Faith in Connection With the Flesh, the World, and the Devil: James 4

James 4  •  23 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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James moves on to address another thing that was disrupting the peace in the Jewish-Christian community. The three great enemies of the Christian—the flesh, the world, and the devil—were running unchecked in the lives of many who professed to be saved. The problem was that some of the Jews who had professed faith in the Lord Jesus had not made a real break with their old life of worldliness and they were bringing those ways into the assembly. Even though they had been brought up in Judaism—a religion that exposed them to the true knowledge of God—it did not mean that they all had faith. There was a mixed multitude among the Jews in Judaism. When many of them professedly converted to Christianity, and began moving within the Christian ranks, they brought their worldly ways with them. The sad evidence of these three enemies working in their midst could be seen in the "wars and fightings" that were commonplace among them. Again, this called into question whether they were really saved.
A strong indicator that a person is truly saved will be in his attitude toward these three enemies. A true believer will see them in the light that the Bible sets them in—as enemies of God and man (Eph. 2:1-31And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. (Ephesians 2:1‑3)). Characteristically, a true Christian judges the flesh (Phil. 3:33For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)) and walks in separation from the world, which is under the control of the devil (1 John 5:18-1918We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. 19And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. (1 John 5:18‑19)). He may, at times, get careless and allow the old nature a place in his life, and thus act in the flesh, or he might become careless about his associations with the world, but normal Christianity is marked by the children of God judging the flesh and walking in separation from the world. If a person does not manifest this characteristic in his life, but habitually walks in the flesh in a worldly way, it is cause to question the reality of his professed faith.
James, therefore, uses the Christian's judgment of the flesh, the world, and the devil as another proof of his faith. He addresses the flesh in verses 1-3, the world in verses 4-6, and the devil in verse 7.
The flesh is an internal enemy.
The world is an external enemy.
The devil is an infernal enemy.
These enemies work together as a coalition of forces, with the devil being "the commander in chief," so to speak. The flesh is an enemy behind the front lines—being within the believer—working in communication with the world and the devil.
Satan's design ultimately is to sully the glory of Christ in this world and to turn people away from Him and the gospel of God's grace. Since Christians bear the name of Christ, Satan attacks Christians. If he can get them to dishonour the name that they bear by introducing sin into their lives, he can accomplish his end. People see such Christians as hypocrites and they turn away from Christianity. To a large extent this has happened. Christians have so poorly represented Christ in this world, it is a wonder that any believe at all. A sad example of this is what Ghandi, the former president of India, said: "If it weren't for Christians, I would have been one!"
Satan has sought to nullify the Christian testimony before the world by disrupting the unity within the Christian community and by getting Christians to hanker after worldly things. As mentioned, this projects an image before the world that Christians are unhappy and that can't get along together, and thus, there is really nothing to Christianity.
The Flesh
Vs. 1—James speaks first about the activity of the flesh—the fallen sin-nature in a believer. He asks, "From whence come wars and fightings among you?" The word translated "wars" in the original language has the sense of a prolonged and long-standing battle, whereas "fightings" refer to a specific quarrel. It shows that some problems of strife among brethren have a longstanding history, and that others are simply isolated instances.
In asking this, James wanted them to consider what was at the source of their conflicts and to judge its root. (Some translations actually use the word "source" in this verse.) He answers his question with another question: "Come they not hence, even of your lusts [pleasures] that war in your members?" James' use of "members" here is not referring to our membership in the body of Christ, but to the members of our physical bodies. Also, the word "lusts" in the KJV should be translated "pleasures." It indicates that they not only had lustful desires in their hearts, but that they were gratifying those desires by indulging in sinful pleasures. Hence, by asking this second question, James was pointing to the evidence of a serious spiritual problem in their souls. They were giving license to the flesh in their lives, and it was just stirring up the flesh more and more, and it was manifesting itself in other areas than pleasure seeking—it was fuelling the conflicts that they were having in their personal relationships. This shows us that the problem of conflicts among brethren can be traced to allowing the flesh to run unchecked in other areas of our personal lives. These things all run off the same root system—the flesh.
