Letter of James 7

James 4 Amplified Bible (AMP)

k. Dangers (4,1–17)
Human passions
4 What leads to [the unending] [a]quarrels and conflicts among you? Do they not come from your [hedonistic] desires that wage war in your [bodily] members [fighting for control over you]? 2 You are jealous and covet [what others have] and [b]your lust goes unfulfilled; so you [c]murder. You are envious and cannot obtain [the object of your envy]; so you fight and battle. You do not have because you do not ask [it of God]. 3 You ask [God for something] and do not receive it, because you ask [d]with wrong motives [out of selfishness or with an unrighteous agenda], so that [when you get what you want] you may spend it on your [hedonistic] desires. 4 You adulteresses [disloyal sinners—flirting with the world and breaking your vow to God]! Do you not know that being the world’s friend [that is, loving the things of the world] is being God’s enemy? So whoever chooses to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says to no purpose [e]that the [human] spirit which He has made to dwell in us lusts with envy? 6 But He gives us more and more grace [through the power of the Holy Spirit to defy sin and live an obedient life that reflects both our faith and our gratitude for our salvation]. Therefore, it says, “God is opposed to the proud and haughty, but [continually] gives [the gift of] grace to the humble [who turn away from self-righteousness].” 7 So submit to [the authority of] God. Resist the devil [stand firm against him] and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God [with a contrite heart] and He will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; and purify your [unfaithful] hearts, you double-minded [people]. 9 Be miserable and grieve and weep [over your sin]. Let your [foolish] laughter be turned to mourning and your [reckless] joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves [with an attitude of repentance and insignificance] in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you [He will lift you up, He will give you purpose].

Evil speaking
11 Believers, do not speak against or slander one another. He who speaks [self-righteously] against a brother or [f]judges his brother [hypocritically], speaks against the Law and judges the Law. If you judge the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy [the one God who has the absolute power of life and death]; but who are you to [hypocritically or self-righteously] pass judgment on your neighbour?

Rash confidence
13 Come now [and pay attention to this], you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and carry on our business and make a profit.” 14 [g]Yet you do not know [the least thing] [h]about what may happen in your life tomorrow. [What is secure in your life?] You are merely a vapor [like a puff of smoke or a wisp of steam from a cooking pot] that is visible for a little while and then vanishes [into thin air]. 15 Instead [i]you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and we will do
this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast [vainly] in your pretension and arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it, to him it is sin.

C. 4.1

(i) Human passions (4,1–10). One of the worst manifestations of false wisdom is the unloosing of passion, seen in the outbreak of strife and the tendency to compromise with the world. The antidote is humiliation and submission to God who will exalt those who are truly repentant.

James 4,1-3: This chapter begins, again, with a rhetorical question that serves as an introduction to the topic James wants to address. Through this type of question, the author captures the attention of his readers or listeners and involves them personally in what he is about to say next. The question "What leads to [the unending] quarrels and conflicts among you?" can be understood as a parallel construction to that of 3,13. Therefore, although for reasons of convenience and length we are going to study these verses as an independent unit of meaning; nevertheless, they should be studied keeping in mind what the writer of the letter has stated in 3:13-18.

The analysis of wisdom in those 6 verses provides a framework and sheds light on what is to be denounced now. Basically, and in a very summarized way, what James is emphasizing in those verses is that divine wisdom is the basis of order and peace in the Church while earthly wisdom is the cause of the disorders that plague the Church. Therefore, it is to that wisdom from above that the faithful must point, if they are indeed true believers.

Certainly, the picture that Santiago paints of the situation of the church or churches he is addressing is distressing, to say the least. The previous chapter ended with a praise of the peacemakers, and the first verse of this chapter makes clear the need for such individuals in the church to which the letter is addressed.
The lexicon of verse 2 leaves no room for doubt about what was said above because it presents a clear contrast to the order and peace that should be characteristic of the Church of Christ: murder, fight [machai, literally fights or disputes] and battle [polemoi, literally 'wars']. Certainly, this is not the kind of lexicon we would associate with a church.

Does that vocabulary point to a situation of actual physical violence between believers? Today it seems impossible to us, but we must remember that at the time of the composition of this letter the Jewish movement of the Zealots was very important and exerted a strong influence. It is possible that some members of the Church were or still are zealots. For this reason, some experts do not entirely rule out the possibility of a scenario of real physical confrontations between church members. Now, if that had been the case, that the disagreements among believers had become physically violent,

I am of the opinion that James would have reacted to the situation more clearly and would have written about the problem in a more direct and extensive way. We have already seen that James is not a timid nature when it comes to expressing his ideas and his faith.

