James 4:7-12 Drawing Closer to God
7. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.
9. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection.
10. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.
11. Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law.
12. There is one lawgiver and judge, He who is able to save and destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?
Here are 6 short verses, but they pack an amazing wallop and for anyone serious about their spiritual growth these verses have to be taken very seriously.
Verse 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
The series of commands that we find in this verse and the next few verses flow directly out of what James says in verse 6. There he quotes Psalm 3:34 (take a moment to review what we said about verse 6 and also read Psalm 3 again to get an idea of what is being said). The idea in verse 6 is that God gives grace to the humble and James now in these next few verses gives us an insight into what it means to walk humbly before the Lord.
I have divided these commands into 8 parts that are life changers for those of us who are willing to follow through on James directives.
(1) “Submit yourselves therefore to God” In verse 10 James ends the section by stating, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.” These two passages are our bookends for what James has to say in verses 7 through 10. By the way, now would be a good time to read 1 Peter 5: 5-9 to note the parallels. Both James and Peter could well have been referring to a common knowledge that circulated throughout the churches regarding humility and repentance.
The word submit means in Greek put in order under and this suggests the existence of a hierarchy of authority such as we see in government. Here, of course, it refers to being under the authority of God. To not be submitted to God is to be in rebellion to God and that places man outside the Kingdom.
(2) “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” is based on the fact that those who are submitted to God will not intentionally place themselves under Satan’s lordship. The verb translated resists means to stand against and can also be translated oppose or withstand (see Acts 6:10; Romans 9:19; Ephesians 6:13).
Satan’s goal is to continue the separation he brought about in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam. He wishes to keep us separated by our sins from God and thus keep us under his authority. Verse 7 is thus of utmost importance to us Christians because it tells us outright that if we resist the Devil he will not be able to exercise control over us. The reason is that we have drawn near to God (v. 8).
For so many Christians that are struggling to resist temptation and turn their backs on cherished sins the solution is to draw closer to Christ and worry less about the sin. The closer to Christ we draw the less sin has a hold on us because the less we concentrate on it and the less we have an interest in it. When we honestly wish to stand up against sin we will learn to say no. This is difficult for many of us because in reality we cherish the sin that has a hold on us. But, it is imperative for our growth to resist the devil and when we do we will see the hold the devil once had on us diminish and collapse under the grace of God. Don’t get me wrong; there may well be times you fall and slip back under the attacks of Satan to old habits. But, you recognize very quickly what is going on and repent and turn away from the sin. Each time you fall you will find that it is easier to recognize what is happening and turn away from the sin. James is making it perfectly clear in this verse that we are given the ability to overcome and resist Satan’s power.
Verse 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts you men of double mind.
(3) Draw near to God is the key for resisting the attacks of Satan. In the O.T. the verb to draw near refers to approaching God in worship. (Lev. 21:3, 21, 23) The idea of drawing near in this passage, however, has more to do with the idea of repenting from sin and turning towards God. The wonder of this directive by James is that if we draw near to God for strength to submit ourselves to Him He will not reject us or turn His back on us, but instead He will draw near to us to give us strength to resist the Devil.
At the end of verse 8 James gives two more commands that, according to Moo in his commentary, The Letter of James, “call for a radical repentance that embraces the total person. The two commands are formulated in perfect parallelism: imperative verb plus object, climaxed with a pejorative address to the readers. And enhancing both the parallelism and the sharpness of the commands is the omission of any articles or possessive pronouns. A literal rendering would be: wash hands sinners; and purify hearts, double minded.” Moo, p. 194
Command 4 is thus, “wash hands sinners” and command 5 is, “purify hearts, double minded”. James isn’t pulling punches with these people. Remember what he said about them in verse 4 where he called them, “unfaithful creatures.” See chapter 1: 8 for James use of double minded.
If we are to draw near to God and submit ourselves to His authority and directions so that we may resist the Devil then we must turn from our double-minded ways. James is making it clear that his readers are trying to be friends with God and the world at the same time. Here is the crux of our problem as Christians. We do not have victory in our warfare with evil because we walk with one foot in the world.
How few Christians long to repent outwardly, (wash your hands sinners,) or change internally (purify hearts, double minded). Remember the psalmist required “clean hands and a pure heart” for those who would stand before the Lord. (Ps. 24:3-4) There are three other times in the O.T. where the two verbs wash and purify are used together and they are wrapped up with the idea of priestly purity in ministering the things of the Lord. Num. 31:23; 2 Chronicles 29:15; Isa. 66:17
Verse 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection.
