Epistle of James 4: 1-10 (NIV)
Submit Yourselves to God
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.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards 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.”
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, the author of this letter, was the Lord’s brother (he was not the son of Zebedee and brother to the Apostle John, the James martyred by King Herod as recorded in Acts 12). James wrote this letter to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: (presumably to Christians from the twelve tribes of Israel who had been scattered after the stoning to death of Stephen). James set out not to address a specific issue but rather to raise moral issues relevant to the church around 50 AD. His remarks regarding these issues are still as relevant today.
We concentrate here on two key verses. The first is verse 4: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
In essence we who follow Christ are presented with two options: follow the ways of this world or follow God. In verse 1 James has drawn attention to that which leads to fights and quarrels – among the assembly of the Christian Church and more broadly among humans around the world. The NIV translation attributes fights and quarrels to the “desires that battle” within us. Another translation (English Standard Version) says they occur because “passions are at war” within us. What is the source of these “desires” or “passions”? It is our craving for self-justification and self-indulgence. This is the very bait that Satan placed before Jesus; Satan continues to tempt each of us with this bait today!
To Satan’s bait there is, however, a perfect antidote. To discover this we turn to the second of the key verses, verse 7: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The imperative verbs here are important: “Submit (to God)”; “resist (the devil)”.
You might here ask a perfectly reasonable question: “How then are we to know what is of the devil?”
The first clue is in James’ Epistle: “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” We would do well to take this as our guide:
- Be on guard, spiritually, at all times.
- Ensure our consciences are keen, finely tuned by the Holy Spirit.
- Read and meditate on God’s word daily.
- Find a trusted confidant and share matters of concern with this person.
- Pray with others as well as pray alone. (Use the “Help me, Jesus” prayer.)
These help us to address the imperative to resist. Even more important is that command to submit to God. As we pray in the prayer Jesus taught us: “Thy will be done” – in me!
Drawn from a talk delivered 25 February 2014