Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
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.
Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
2. Ye lust—A different Greek word from that in Jas 4:1. "Ye desire"; literally, "ye set your mind (or heart) on" an object.
have not—The lust of desire does not ensure the actual possession. Hence "ye kill" (not as Margin, without any old authority, "envy") to ensure possession. Not probably in the case of professing Christians of that day in a literal sense, but "kill and envy" (as the Greek for "desire to have" should be translated), that is, harass and oppress through envy [Drusius]. Compare Zec 11:5, "slay"; through envy, hate, and desire to get out of your way, and so are "murderers" in God's eyes [Estius]. If literal murder [Alford] were meant, I do not think it would occur so early in the series; nor had Christians then as yet reached so open criminality. In the Spirit's application of the passage to all ages, literal killing is included, flowing from the desire to possess so David and Ahab. There is a climax: "Ye desire," the individual lust for an object; "ye kill and envy," the feeling and action of individuals against individuals; "ye fight and war," the action of many against many.
ye have not, because ye ask not—God promises to those who pray, not to those who fight. The petition of the lustful, murderous, and contentious is not recognized by God as prayer. If ye prayed, there would be no "wars and fightings." Thus this last clause is an answer to the question, Jas 4:1, "Whence come wars and fightings?"
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
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 adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
4. The oldest manuscripts omit "adulterers and," and read simply, "Ye adulteresses." God is the rightful husband; the men of the world are regarded collectively as one adulteress, and individually as adulteresses.
the world—in so far as the men of it and their motives and acts are aliens to God, for example, its selfish "lusts" (Jas 4:3), and covetous and ambitious "wars and fightings" (Jas 4:1).
enmity—not merely "inimical"; a state of enmity, and that enmity itself. Compare 1Jo 2:15, "love … the world … the love of the Father."
whosoever … will be—The Greek is emphatic, "shall be resolved to be." Whether he succeed or not, if his wish be to be the friend of the world, he renders himself, becomes (so the Greek for "is") by the very fact, "the enemy of God." Contrast "Abraham the friend of God."
Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?
5. in vain—No word of Scripture can be so. The quotation here, as in Eph 5:14, seems to be not so much from a particular passage as one gathered by James under inspiration from the general tenor of such passages in both the Old and New Testaments, as Nu 14:29; Pr 21:20; Ga 5:17.
spirit that dwelleth in us—Other manuscripts read, "that God hath made to dwell in us" (namely, at Pentecost). If so translated, "Does the (Holy) Spirit that God hath placed in us lust to (towards) envy" (namely, as ye do in your worldly "wars and fightings")? Certainly not; ye are therefore walking in the flesh, not in the Spirit, while ye thus lust towards, that is, with envy against one another. The friendship of the world tends to breed envy; the Spirit produces very different fruit. Alford attributes the epithet "with envy," in the unwarrantable sense of jealously, to the Holy Spirit: "The Spirit jealously desires us for His own." In English Version the sense is, "the (natural) spirit that hath its dwelling in us lusts with (literally, 'to,' or 'towards') envy." Ye lust, and because ye have not what ye lust after (Jas 4:1, 2), ye envy your neighbor who has, and so the spirit of envy leads you on to "fight." James also here refers to Jas 3:14, 16.
But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
6. But—"Nay, rather."
giveth more grace—ever increasing grace; the farther ye depart from "envy" [Bengel].
he saith—The same God who causes His spirit to dwell in believers (Jas 4:5), by the Spirit also speaks in Scripture. The quotation here is probably from Pr 3:34; as probably Pr 21:10 was generally referred to in Jas 4:5. In Hebrew it is "scorneth the scorners," namely, those who think "Scripture speaketh in vain."
resisteth—literally, "setteth Himself in array against"; even as they, like Pharaoh, set themselves against Him. God repays sinners in their own coin. "Pride" is the mother of "envy" (Jas 4:5); it is peculiarly satanic, for by it Satan fell.
the proud—The Greek means in derivation one who shows himself above his fellows, and so lifts himself against God.
the humble—the unenvious, uncovetous, and unambitious as to the world. Contrast Jas 4:4.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
7. Submit to … God—so ye shall be among "the humble," Jas 4:6; also Jas 4:10; 1Pe 5:6.
Resist … devil—Under his banner pride and envy are enlisted in the world; resist his temptations to these. Faith, humble prayers, and heavenly wisdom, are the weapons of resistance. The language is taken from warfare. "Submit" as a good soldier puts himself in complete subjection to his captain. "Resist," stand bravely against.
he will flee—Translate, "he shall flee." For it is a promise of God, not a mere assurance from man to man [Alford]. He shall flee worsted as he did from Christ.
Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
8. Draw nigh to God—So "cleave unto Him," De 30:20, namely, by prayerfully (Jas 4:2, 3) "resisting Satan," who would oppose our access to God.
he will draw nigh—propitious.
