.  Sprint toward God, and he will fly to you!  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 187)


Seeing God in life is the highest good–the summum bonum–because all those who see him become like him.  “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 188)


The first element in the conflict is this central battle to live near God, the battle for regularity and discipline in Bible reading, prayer, private and public worship, feasting at the Lord’s Table, devoting ourselves to Christian fellowship, cultivating every appointed avenue whereby we can draw near to him.  Fellowship with God–and its consequent blessing of his fellowship with us–does not “just happen”; we cannot drift into it any more than we drift into holiness.  It is our first obedience.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 152)


As Thomas Manton puts it, “Drawing nigh to God is not the duty of an hour… but the work of our whole lives.”  Not least in the context of his lifelong battle against the world, the flesh and the devil, every Christian needs to pray daily in the spirit of Leila Morris’ hymn:  Nearer, still nearer, close to thy heart, Draw me, my Savior, so precious thou art; Fold me, Oh, fold me close to thy breast, Shelter me safe in that haven of rest!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 287)


Just as there is a continuity between God’s stance toward the devil and our own (opposing him), so now there is a continuity between our reverse action toward God and his action toward us (drawing near).  The same verb engizō identifies our act and God’s act of drawing near, to make definite that God will not give himself to us any less than we give ourselves to him.  This is an assurance of God’s readiness and availability.  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 149)


“Drawing near to God” was in the OT a general expression for the one who sincerely approached God in penitence and humility.  Through Isaiah, the Lord said of those who came near Him hypocritically and superficially, “This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote” (Isa 29:13).  But the psalmist declared, “As for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works” (Ps 73:28).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 206)


The writer of Hebrews admonishes believers, “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need…Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 4:16; 10:22). . . . The origin of this idea was in the Jewish ceremonial prescription for priests before they came before the Lord to offer sacrifices in the tabernacle or temple (Ex 30:18-21; cf. Lv 16:4).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 207)


The believer’s humility implies a life of prayer.  We cannot see God without praying to Him as the source of pardon and holiness, the only guardian and guide of the soul.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 382)


When we hear “Come near to God,” we might think of public worship or private prayers.  “Come near” is sometimes the language of worship (Lv 21:3; Isa 29:13; Heb 7:19), but James has not been discussing worship.  Therefore, “come near” could mean returning to God in covenant renewal after straying.  For example, God speaks through Malachi, saying, “Return to me, and I will return to you” (Mal 3:7; cf. Zech 1:2-3).  In Hosea 12:6, the prophet links “return to your God” with “come near to your God.”  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 149)


There is only one view more welcome than the backside of the Devil- and that is the face of God. Paul tells us, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13).  As his children and in his Son, we are near.  But there is a nearer nearness available to all:  “Come near to God and he will come near to you. “If you will take that step, a new nearness to God will be yours, and with it buoying tides of his grace. (Kent Hughes; Preaching the Word, James, Faith That Works, 187)


D-  Repent!  Put yourself in a position to receive amazing grace.  Wash your hands from your dirty deeds. (Jas 4:8b; see also: Ex 30:18-21; Lv 16:4; Ps 18:20; Isa 1:15-16; 1 Tm 2:8)


The word used for sinner is harmartōlos, which means the hardened sinner, the man whose sin is obvious and notorious.  Suidas defines hamartōloi as “those who choose to live in company with disobedience to the law, and who love a corrupt life.”  From such people James demands a moral reform which will embrace both their outward conduct and their inner desires.  He demands both clean hands and a pure heart (Ps 24:4).  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 107)


Biblical thought demands a fourfold cleansing.  It demands a cleansing of the lips (Isa 6:5, 6).  It demands a cleansing of the hands (Ps 24:4).  It demands a cleansing of the heart (Ps 73:13).  It demands a cleansing of the mind (Jas 4:8).  That is to say, the ethical demand of the Bible is that a man’s words and deeds and emotions and thoughts should all be purified.  Inwardly and outwardly a man must be clean, for only the pure in heart shall see God (Mt 5:8).  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 107-07)


