1What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?
2You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.
3You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
The Jews evidently struggled getting along with one another, a very bad thing to do if one is hoping to be used to evangelize others. They quarreled, argued, and were full of conflicts. James reminds them that the reason for their conflict is the work of their flesh to which they are yielding. They are letting their flesh be enticed and are thus indulging every lust according to their own selfish pleasures. As each seeks his own way (which our culture preaches), conflict is the inevitable result. Rather than asking God to meet their needs, they lust and get angry when they do not have what they want to satisfy their pleasures. As a result they hate and some even murder another. As a result of their unmet evil desires and envy, they quarrel and fight with one another. All they would have to do is ask God if they needed something, for He has promised to meet all of their needs in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Yet any asking of God that they did do was misdirected because they were asking out of fleshly motives, seeking to fulfill selfish desires. God would gladly give them what they asked if they asked from a heart that wanted to please Him. But they only wanted to use God to further their own lusts. In their frustration from not having their selfish prayers answered, they then took matters into their own hands and tried to get their own way by harming others. These were supposed to be Christians and yet they were living like pagans. Thus, it is no wonder that James is emphasizing over and over again that righteous conduct is the outcome of faith. It is an ugly and repulsive thing when professing Christians sin like the world or even worse than the world.
4You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
The Jews in James’ audience are adulteresses at least in the sense that they are making alliances with the devil and are thus “cheating” on God. Likely, they were also committing adultery in real life. Rather than resist the devil, they established a friendship with him. Friendship with the devil and the ways of the world makes one at odds with God. One is either for God or against Him. There is no middle ground. When we serve our flesh, we make friends with the devil and advance his cause and purposes. When we submit to God, we advance His will and desires.
5Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"?
The ESV translates this better saying, “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?’” In other words, God greatly desires to have our spirits honoring Him and desiring Him, for He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). The quote appears to be a paraphrase of the idea that is in Genesis 6:5 which says, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” The point is that James is saying that God has created us because He loved us and wanted our worship. When He doesn’t get our worship, it grieves Him greatly. When we live in sin as the Jews were doing here, God is hurt and becomes a person’s enemy, practically speaking. We are not at enmity with God in terms of our justification but in terms of our sanctification. God must move to discipline us so that we can repent. Like a parent to a child who says, “No, and you can’t make me,” God must break our hearts with His loving discipline so that we become obedient children and give Him the honor that He is due as our rightful Father and authority.
6But He gives a greater grace Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE."
7Submit therefore to God Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
God gives us a grace in sanctification which enables us to resist sin and the devil. He enables us through Christ within us to submit to Him. When we do this, the devil runs away because he fears Christ, though he is not intimidated at all by our self-effort to resist him. We resist through Christ’s power by the grace of God. This humility in submitting to the will of God and resisting the urges of the flesh brings honor and more grace from God. However, those who harden their hearts and sin are opposed by God, and God will work on them like He did Jonah to get them to repent.
8Draw near to God and He will draw near to you Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Though we may make an enemy out of God by turning our back on Him like stubborn children, we need His grace. Fortunately, He loves His children and is ready to pour out His grace. The only thing is that we must first draw near to Him. He doesn’t force our love, though He does draw us with His kindness. When a person says that they just don’t feel close to God or are not where they should be spiritually, they are to blame. If we wonder why there is no sign of revival anywhere to be found, it is we who are to blame. God is a God of grace, ready to pour it out upon us. Yet we refuse to draw near to Him. Some think they are drawing near, but unless they obey and keep themselves from sin, they are just having some spiritual experience or doing some religious exercises. God wants a heart that by faith obeys Him. This is why He says for the Jews to wash their hands from sin. They need to repent and confess their sin that they are currently in. They are double-minded, trying to enjoy the pleasures of the world even though they are children of God. They pray but they doubt. God calls them to change so that He can draw near to them. They must make the first move.
9Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.
Godly sorrow produces repentance. This is what James is after. He wants them to loathe their sin and mourn over how they have hurt the heart of God. Like Peter, they need to go out and weep bitterly over sinning against their Lord whom they love. They need to stop laughing and acting as if all is well, and they need to be broken in humility, trembling before the presence of Almighty God.
10Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
This is a Biblical theme restated in many places. God will bring the haughty down low while He promises to listen and honor the humble in due time. Whenever a person humbles himself before God, God promises unconditionally to exalt them in His way and in His time. It may not be an earthly exaltation, but we can rest assured that we will be honored in the kingdom that is coming. We do this in the presence of God by calling out to Him and renewing our commitment to Him. We must ask for His forgiveness and let Him purify our hearts. The move is ours.
11Do not speak against one another, brethren He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.
12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?
We are not to speak evil of one another, judging them and trying to play the role that only Christ can and will play. We don’t know the motives of men. Only God can judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We can make decisions based upon what we know, but we cannot read a person’s mind or understand exactly what is going on in their heart. We break the law when we make ourselves judges. James tells us to stop judging and rather keep the law ourselves. We must first pay attention to sin in our own hearts before we concern ourselves with outstanding sin of others. Even then, we are not to act as those who stand with the power to read minds and condemn. We must deal with facts and behaviors, not the hidden thoughts of the heart. We must trust the Spirit to do the work that only He can do as we rest in ministering the Word of God. Only God has the power to save or to cast into hell, and we must not try to usurp His role. We will be judged if we try to do so.
13Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit."
14Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
15Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."
16But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
17Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Some evidently were making presumptions about the future, acting as if they were the sovereign over their own lives and as if they knew the future. There is nothing wrong with making plans, but it must be done in humility, knowing that ultimately we can only do what God allows and ordains by His will. Certain businessmen made presumptions on the upcoming year that they would go somewhere and make a profit. The reality is they may or they may not. They really don’t even know what will happen to them the next day, let alone the next year. Furthermore, they need to understand that their lives are mere vapors, once here and then vanishing in mere moments. Thinking that they run their own lives, they need to rather live humbly before God knowing that any good thing that happens is from the Father of lights above. We don’t have to literally say “If God wills” after every plan or prayer, but sometimes it is not a bad idea for reminding ourselves that He is in charge and we are not. What we must do always is have an attitude that says, “Lord, I will do whatever you lead me to do this day.” And then tomorrow, we should pray the same thing. Each day we are to be seeking the Lord’s will as He often unveils only that which we need to know for a given time period. Otherwise why would we need to ask God each day for daily bread?
The issue fundamentally is how our hearts think. The businessmen were arrogant, making presumptions about all that would happen. Yet God could require their very life the next day. It is arrogance to make decisions today based upon presumptions that won’t be fulfilled until the future. We must live by faith in God, trusting in Him for strength and provision each day. These people didn’t make God their boast, but their boasting was in their own arrogance and presumption. Such is evil as it doesn’t submit to God. More generally then, when we know what we are supposed to do, and we do not do it, we sin. When God leads us in a direction and we refuse to follow, we sin. When the Holy Spirit tells us to forgive someone or repent and we do not do it, we sin. When God has revealed that we should not presume upon tomorrow and we do, we sin. We must do what we know is right, or we make ourselves at odds with God.