Setting

James has dealt with the subject of speech in the previous passage to illustrate the principle of faith and works. Now he takes up another example, which naturally extends from the discussion of the tongue— strife among believers. It is quite obvious that strife was a serious issue that plagued the community of believers. Thus James uses strong words of admonition to point out their sin and show them what they must do to remove the sin from among them.

Key Verse

(4:7)

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Outline

  • Two Kinds of Wisdom
    (3:13-18)
  • Lusting and Fighting in Vain
    (4:1-3)
  • Submit to God
    (4:4-10)
  • Do Not Judge
    (4:11-12)

General Analysis

  • 1.

    Generally speaking, which paragraphs in the passage are about the problem? Which ones offer the solution?

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    3:13-4:3 mostly points out the problem. 4:4-12 is mainly about the solution to the problem.

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  • 2.

    What kinds of evil does this passage discuss?

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    Bitter envy, self-seeking, boasting, lies, confusion, wars, fights, lust, murder, covet, enmity with God, speaking evil of one another, judging others.

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Segment Analysis

  • 3:13-18

    1.

    Does verse 13 remind you of the themes we have studied in this epistle?

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    It reinforces the themes of being a doer of the word as well as faith and works. Anyone who thinks he is wise ought to conduct himself in meekness.

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  • 2.

    How is “meekness” (13) essential in dealing with the problem that James is addressing?

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    Meekness means having a humble and gentle spirit, a quality that Christians must possess in order to eliminate envy and strife. Not only should Christians be meek with one another, they should all the more be meek before God by submitting to God. See comments on 4:7 to understand why meekness before God is key to solving the problem of envy and strife.

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  • 3a.

    Why do many people, including some believers in this case, consider envy and strife as “wisdom”?

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    In this world of competition and selfish ambition, wisdom means gaining an edge over others. Therefore, many people seek to outsmart and outdo their competitors. Consequently, there is envy, strife, and other forms of evil. Unfortunately, some believers embrace this worldly mentality and thus bring evil practices into the community of believers.

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  • 3b.

    What is the source of such wisdom?

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    It is earthly because it views things only from the perspective of this world and the present life. It is sensual because it comes from sinful desires. It is demonic because it is Satan who is at work behind such “wisdom.”

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  • 4.

    According to James, what is the root of confusion and evil in the community of believers?

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    Bitter envy and self-seeking (14,16). Selfish motive naturally leads to strife.

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  • 5.

    Are you at odds with another fellow believer? What can you learn from this passage?

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  • 6.

    Why does purity come first with respect to the wisdom from above (17)?

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    The purity here refers to a sinless motive, which serves as the basis for the virtues and attitudes that follow in 17 and 18. Godly character comes from a pure heart.

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  • 7.

    Explain the analogy of verse 18.

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    The fruit of righteousness cannot grow in an environment of envy and strife. In order for believers to bear fruit that reflects God’s righteousness, there must be peace in the spiritual community. This kind of healthy spiritual growth is cultivated by those who actively make peace a reality.

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  • 4:1-3

    8a.

    What kind of “wars” and “fights” do you think existed in the congregation?

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    Perhaps “interest groups” existed in the church, where believers fought openly for personal gains and prestige. Sharp divisions resulted in speech and actions that did great harm to one another.

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  • 8b.

    Have you seen similar problems in today’s congregation?

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  • 8c.

    According to James, what is the cause of such problems?

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    The desire for pleasure—the pleasure of gaining praise and respect as well as the pleasure of defeating rivals.

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  • 9.

    What can we learn from verse 3 about the motive of prayer?

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    Impure motive is a cause of unanswered prayer. Our prayers should not be motivated by our desires for pleasure. Instead, we need to seek to know and carry out God’s will.

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  • 4:4-10

    10a.

    What is “friendship with the world”?

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    Friendship with the world means agreeing with and embracing the sinful desires of the flesh (cf. 1Jn 2:15-17).

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  • 10b.

    Why is this equivalent to “enmity with God”? Can’t we be friends with the world and with God?

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    The desires of the sinful nature stand opposed to the mind of the Holy Spirit. Not only so, if we choose to obey our sinful desires, these desires can disable us from submitting to God (Rom 8:5-8). Since it is impossible to be friends with both the world and God, we have to make a choice to love one and despise the other (cf. Mt 6:24).

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  • 10c.

    Why does James call them “adulterers and adulteresses”? (cf. Jer 3:8, 20; Hos 2:2-5; 9:1)

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    James considers these people to be spiritually unfaithful to God.

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  • 11.

    What kind of jealousy is meant in verse 5? (Ex 20:5; 34:14)

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    As a lover jealously longs for his unfaithful spouse, God yearns jealously when our hearts are with the world.

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  • 12.

    It is a great encouragement to know that God “gives more grace.” How is God’s grace pertinent to the present discussion?

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    While God yearns jealously when we lust after the world, His grace for us far surpasses His jealousy. He generously provides us with forgiveness and strength to overcome the world when we choose to humbly submit to God (see the second part of verse 6).

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  • 13.

    James exhorts us to submit to God and resist the devil (7). Based on your study of this passage, explain why this is the key solution to the problem of envy and strife?

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    Envy and strife are of the devil; resisting the devil involves removing all selfish ambitions. Meekness and peace are of God; if we humbly yield to God’s will, God’s grace will enable us to bring unity to the fellowship of believers.

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  • 14a.

    How can you “draw near to God” in your life (8)?

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    The answer is found in the passage. Drawing near to God means submitting to God and becoming a friend of God. In the process of drawing near to God, we need to cleanse our hands, and purify our hearts. We need to “lament and mourn and weep.”

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  • 14b.

    What do “hands” and “hearts” each represent in verse 8? What does it mean to cleanse and purify our hands and hearts?

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    “Hands” represents conduct, and “hearts” represents motive. Our conduct should be right with God and they should come from a sinless motive.

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  • 14c.

    What kind of a person is “double-minded” (8)?

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    A double-minded believer is one who wavers between serving God and enjoying the pleasures of the world.

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  • 15.

    Why should we lament, mourn, and weep? (cf. Mt 5:4; 2Cor 7:10,11)

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    In order to restore our friendship with God, we must forsake worldly pleasures and repent of our sins. Such renouncement and repentance call for sorrow and contrition over our iniquity.

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  • 4:11-12

    16.

    Why is speaking evil of a brother and judging a brother equivalent to speaking evil of the law and judging the law?

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    Speaking evil of and judging our brother is a violation of the law because the law requires us to love one another (2:8). It is also a judgment on the law because through our conduct, we are challenging the authority of God’s command.

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  • 17.

    What should and should not be our role in respect to the law? Why?

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    We should not be a judge but a doer of the law (11). God is the only Judge, and He alone can reward or punish (“save or destroy”). Let Him make the judgment. Our responsibility is to submit to His law, not to pass judgment on others. Besides, who are we to judge when we ourselves fail to keep the law perfectly?

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