12/10/09 James was writing during a difficult time in early church history. Some see this as spats between believers, but this was a time when murder and other physical violence was considered acceptable in defending beliefs. After all, Saul was sanctioned in his persecution of the new Christian church. Religious zealots were often violent. So James here is addressing some bad stuff going on in the early church.
The word translated “desires” or “pleasures” is “hedonon” from which we get “hedonism.” Passion ran high to all extremes. Plato himself understood what James understood. He said, “The sole cause of wars and revolutions and battles is nothing other than the body and its desires.”
Cicero said, “It is insatiable desires which overturn not only individual men, but whole families, and which even bring down the state. From desires there spring hatred, schisms, discord, seditions, and wars.”
It is not too extreme to understand that the situation of believer against believer was extreme. They said they wanted peace, but they only wanted it on their own terms. Because their own terms meant that they could continue in their own pleasures, hedonism of their own sort, and not only sexual. Friendship with the world, in such a context, involved a violent frame of mind, a methodology of force. The lead into chapter four was peace.
V. 11-12, These verses now in the context become more real. If things were going so far as murder, then the evil-speak must have been unrestrained. Not the subtle gossip we might imagine but outright inflammatory slander. Not that this is an worse than the subtler version in the end. When God knows our heart’s attitude against another human, whether or not we speak it is less consequential. We shall be treated as we have treated.