Welcome back to James 4:1-10! I am continuing where I left off in the previous sermon section. We are now studying verses 5-10. Verse 5 is one of the most difficult passages in the whole Bible to interpret. No one knows for sure exactly what it means except God, James, and his original readers. Rather than boring you by listing all the possible meanings and the reasons for them, I am going to show you the verse in several of the most popular translations. Then I will give you my opinion as a diligent student of God’s Word.
Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? (NIV)
Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? (NASB)
Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? (KJV)
Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? (RSV)
As you can see, there are some obvious differences between these translations. Remember that the epistle of James is considered to be the first New Testament writing, even before the Gospels. Remember also that James is writing to Hebrew Christians, and in this verse he is still in the process of scolding them for their broken fellowship with God and with one another.
That being said, James is not quoting a passage of Scripture here in verse 5. There is no such Scripture verse in the Old Testament, or in the New Testament, for that matter. There is not even a verse that comes reasonably close to saying those words. This being so, we can eliminate any quotation marks.
So why does James use the words “the scripture says”, when it doesn’t say it? I believe that James is talking about scripture as a whole. He’s talking about a principle that is contained in the Old Testament scriptures, rather than quoting a specific scripture. Let’s take a look at the literal Greek text of verse 5 before I venture further:
Or do you think that vainly the scripture says: to envy yearns the spirit which dwelt in you? (Greek Interlinear New Testament)
I propose that James may be saying something like this:
Do you think that scripture is saying empty words when it says that our inner spirit is prone to jealousy?
James knows that his readers have a high regard for the Scriptures, at least in their minds. That was part of their upbringing. But there is no evidence of that regard for the Scriptures in their lives. So he is saying, in effect, “Think back to the very beginning of the Scriptures and work your way forward in your minds . . . Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the tower of Babel, the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the history of the people of Israel. Isn’t it obvious that pride, jealousy and envy have been the temptation and fall of man from the very beginning, and ever since”? James wants them to be ashamed of their behavior because the Scriptures have condemned it from the very beginning!
A psalm of David comes to mind. At the end of his song, David says,
“Search me, God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxious thoughts, See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
That’s the kind of a response that James is seeking from his readers. They can’t hide their attitude and behavior from an all-knowing and all-present God!
In verse 6, James gives some welcome words of relief and encouragement: “But he gives more grace” (NIV). The word translated “more” actually means “greater”. As sinful as we may be, God’s grace is “greater” than our sinfulness. As the hymnwriter wrote so eloquently:
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt, Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt. Grace, Grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within, Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.
James then quotes from Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (NIV). I think it’s a common tendency to focus our attention on the second half of that verse, sometimes to the exclusion of the first half. But have you experienced the opposition and resistance of God when you’ve been filled with pride? A British pastor mentioned seeing this warning over an unusually low church doorway:
“The height of this door is somewhat less than the average height of the human person; if therefore you are up to average, or above, in height, be especially careful how you approach and pass through, lest an accident occur.” Someone had placed beneath the warning a welcome summary: “BEND OR BUMP!”
I am six-foot, four-inches tall, and for over three years I lived in a house that had two door-frames which were lower than my height. One of them was the back door, and the other was the bathroom door. I lost track of how many times I bumped my head against one or both of those door-frames. Sometimes I didn’t duck far enough and I would scrape the top of my head. I was tempted to wear a helmet! Finally I learned how far I needed to tilt my head in order to avoid meeting resistance. Then a wonderful thing happened! I didn’t have to think about it any longer. Ducking under doorways, whether I needed to or not, had become a habit, by the grace of God! However, after we moved to another house, and other circumstances changed, I found out the hard way that I had to learn the lesson all over again!
We are never humble enough, are we? Humility is something we are to ask for from God. But we are never to thank Him that we have attained it!
Herb Vander Lugt, in a Daily Bread devotional, offers three tests of humility. First, how do you rate in the precedence test? Do you feel low when others are honored because they outshine you? Are you filled with envy and dominated by a competitive spirit? Are you like Jesus’ disciples who disputed among themselves about who was the greatest?
Second, can you pass the sincerity test? A man once said, “I thank God that whatever faults I might have, I’m not proud!” Someone jokingly replied, “You shouldn’t be. You have nothing to be proud of!” At this the fellow became indignant and retorted, “I haven’t? Well, I’ve got as much to be proud of as you have!” This immediately revealed that he was not genuinely humble.
Third, how would you score in the criticism test? Do you react unfavorably when someone points out your failings? What if someone rebukes you? Do you become hostile and defensive, trying in some way to justify yourself? Do you retaliate by finding fault with others? Or do you remain meek and unruffled?
Those aren’t easy tests to pass, are they? And God doesn’t “grade on a curve”, if you know what I mean. His standard is perfection, not “above average”.