“Wash your hands…”  This has nothing to do with personal hygiene!  It is a reference to the actions performed by the OT priests, who before entering the tabernacle went through an elaborate ritual of washing their hands in the sight of the people.  This was an unmistakable visual aid, showing that no man could enter into God’s holy presence with dirty hands, that is to say, with unconfessed sin.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 287)


“Holy hands” represent a spiritually and morally pure life, apart from which God cannot be approached.  It is sin that separates depraved man from the holy God.  Therefore, “No one who abides in Him sins,” John declares; “[and] no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him” (1 Jn 3:6).  But although we can resist sin, temptation, and the devil, it is not in any person’s power–even the power of a believer–to cleanse himself spiritually.  That is why our gracious Lord promises that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).  The command to cleanse your hands is therefore a command to submit (see Jas 4:7a) to God’s divine catharsis.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 208)


E-  Repent!  Put yourself in a position to receive amazing grace.  Purify your hearts from your evil inclinations. (Jas 4:8c; see also: Ps 73:1; Mt 5:8; 6:24; Jas 1:8)


In urging people to commit themselves unreservedly to the Lord, some preachers thunder out this kind of challenge: “Are you 100% for God?, or “Are you 100% for Christ?”  Whenever I hear that kind of thing I must say that I cringe, not because I know the sad answer I must give, but because the question is unbiblical.  The Christian life is not a matter of percentages; it is a living, growing relationship, and because one of the partners is fallible then it is an imperfect relationship and will remain so until both partners are united in heaven.  If you fail to grasp this you will find yourself in an area of “perfectionism” that will prove cruelly damaging to your Christian health and growth.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 289)


Dipsuchos (double-minded) literally means “double-souled,” and is used only by James in the NT (see also 1:8).  This is the person who lacks integrity, who claims one thing and lives another.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 210)


F-  Repent!  Put yourself in a position to receive amazing grace.  Grieve your inability to remain faithful to your Husband. (Jas 4:9a)


The mourning of penitence and the sorrow of sympathy must be among the Christian’s most deeply felt emotions.  -R. V. G. Tasker


G-  Repent!  Put yourself in a position to receive amazing grace.  Mourn your sinfulness. (Jas 4:9b see also: Job 5:11; Joel 2:12; Mt 5:4)


Eccl 3 – there is a time to mourn and there is a time to dance.


The misery James is speaking of here has nothing to do with being sad about bad circumstances in life and wanting God to help you have better ones.  Nor does it relate to religious asceticism, or extreme self-denial and sacrifice that is supposed to make a person humble and more worthy in God’s sight.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 211)


Along with becoming miserable, the contrite sinner is to mourn over his sin.  The idea is that of deep grief and remorse, a complete despair that laments over sin the way someone mourns the death of a family member or close friend.  It is one of the requirements prescribed by the Lord Himself during His incarnation: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5:4).  Along with misery and weeping, it defines the emotion of repentance (cf. 2 Cor 7:9-11).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 212)


H-  Repent!  Put yourself in a position to receive amazing grace.  Wail in recognition of the consequences of your sin. (Jas 4:9c see also: Isa 22:12)


Eccl 3 – there is a time to wail and there is a time to laugh.


As the apostle explains to believers in Colossae, “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).  This misery has to do with the brokenness over one’s sin and violation of God’s holy law and the fear of judgment.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 211)


It is the weeping produced by godly “sorrow that is according to the will of God [and] produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation” (2 Cor 7:10).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 212)


I-  Repent!  Put yourself in a position to receive amazing grace.  Change your laughter to mourning; and change your joy to gloom(Jas 4:9d; see also: Lk 6:21-28)


Eccl 3 – There is a time for gloom and there is a time for joy.