This state of things among brethren surely is not the will of God. In Ephesians 4:1-41I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; (Ephesians 4:1‑4), the Apostle Paul taught that the very first responsibility we have as being part of the body of Christ is to keep the unity of the Spirit. He said that this can only accomplished when each member of the body being marked by lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance. The subject of the interaction of the members of Christ's body, however, is not James' line of ministry, and therefore, it is not mentioned here. Nevertheless, love and unity among believers are themes that run throughout the New Testament and are what ought to characterize the Church in testimony. Sad to say, it has been lacking among Christians for centuries.
Vss. 2-3—These verses tell us how the flesh works in stirring up strife and contention. It begins with unbridled "lust" in the heart to possess something. This is covetousness. The lust can grow to be so strong in a person that in extreme cases he might even "kill" to reach this end. When the person "cannot obtain" and gratify his lustful desires, his frustration will be vented in other areas of his life. It will become evident in the person being a source of trouble among his brethren. He will "fight and war." It will also be evident in his prayer life. Either he won't pray about it—"ye ask not"—or if he does pray, he will "ask amiss," because he has wrong motives. Since his object is "to consume it upon his lusts [pleasures]," he does not receive what he asks for.
This shows us that God looks at the heart when we make our prayer requests. He doesn't just listen to our words, but searches the motives of our hearts, and if He finds that we have ulterior motives in the things that we ask for, those things will not be granted. It is, therefore, quite possible to pray for thoroughly right things with thoroughly wrong motives, and they will, of course, be denied.
The sin of covetousness runs in every human heart (Mark 7:2222Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: (Mark 7:22)), but it seems especially so in the heart of a Jew. The race as a whole seems to be bent on gaining wealth. When that sin runs unchecked in the Christian community, there will surely be strife and contention. When we take into consideration the fact that some of the people to whom James was writing were not even be saved, it is quite understandable why there would be such tension. A heavenly minded man and an earthly minded man will never see things the same.
To help them to see the flesh, the world, and the devil properly and to judge the activity of this evil coalition, James touches on a number of ugly things that result from these things being given free rein in a Christian's life. The havoc they produce in every aspect of life is horrific.
Wars and fightings—vs. 1a.
Pleasure seeking—vss. 1-2.
Prayerlessness—vs. 2b.
Covetousness—vs. 3.
Disloyalty to Christ—vs. 4a.
Worldliness—vs. 4b.
Lack of power to resist the devil—vs. 7.
The World
Vs. 4—James goes on to speak of the inevitable result of a person living with unchecked lusts; he will turn to the world to fulfill those desires. When the flesh is not kept in check in a believer's life, it will work in conjunction with the world and the devil, and those enemies will lead him away from God, practically speaking. Therefore, James moves to warn us against the sin of worldliness. He says, "Adulteresses, know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" (The KJV adds, "and adulterers," but there is little or no manuscript authority for it. The Church is viewed in Scripture in the feminine gender rather than in the masculine – 2 Cor. 11:22For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2); Eph. 5:23-3223For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:23‑32); Rev. 19:7-97Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. 9And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. (Revelation 19:7‑9)). The point that James is making here is that to turn to the world-system to gratify our lusts is spiritual adultery; it is really unfaithfulness to the Lord. To love the passing things of this world (1 John 2:1717And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:17)) is to be untrue to the Lord. The lust for material possessions and pleasures is covetousness, which is idolatry (Col. 3:55Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: (Colossians 3:5)). The evil of idolatry is that it sets up an idol in our hearts that rivals Christ for our attention and affections (Ezek. 14:33Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them? (Ezekiel 14:3)). All such is spiritual unfaithfulness to Him.
Moreover, "the world" is in a state of open rebellion against God. It has shown its hatred for Christ and has cast Him out. How then can any right-minded Christian want to have fellowship with the world? To do so is unfaithfulness to the Lord. We should be friendly toward the people of the world, but we should not be friends with worldly people. We speak here of complicity with the world, not of "arms-length" interactions in business, etc.
The world is viewed in three different ways in Scripture:
As a system of affairs and activities that man has arranged in an attempt to keep himself happy and satisfied in his alienation from God. Since man is a complex creature with many interests and desires, the world system has been built up with many departments—political, commercial, religious, entertainment, sports, etc. (John 16:3333These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33); Rom. 12:22And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2); Gal. 6:1414But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Galatians 6:14); 1 Cor. 2:12; 3:1912Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)
19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Corinthians 3:19)
; Titus 2:1212Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; (Titus 2:12); 2 Peter 1:4; 2:204Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:4)
20For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. (2 Peter 2:20)
; 1 John 2:16; 5:1916For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:16)
19And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. (1 John 5:19)
). It is a society where Christ is excluded (John 1:10-1110He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John 1:10‑11); 1 Cor. 2:6-86Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:6‑8)).