In verses 7-10, James tells his readers, in no uncertain terms, how to put this quotation from Proverbs into effect in their lives. James must have been a very godly man, and greatly loved and respected by these scattered churches, in order for him to be able to reprimand them in such ways, as a father reprimands his children. James was also the half-brother of Jesus Christ. I can imagine that every time they saw him or heard from him, they were reminded, not only of his close spiritual relationship to Christ, but also of his physical relationship as Christ’s brother. The two of them may even have had some physical resemblance. We don’t know. But once again James is chiding these believers as a father would chide his misbehaving children. He and the Spirit of God know that this is what they need to hear.
In verse 7 James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.” There are two parts to this command, and the second is dependent upon the first. The Greek word translated “submit” is actually a military term. It means to “place oneself under the proper rank”. God is the Commander-In-Chief, and therefore deserves our undivided allegiance and obedience.
Last week I failed to submit to God and resist Satan. I wanted things done my way and according to my timetable. The result was an outburst of anger on my part. There was no excuse for it. Is there an area of your life that has not been submitted to God? Do you still maintain control over areas of your life? The Lord Jesus lived and died in submission to His Father. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done”. (Luke 22:42) You might want to commit this little rhyme by D.L. Moody to memory, as I have, and it may come to your mind often: “Be humble or you’ll stumble!”
The second half of verse 7 is dependent on the first half. It says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Ephesians 4:27 says: “Do not give the devil a foothold.” Here in verse 7, the word translated “resist” or “oppose” literally means “stand against”. Evangelist Billy Graham said, “Many jokes are made about the devil, but the devil is no joke.” Demonic activity and Satan worship are on the increase in all parts of the world. The Bible says that because Satan realizes that his time is short, his activity has increased more than at any other time in history. The Lord Jesus overcame the devil, not by argument, but by simply quoting Scriptures. That’s’ why it is so important to learn and memorize Scripture passages.
Peter goes on to talk more about this in his letter. He says of the devil, “resist him, steadfast in the faith” (I Peter 5:7-8). The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 to “stand firm” once we have been clothed with the armor of God. When I returned to my barracks after receiving Christ as my Savior and Lord at an Overseas Christian Servicemen’s Center in Thailand, I started having doubts about my salvation. So I opened my Bible and looked up the five verses on assurance of salvation that I was given, and i read them over and over again. Then I went to sleep. In the morning I had all five of those verses memorized and had no doubts about my salvation.
Our Daily Bread devotional once shared a story about a boy who had a similar experience. A school boy was brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through that wonderful verse in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life.” However, when the lad arrived home and was sitting on the davenport by himself, the devil began to disturb him and tried to make him think that Jesus had not really saved him at all. At length the struggle in his heart became so fierce it seemed as though the adversary of his soul was actually under the couch talking to him. For a while he did not know how to answer Satan and his taunting charges; but finally the Holy Spirit reminded him of James 4:7 about resisting the devil. Opening his pocket Testament, he placed his finger on John 5:24 and then, reaching his arm under the davenport, he said aloud, “There you are, Satan, read it for yourself!” In that moment victory was won, assurance of salvation was gained, and the evil one left him.
Has the devil been troubling you? If so, resist him with prayer and the Word of God. Put on the “full armor of God”. Submit to the will of God and depend on the power of God.
Verse 8 sounds like a pious platitude or a godly principle that James is giving the churches, but I don’t think that was his intent. Based upon what James says before it and after it, I think it should be written: “Draw near to God!” “And He will draw near to you!” Are you getting a different perspective on this passage of Scripture? I sure am!
I hope you have someone who can be “brutally honest” with you, and you accept it, repent, and grow as a result. I also hope you have someone with whom you can be brutally honest. It works both ways, doesn’t it?
The words “draw near” were used in the Old Testament to refer to the priests as they brought the sacrifice before God. In Exodus 19:22 Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke saying: ‘By those who come near Me, I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.” God wants us to see Him as holy, and to treat Him as holy.
In the rest of verse 8, James explains in more detail what he said previously in that verse. James says, “Wash your hands, you sinners!” When you were a child, can you remember being taken to the bathroom by your mother or father because, even though you washed your hands before dinner, as you were told, they still weren’t clean? Can you remember being shown how to do it properly? I can remember being told to get my hands wet, get enough soap off the soap bar to wash my hands, my fingers, between the fingers, as well as my fingernails and wrists. Then I was shown how to rinse my hands so that all of the soap and dirt went down the drain, not on the towel. The dirt wasn’t supposed to be seen anymore, not on my hands, not on the towel, not in the sink, but down the drain. We couldn’t enjoy the time together as a family and the evening meal until our hands were washed and clean. In the same way, we can’t enjoy the closeness of fellowship with God unless we recognize our sins, repent of them, and are cleansed through His forgiveness.
James brings out their failure to do this by saying, “you sinners”! If somebody said those words to you, would you be tempted to say, “It takes one to know one!”
