|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
4:1-10 Since all wars and fightings come from the corruptions of our own hearts, it is right to mortify those lusts that war in the members. Wordly and fleshly lusts are distempers, which will not allow content or satisfaction. Sinful desires and affections stop prayer, and the working of our desires toward God. And let us beware that we do not abuse or misuse the mercies received, by the disposition of the heart when prayers are granted When men ask of God prosperity, they often ask with wrong aims and intentions. If we thus seek the things of this world, it is just in God to deny them. Unbelieving and cold desires beg denials; and we may be sure that when prayers are rather the language of lusts than of graces, they will return empty. Here is a decided warning to avoid all criminal friendships with this world. Worldly-mindedness is enmity to God. An enemy may be reconciled, but enmity never can be reconciled. A man may have a large portion in things of this life, and yet be kept in the love of God; but he who sets his heart upon the world, who will conform to it rather than lose its friendship, is an enemy to God. So that any one who resolves at all events to be upon friendly terms with the world, must be the enemy of God. Did then the Jews, or the loose professors of Christianity, think the Scripture spake in vain against this worldly-mindedness? or does the Holy Spirit who dwells in all Christians, or the new nature which he creates, produce such fruit? Natural corruption shows itself by envying. The spirit of the world teaches us to lay up, or lay out for ourselves, according to our own fancies; God the Holy Spirit teaches us to be willing to do good to all about us, as we are able. The grace of God will correct and cure the spirit by nature in us; and where he gives grace, he gives another spirit than that of the world. The proud resist God: in their understanding they resist the truths of God; in their will they resist the laws of God; in their passions they resist the providence of God; therefore, no wonder that God resists the proud. How wretched the state of those who make God their enemy! God will give more grace to the humble, because they see their need of it, pray for it are thankful for it, and such shall have it. Submit to God, ver. 7. Submit your understanding to the truth of God; submit your wills to the will of his precept, the will of his providence. Submit yourselves to God, for he is ready to do you good. If we yield to temptations, the devil will continually follow us; but if we put on the whole armour of God, and stand out against him, he will leave us. Let sinners then submit to God, and seek his grace and favour; resisting the devil. All sin must be wept over; here, in godly sorrow, or, hereafter, in eternal misery. And the Lord will not refuse to comfort one who really mourns for sin, or to exalt one who humbles himself before him.
Verses 1-12. - REBUKE OF QUARRELS ARISING FROM PRIDE AND GREED. A terribly sadden transition from the "peace" with which James 3. closed. Verse 1. - Whence wars and whence fightings among you? The second "whence" (πόθεν) is omitted in the Received Text, after K, L, Syriac, and Vulgate; but it is supported by א, A, B, C, the Coptic, and Old Latin. Wars... fightings (πόλεμοι...μάχαι). To what is the reference? Μάχαι occurs elsewhere in the New Testament only in 2 Corinthians 7:5, "Without were fightings, within were fears;" and 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9, in both of which passages it refers to disputes and questions. It is easy, therefore, to give it the same meaning here. Πόλμοι, elsewhere in the New Testament, as in the LXX., is always used of actual warfare. In behalf of its secondary meaning, "contention," Grimm ('Lexicon of New Testament Greek') appeals to Sophocles, 'Electra,' 1. 219, and Plato, 'Phaed.,' p. 66, c. But it is better justified by Clement of Rome, § 46, Ινα τί ἔρεις καὶ θυμοὶ καὶ διχοστσασίαι καὶ σχίσματα πόλεμος τε ἐν ὑῖν - a passage which has almost the nature of a commentary upon St. James's language. There is then no need to seek an explanation of the passage in the outbreaks and insurrections which were so painfully common among the Jews. Lusts (ἡδονῶν); R.V., "pleasures." "An unusual sense of ἡδοναί, hardly distinguishable from ἐπιθυμίαι, in fact taken up by ἐπιθυμεῖτε (Alford). With the expression, "that war in your members," comp. 1 Peter 2:11, "Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul." Ver. 2 gives us an insight into the terrible difficulties with which the apostles had to contend. Those to whom St. James was writing were guilty of lust, which actually led to murder. So the charge in 1 Peter 4:15 evidently presupposes the possibility of a professing Christian suffering as a murderer or thief. Ye kill. The marginal rendering "envy" supplies a remarkable instance of a