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Book of James Lesson Nine
by Dr. Michael Cochran 
Not For Sale


LESSON #9- (James 4: 1-10, NIV)

APPLICATION: My spiritual power does not come from my own strength but from yieldedness to God.

JAMES 4: 1-3

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 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. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

The contrast between the close of chapter three and the start of chapter four couldn't be more stark. James tells us that wisdom from above produces all sorts of pure and peaceable fruit, but that the cause of violence lies within humankind. Because of the fall of Adam and humankind's sinful nature, people are unbalanced: They want what they want---at any cost. This is the very essence of selfishness and hence at the root of the disturbances that James refers. When people are determined to fulfill the desires of their minds and the passions of their bodies, every sort of evil is bound to result.

Certainly conflicts within the church do stem from such root causes as jealousy, envy, self-seeking, and the like. Churches have been torn apart from within as a result of such activities going on unchecked. Thus, Christians always need to be on guard against the kind of complacency that lets evil get a foothold.

However, in a broader sense, the same kinds of character defects and sins that work among church members work among groups and nations as well. Wars may not, in every case at least, be the mere result of the sum total of individual conflicts. Yet personal sins, such as jealousy, greed, and the like, do infect society and produce a climate in which war becomes almost inevitable. Covetousness, rivalries, the unbridled quest for gain—these evils not only wreck homes and blight lives, but may well seize whole peoples.

It is interesting to note that James says “you cannot have what you want.” This is almost a universal principle of human psychology: rapacious desire to possess or to “have” anything often leads to poverty, loss, and destitution. Greed and coveting are self-defeating. The more one wants, the less one has. Yet we never seem to learn this truth.

Our very desires affect our prayer lives, James says. We do not have because we do not ask, and when we do ask, we ask with wrong motives and so don't receive what we want. Here is an answer to those who say that it is really unbelief to preface our prayers with “If it be Thy will....” We are not to presume that we necessarily know God's will or even want it. Our mere strong desire for something is not necessarily evidence that God gave us that desire and that we should pray in faith for its fulfillment. We must look to our “motives” as James says.

Perhaps it is just characteristic of the times in which we live, where it has become necessary to have two-income families just to stay even financially, but there has been a growing movement among some Christians to “name it and claim it” for God when it comes to material needs.

Prayers for genuine needs are answered, but it is also easy to see how we can perhaps be “innocently” carried away by our own desires. The word translated “desires” in the NIV is the same Greek word from which we get “hedonism,” a term often used of the self-indulgent. Yes, James names one of the reasons why certain prayers may go unanswered: selfish desires.

JAMES 4: 4-6

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. 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."

Friendship with the world's values makes us enemies of God, James says. The only trouble is that friendship with the world is so “normal” we just naturally go along with our inclinations without thinking about it. Pleasing God is often a matter of going uphill or swimming upstream, and neither comes easily or automatically to us.

Actually, what often happens is that many people try to have both worlds. They try to love God and do their own will. Judas Iscariot tried both worlds; and Simon Peter, for a long time, wanted both, as did the rich young ruler (Luke 18:23). James says this is impossible. Being responsible to God means being His servant totally—body, mind, and spirit—for His employ and for His glory.

Verse 5 is more than a bit problematic but roughly means, “Do you think Scripture is fooling when it says 'God jealously wants us for His own'?” Some Scholars believe that James is referring to Exodus 20:5. On the other hand, he may be merely invoking a broad truth rather than citing a particular verse. In any case, the point is that God is not playing games; He wants us for His own and is giving us the grace to follow Him. The only question is whether we are humble enough to ask for His help.

How does God help? We may be surprised by James's answer: God gives us more grace. Grace! It's a word that is not always associated with this apostle, but James loved grace. Having rained bad news upon bad news, shaming sinners into contrition, he suddenly steps back and lets the clouds lift.

Grace! Verse 6 comes like a songbird in the midst of a ruthless, driving windstorm. The thunder is still very much in the picture—we can still feel its shock waves—but fresh grace now breaks through. Paraphrasing Proverbs 3:34, James says that God gives grace to the humble and lowly.

JAMES 4: 7-10

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James has now made an important turn in emphasis. For the next several verses he doesn't harp on what is wrong, but tells what to do. He becomes a spiritual coach, a friend, a strong ally. Formulating a strong Jewish-Christian definition of repentance, he outlines what a sinner or wayward believer should do to regain friendship with God.

That appeal is emotional, yet rational. Note the colorful language James employs. We are to take action: Submit to God, resist the devil. If we will come near to God, He will come near to us. What! Are we hesitating? We should wash our hands and purify our hearts. Only the double-minded hesitate. And we should be emotionally involved in what we are doing. Mere cold performance of the right ritual isn't enough. Our actions should be accompanied by genuine grief and mourning. Our casual attitude should be changed to one of seriousness and gloom. But when we have done all of this, in sincerity, God will lift us up. He “gives grace to the humble.”

Verses 7-10 bear close resemblance to Levitical purification rites. For example, the cleansing of hands was ritualistically prescribed under the Law, and mourning was an official act of penitence, often done literally in sackcloth and ashes. The emotional aspect of Jewish worship wasn't neglected either. James's reference to “your joy” turning “to gloom” is reminiscent of the many emotional turns in the Psalms, where, in one moment, David is exalted and in the next he is on the border of despair.

Surely, James's conclusion gives the sought-after assurance: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”


1. Why does James consider friendship with the world to be adulterous?
2. Can you think of times that God has given you “more grace” to overcome temptation?
3. How can you submit to God? Resist the devil?

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