As lost people who are wrapped up in the world-system (John 1:1010He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (John 1:10)b; 3:16-17; 17:23).
James is speaking of the latter two aspects of the world. He says, "Whoever therefore is minded to be the friend of the world is constituted an enemy of God." This is a sobering statement indeed. He is saying that our attitude toward the world plainly declares our attitude toward God. If we take a position with the world, we are taking a position against God! There is no neutral ground in this. Salvation has changed us from being enemies of God to being the friends of God (Rom. 5:1010For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)). When a person responds to the call of God and comes to Christ, he by his confession, is making a clean break with the world that crucified Christ. To turn around after being saved and take a position of being friends with the world is a practical denial of our confession as Christians. Anyone who does it puts a question over his or her confession as to whether they are truly saved. To continue in habitual friendship with the world is evidence of unbelief, and it could mean that he or she is not saved at all. James, therefore, uses the principle of separation from the world as another test of the reality of a person's faith.
Vs. 5—He says, "Think ye that the Scripture speaks in vain? Does the Spirit which has taken His abode in us desire enviously?" His point here is that Scripture does not warn us of these kinds of worldly lusts for no reason; they are very dangerous and "war against the soul" (1 Peter 2:1111Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; (1 Peter 2:11)). James is asking us whether we really thought that the Spirit of God dwelling in us would lead us to lust after worldly things. It would be absurd to think that the Spirit of God would lead a Christian into something that is so hateful to God.
In reading this verse, we might wonder what Old Testament Scripture James was quoting. However, he wasn't referring to a specific verse, but was speaking of the whole tenor of Scripture. The message of Scripture in general decries worldly lusts. Hence, how could they possibly think that God would be happy with them pursuing a course of friendship with the world—either the people or with the system?
Vss. 6-7a—James anticipates someone stating that he is not able to break the links of the long-established relationships that he has had in the world, and replies, "But He giveth more grace." That is, regardless of how strong the draw toward the world is, God's grace is sufficient to meet and overcome it. He will give grace to every exercised person so that he or she can overcome the world, and step away from it. All we have to do to receive this great grace is to humble ourselves before Him. Accordingly, James says, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." Pride—the desire to be well-thought of by certain people—is often at the root of a person's unwillingness to make a clean break with the world. If a believer prizes his friendships with the world more than his friendship with the Lord Jesus, and puts their claims before Christ's, then let him understand that God resists the proud; His grace will not be given to such. But if a person is truly exercised about the unequal yokes that he has with the world (2 Cor. 6:14-1714Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, (2 Corinthians 6:14‑17)) and he humbles himself before God, God will pour out His limitless supply of grace for the situation and will help him step away from his worldly associations. James then gives the only logical conclusion to the whole matter: "Submit [subject] yourselves therefore to God." That is, "submit" to Him (to what He has said in His Word in regard to the world) and seek grace from Him to turn away from the world and its associations. Submitting to God is where the power for Christian living lies.
The Devil
Vss. 7b-10—James goes on to speak about the Christian's third enemy—the devil. As Pharaoh tried to get the children of Israel back into Egypt after they had departed from it (Ex. 14), so this enemy would like to draw the believer back into the world. (Pharaoh is a type of Satan.) Therefore, James says, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." We might wonder how we are to resist him when he is so much stronger than us. It's true; strength for strength we are no match for Satan, but we have God on our side. "Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:44Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)). We might have thought that James would have told us to flee from the devil—but it is quite the opposite. We are to hold our ground and not compromise any aspect of the truth that has been given to us.
The great question is, "How are we to do this?" James proceeds to give us the key to resisting the devil successfully. We resist him by drawing near to God. This can be seen in the fact that James adds to his exhortation regarding resisting the devil, "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you" (vs. 8a). When we engage in prayer, reading the Word of God, and meditation (Heb. 4:16; 10:19-2216Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
19Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21And having an high priest over the house of God; 22Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19‑22)
), we draw near to God and He draws near to us. The result is that we have communion together. If we are found in the presence of God, the devil won't stay near us. He is not comfortable there and will flee. Thus, we are delivered from his harassment. The presence of God, therefore, is the believer's place of safety. "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust. Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust" (Psa. 91:1-41He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. 3Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. 4He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:1‑4)). These verses confirm that the Lord's dwelling place is truly a place of protection for the believer. Figuratively speaking, it is like a mighty fortress and a great eagle's nest. The "fowler" (Satan) cannot touch us when we are there. Deuteronomy 33:1212And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders. (Deuteronomy 33:12) indicates the same thing: "The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety by Him." Psalm 143:99Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me. (Psalm 143:9) also says, "Unto Thee do I flee for refuge."