“Gloom” speaks of a downcast appearance due to a heavy heart.  It suggests dejection because of shame.  True joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), rejoicing is commanded (Phil 4:4), but the irresponsible frivolous joy of temporal pleasure is not to be considered proper Christian behavior.  (Vernon Doerksen, Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  James, 105)


What James is demanding is voluntary abstinence from lavish luxury and effeminate comfort.  He is talking to people who are in love with the world; and he is pleading with them not to make luxury and comfort the standards by which they judge all life.  It is discipline which produces the scholar; it is rigorous training which creates the athlete; and it is a wise abstinence which produces the Christian who knows how to use the world and its gifts aright.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 108)


James is demanding that these self-satisfied, luxury-loving, unworried hearers of his should be confronted with their sins and should be ashamed, grief-stricken and afraid; for only then can they reach out for grace and go on to a joy far greater than their earthbound pleasures.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 109)


The seriousness of sin is unmistakable here, and Christians today who lack that sense of seriousness about sin are weakened and corrupted.  Tasker sees the importance of this application: “When the Christian compromises with the world and is double minded, it is a sure sign that his sense of the gravity of sin has become blunted.”  James is unapologetic and authoritative in his command to such a person: Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  We should not be afraid today to call for such deeply felt repentance.  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 149-50)


An old preacher was informed that in one of his services a certain woman had gotten “joy in the Lord” (i.e., conversion).  His penetrating question was: “Did she ever get any sorrow?”  He knew that a proper grief precedes real joy.  Have you gotten any sorrow?  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4), for grace will wash over their lowly souls.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 189)


James is not condemning legitimate laughter or joy but rather the flippant, trivial, worldly, self-centered, sensual kinds that unbelievers revel in, despite, and often because of, their sinful pleasures.  It corresponds to Jesus’ warning: “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Lk 6:25), and is the opposite of a beatitude given a few verses earlier that is recorded only in Luke: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (v. 21).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 213)


The OT prophets said those who faced God’s judgment would grieve, mourn, and wail.  More importantly the prophets also invited the people to grieve, mourn, and wail before the judgment, as they returned to God (Joel 2:1, 12-14).  Like Jesus, James says we can laugh now, at sin, and mourn later, over judgment.  Or we can mourn now, over sin, and laugh later, at God’s grace (Lk 6:25).  All too often, the world laughs about the wrong things.  There is fleeting joy for those who indulge in sin and fleeting sorrow for those who break with it, but it is far better to mourn now for a season and rejoice forever.  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 150)


J-  Repent!  Put yourself in a position to receive amazing grace.  Humble yourself before the Lord and He WILL lift you up.  (Jas 4:10 see also: Job 22:29; Ps 34:18; 138:6; Prv 15:33; 29:23; Isa 57:15; 66:2; Mt 18:4; 23:12; Lk 14:11; 18:14; Phil 2:5-11; 1 Pt 5:6)


It is interesting to notice that on three separate occasions Jesus thrust home the point in almost identical terms, once in the context of salvation (Lk 14:18), once in the context of service (Mt 23:12), and once in the context of social life (Lk 14:11). (John Blanchard; Truth for Life, p. 299)


God’s grace and God’s power, like water, always flow to the lowest place.  So go low.


Grace always flows downhill.   God exalts the humble but resists the proud.


If we remember that all we do is “before the Lord,” if his holiness is our standard, it is easier to humble ourselves.  But if we compare ourselves to others, it is far easier to avoid humility.  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 151)


The highest honor in heaven will be the reward of the greatest humility on earth.  -Matthew Henry


The more an unbeliever sees God as He really is, glorious and holy, the more clearly he sees himself as he really is, sinful and depraved.  Even Peter was overwhelmed and terrified when He saw Jesus miraculously fill their nets with fish, crying out, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Lk 5:8).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 214)


The heart is naturally at enmity with God.  Hence humility is the first of Christian virtues; not that God wishes to see us debased, but that self-abasement is in accordance with the truth of our character, and is the way to exaltation.  To use a very rude metaphor, just as a man cannot go up another hill till he has gone down the one on which he happens to be, so a soul cannot be exalted in God until it has thoroughly come down from self.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 381)


Worship pointHumble yourself and see God’s grace lavishly poured out to you.  Then worship.  