(6) Wretchedness, mournfulness and weeping are all depicted by the prophets as conditions of people who are under judgment. In Joel 2:12 we find the plea for God’s people to “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” James like Joel believes the Lord is soon to return and calls on Christians to exhibit a heartfelt sorrow for sin that is the mark of true repentance. Paul calls it a “godly sorrow…..that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.” 2 Cor. 7:10 He also calls on Christians, “to mourn” for their sin (1 Cor. 5:2). And Peter expresses his sorrow at betraying the Lord by, “weeping.” Luke 22:62
Let us be honest and up front here. Every one in the world at the second coming of Christ is either going to be saved or lost. The lost will mourn while the saved will have done their mourning all ready in heartfelt repentance. God is calling each of us to put Him first, walk away from sin and its temptations and throw our lot in with the Jesus. We are called to resist evil and draw near to God and there can be no compromise. There is no room at the Banquet table of God for double-minded people; they will have their lot with the lost.
(7) “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection.” (see also Luke 6:25) The idea of laughter in the O.T. often was associated with a carefree way of life that didn’t take into consideration the seriousness of impending judgment by the God of the Universe. James is warning his readers to get their house in order and their priorities straight because judgment was soon to be upon them and all the denial and good spirited fun that they are now indulging in will avail them of nothing. It is better to mourn now over sin than mourn at the judgment for a life of sin and be rejected for the Kingdom of God. God is Holy and we are sinful and the sooner we start to live in that reality the better off we will be.
Moo points out, “Christian joy can never be ours if we ignore or tolerate sin; it comes only when we have squarely faced the reality of our sin, brought it before the Lord in repentance and humility, and experienced the cleansing work of the Spirit.” Moo, The Letter of James, p. 196
Verse 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.
Verse 6 tells us “God gives grace to the humble” therefore humility is a doorway to receiving God’s grace. The proud and the arrogant who think they are smarter than God and more intelligent than people who believe in God will never be exalted in the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who humbly come before God recognizing the truth that God is God and they are not Him will be driven to repentance and acceptance of God’s grace in their lives. We gain victories over sin that has infiltrated our very souls when we humbly come before God seeking His direction, His grace, His forgiveness and His power for our lives.
Verse 11 Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law.
Leviticus 19:18 is the great love command of the Old Testament, but it is interesting in verse 16 there is an admonition not to slander. If James has Leviticus 19 in mind in this passage then what he is saying is simply this, if you speak evil or slander your brother, then you are not loving him and if you are not loving him then you are breaking the law. And if you are breaking the law then you are judging the law to either be wrong or have no matter to you.
Verse 12 There is one lawgiver and judge, He who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor?
Again verse 12 ties in with the idea in verses 6 through 10 that we are to turn to God in repentance because His time of judgment is near. We are to resist the Devil and walk close to God through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us. Instead of laughing and living as if everything is going to be fine forever, we are to weep and mourn over our sins and repent. Those who repent will not face judgment but will enter into eternal life. Since Jesus is our Lord and God as well as our redeemer and our judge we need to defer to Him in all matters concerning judgment because we judge from a false view of understanding and as a result judge wrongly.
James uses an interesting phrase in the text “He who is able to save and to destroy” which reminds us of Jesus words in Matthew 10:28 concerning God who alone is able “to destroy both soul and body in hell”. It would seem that James is thinking further along than just judging our neighbors about picky things, but actually reminding us that we cannot judge anyone regarding their salvation. Instead of judging our neighbor we are admonished to love our neighbor.
Once again let me quote Moo because he has a beautiful summary of what I am trying to say. “In light of the argument of these verses, therefore, we should note that James is not prohibiting the proper, and necessary, discrimination that every Christian should exercise. Nor is he forbidding the right of the community to exclude from its fellowship those it deems to be in flagrant disobedience to the standards of the faith, or to determine right and wrong among its members. It is the sort of judging that Paul condemned among the Roman Christians, who were apparently questioning the reality of one another’s faith because of differing views on the applicability of some ritual laws. Romans 14:1-13” Moo, p. 199
Within the Christian community we have way too much wagging of the tongue whenever someone does something or think something different from how we would do it. We are quick to judge each other regarding our different views on church services, theology, church teachings, outward appearances, speech and activities. When we fight and argue over minors then we are destroying the body of Christ and setting ourselves up as little gods to judge everyone else’s behavior. We would all get along better if we subjected ourselves to the authority of God, and that does not necessarily mean what a high church official thinks, but instead are the Scriptures.