Most likely, James is facing some kind of verbal conflict in which there is little or no verbal respect for the opponent, a very intense one, involving the whole community but not leading to physical violence. But then what do we do about the vocabulary used in the letter? Words like wars, disputes, murder. Certainly, the words 'wars' [ptolemoi] and 'murder' clearly point to a context of physical violence but, 'disputes' [machai] points in a different direction since, although it also has a meaning of physical conflict, generally whenever it is used in the LXX and the New Testament [2 Cor. 7:5; 2 Tim. 2:23; Tit 3:9] it refers to verbal disputes or an inner struggle. In support of this possibility we can argue that the word 'wars' [polemoi], in addition to its literal sense, is also used in a figurative sense to refer to verbal disputes.

In addition, verbal conflicts fit perfectly into the general context of the letter since they can be extremely violent, often accompanied by inappropriate words, unpleasant and aggressive tones of voice and gestures, threats, disqualifications and criticism. We have all had experience of this at some point in our lives, either as witnesses or as players in the discussion.

James does not identify in a concrete way the problems that he is facing and that have motivated his letter, possibly because what interests him the most is to attack the cause of those internal dissensions [hearts dominated by earthly wisdom] and produce a radical change in the behavior of believers [need for divine wisdom], since as long as selfishness and lack of charity continue to reign in the hearts of believers there will be violent conflicts, even if they are exclusively of a verbal nature. Thus, James focuses on identifying and bringing to light the root of the problem, its concrete cause [a life committed to the wisdom of the world rather than to the wisdom of God], and not on discovering who is right on any particular issue. And, of course, he offers solutions and answers to those challenges that the believers he writes are facing.

After this, Santiago points out that the original source of these conflicts "are your desires that wage war on your members". The Greek word translated here as 'desires' is "hedone" [hence hedonism] which simply means 'pleasure'; that is, desire fulfilled. It is worth noting that, in general, this word has a pejorative nuance and usually indicates a sinful pleasure. The idea that hedonistic desires are the cause of sin does not originate in James, nor is it exclusive to him. This same idea can be found in Jewish literature before James [cf. 4 Maccabees 1:25-26].Using again the language of war that he has been using in the first verse of this chapter, James says that "desires make war in your members.

In verse 2 James seems to suggest that the conflicts that plague the community are a product of envy and of their desire to obtain whatever they do not have: "Envy dominates the human being and pushes him to destroy the one who is envied". This idea
can also be found in other ancient texts, both Jewish and pagan. It is worth remembering here that in the Gospel of Mark the decision of the priests to hand Jesus over to Pilate is attributed to envy [Mark 15:10]. Envy, Santiago warns, if out of control can even lead to murder. The conflict already exists; meaning that envy has already built a 'home' in the members of the Church, so, if they do not control the desires that are governing them to end up killing each other physically, it would finally only be a logical step in that self-destructive drift to which sin leads. The real cause of the problems among human beings are selfishness and greed, that desire to have more even if it is not needed, the envy of others for their possessions or their social position. That is essentially the message that Santiago conveys in these first two verses.
In verse three, James explains why the desires of believers are not fulfilled, continuing with an idea that began at the end of verse 2: "You do not have because you do not ask [it of God]". Now, what do they not have? To answer this question, we simply need to go back a few steps, to James 1:5 where James writes: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he is to ask of God". So, the context of the letter gives us the answer to this question: What you do not have and must ask for is wisdom, heavenly wisdom. The kind of wisdom that will enable them to face challenges and trials and overcome their sinful desires. God always answers this prayer, James already said that before, at the beginning of the letter. Now, if they do not receive what they ask for then they should examine whether they are not asking under the guidance of earthly wisdom to waste God's gift in satisfying their desires and passions.

Questions to think about
1. What does James say causes quarrels among people? How does his answer differ from the one a quarrelsome person would give? What does James mean when he says a war is waging inside of us?
2. In 4:2-3, does James mean to imply that we do not have the things we covet because we have not asked God for them? When we ask God for things, why do we often not get what we want? Summarize what you think he is saying about prayer in these verses.
3. What are the wrong motives for prayer?

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