What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4 ESV)
The epistle of James confronts us with the nagging question, “who is my neighbor?” James, as John, is drawing the line connecting the dots. My neighbor is my brother. Just like John, James is quick to point out, brothers are those whose works demonstrate that they are.
Going back to the beginning of James, we see a leveling of the playing field in, “Consider… my brothers… God, who gives generously to all without reproach… in faith.” James’ considerations concern brothers. By “all” he means those of faith, for that is the condition set forth to receive. The unbelieving should not think they will receive anything. Specifically, James is instructing his readers about the Holy Spirit’s perfecting work of sanctification in the life of believers though trials. What is in view is that, though the rich are those without apparent trials while the poor are those whose trails are obvious, the true riches of the faith are produced by trials. Steadfastness God provides as a blessing so that all, rich and poor, may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The brother of humble estate is exalted, and the brother of exalted estate is brought low. Each will be rewarded who perseveres and all who are believers persevere according to the promise of God and not according to the estate of the individual. It is neither might nor power, riches or name, but by the Spirit, and all a perfect gift of God’s condescension not man’s ascension.
It is also here that James makes the subject of the trials evident when he speaks of the inward struggle of temptation to lust which equally abides in the hearts of believers, rich and poor. That there are trials which press in from without out is true, however, here the subject of James is the relation of the inward man’s perfection to trials no matter their source. External realities must pass through the darkness of the soul, and each man’s lust will have its way except that God causes him to stand against it (Galatians 5:17, cf. Philippians 2:13). No matter the personal outcome, it is God’s purpose which prevails, if one believes that the Father gives good gifts to his children. The comfort is the assurance which is stated in the fact that it was God who purposed our being brought forth by the word of truth to be fruit. That we fail in and of ourselves is certain. But, 1 Corinthians 10 relates, God has provided the body and blood of Christ, who has perfected once and for all those being saved, as the way of escape. It is God who will work in us the doing of his good pleasure just as it was God who began the work. The struggle is a given fact of the Christian who is being disciplined as a son. Again, he who does not know should ask, and he will be shown that it is a wisdom from above that has purposed all things to work together for the good of the believer.
As James has begun to expose corruption of the message by the appraisers of the outward man, he goes on. The character of God is that he does not discriminate between the brothers based upon their outward appearance, or their giftings, but according God’s purpose in those brought forth by the word of truth. God, after all, is the gifter. James has already established as being a perfect gift, if indeed one is a brother, all things in all believers who are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
Then we have it, the royal law, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Here, without any equivocation James does as John, and makes the second great commandment restrictive to the brethren. As we see, James has contrasted the poor with the wealthy in terms of spiritual realities. External reality, if that is what a man is looking at, betrays the lack of spiritual eyes which see that God doesn’t judge that way. Instead, God, who has provided all things including our ongoing trials, sees his own in terms of the glorification of his son. On the other hand, God does judge on the basis of who are his and who are not, and James is pointing to that in quoting the royal law. He adds:
“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.”(James 2:12 ESV)
It is not the world which is judged under the law of liberty, for theirs is to lord it over one another and by that standard they will be judged. So again, James is speaking to brothers about how they are to treat brethren.
In other words, who ever has been set free in Christ’s death has been judged already and found guilty, but through Christ, who has brought us to life through the resurrection, we have been granted mercy. So, believers should judge by that standard and not the law of sin and death unless they want to be found transgressors, guilty and worthy only of death. The perfect law of liberty judges on the basis of forgiveness of sin which accounts all as equals, for Christ did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. For the believer that means a recognition of the personal, subjective need for forgiveness, and the extension of that love to the brethren.
