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The Epistle of James Chapter 4 “Warlike Cravings”

Welcome to our on-line Bible study for 2017

The Epistle of James

Chapter 4 – “Warlike Cravings”
James is dealing with a congregation in turmoil. Passages like these bear out the truth that the early church was not some kind of idyllic community. James is confronting “conflicts and disputes” in the church. The Christian has to make a choice to submit wholeheartedly to God. Only then can the devil be resisted. We need to humble ourselves and seek the “more grace” which God promises.

I. “you ask wrongly” – 4:1-10
James is telling us that we should have no illusions about ourselves. We want things which come from the “cravings that are at war within you.” Once again there is a parallel with the apostle Paul who spoke of an ongoing conflict between the “flesh” (our sinful nature) and the “spirit” (our new nature in Christ). In graphic terms Paul states, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19).
James puts this in shocking terms: “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.” Is he serious? This is another example of what we call hyperbole, literally overstatement, to make a point. Jesus doesn’t want us tearing out our eye (Matt. 5:29). The point is being made that there are serious issues here. What are the cravings which are at war within us? And what does James mean by our asking wrongly, to spend what we have on our own pleasures (v. 3). Finally, how do we resist the “friendship with the world which is enmity with God?”
To answer these questions, several things have to be kept in mind. First, God is not opposed to pleasure. God did not create the world so that we would have nothing to do with the good things it offers. God made wine to gladden the human heart and food to sustain us (Ps. 104:14-15). He gives us the beauties of nature (Ps. 74:16-17). This includes physical beauty (Ezek. 16:6-14) along with love, sex and marriage (Song of Solomon). God does not withhold any good thing from us (Ps. 84:11). Second, as far back as the New Testament there were those who in a hyper form of spirituality taught that the body and even creation itself, were evil. Paul will not tolerate these “deceitful spirits” and states plainly that “everything created by God is good. And nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving” (I Tim. 4:1-5). So James is not talking about a Christianity that is defined by all the things it rejects and finds unacceptable. That outlook leads to a highly negative view
of Christian faith which unfortunately has its roots in the Christian Pharisees and
“super-apostles” Paul had to confront (Acts 15:1-5; II Cor. 11:5; Col. 2:20-23). Such
things contradict James’ view of “the law of liberty” (2:25).

So what is James talking about?
James is confronting his readers with a critical point. The truth is that we all have
sinful cravings within us. To pretend otherwise is to fall into self -deception or in
James’ expression, being “double-minded” (v. 8). We say one thing and do
another. We pretend that we are something we are not. We deny the reality of the
remnants of sin still within us. Two dangers present themselves here.
The first, in a misuse of our Christian liberty which simply follows the self-indulgence
of the world (the boast of the Corinthians that “all things are lawful,” including
prostitution (I Cor. 6). It is interesting that in several examples in the New Testament
the opposite of freedom is not really slavery. It is self-indulgence. On one hand we
profess belief in Christ. However, on the other we follow the pattern of the world
which resists Christ. This is the essence of being double-minded. Yet the pattern of
the world promises (falsely) to satisfy the cravings that are at war within us. This is a
deadly strategy which Satan uses to defeat us. James exhorts us in the name of our
faith in Christ to resist the devil (v. 7).
The second danger is spiritual pride. If we are proud, if we are over confident, we
are unprepared to face the reality that many times even our prayers are misguided.
Israel prayed to God for a king and God gave them one. However, Samuel the
prophet reminded Israel that in asking for a king they were rejecting God (I Samuel
8). In praying simply for things that build up our pride or excuse our self-indulgence,
even our professed belief in God is seriously flawed. Once again we are caught in
the trap of being double minded. Both sides of the “double” undermine our faith and
life in Christ. Spiritual pride and self-indulgence are really two sides of the same
coin.

II. Speaking Evil – 4:11-17
James maintains his focus on the use (or misuse) of the tongue. He warns against
speaking evil against one another. What does he mean by this? For him to speak
evil means to judge. We are all judged by the law. None of us are able to keep it.
Too often the law can be used as a big stick to beat people over the head. The law
is not nearly as important as the lawgiver who alone can judge. This is God. We
may ask, why did God give the law if no one is able to keep it? Paul’s answer is that
the law gives us the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:19-20). We have no right to judge
one another. The Pope was roundly criticized when he was asked about same-sex
marriage and his answer was, “Who am I to judge?” Yet his answer was simply
quoting James 4:12.

Does this mean that the church has no standards? No, but the standard we have is
the love of Christ. When we fall in our walk of following Christ, when we fail we need
to remember Paul’s advice to restore each other “in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1).
This is how Jesus dealt with Peter. We are all vulnerable. There can be no
superiority in the household of faith.
James concludes this chapter warning against a temptation to boast. When we
make our own plans without depending on the Lord we are, in effect, boasting.
None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. We are dependent on the Lord. Even
the Greek poets could say that in God we live and move and have our being (Acts
17:28). There is an old rabbinic saying that if you want to make God laugh tell him
your plans for the future. Many times we are boasting without realizing it.
James ends with the simple statement that if we know the right thing to do and we
fail to do it then we fall into sin. This is similar to Paul’s statement about faith
working through love (Gal. 5:6). It is not hard to recognize the need for compassion.
What often is hard is doing something about it. James continually reminds us that
we need to be doers of the word, not just hearers (1:22). Mercy triumphs over
judgement (2:13).

Questions for Us –
1. What are examples for us of “cravings” that are at war within us?
2. What does it mean to be a friend of the world and an enemy of God?
How can religion make us an enemy of God?
3. What are some of the ways that we can be boastful without realizing it?

Next study – James chapter 5 – “The Price of Patience”