James here is talking about contentions in the Church. The language seems strong that he used the terms of fights and quarrels, yet it is true that in many Churches there are quarrels and fights between the members. James asks the question what the source of these fights and quarrels is and then answers his question. “Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” There are all sorts of reasons for these quarrels. It may have been some did not like what others were doing, or it may have been disagreements on what they believed, and most likely it could have broken into hurtful language and actual fights. Whatever the outward action the real cause was their own selfish desires. Each one was trying to do that which pleased them. When they could not agree on what each one was doing there was trouble. When people consider only what their desires are there is bound to be struggles, hating, and fighting. It is the nature of man to allow his own wants and pleasures to rule his life. We need to ask God through His grace to change us from our selfish attitude. Having a selfish attitude hinders us from doing that which God wants us to do. We were made for God’s pleasure and not our own. We should desire to do God’s will and that should be the focus of our desire in order to be what He wants us to be.
Wars and fights among Christians always seem to spring from the same source. There is some root of carnality, an internal war within the believer regarding the lusts of the flesh. No two believers walking in the Spirit of God can live with wars and fights between themselves. “James seems to be bothered more by the selfish spirit and bitterness of the quarrels than by the rights and wrongs of the various viewpoints.” (Moo)
Too often we allow our own desires to become the master of our hearts. We distort the call to have a like mindedness through the Spirit by allowing our focus to rest only on our own wants and desires. (Philippians 2:1-2) If we allow this kind of selfish attitude to rule our hearts we will seek that which we want and not find. This selfishness also leads to jealousy and can lead to murder. It would be hard to think that Christians could actually kill one another to accomplish that which they want. But those who harbor this kind of hate in their hearts have already committed murder. (1 John 3:15 Matthew 5: 22) “The word kill [murder] is startling and meant to startle; James sought to force his readers to realize the depth of the evil in their bitter hatred toward others.” (Hiebert) Greed is a bottomless pit and never is the greedy one satisfied. One can never get enough of what the heart desires if his intentions are for selfish ambitions.
Instead of fighting for an agreement people should take their differing thoughts together in prayer that the Lord will give them peace. We must remember that the purpose of prayer is not to persuade a reluctant God to do our bidding. The purpose of prayer is to align our will with His and in partnership with Him, to ask Him to accomplish His will on this earth. (Matthew 6:10) Many prayers are unanswered because of wrong intentions. If we are truly seeking God’s will, then he will give that which we ask. (Matthew 6:33) The choice we have to make is whether to please ourselves or to please God. If we choose a life of pleasing ourselves, it will not satisfy us. If we choose to please God, He will give us true satisfaction in life.
James usage of “adulterers and adulteresses” comes from the Old Testament vocabulary for a rebuke. In the Old Testament God spoke this way when the people fell into some form of idolatry. (Jeremiah 3:8-9 Ezekiel 6:9 Ezekiel 16:32 Ezekiel 23:37 Hosea 3:1) James sees that their covetousness is a form of adultery and a friendship with the world. (Colossians 3:5) Later Greek manuscripts only use adulteresses. The addition of the word adulterers came from earlier scribes that thought James was speaking of literal sexual adultery and did not want to exclude men from the rebuke. James’ usage of the word adulteresses is correct because according to the picture Jesus is the husband and we are the bride.
The point is made here that we cannot be friends with a world system that is in rebellion with God, and be friends of God at the same time. (Matthew 6:24) Even if we just have a desire to be friends with this world we are an enemy to God. We have the indwelling Spirit of God within us who has a jealous yearning for our friendship. Christians who live in compromise towards our commitment to God cannot help but be convicted by the Holy Spirit.
The same Holy Spirit that convicts us of our compromise between the world and God will also grant us the grace to serve God. But we must humble ourselves before God in order to receive this grace. Self pride is an eternal enemy of grace. Pride demands that God bless us based upon the merits of our own doing, whether real or imagined. Grace is not based on anything within us, good or bad, but only on the bases of who God is. Neither do we earn the grace by being humble. Humility puts us in the position to receive the grace that God freely gives. With grace being offered only to the humble there is only one thing we can do and that is to accept His grace. This means to order yourself under God, to surrender to Him as a conquering King, and start receiving the benefits of His reign.
Still we have the problem of our carnality and the contention that it causes. As we are given free will to accept or reject God, we have a free will to accept or resist the devil. This means to stand against his deceptions and intimidating enticements of his darts thrown at us. We have this promise from God’s Word that if we resist the devil he will flee from us. It is significant that James does not say for us to have demons cast out of believers by a third party. Instead he challenges Christians to deal with Satan for what he is, a conquered foe who can and must be resisted. The word resist comes from two words in Greek, “stand and against.” James is telling us to stand against the devil. Satan can be set running by the resistance of the lowliest believer who comes in the authority of what Jesus did on the cross.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” This is both an invitation and a promise. If we submit to God’s authority and resist the devil we should also draw near to God. We have His promise: God will draw near to us as we draw near to Him. God is the “I AM that I AM.” God is ever present and if we are far from Him it is not that He has withdrawn but that we have. It is important for us to remember that if we feel far off from God it is not He who has moved. We must examine ourselves to be sure we are in His will. (2 Corinthians 13:5)
As we draw nearer to a Holy and Righteous God it is inevitable that we will become more convicted of the sin in our lives. It then is appropriate that we will “lament and mourn and weep” and will be compelled to find our cleansing at the foot of the cross. As we humble ourselves, not as self righteous religionists, as Jesus explained in Luke 18:10-14, then He will lift us up. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and grace – the unmerited favor of God – always lifts us up.
If we humble ourselves and get a right relationship with God, we will also find ourselves in a right relationship with other people. If we are right with other people it will manifest itself in the way we speak about other people. If we have the love of God within us, then we will have an understanding of His love towards others. No longer will we speak evil of them nor will we judge them as God is the only lawgiver and judge. James speaks well of the illusion we can fall into. One cannot be right with God and speak evil of his brother. As John says, “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
When we judge our brother we are putting ourselves in the same place as the law. In effect we are judging the law. No man has the authority to judge God’s Law, as there is only one lawgiver and that is God. So who are we to judge one another? “However high and orthodox our view of God’s law might be, a failure actually to do it says to the world that we do not in fact put much store by it.” (Moo) This is an extension of the same humility that James writes about in this chapter. When we have proper humility before God, it just isn’t within us to arrogantly judge our brother.
James again rebukes a heart that makes its plans without an awareness of God’s sovereignty. We all too often underestimate our own limitations. We are better to put our trust in an all knowing God than ourselves who do not know what tomorrow will bring. Human life is a fragile experience and all life moves and lives with the permission of God. James does not discourage us from planning and doing, only the planning and doing apart from God’s will. It is nothing but the arrogance of man that thinks he can move and have being independent without God. This boastful arrogance is the essence of sin, that boastful pride of life. (1 John 2:16) Pride is the root of all sin, as was the case with Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-15) and Adam. (Genesis 3:5-7)
James knows that it is easy to think and talk about humility and dependence on God than it is to live it. Yet James makes the mind of God plain that if we know what the Word of God is then we are accountable to obey it.