Cleanse … hands—the outward instruments of action. None but the clean-handed can ascend into the hill of the Lord (justified through Christ, who alone was perfectly so, and as such "ascended" thither).
purify … hearts—literally "make chaste" of your spiritual adultery (Jas 4:4, that is, worldliness) "your hearts": the inward source of all impurity.
double-minded—divided between God and the world. The "double-minded" is at fault in heart; the sinner in his hands likewise.
Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
9. Be afflicted—literally, "Endure misery," that is, mourn over your wretchedness through sin. Repent with deep sorrow instead of your present laughter. A blessed mourning. Contrast Isa 22:12, 13; Lu 6:25. James does not add here, as in Jas 5:1, "howl," where he foretells the doom of the impenitent at the coming destruction of Jerusalem.
heaviness—literally, "falling of the countenance," casting down of the eyes.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
10. in the sight of the Lord—as continually in the presence of Him who alone is worthy to be exalted: recognizing His presence in all your ways, the truest incentive to humility. The tree, to grow upwards, must strike its roots deep downwards; so man, to be exalted, must have his mind deep-rooted in humility. In 1Pe 5:6, it is, Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, namely, in His dealings of Providence: a distinct thought from that here.
lift you up—in part in this world, fully in the world to come.
Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
11. Having mentioned sins of the tongue (Jas 3:5-12), he shows here that evil-speaking flows from the same spirit of exalting self at the expense of one's neighbor as caused the "fightings" reprobated in this chapter (Jas 4:1).
Speak not evil—literally, "Speak not against" one another.
brethren—implying the inconsistency of such depreciatory speaking of one another in brethren.
speaketh evil of the law—for the law in commanding, "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Jas 2:8), virtually condemns evil-speaking and judging [Estius]. Those who superciliously condemn the acts and words of others which do not please themselves, thus aiming at the reputation of sanctity, put their own moroseness in the place of the law, and claim to themselves a power of censuring above the law of God, condemning what the law permits [Calvin]. Such a one acts as though the law could not perform its own office of judging, but he must fly upon the office [Bengel]. This is the last mention of the law in the New Testament. Alford rightly takes the "law" to be the old moral law applied in its comprehensive spiritual fulness by Christ: "the law of liberty."
if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer … but a judge—Setting aside the Christian brotherhood as all alike called to be doers of the law, in subjection to it, such a one arrogates the office of a judge.
There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
12. There is one lawgiver—The best authorities read in addition, "and judge." Translate, "There is One (alone) who is (at once) Lawgiver and Judge, (namely) He who is able to save and destroy." Implying, God alone is Lawgiver and therefore Judge, since it is He alone who can execute His judgments; our inability in this respect shows our presumption in trying to act as judges, as though we were God.
who art thou, &c.—The order in the Greek is emphatic, "But (inserted in oldest manuscripts) thou, who art thou that judgest another?" How rashly arrogant in judging thy fellows, and wresting from God the office which belongs to Him over thee and THEM alike!
another—The oldest authorities read, "thy neighbor."
Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:
13. Go to now—"Come now"; said to excite attention.
ye that say—boasting of the morrow.
To-day or to-morrow—as if ye had the free choice of either day as a certainty. Others read, "To-day and to-morrow."
such a city—literally, "this the city" (namely, the one present to the mind of the speaker). This city here.
continue … a year—rather, "spend one year." Their language implies that when this one year is out, they purpose similarly settling plans for to come [Bengel].
buy and sell—Their plans for the future are all worldly.
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
14. what—literally, "of what nature" is your life? that is, how evanescent it is.
It is even—Some oldest authorities read, "For ye are." Bengel, with other old authorities, reads, "For it shall be," the future referring to the "morrow" (Jas 4:13-15). The former expresses, "Ye yourselves are transitory"; so everything of yours, even your life, must partake of the same transitoriness. Received text has no old authority.
and then vanisheth away—"afterwards vanishing as it came"; literally, "afterwards (as it appeared), so vanishing" [Alford].
For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
15. Literally, "instead of your saying," &c. This refers to "ye that say" (Jas 4:13).
we shall live—The best manuscripts read, "We shall both live and do," &c. The boasters spoke as if life, action, and the particular kind of action were in their power, whereas all three depend entirely on the will of the Lord.
But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
16. now—as it is.
rejoice in … boastings—"ye boast in arrogant presumptions," namely, vain confident fancies that the future is certain to you (Jas 4:13).
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
17. The general principle illustrated by the particular example just discussed is here stated: knowledge without practice is imputed to a man as great and presumptuous sin. James reverts to the principle with which he started. Nothing more injures the soul than wasted impressions. Feelings exhaust themselves and evaporate, if not embodied in practice. As we will not act except we feel, so if we will not act out our feelings, we shall soon cease to feel.