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Chapter 4

Commentary by Tom Brown

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?

desires that battle within you. There are good and evil desires. They battle. You decide which desires win the battle.

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.

you cannot have what you want. Not everything you want is a godly desire. He is referring to wanting what others have: called covetousness.

You do not have, because you do not ask God. God will be kind and gracious to provide you the things you need and want, but you must always leave it in His hands to give.

3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.


wrong motives. God takes into account the motives of your heart. If the motive is sinful, then God will not give you what you want.

Spend. James obviously is referring to asking God for money, and here, James says God will provide, unless you want to spend your money of evil pleasures.

Pleasures. It is the Greek for hedonism. This refers to sensual pleasures, not simply benign 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.

friendship with the world. Friendship denotes the idea of working side by side with the world and its ideals. Compromising the truth so one can make money with the world.

enemy of God. God is not a enemy you want to make. If God is your enemy, then He will work against you.

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." 


God opposes the proud. Clearly this is the person who made friends with the world and its idea and beliefs.

gives grace to the humble. A humble person is one who admits they do not know more than God.

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Submit... Resist. Two opposites. It is not really possible to resist the devil if you are not submitted to God. On the other hand, many are submitting to God, but do not resist the devil and his evil works.

flee. This speaks of the devil becoming a fugitive. He is running for his life.

8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Come near to God and he will come near to you. God gets as near you as you get near Him.

Wash your hands. A reference to actions; deeds.

purify your hearts. A reference to your thoughts. God wants both your thoughts and deeds to be changed.

you sinners. He calls backslidden believers sinners. Some are offended at this; but he uses the language to strike conviction to the non-committed believer.

9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.

Grieve, mourn and wail. Successive description. Starts with grief toward sin, then it turns to mourning and finally toward wailing.

Change your laughter to mourning. There are times that a gospel message must bring conviction of sin. Ministers must not get caught up in a Pollyanna syndrome--only preaching to make the hearers feel good.

10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.


he will lift you up. The intent of the letter is to get the backslidden believer to turn away from his sin so God can exalt the person. God takes no pleasure in seeing anyone down.

11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.

slander. The name of Satan, means slander. It is general words to speak evil of another, especially with the intent of injuring the person. It's not good to offer your negative opinion of another believer. Even if you think you are speaking the truth, it may not be edifying, and may be causing division.

speaks against the law. The Law's ultimate demand to is love one another. When you hurt another, you are acting against the Law.

sitting in judgment on it. Strong language. He is saying that to hurt another, you not only take sides against the Law, but you are now judging God's law. How dare anyone judge God's law of love? You are exalting your judgment above the law of love. This could only bring dire consequences.

12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you — who are you to judge your neighbor?


only one Lawgiver and Judge. If there is only one judge, then you cannot be another judge.

who are you to judge your neighbor? Reiterating the face that if God is the only Judge, then who made you judge?

13 Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money."

He is not condemning human planning. After all, Proverbs 16:1 says, "To man belongs the plans of the heart. But from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue." He wants us to remain humble even when planning.

14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.


15 Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

If it is the Lord's will. All human planning must make room for God's will.

16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.

All such boasting is evil. I suppose more boasting comes from people's big plans. Normally, most of those plans do not come to pass, which shows the emptiness of their boasting. Few brag on what they actually accomplished; most brag on what they plan on accomplishing.

17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.


Sin is not just doing wrong, it also is failure to do the right that you know is right. This is often called the sin of omission.


Previous  Chapter 5

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