James 4:11-12

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.

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James 4:1-10

12/9/09 V. 1, Where, asks James, does the quarreling among people (and he’s speaking specifically to the church) come from? As simple as the question is the answer must be profound coming from scripture, since it would directly affect the unity and love of God’s people. The source of all this, he states unequivocally, is that our pleasures control us. Our bodies are manipulated and controlled by sensual pleasures.

V. 2, So since we lust and don’t have something we get angry at the one who does have. This is pleasure controlling our feelings and actions. Envy for what you do not have leads to fighting. That is it. That’s the source of our disunity: the love of our own pleasures.

But James doesn’t dwell long on this negative aspect. He jumps right away to the solution, which, interestingly is not “stop lusting and desiring.” The solution is that you can have what you desire. The reason you don’t is that you don’t ask for it. The NIV adds the word God there, making the statement that we should ask God for what we want. That’s certainly true, but the original doesn’t say to ask God, it simply says to ask. Couldn’t it also be true that we need to ask for what we want from each other? That’s the polite thing to do. But too often we don’t communicate with each other.

V. 3, You might say that you ask, but you don’t really, says James. You ask from wrong motives. So it’s not that we may desire and lust in any fashion, but we should desire and lust in a proper way, with good motives. Our normal motives for desiring and lusting are the gratification of our own pleasure. But this is anti-God.

V. 4, To allow our carnal desires to rule us is to commit adultery against God, and to rebel against him.

V. 5, The Greek here is unclear and this verse is variously interpreted. But given the context it’s possible that James was saying that God himself desires and lusts. But that he desires and lusts for our benefit, that his Spirit would dwell in us.

The word lust is a strong word that need not have negative connotations. “Epipotheo” is to pursue with love or to yearn for earnestly. So lusting with good motives–genuine love for others–is actually a powerful emotion that speaks in tune with the heart of God.

V. 6, God gives us great grace to overcome the power and control of sensual pleasures when he humbles us.

V. 7, By submitting to God’s discipline and working with him to resist Satan’s temptations toward shallow pleasures, the grace of God will send him fleeing.

V. 8, But sending the devil fleeing isn’t the end. Then we must draw near to God and him to us. Work with him for cleansing and eradicating the sinfulness in us. Stop playing with it. Let God remove it from our hearts so we may be single-minded for him.

V. 9, Let repentance wash over us. See the state of our heart and feel the shame appropriate to our condition.

V. 10, Humble yourself before the Lord and he won’t let you stay there. He will exalt you!

James 3:13-18

12/8/09 V. 13, The truly wise and understanding will show in gentleness and good behavior. So if someone is not gentle with good behavior it shows the opposite: that he is not wise and does not have understanding of spiritual things.

V. 14, Each of us must search our own hearts to understand what lurks there. When we see what is there in all honesty we must be humble so that we don’t end up being hypocrites and actors pretending to be what we are not so that we don’t discredit the gospel of Jesus. We can still preach the good news but with the meekness of one who realizes he is a work in progress and admits his own faults.

V. 15, The “wisdom” that presents an arrogant “righteousness” comes from the powers of evil.

V. 16, This is the way of evil: disorder, jealousy, and ambition. Where such things exist evil is there.

V. 17, Real wisdom, on the other hand, is pure, peace loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good deeds, firm and unwavering, and honest about the work that still needs to be done in the life.

V. 18, Lit: “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those making peace.” James’ meaning is a little muddled in this verse judging by the difference in translations. But from the overall context it seems pretty clear that peace is the result of the kind of wisdom and understanding that James has been describing.

James 2:1-13

12/5/09 V. 1, In the family of Christ we must learn to see everyone as equal before God and do away with our internal caste system.

V. 2-3, The rich must not receive special attention and the poor less, not just in the matter of time spent, but in the matter of our attitude.

V. 4, If it’s the heart that matters then we are unqualified to judge who should receive different treatment.

V. 5, Because frankly, the poor often have spiritual things more prioritized anyway. From a heart perspective the poor man may well be the rich one.

V. 6-7, Besides, it’s the rich who so often cause trouble for God’s people and have no room for God.

V. 8, Instead, obey the law that says to love your neighbor.

V. 9, Don’t sin by being partial. It is a sin.

V. 10-11, It’s as bad as adultery or murder, and to commit partiality is to commit all sin.

V. 12, Live by the law of love, which see every person as equally valuable.

V. 13, Because judgment will be fair. If we are merciless we receive in kind. Not because God is vindictive but because that is the natural result of our deeds.