James 4:3
You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it on your lusts.
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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.Ye ask, and receive not - That is, some of you ask, or you ask on some occasions. Though seeking in general what you desire by strife, and without regard to the rights of others, yet you sometimes pray. It is not uncommon for men who go to war to pray, or to procure the services of a chaplain to pray for them. It sometimes happens that the covetous and the quarrelsome; that those who live to wrong others, and who are fond of litigation, pray. Such men may be professors of religion. They keep up a form of worship in their families. They pray for success in their worldly engagements, though those engagements are all based on covetousness. Instead of seeking property that they may glorify God, and do good; that they may relieve the poor and distressed; that they may be the patrons of learning, philanthropy, and religion, they do it that they may live in splendor, and be able to pamper their lusts. It is not indeed very common that persons with such ends and aims of life pray, but they sometimes do it; for, alas! there are many professors of religion who have no higher aims than these, and not a few such professors feel that consistency demands that they should observe some form of prayer. If such persons do not receive what they ask for, if they are not prospered in their plans, they should not set it down as evidence that God does not hear prayer, but as evidence that their prayers are offered for improper objects, or with improper motives.

Because ye ask amiss - Ye do it with a view to self-indulgence and carnal gratification.

That you may consume it upon your lusts - Margin, "pleasures." This is the same word which is used in James 4:1, and rendered lusts. The reference is to sensual gratifications, and the word would include all that comes under the name of sensual pleasure, or carnal appetite. It was not that they might have a decent and comfortable living, which would not be improper to desire, but that they might have the means of luxurious dress and living; perhaps the means of gross sensual gratifications. Prayers offered that we may have the means of sensuality and voluptuousness, we have no reason to suppose God will answer, for he has not promised to hear such prayers; and it becomes every one who prays for worldly prosperity, and for success in business, to examine his motives with the closest scrutiny. Nowhere is deception more likely to creep in than into such prayers; nowhere are we more likely to be mistaken in regard to our real motives, than when we go before God and ask for success in our worldly employments.

3. Some of them are supposed to say in objection, But we do "ask" (pray); compare Jas 4:2. James replies, It is not enough to ask for good things, but we must ask with a good spirit and intention. "Ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it (your object of prayer) upon (literally, 'in') your lusts (literally, 'pleasures')"; not that ye may have the things you need for the service of God. Contrast Jas 1:5 with Mt 6:31, 32. If ye prayed aright, all your proper wants would be supplied; the improper cravings which produce "wars and fightings" would then cease. Even believers' prayers are often best answered when their desires are most opposed. Ye ask; he prevents an objection; q.d. Admit you do pray for the good things you want, or, though you pray for them.

Ye ask amiss; though you pray for good things, yet you do not pray well, or in a right manner, not according to God’s will, 1Jo 5:14, and therefore ye are not to complain of not being heard.

That ye may consume it upon your lusts; you pray for the things of this life only, that you may have wherewith to please the flesh, and gratify your carnal appetites, and so an evil end spoils good means; and while you would have God serve your lusts you lose your prayers. Ye ask, and receive not,.... Some there were that did ask of God the blessings of his goodness and providence, and yet these were not bestowed on them; the reason was,

because ye ask amiss; not in the faith of a divine promise; nor with thankfulness for past mercies; nor with submission to the will of God; nor with a right end, to do good to others, and to make use of what might be bestowed, for the honour of God, and the interest of Christ: but

that ye may consume it upon your lusts; indulge to intemperance and luxury; as the man that had much goods laid up for many years did, to the neglect of his own soul, Luke 12:19 or the rich man, who spent all upon his back and his belly, and took no notice of Lazarus at his gate; Luke 16:19.

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
Jam 4:3. James apparently again resumes the last expression, whilst he now grants αἰτεῖτε to his readers; but as he designates this their asking as κακῶς αἰτεῖσθαι, he does not consider it as an actual prayer, so that the foregoing declaration is nevertheless true. It is therefore inaccurate to resolve αἰτεῖτε into “or even if you ask.”[193]

On the interchange of middle and active forms, see Winer, p. 229 [E. T. 321]. The middle form naturally suggested itself in Jam 4:2, prayer for others being not the point under consideration; but in the next clause, as James wished to lay stress on the active side—of prayer in antithesis to ΛΑΜΒΆΝΕΙΝ—he used the active form. “Egotistical praying for oneself” (Lange) is incorrectly understood by the middle.