Proceeding on, James says that faith without works is worthless. However, he has established that it is a particular kind of works of which he is speaking. He has quoted the royal law, he made it to apply to brothers over against those who are not, he has leveled the playing field making all to be equal in the sight of God so that as God does, we are to do- judge with mercy those who God has had mercy on. As it is, all go through trials. The trials’ target is that of personal sin, of which everyman is guilty, rich and poor. Even if the testing is coming from without, the object of the trial is sanctification. That is, the mortification of sin in the believer is an internal change executed by the Spirit, in this case, through the means of trials. If one says he has works but judges by the works of the law, he is not acting in faith, since faith works by the power of the Spirit who works in ways that no man can perceive. If a believer’s works are merciful, recognizing his brothers’ needs are the same as his own, his works are those which are like Abraham’s. Abraham was credited as being a friend of God because faith worked in a particular way- it believed that God has granted life through the promise despite the circumstance. A wisdom from above convinced Abraham that even if he sacrificed Isaac, God would raise him up. That promise was made to a man just like us, a sinner, who is indeed our exemplar if we believe in the particular way of escape. If we humble ourselves, God will surely raise us up. Humility, then, is a particular gift of believers. What it says is that all have fallen short of the glory of God, because all are sinners, and that it is not by our doing that God will raise us up. Ours is to believe God. Even that is a perfect gift coming down from God above.
There is in James, then, both the physical and the spiritual poverty in view. We often take into consideration that those who God has richly blessed in material things have been given a great charge to care for those who lack them. Unfortunately, we often also equate material blessing with spiritual status. But, James goes further than material things. Those who have been richly blessed in spiritual goods, likewise, are supposed to be to others messengers of mercy. Often, those who have the greatest external poverty have the greater wealth of spiritual blessing. And, often those who are richly blessed materially are poor spiritually. Never the less, seeing then that God has gifted each with the riches of the kingdom according to his good pleasure, each is to esteem others better than themselves. If there is a brother in distress, James sums up at the end of the epistle, each is to do his part. Just as he has begun, if one suffers we all are to suffer with him, if one rejoices, we all are to rejoice with him.
All, James has concluded, go through spiritual training because of remaining sin in them. Some to greater degrees than others, experience the fiery trials of all sorts. God is sovereign in his dispensation of material things, he also is sovereign in his dispensation of spiritual gifts. So that, to whom much is given much is expected. The one who lacks cannot be expected to give what they do not have. Still, God, has provided all the means of escape, in the blood and body of Christ. Let the brethren then comfort each other with this.
You see, James says, that works are proclamations of faith only if… He counters those who claim to have good works but do not love their brother with the fact that faith and works work together. The works are negated if they are not met with the truth that grounds them. Wealthy or poor, faith displays a certain attitude. He goes on explaining that not all make good teachers:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18 ESV)
Hard lessons are learned though trials and fruitful teaching is planted by those who have been trained by them, but the one who harbors ill will toward his neighbor (brother), still has not learned the wisdom of humility, still has not learned what grace has been given him, still has not learned that persevering through trial produces the peaceable fruit. Those who according to outward appearance sit in judgement, have forgotten the pit from which they were dug. That they were beaten, bloody and left for dead, has all but been forgotten. It is this point James has joined to the wisdom which is perfect which comes down from the Father of lights. So, in all, James is saying to those who would be teachers of law, if they have truly learned the lessons of the law, should show mercy, for that is what they have received. Namely, that by the law all men are found to be poor in themselves even though they are rich in their own eyes. If they say they see, they remain blind, and it is their pride which has put out their eyes. The lesson that comes from above teaches that law which set us free, which is found in Christ, is a perfect law of liberty, which operates by grace and extends mercy. Great is that faith which has learned the misery of its own sin, the forgiveness of it, and the extension of the love of God which sets free, and blessed is the man who extends the gifts he has received to a brother in need.
