Getting into Chapter 4 is going to require us to prepare for the enemy inside our faith. Some like prosperity gospels, other look for inspiration for their own inner lives, and still others look to erase guilt and feel better for themselves. But James is heading down a different path.
In verses 1-3, James knows that there is jealousy and greed in the community. No one has the sense to ask God for things. Even the ones who might ask, are asking out of selfishness. I can’t help but ask if this is the case in many churches in America. We like to feel better about ourselves, but at what cost. Everything from bigger bank accounts, to flashier light shows, even to the latest sermon that gives you the sense that everything is going to be alright has the potential to be selfishness being acted out.
Let’s focus on verse 4a for a second. Most see the word adulterers and think that the people who read this letter were a group of sexual deviants who would qualify for libertines. But you must remember the context surrounding the verse. There is no mention of a sexual sin surround this particular verse. Which leads us to verses 4b-10.
Verse 4 recalls in the Old Testament the images of Israel as a bride. When the bride is unfaithful, she is called the adulterer. And to make the image clearer, James is assuming that the Church is now Israel. In verses 5-10, Pride takes center stage, being exposed as an evil seductress who loves to ruin people. God loves the humble and meek. It becomes easy to apply verses 9-10. If you act in full confidence of what you “own,” you should humble yourself, especially if you’ve caused people grief with your pride. Keep moving towards humility. Remember that the only reason you have the things you do have is because of God.
Verses 11-12 keeps with the commentary on prideful actions. Some who read scriptures and exist in the church will completely bypass this passage. When you live among believers or even out in the world, you must remember that our primary objective is obedience over yelling through bullhorns (this is extremely important for people looking for ways to positively interact with people who have a differing moral system than you on issues such as homosexuals, abortion, war, or even healthcare to name a few). This is also a carryover from chapter 3.
Verses 13-17 are probably some of the most misunderstood verses in this book. Most read this and think in terms of calvinist and non-calvinist debates. But I tend to look at it differently. It has more to do with the issue of loyalty to God. Remember what verse 11 said? It’s our job to obey! If that is the context of this chapter, then why would it suddenly change? This passage is not about God fating you for one place or another or saying you’re going to work in Iowa as a farmer instead of Washington as a politician. It’s about you making a statement that says, “I’ll do what I want to do over what God wishes for me.” Note that the greek for “the Lord wishes” is a term that refers to the desires of our God.
If it isn’t clear enough yet, not that verse 17 talks about what we should and should not do.
What should we do?
What God wants?
What we want?
Now plug your ideas into verses 13-17.
I hope you’re beginning to see.
Grace and peace.
*side note: a big help to reading James and other books of the Bible is to not proof text. Proof texting is looking at an individual verse and using it to prove the theology you’ve learned in your past. Although 100% objectivity is impossible, it’s important to get as close as you can.