Man’s ruin began in the Garden of Eden, when in spirit the first Adam said, “Not your will, but mine be done.”  Man’s rescue came towards its consummation when in another garden the second Adam said, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 22:42).  That is the spirit that should characterize all of our praying.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 251)


Spiritual Challenge:  Recognize, target, destroy and bury the prideful “self” (old man).  Repent!  Keep grieving, mourning, wailing, and beating the old man down until he can no longer even think of himself and you become consumed with living for Christ and others.  Then rejoice, be glad, and bask in the grace that God loves to lavish on those who have forsaken and destroyed the pride in their lives.


Whatever our condition or situation, he always “gives us more grace.”  He gives grace to overcome personal weaknesses.  If to your alarm you find that you are repeatedly succumbing to a burning pursuit of hedonism, God will give you more grace if you ask.  If you are a victim of an imploding self-centeredness which repeatedly sucks you into its nothingness, and you want deliverance, there is grace for the asking.

Perhaps you are so stubborn that you have never lost an argument.  Perhaps you are such a knothead that you never listen to anyone.  Now you find that your most intimate relationships are impaired, so that your spouse and friends find your presence a burden, but you want to change.  God will give you more grace.  If you have fed on cherished hatreds, but now see that the feast has really been the Devil’s feast and the main course your soul, and you want deliverance, he will give you more grace.

Perhaps your life has insurmountable obstacles.  Perhaps a terminal disease.  There is more grace.  Or a loved one’s death.  There is more grace.  Or a shattering divorce.  There is more grace.  Or the bitter ashes of failure.  There is more grace.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 179-80)


If I have observed anything by experience, it is this: a man may take the measure of his growth and decay in grace according to his thoughts and meditations upon the person of Christ, and the glory of Christ’s Kingdom, and of his love.  -John Owen


Good news is only great news in proportion to how much you understand that the bad news is really bad news.



Excursus on Repentance:

“When we call sin “not sin” we burn the bridge back to God because we can’t repent of something we don’t think is wrong.” (Steve Brown; Key Life Romans Tape 2, Side 2)


Knowledge without repentance will be but a torch to light men to hell. (Thomas Watson’ The Doctrine of Repentance, 77)


“The more we encounter the holy God in our worship, the more we will recognize our utter sinfulness and be driven to repentance.  This, too, is an essential part of our praise.”    (Marva Dawn; Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, 90)


“Repentance means turning from as much as you know of your sin to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of your God, and as our knowledge grows at these three points so our practice of repentance has to be enlarged.” (J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 104)


A proper view of God’s person is a powerful motive to true repentance.  (Robert Roberts; Repentance, 159)


Growth in holiness cannot continue where repenting from the heart has stopped. (J. I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 139)


Are you happy about yourself?  Are you happy about the state of the Church?  Is all well?  Can we go jogging along?  Meetings, services, activities—wonderful!  Is it?  Where is the knowledge of God?  Is he in the midst?  Is he in the life?  What is our relationship to him?   Face that question, and it will lead to this true godly sorrow and repentance, which will manifest itself in a practical manner.  May God have mercy upon us, open our eyes to the situation, and give us honest minds, and truth in our inward parts.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones; Revival, 160)


“Gospel repentance is not a little hanging down of the head.  It’s a working of the heart until your sin becomes more odious to you than any punishment for it.” — Richard Sibbes


Good news, you’re a sinner!  Sin is the best news there is. . . because with sin, there’s a way out. . . you can’t repent of confusion or psychological flaws inflicted by your parents—you’re stuck with them.  But you can repent of sin.  Sin and repentance are the only grounds for hope and joy, the grounds for reconciled, joyful relationships. (John Alexander, The Other Side)