καὶ οὐ λαμβάνετε] emphasizes the uselessness of their asking, the reason of which is assigned by the following: ΔΙΌΤΙ ΚΑΚῶς ΑἸΤΕῖΣΘΕ. ΚΑΚῶς finds its explanation in the following ἽΝΑ; your prayer is therefore evil, because it has no other object than ΔΑΠΑΝᾷΝ ἘΝ ΤΑῖς ἩΔΟΝΑῖς. Incorrectly Gebser: “for your prayer must implore only for true heavenly blessings.” The discourse is here rather of the temporal condition; this, James observes, continues with you a poor and depressed one, because ye ask for a better one only in order to be able to indulge your lusts.

ΔΑΠΑΝᾷΝ] to expend, spend (Mark 5:26); here, in a bad sense, to squander, to lavish. Suidas: λαμπρῶς ζῆν καὶ σπαθᾷν; the object to the transitive verb is “that for which you pray.” ἘΝ ΤΑῖς ἩΔΟΝΑῖς ὙΜῶΝ] not with, but in your lusts. Wahl incorrectly explains δαπανᾷν ἐν = sumtum ponere in aliqua re, i.e. τιθέναι τὰ χρήματα ἔν τινι; this meaning combines ΔΑΠΑΝᾷΝ with ΕἸς. The sense is not “for the gratification of your lusts” (Baumgarten), but governed by your lusts.

Semler very strangely paraphrases it: scio, quosdam vel publieis precibus (et exsecrationibus, iii. 9) eam in rem parcere, mala omnia preeari imperatori et magistratui Romano.Jam 4:3. αἰτεῖτεαἰτεῖσθε: There does not seem to be any difference in meaning between the active and middle here: “If the middle is really the stronger word, we can understand its being brought in just where an effect of contrast can be secured, while in ordinary passages the active would carry as much weight as was needed” (Moulton, op. cit., p. 160); cf. Mark 6:22-25; Mark 10:35-38; 1 John 5:15.—δαπανήσητε: Cf. Luke 15:14; Luke 15:30; Acts 21:24.3. Ye ask, and receive not …] The words are obviously written as in answer to an implied objection: “Not ask,” a man might say; “come and listen to our prayers; no one can accuse us of neglecting our devotions.” Incredible as it might seem that men plundering and murdering, as the previous verses represent them, should have held such language, or been in any sense, men who prayed, the history of Christendom presents but too many instances of like anomalies. Cornish wreckers going from church to their accursed work, Italian brigands propitiating their patron Saint before attacking a company of travellers, slave-traders, such as John Newton once was, recording piously God’s blessing on their traffic of the year;—these may serve to shew how soon conscience may be seared, and its warning voice come to give but an uncertain sound.

that ye may consume it upon your lusts] Better, that ye may spend it in your pleasures. This then was that which vitiated all their prayers. They prayed not for the good of others, nor even for their own true good, but for the satisfaction of that which was basest in their nature, and which they, as disciples of Christ, were specially called on to repress.Jam 4:3. Καὶ οὐ λαμβάνετε, and ye receive not) He does not here say, ye have not. To ask and to receive are relative terms.—αἰτεῖσθε, ye ask) Now he refutes others who wish to appear somewhat better than these.Verse 3. - An evident allusion to the sermon on the mount, Matthew 7:7, "Ask, and it shall be given to you... for every one that asketh receiveth." And yet St. James says, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss;" for our Lord elsewhere limits his teaching, "All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing," etc. (Matthew 21:22). Αἰτεῖτε... αἰτεῖσθε. The active and middle voices are similarly interchanged in 1 John 5:15, on which Dr. Westcott writes as follows: "The distinction between the middle and the active is not so sharply drawn; but generally the personal reference is suggested by the middle, while the request is left wholly undefined as to its destination by the active." That ye may consume it upon your lusts; render, with R.V., that ye may spend it in your pleasures; ἡδοναί, as in ver. 1. Ye ask (αἰτεῖτε)

See on ἠρώτων, besought, Matthew 15:23.

Amiss (κακῶς)

Lit., evilly: with evil intent, as explained by the following sentence.

Consume it upon (δαπανησήτε ἐν)

More correctly, as Rev., spend it in. The sense is not lay out expense upon your pleasures, but spend in the exercise of; under the dominion of.

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