The Greek word that James uses is the word “hamartoloi”, which speaks of an habitual sinner, a hardened sinner. Their sins were obvious, resulting in a bad testimony, both to believers and unbelievers. No wonder James is so upset! They profess to be godly but their actions deny it. He also calls them “double-minded”, their minds and hearts being divided between the things of God and the lusts of this world. So their sinfulness includes, not only outward actions but also inner thoughts and attitudes. Therefore James says “cleanse your hands . . . and purify your hearts.” King David also brings this point across in Psalm 24:3,4 when he says, “Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart . . . “. (NKJV)
Do you sometimes go into the presence of the Lord as you read God’s Word, pray, or fellowship with other believers, without first examining your conscience and your actions, and then admitting and repenting of those sins before God? Is there someone whom you have offended, who hasn’t yet received an apology from you? You may be familiar with this accrostic: ACTS. It stands for: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. It serves as a reminder of what should be included in our prayers. Maybe it might help if we re-arranged the letters so that it said CATS: CONFESSION, adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication. You cat-lovers might like that! And it might help us to remember the importance of confession before coming into the pesence of God.
When the Lord Jesus was asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?”, He added five important words to the command given by God in Deuteronomy chapter 6. Jesus says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:39). God wants us to be single-minded in our love for Him and in our devotion to Him.
Are you double-minded or single-minded? An examination of your thoughts, words, and actions will give you the answer if you are willing to be honest with yourself and with God. Our behavior, both publicly and privately, demonstrates who is truly first in our lives.
Do you find it hard to be single-minded in your devotion to God? Be honest! God’s grace is sufficient, but the battle is never over, is it? It goes on from moment to moment (Ephesians 4:29). So purification is often necessary, just as the priests had to go through the purification process every time they prepared to go into the presence of God.
The words used in verse 9 may sound depressing: “grieve”, “mourn”, “wail”, “gloom”. But James is reminding them of God’s words to the people of Israel through the prophet Joel: “…return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning”. (Joel 2:12). Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” A principle that can be drawn from these Scripture passages is: “Don’t take sin lightly”. Don’t take your sin lightly because all sin grieves the heart of God.
James is really stirring up some dust, isn’t he? There has been a lot of scolding going on, and it’s not over yet! It reminds me of what David and his men went through when Shimei, a member of Saul’s family, starts hurling curses at him. But that’s not all he hurled at him! Let me read sections of this confrontation as given in II Samuel 16. “He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones . . . Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel!
When Abishai asked for permission to cut off his head, David answered . . . ‘Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me His covenant blessing instead of His curse today.” (II Samuel 16:5-14). David’s response was to submit to God and accept his punishment humbly. Accepting that harsh a rebuke wouldn’t be easy, would it? Especially for a king and his army! But rather than complain, give excuses. or retaliate, David admits his sinfulness and asks God for mercy.
In verse 10, James gives a short summary of what he has been chiding them about, especially in the previous nine verses. He says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” How do you respond to your prideful attitude? Has your pride ever caused you to become angry with yourself? Aren’t you then responding to your pride in a prideful way? “I can do better than that!” “I’m capable of a better attitude than that!” James has been saying, “You should be mourning and weeping because you have not been letting God have HIS WAY in your life. We can’t “do better than that” apart from the power of God, and our humble dependence on Him from moment to moment.
The first commandment that God gave to Moses was this: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Self is a god, isn’t it? And it’s a god that’s worshipped by more people than any other god in our world today. How can we possess any other godly, character quality if we are proud? Are people going to see Christ in us if we have not been humbled? The answer is a resounding NO, because Jesus describes Himself as “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).
Some of the greatest men had to find humility before God used them. Preacher and evangelist Dwight L. Moody often pointed to the example of Moses. Moody said: “Moses spent 40 years thinking he was somebody; then he spent 40 years on the back side of the desert realizing he was nobody; finally, he spent the last 40 years of his life learning what God could do with a nobody!”
In Matthew 23:12 Jesus said, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.” And no one has humbled Himself more than the Lord Jesus Christ, and no one has been exalted higher than He. Philippians 2:3-1l is a long passage of Scripture but it’s worth quoting so that we may read it again and think it over, and make it personal.
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look, not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (NKJV)
True humility is such a rare commodity in this world today that people notice it, are entrigued by it, are amazed by it, and hopefully will be drawn to the only One who can produce it in the life a Christian who is yielded. to Him. Wouldn’t you agree that the greatest exaltation we could ever receive in this life is for Christ to be exalted in us?
We live in an “instant society”. There’s instant coffee, instant breakfast, instant messaging, and instant almost-everything. But there’s no such thing as instant humility. There is no seminar, no “crash course”, and no pill or pie that can make you humble. And humility is a necessary ingredient for godliness. As the apostle Peter says in I Peter 5:6, “Humble youirselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. (NIV) But the best things in life are worth the wait, aren’t they?
This work-in-progress is progressing. I hope your study of God’s Word is progressing also. There is much more work to be done! I hope we can get any obstacles out of the way. Keep your hard hats on! If you see punctuation, grammar, or spelling errors, please be patient. I will get to them in the “finishing work” if not before. The Master Designer will show us how to fit everything into place as we progress. He has His blueprints in hand! Thank you for visiting this construction site. Please come back soon!