The Epistle of James
Brother Earl Miller’s helpful exposition of the Epistle of James merits close examination. May the practical lessons from these articles find a response in our lives.
Having developed the subject of a living faith controlling the tongue, James in chapter four shows how a living faith will direct Christian conduct. This portion broadly falls into two parts. The first six verses deal with contentious Christians, and verses 7-17 set forth ten guide-posts governing Christian conduct.
The first six verses we quote from the New Scofield Bible, “From where come wars and fighting among you? Come they not here, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and ye have not; ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that a friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the Scripture saith in vain, The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But He giveth more grace. Wherefore He saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”
We remember that James is writing to the Christian Jews who were scattered abroad in the persecution perpetrated by Saul of Tarsus. They lost their homes, their jobs, and no doubt their savings. They were driven into a hostile world which severely tried their faith, and it is natural that their tempers should become frayed a bit, and their desire to attain to their former state would drive them to impatience in waiting for time to accomplish this.
Wars and Fightings
“From where comes war and fighting among you?” James asks. The two words “wars and fightings” were often used together in ancient Greek literature. “Wars” generally refers to the whole course of hostilities, while “fightings,” to actual conflict, or battles. The word is also used of contentions. It is not that these Christians were engaged in armed warfare, but in conflicts and contentions that arose among them. There are battles of words (1 Tim. 6:4), legal battles (Titus 3:9), and battles of doctrine (1 Tim. 4:1-3). A Christian does not need to engage in armed warfare to be guilty of the wrongs about which James is writing. There are fightings and contentions among different groups of Christians in our day just as there were in the time of James. So the exhortations James gives are as applicable today as they were then.
Where Contentions Come From
James points out the source of the contentions when he says, “Come they not hence, even from your lusts that war in your members?” The word translated “lust” in the Greek goes much farther than mere lust; it is lust realized. Pleasures would be a better word than lust. “Pleasures keep campaigning in your members” is really the literal meaning of the Greek words used here. The external fights and contentions begin from within: “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit lusteth against the flesh, these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” The desire for sensual pleasure is always present in the flesh, and is campaigning in our members against the Spirit for gratification. This is what causes fightings and contentions among Christians.
The second verse details the actual contentions that rage among Christians. “Ye lust, and have not; ye kill and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.” The word “lust” here is “desire”; it is not the same word as used in the first verse, where “pleasure” is a better translation. But here it is not pleasure; it is lust. They desire the things which they do not have, so they are jealous. The word translated “murder” in the Greek is sometimes used for the actual taking of life, and other times it is used for the destruction of one’s character or reputation. In this case, the destruction of character is preferred. They desire things others have, so the jealousy within resorts to character assassination. While this leads to actual outward contentions, they still do not obtain the things they desire. They have not because they ask not, then they ask but receive not, because they are asking from selfish motives, that it may be spent on their pleasures.
Many a promising Christian life has been blighted because of an innate desire to have things which others have, which they are not able to obtain. They may have courage enough to ask God for these things without being aware that they are only for the gratification of their own carnal desires. God has promised to supply our needs; He has not promised to supply our wants. Failure to obtain may lead to frantic measures, like character assassination, or such like things.
Enemies of God
James uses strong terms in denouncing this evil among Christians. He says, “Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of this world is enmity with God? Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” The King James version has “adulterers and adulteressess” but the Greek has only “adulteresses.” While the word is in the feminine gender, it is obvious that both sexes are included in the world adulteresses. This desire to have what others have which leads to fightings and contentions, is the way of the world. Any Christians engaged in such things are patterning after the world; they become friends of the world, but enemies of God. And this constitutes them adulteresses. Strange is it not, that Christians should fall so low as to become friends of the world, adulteresses and enemies of God? Yet, the bitter fights, contentions, lawsuits, etc. that have taken place among certain groups of Christians, prove the point.
Grieving the Holy Spirit
What a disgrace to the name of Christ, and how grieved the Holy Spirit, who dwells within, must be when Christians fall so low. The fifth verse says, “Do ye think that the Scripture speaks in vain, the Spirit that dwelleth in you lusteth to envy?” This verse has been variously interpreted. Some teachers make the spirit here refer to the human spirit which lusts to envy. But Dr. Kenneth Wuest convincingly maintains that the Holy Spirit is in view here. The Holy Spirit is caused to dwell in our hearts, and Dr. Wuest maintains that the force of the Greek word holds the idea of permanence, so that the Holy Spirit was caused to make His permanent home in our hearts.
When Christians, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells permanently, give place to bitter contentions, fightings, character assassination, and such like things, the Holy Spirit is deeply grieved, and He strives even to the point of envy to control their lives. For the time being they are walking in the flesh, and have allowed the flesh to control their actions. The Holy Spirit lusts against the flesh, but so long as contentions continue, the flesh has control.
“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore, he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” Apparently the time came when these fighting Christians became ashamed of their conduct, and realized that they had given way to the flesh. God resisted their arrogant hearts until they were broken. God could then give more grace to the humble.
Verses 1-3 “What causes wars and fightings among you? Is it not your passions which are at war in your members? You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and wage war all to no avail. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask from wrong motives, so that you may consume it upon your pleasures.”
Verses 4-5: “You adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship of this world is enmity against God? Whoever, therefore, becomes a friend of the world declares himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks in vain, “The Spirit who has been caused to dwell in you jealously longs for you.”
Verses 6-10: “But He gives more grace. Therefore, He says, “God resists the proud, but gives the grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded. Be afflicted and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”