false reading once widely adopted, although resting simply on conjecture. There is no variation in the manuscripts or ancient versions. All alike have φονεύετε. But, owing to the startling character of the expression in an address to Christians, Erasmus suggested that perhaps φθονεῖτε, "ye envy," was the original reading, and actually inserted it in the second edition of his Greek Testament (1519). In his third edition (1522) he wisely returned to the true reading, although, strangely enough, he retained the false one, "invidetis," in his Latin version, whence it passed into that of Beza and others. The Greek φθονεῖτε appears, however, in a few later editions, e.g. three editions published at Basle, 1524 (Bebelius), 1546 (Herwagius), and 1553 (Beyling), in that of Henry Stephens, 1576; and even so late as 1705 is found in an edition of Oritius. In England the reading obtained a wide currency, being actually adopted in all the versions in general use previous to that of 1611, viz. those of Tyndale, Coverdale, Taverner, the Bishops Bible, and the Geneva Version. The Authorized Version relegated it to the margin, from which it has been happily excluded by the Revisers, and thus, it is to be hoped, it has finally disappeared. Ye kill, and desire to have. The combination is certainly strange. Dean Scott sees in the terms a possible allusion to "the well-known politico-religious party of the zealots," and suggests the rendering, "ye play the murderers and zealots." It is, perhaps, more probable that ζηλοῦτε simply refers to covetousness; cf. the use of the word (although with a better meaning) in 1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1, 39.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
From whence come wars and fightings among you?.... Which are to be understood, not of public and national wars, such as might be between the Jews and other nations at this time; for the apostle is not writing to the Jews in Judea, as a nation, or body politic, but to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, and to such of them as were Christians; nor were Christians in general as yet increased, and become such large bodies, or were whole nations become Christians, and much less at war one against another, which has been the case since; and which, when it is, generally speaking arises from a lust after an increase of power; from the pride and ambitious views of men, and their envy at the happiness of other princes and states: nor do these design theological debates and disputes, or contentions about religious principles; but rather lawsuits, commenced before Heathen magistrates, by the rich, to the oppression of the poor; see James 2:6 though it seems best of all to interpret them of those stirs and bustlings, strifes, contentions, and quarrels, about honours and riches; endeavouring to get them by unlawful methods, at least at the expense of their own peace, and that of others:
come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? as pride, envy, covetousness, ambition, &c. which, like so many soldiers, are stationed and quartered in the members of the body, and war against the soul; for in the believer, or converted man, however, there is as it were two armies; a law in the members, warring against the law of the mind; the flesh against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and from this inward war arise external ones; or at least from the corruption of nature, which militates against all that is good, all quarrels and contentions, whether public or private, of a greater or lesser nature, and consequence, spring.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Jas 4:1-17. Against Fightings and Their Source; Worldly Lusts; Uncharitable Judgments, and Presumptuous Reckoning on the Future.
1. whence—The cause of quarrels is often sought in external circumstances, whereas internal lusts are the true origin.
wars, &c.—contrasted with the "peace" of heavenly wisdom. "Fightings" are the active carrying on of "wars." The best authorities have a second "whence" before "fightings." Tumults marked the era before the destruction of Jerusalem when James wrote. He indirectly alludes to these. The members are the first seat of war; thence it passes to conflict between man and man, nation and nation.
come they not, &c.—an appeal to their consciences.
lusts—literally, "pleasures," that is, the lusts which prompt you to "desire" (see on Jas 4:2) pleasures; whence you seek self at the cost of your neighbor, and hence flow "fightings."
that war—"campaign, as an army of soldiers encamped within" [Alford] the soul; tumultuously war against the interests of your fellow men, while lusting to advance self. But while warring thus against others they (without his knowledge) war against the soul of the man himself, and against the Spirit; therefore they must be "mortified" by the Christian.
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