James rejoins the covetous and corruption that boils up from within, those temptations which cause wars, which provoke envy, strife and self-exaltation at the expense of those who are little esteemed by apparent appraisal. These temptations affect all, and the remedy is not to go to law with a brother, it is not to exalt oneself, but to submit to God who judges without prejudice. The right judgement, love of mercy and humility required of the walk of faith brings to the one who believes in God’s answering prayer, a blessing through his recognition of his own misery. God will exalt him, who being humbled and undone by his own sin, as God has purposed, that being tested he will receive in the end the righteousness which is by faith and the inheritance of the saints which is eternal life. Surely, he who does not know what he will do tomorrow, is better off believing in Him who does. If you know what is right to do, do it, if it is in your power to do so, but to judge your brother by the gifts that God has given you is to walk contrary to the Gospel. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” Jesus said to those who did not understand the “authority” which had been given them was not at all of them. Instead of the gifts, the mercy of God, who has set aside a people for himself, is called to be examined. Take care, how you judge, for the judgement with which you judge will be meted back to you. Therefore, humbly submit to God and he will cause you who can stand no taller than your brother, to stand with him. Humbly submit to God, and in doing so resist the devil’s gambit, and he will flee, but take care if you think it was you who took a stand, unless you fall into that snare which pride sets for itself.
James final warning is to those he has marked out before. It is to those who think that they need not fear, for their wealth, either spiritual or material, will sustain them. Lest we forget, James is addressing the brothers. It is not that he is addressing non-brothers among the faithful, but those who are acting as if they are. So that no one think more highly than he should, it is to be recognized that the poor in James, the really poor, are those who do not recognize their poverty. Examine David’s Psalm 37, and remember that David, if in deed he wrote it in his old age, in his own right was the wealthiest man in the land. As rich as David was he recognized his poverty and sole dependence upon God for all things. He had been poor and was rich, he had been the evil doer, but learned that God is the one who upholds a man if God has so purposed. James makes no distinction, either, all are in need. The final admonition reflects back to the first. All go through the trials, all are either those who look down upon their brothers, or those who look upon the rich with envy. The point being, that there is a way that seems right to men, but the end is death. There is a better way, which is to esteem others better than oneself, at all times, upholding their cause before God, and for each to recognize his own need for God’s sustaining hand extended though the tender foot-washing care that is the mark of works of faith. Those who argue that the keeping of laws makes them better, or that their endowments are a sign of their spiritual status, miss the mark James has set:
As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-11 ESV)(
It was those who remained steadfast who were considered blessed, because they knew that the purposes of God cannot be thwarted. Love God and your brother as yourself, for by this will the world know who are and who are not disciples. God, who is compassionate and merciful has sent his son in the likeness of sinful brothers to die for those things they do in the flesh. So also, the brothers for whom Christ died should lay down their lives for their brethren. All believers face trouble, but all men who are of faith, James is making clear, can pray, believing, and God will restore to him the rest which is found in Christ. That rest is not in our circumstance, not in our giftings, but in his mercy. As it was with Abraham, who looked to the resurrection where his hope was, our eyes should be fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith. And therefore, if any are sick, they should ask, if any are sick, the elders should pray, if any are sick the prayer of the faithful will be answered, if any knows what is right they are to do it, if any has he is to give. For we are all men like Elijah, sinners through whom God speaks. Therefore if any should wander from this faith which places no trust a feeble creation but only in the Almighty Creator, we should seek the weak out and restore them rather than taking them before the law to judge them as unworthy of our love:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:13-20 ESV)
How long without rain? And yet, the earth bore fruit. James has connected this to suffering and to sin. We are not then to give up on the brother who in either circumstance, spiritual or physical, is undergoing trial.
Is anyone suffering? Yes. Is anyone going through fiery trials? Yes. Do we rejoice with those who rejoice? Yes. And does God always answer? Yes, James says, he answers with perfect wisdom those who do not doubt. So who is it who would save his soul from death and cover a multiple of sins? Is it not he who humbles himself under the mighty hand of God? For, isn’t it those who have been forgiven much who love much? If God richly gives us all things through Christ then what we do have let us freely give. As each man has received his gift, let each man minister, Peter concurs. By this we know that we are the children of God, that we love the brothers, and so would spend and be spent, along with Paul, if only through fire, we might save some, so that each might receive his reward. Let each then look out for the interest of others and not just his own. After all, is that not what John said, too, that if Christ laid down his life for us so we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren? And, is that not what Christ meant when he said that such love for one another would set us apart as disciples of Christ? Then let patience have its perfect work that we might be fully equipped in truth abounding in every good work.