posted on Oct, 15 2012 @ 05:26 PM
At the end of the third chapter of his New Testament letter, James was explaining the difference between “the Wisdom from above” and “earthly
wisdom”, and the difference between their effects.
In the next part of the letter, he sets out some of the practical implications of choosing between them.
On the one hand, “the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (v18), which is one of the effects of “the Wisdom from
At the beginning of the next chapter, though, he turns to considering the opposite side of the fence, namely those who make war.
What is the cause of all these wars, and fighting in general?
James explains that all this comes from “the passions”, which are not just fighting with other people, but also competing amongst themselves,
“in your members”.
In particular, there is the fact that people “desire” things they do not have, and kill in order to attain them.
Then he makes the same point again, using synonyms, like “covet” instead of “desire”.
That is one of the features of this chapter, that statements are made twice, in the manner of Hebrew poetry (without achieving quite the same poetic
This explanation connects with the previous discussion of the two kinds of wisdom.
It echoes his remarks (ch3 v16) about the way that “jealousy and selfish ambition” and the consequent “disorder” are effects of the wisdom
that is “earthly and unspiritual”.
At the same time, it follows on from, and illustrates, the principle asserted in ch1 vv14-15, that “desire” is at the root of sin in general.
The statement that “you do not have”, which is part of this analysis, prompts James to add two different (and slightly contradictory) explanations
for the “not having”.
One is that we don’t have “because you do not ask”; this belongs with his thoughts on the importance of prayer, a theme which will be developed
later in the letter.
But the earlier “do not have” was about material things, the objects which we covet.
The implication that we can have these things by asking for them is not really intended by James, as we see from the second explanation.
Even when we ask, he says, we “do not receive” anything that is worth having, because we are asking for the wrong things; that is, our passions
are prompting us to ask for material things or the means of obtaining them.
The implication, I think, is that we should be following the advice of ch1 v5, and asking God for Wisdom instead.
(Are there any Christian groups which need to take this point on board?)
James has already told us, in a previous chapter, that Abraham was called “the friend of God” (ch2 v23).
But these people who are only interested in gratifying their passions are choosing to be friends of “the world” instead, and consequently make
themselves enemies of God (v4), another statement that is made twice over.
So it seems that their constant rivalries, as discussed in the first verse, are only the symptoms of a much more important enmity.
He also addresses them as “Adulterers!”- a different metaphor with a similar message, that they are spurning and abandoning the right
He supports this warning in v5 by quoting a “scripture” which is not easy to translate or identify.
James refers to the spirit which God placed in man, and to an act of jealous yearning, but translators have to decide whether the spirit is the
subject or the object of the yearning.
If James means that the spirit itself is yearning jealously, that’s just repeating his previous remarks about the prevalence of coveting.
Alternatively, the meaning is that God himself is jealous concerning the spirit of life that he’s given to us.
The second interpretation would be more to the purpose, for the immediate needs of James’ argument.
Those who reject friendship with God are underestimating how much he wants to keep them, so that’s the point which needs to be affirmed.
That version of the statement is also easier to find in the Old Testament- not as a direct quotation, but as a thought drawn from a combination of
passages; God breathing life into Adam (Genesis ch1 v7), “the Lord your God is a jealous God” (Deuteronomy ch4 v24), and perhaps God’s decision
in Genesis ch6 v3 to limit the time that his spirit would remain in men. This decision was made in the context of the increasing sinfulness of the
In v6, James adds the observation that God gives a greater grace.
Greater than what?
It depends on where we want to attach the word ”But”.
The more obvious interpretation, in the immediate context, is “God’s grace is greater than his jealousy”, a more important reason for rejecting
friendship with the world.
Another option is to take it from v2, “The passions are powerful, but his grace is stronger than they are and able to overcome them, if you would
only ask for it”.
An even more attractive interpretation is to take it as following on from v4, leaving v5 in parenthesis; “The world makes friends by offering
gratification of the passions, but his grace is a greater attraction than anything the world has to offer”.
In any case, the claim is really a connecting link, to bring in a quotation from Proverbs, in the form that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace
to the humble” (Proverbs ch3 v34).
The practical moral which needs to be drawn from the quoted verse is that we should humble ourselves before God, so that he will give us grace.
But James postpones that conclusion to v10 (replacing it temporarily with the briefer “Submit yourselves to God”), in order to bring in some
On this theme of “submitting to God”;
We’re told, in the first place, that submission to God involves two sets of movements.
On the one hand, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you”, two movements of enmity.
On the other hand, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you”, two movements of reconciliation.
Another exhortation describes it in terms of cleansing and purification, removing what God hates.
Then v9 describes repentance in terms of a change of mood.
Repentant men need to abandon their joy and laughter, presumably because what they’ve been experiencing has been the kind of reckless “joy”
which comes out of indulgence in the passions
Instead, they need to be in a state of mourning over their past sins, as the first stage in giving them up.
Now this repentance is what is meant by “humbling themselves before the Lord”.
Therefore God will fulfil his promise given in Proverbs, and will exalt them, as James said in ch1 v9;
“Let the lowly brother rejoice in his exaltation”.
Such people can truly be called, like Abraham, “the friends of God”, having broken away from God’s enemy- whether that enemy be called “the
world”, “the devil”, or simply “the passions”.
This comes from accepting the guidance of the Wisdom from above.