James is really getting into his stride in chapter 4, which is a very challenging read.
The first section challenges our relationship with the world as well as each other. We have to watch very carefully that we do not desire the things of the world as they can very quickly lead us to temptation and then sin.
He even goes as far as saying that we may be tempted to kill for something that we want when we should simply be asking God for it.
Cain killed his brother Abel because of jealousy (Genesis 4)
David killed Uriah so that he could have Bathsheba (2 Samuel chapter 11)
Ahab killed Nahoth so that he could have his land (1 Kings 21)
We get into these situations because of our constant battle with our earthly desires for pleasure. We want what we want and we want it now. Our culture is now very much a culture that believes that we have a “right” to these things, that we should have it now, rather than waiting until we have saved enough for it (we may want something else by then) or waiting for the right marriage partner and being faithful to them.
James says in verse 2-3;
You do not have what you want because you do not ask God for it.
And when you ask, you do not receive it, because your motives are bad; you ask for things to use for your own pleasures.
Now I absolutely believe that God is benevolent and loves to shower blessings and gifts on his children, but any parent will know that it is easy to “spoil” their child. If the child always gets whatever they want, they become lazy, greedy and selfish and don’t appreciate what they have, but if they receive it as a reward for something that they have worked for, they appreciate it so much more and receive it with gratitude.
If we stray too close to the world’s desires, we distance ourselves from the pure desires that God has for us.
So James gives 10 “Commandments” in verses 7 – 10
- submit to God – submit to Him so that he can change our sinful hearts
- resist the devil – and he will run away from you. We have to stand firm against his lies and temptations
- come near to God – and he will come near to you
- wash your hands – the priests had to wash their hands before approaching God in the Tabernacle as a symbol of spiritual cleansing
- purify your hearts – follows the washing of hands representing a sincere desire to worship and submit to God
- be sorrowful – 6,7, 8 and 9 are joined together to show repentance
- change your laughter into crying
- humble yourself – if we humble ourselves before him, he will lift us up.
Verses 11 to 12 warn against judging or speaking against others. Only God can do this as if we do this we are disobeying the law to love our neighbours. We do not have the right to judge someone else.
Now if you are like me, most people like to be able to plan ahead, know what they are going to do, where they are going in advance, which is sensible and practical to make reasonable preparations.
However a lot of the Jewish people that James was addressing in his letter, were business people, traders who traveled around with the aim of making lots of money (see chapter 1 v 1 reference to them being “scattered”) They were making big boasts of how successful they were going to be and how much money they would make
Yes, you need to make plans but James accused these people of being arrogant and making assumptions about their future. We don’t know what tomorrow holds let alone next year!
We are like a “puff of smoke” gone in an instance, our lives can be taken or changed without warning so we are to make these plans in humble recognition of God’s sovereignty over our lives. If it is his will to allow us these things then give thanks humbly recognising that it is from Him and boast in Him rather than ourselves
The final warning in chapter 4 is that not only should we NOT do certain things to sin, NOT doing something that we should do is also a sin.
This is a challenging chapter with many thoughts but I think the key is found in verse 10;
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up
Quotes from the Good News Bible