It was not by accident, I suspect, that the first of the ninety-five theses Martin Luther nailed to the Wittenberg church door read, “when our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘repent,’ He willed that the entire life of believers be one of repentance.”  (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 32)


Beware lest you delay repentance so long that your heart become hardened to that point where your conscience ceases to function and the voice of God is unheard in your soul. (Robert Roberts ; Repentance, 240)


Sin God can deal with.  That is what the cross is all about.  It is stiff-necked, hard-hearted, unrepentant religious, pious, do-gooders who are lost and without hope. — Steve Brown


Natural repentance is that natural feeling of sorrow and self-condemnation, of which a man is conscious for having done that which he sees he ought not to have done, and which arises from a discovery of the impropriety of it, or from reflecting on the disagreeable consequences of it to others, and especially to himself (John Colquhoun; Repentance, 9)


Legal repentance is a feeling of regret produced in a legalist by the fear that his violations of the Divine law and especially his gross sins do expose him to external punishment.  This regret is increased by his desire to be exempted on the ground of it from the dreadful punishment to which he knows he is condemned for them.  He is extremely sorry, not that he has transgressed the law, but that the law and the justice of God are so very strict that they cannot leave him at liberty to sin with impunity.  (John Colquhoun; Repentance, 9)


Evangelical repentance is altogether different from either of these.  It is a gracious principle and habit implanted in the soul by the Spirit of Christ, in the exercise of which a regenerate and believing sinner, deeply sensible of the exceeding sinfulness and just demerit of his innumerable sins is truly humbled and grieved before the Lord, on account of the sinfulness and hurtfulness of them.  He feels bitter remorse, unfeigned sorrow, and deep self-abhorrence for the aggravated transgressions of his life, and the deep depravity of his nature; chiefly, because by all his innumerable provocations he has dishonored an infinitely holy and gracious God, transgressed a law which is ‘holy, and just, and good’, and defiled, deformed, and even destroyed his own precious soul.  This godly sorrow for sin and this holy abhorrence of it arise from a spiritual discovery of pardoning mercy with God in Christ, and from the exercise of trusting in His mercy.  And these feelings and exercises are always accompanied by an unfeigned love of universal holiness, and by fixed resolutions and endeavors to turn from all iniquity to God and to walk before him in newness of life.  Such, in general is the nature of that evangelical repentance, to the habit and exercise of which the Lord Jesus calls sinners who hear the Gospel  (John Colquhoun; Repentance, 10)


An unrepentant faith is a theoretical belief which originates outside the sphere of the Spirit’s illumination in a heart which is still in darkness concerning its own need and the grace and grandeur of God.  (Richard Lovelace; Dynamics of Spiritual Life, 103)


Quotes to Note:

True Christians are not part of the evil world system (Jn 17:14, 16), having been chosen out of it (Jn 15:19).  Far from being conformed to the world (Rom 12:2), they are sent into it by Jesus (Jn 17:18) to provide light in its moral and spiritual darkness (Mt 5:14).  They have been crucified to the world (Gal 6:14), overcome it (1 Jn 5:4-5), and remain unstained by it (Jas 1:27).  To be a friend of the world while claiming to be a Christian is the height of self-deceiving folly.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 200)


To repent is to accuse and condemn ourselves; to charge upon ourselves the desert of hell; to take part with God against ourselves, and to justify him in all that he does against us; to be ashamed and confounded for our sins; to have them ever in our eyes, and at all times upon our hearts, that we may be in daily sorrow for them; to part with our right hands and eyes, that is, with those pleasurable sins which have been as dear to us as our lives, so as never to have to do with them more, and to hate them, so as to destroy them as things which by nature we are wholly disinclined to.  For we naturally love and think well of ourselves, hide our deformities, lessen and excuse our faults, indulge ourselves in the things that please us, are mad upon our lusts, and follow them, though to our own destruction.  –Francis Fuller





Grace Embodied

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply