James 4:1-6 Submit Yourself to God
1. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
2. You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.
3. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
5. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit He caused to live in us envies intensely?
6. But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
There is a lot going on in these six verses that have a major impact on the Christian and her view of reality. In our last study we saw that James in chapter 3:13-18 is interested in presenting to us a discussion about applying wisdom to the order and peace of the church. James commendation of peacemakers in 3:18 leads naturally into this discussion on quarreling within the body of Christ.
Verse 1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
The interesting thing about this verse is that the verbs fight and quarrel mean literal fights and battles. In other words these words have a connotation of violence. Whether or not there was literal violence in the church no one knows, but notice verse two where he mentions, “you kill and you covet.” It has been noted that Zealots were quite common in the time that James wrote and some of their violent practices may have entered the church. However, most commentators believe that James is simply talking about spiritual battles and fights between the church members. They simply couldn’t get along together under one roof.
The seventeenth-century Jewish philosopher Spinoza made an observation that is more than appropriate with our own age when he stated, “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.” Tractatus Theologico Politicus Chapter 6
We Christians seem to see the world as black and white. There is very little ability to see the good in anyone else’s belief system, because we believe that we have everything we need spiritually. We even condemn other denominations for not being as Theologically advanced as we are, and after we dismiss them we turn on each other.
Now, take a look at what causes these battles and quarrels within the congregation. James states they stem from our, “desires that battle within you.” The word desire is translated from the Greek word hedone, which means pleasure but often has the connotation of a sinful, self-indulgent pleasure. We get the word hedonism from it. It constantly has a negative connotation in the N.T. (see Luke 8:14; Tit. 3:3; 2 Pet. 2:13)
These pleasures or desires that battle within us often express themselves in quarrels and arguments because we want things to be the way we want them for our own pleasure. In the church there is no place for covetousness, thirst for honour, rivalry, malice and boastfulness and yet we continue to go down that path. In one little town I use to pastor one church body split three times over quarrels and arguments. It is no wonder that Jesus and James held peacemakers in high esteem.
Verse 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.
Now we begin to see the reason for the quarrels and fights, they take place because people don’t get their own way and get to fulfill their own pleasures or desires. The verb for want is the same as desire so the connection is strong with verse one. Frustrated desire is what is tearing the church apart, but just how intense was that strife? What is probably going on in these churches is that people are fighting and quarrelling over wanting to get their own way, envy, jealousy (3:14-16) and if they don’t stop this destructive behavior they will end up killing each other, both spiritually and physically. Reading these verses I can’t help but wonder how many wonderful men and women have left their church family because of just such warfare within their community of believers.
James tells the quarrelers that, “you kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.” Back in Chapter 3:1 James rebuked his readers for wanting to become teachers. Then in verse 13 he repeats the rebuke on the people for priding themselves on being, “wise and understanding?” It seems the problems that are riddling the churches stem from people who want the power and authority to lead the churches but don’t have the right kind of wisdom to be able to do so. Remember, in Chapter 1:5 James stated, “If any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God.” The reason these so called want-to-be leaders are failing to get what they want is because they are failing to ask God for wisdom and direction.
There is a world of difference between a leader who is inspired and directed by the Spirit and someone who leads because of the love of power and self. The congregation loves the first type of leader. But the second type of leader will soon lead the church into a little dictatorship. It is an interesting exercise to go on line sometime and read through the destruction and misery so many mega-church leaders leave behind because of their egocentric way of leading their churches.
Verse 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Matthew 7:7 states, “Ask, and it will be given you,” but this of course is in relationship to God’s will and the advancement of the Kingdom of God. This text in James (verse 3) is used by many Christians in relation to prayer, but from our study we see that it really deals with our desires to rule the roost and be leaders within the church body. I believe James is saying if we really want to be used by God and have the motives of wanting to see the Kingdom of Heaven advanced then we will ask with the right motives and God will answer and direct us. But, as long as we ask for selfish reasons that stem from our own pleasure, then the asking will receive a “no.” This text floats around the idea of motives both right and wrong. An interesting note is that the NIV Bible translates the word spend as spend freely. The idea parallels Luke 15:14 where the prodigal son is said to have “spent freely” his inheritance. I find this interesting because the idea is that these people who want to be leaders are rejected because their motives spring from their sinful desires to spend freely whatever they get. Though James is not signaling that these people are only in it for the money, the theme of how to handle money is a major theme of his work.
Verse 4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
This is one of the most straightforward calls to repentance in the entire N.T. (see verses 7-10 in our next study). This call to repentance (v. 4-10) is directly linked to the selfish desires that lead to killing, coveting, fighting and quarreling in verses 1-3, but it is even bigger than that. It seems to be one climatic plea to his readers to turn away from all their worldly ways and submit themselves to God’s grace. This is the heart of his letter and it stems from a deep heartfelt love for his readers. He longs for them to put their petty selfish ways behind them and become men and women who walk worthy of being called Christians.
No longer is James calling his reader’s brothers or dear brothers, but now they are adulterous people. He is no longer pulling his punches. The word adulterous does not necessarily mean that James is accusing the church members of sexual immorality. The term is built on the O.T. concept that Jesus is the groom and Israel His people and when they chase after other gods they are seen as adulterous. In Matthew 12:39 and 16:4 Jesus also uses the imagery.
Friendship in the time of the O.T. was much more than how we understand it today. Then you shared everything together and supported each other through good times and bad times. You were there when you were needed and could be counted upon to help. So when James says these Christians have become friends with the world it is a powerful statement of their rejection of God and connection to non-spiritual thinking and actions. You cannot love God with all your heart and also be friends with the world. In fact to love the world is to literally hate God. There is no compromise here. You are either walking with the Lord or you are not, because there is no middle ground.
Now what is really important about this verse is that so often these people don’t think they are friends with the world. Instead, they think they are good Christians and fully connected to God. But, if we take a quick look back at what we have studied so far we will notice a few interesting things. These Christians have a tendency to discriminate against others (2:1-13), they speak negatively about others (3:1-12), and they exhibit “bitter envy” and “selfish ambition,” (3:13-18). Then again in Chapter 4:1-3 we see they pursue their own destructive pleasures. These people have fooled themselves into thinking they have a good relationship with God while their conduct and attitudes say otherwise.
This is what makes James such a great book and so wonderful. He presents our falseness to us and then challenges us to become followers of Christ not only on Saturday or Sunday morning but every moment of every day throughout the week. He gets to the crux of what it means to be a fully committed follower of Christ. And that means there is no place for friendship with the attitudes and teachings of the world. Christians are to be separate from the world in their conduct and life. Christians are to reflect respect and love towards others and not be clamoring for glory and power within the church. When we carry around the same patterns of thinking and belief as the world, we have turned away from God regardless of what we think and in fact become enemies of God.
The problem for many of us is that we were raised in legalistic church systems that confused heartfelt surrender to God that could change our attitudes and actions with the church’s petty rules and regulations. The lines became blurred and at times it seemed fine to slander someone in the name of love, but a real sin is to wear lipstick. The problem with these controlling churches is that they are like the people James is writing to, they think everything is fine because they adhere to the outward signs of being a Christian, but the heart is far from God. How we treat each other says volumes more about our relationship with God than our outward appearance.
Verse 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit He caused to live in us envies intensely?
There is no one Scripture in the O.T. or in Jewish teachings that make up verse 6 so it would seem this is a composite of the theme of God’s jealousy for His people. God is envious for His people. He loves us and wants us in the Kingdom of Heaven and it hurts Him to see us so self-centered and determined in our desire for power and status. Instead, we should spend our energies in accepting and walking in the grace of God.
Verse 6 But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
God is all-sufficient and gives us abundant Grace to walk away from the old self-centered view of life that makes us friends with the world. The reason we fight and argue and spiritually tune into the world is because we don’t listen to the pleadings and longings of the Spirit (v. 5) to put our trust in God’s grace. It is only when we humble ourselves and realize that we have no wisdom outside of what God bestows that we walk in newness of life. The reason there is so much squabbling and fighting within the church community is because so many proud people are trying to lead without relying on God’s wisdom. Those who throw their pride aside and come humbly to God will receive the wonderful gift of grace that produces true wisdom.
This has been a long study, but they set up what is about to be presented to us in the next few verses. Thanks for reading along and I am sorry I take so long getting these out to you. It is probably a good time to be thinking of what we will study together next time. And if you are new to this blog we have a series of studies on Galatians that you might enjoy that you can find under the Check it Out section.