Satan trembles when he sees,
The weakest saint upon his knees.
The Needed State of Soul to Meet the Christian's Three Enemies
Vss. 8b-10—The language that James uses in these next verses show us that he was addressing a wide scope of individuals—including those who were mere professing believers. It was truly a mixed multitude. The activity of these three enemies of God and man, if left unchecked in a believer's life, will lead him far from God, morally and spiritually. He would not lose the eternal salvation of his soul, but his enjoyment of fellowship with the Lord would be lost. His life could get so fleshly and worldly that it might be difficult to know whether he is truly saved. For the mere professing believer, these enemies will work to keep him from being saved (Eph. 2:1-31And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. (Ephesians 2:1‑3)).
If these enemies are to be beaten, a person must be found in a proper state of soul. James, therefore, says, "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded." This is a call to repentance. It shows that those to whom he was writing were in a poor state generally. Verses 1-3 confirm this. For those who were believers, repentance would lead them to a restoration of soul and communion with God (1 John 1:99If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)). For those who were mere professing believers without inward reality, it would be repentance that would lead to the salvation of their souls. In either case, repentance and self-judgment were needed if they were to be brought into fellowship with God. Cleansing the hands implies separating oneself from the pollutions of the world. Purifying one's heart would imply judging the activity of the flesh within. One is outward and the other is inward (See also 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:114Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. 1Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6:14‑7:1)). Such cleansing and purification could only be possible through godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Hence, James says, "Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep" (vs. 9). He adds, "Let laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness." This latter remark shows that we need to get serious about these things in the presence of God.
The promised result is sweet indeed. He says, "Humble yourselves in the sight of [before] the Lord, and He shall lift you up" (vs. 10). If a believer truly humbles himself in God's presence about his careless ways, restoration is promised—there is always a way back to God. God is faithful; when we own our failure, He lifts us up and restores us to communion with Himself (1 John 1:99If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)). Humbling oneself in true self-judgment is written in the aorist tense in the Greek; it means that this should be done once-for-all time. Hence, there should be some deep and serious conviction in our self-judgment to turn away from the error of our way—once and for all.
If a person were a mere professing believer—which some of them evidently were—he would manifest it by not heeding the rebuke, and continuing on in his fleshly and worldly ways. Thus, he would prove that he doesn't have real faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Evidences of Self-Judgment and Restoration to Communion With God
Vss. 11-17—James addresses two more evils at the end of the chapter which appear to be connected to the preceding subject. By bringing these things in here, the Spirit of God is showing us that a person's repentance should give evidence to the fact that he has truly judged himself in connection with the flesh and the world. The first is a critical spirit (vss. 11-12), and the second is an independent spirit (vss. 13-17). At the root of these fleshly and worldly things is self-importance and self-confidence. One had to do with their attitude toward the Law of God and the other had to do with their attitude toward the will of God.
Vss. 11-12—These professing converts were fighting and devouring one another (vss. 1-2); they were hardly behaving like Christians. James proceeds to warn them about the negative effects of speaking "against one of another." (The word, "evil" in the KJV in this verse should be translated "against." He is not speaking of having to deal with evil in a brother or a sister, but rather of a critical spirit.)
He exposes this sin by showing us that putting others down is really an indirect attempt to exalt ourselves. The seriousness of having a critical and censorious spirit is that it not only breaks down the unity that should exist among fellow Christians, but it is really judging the Law. This is because the Law commands us to do the opposite—to love our brother—which is the royal law mentioned in chapter two. Therefore, the person who criticizes his brother sets himself up to be superior to the Law, rather than being subject to it. Scripture teaches that the only Person who has a place superior to the Law is the Lord Himself—the "lawgiver" (Isa. 33:2222For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us. (Isaiah 33:22)). Hence, to judge our brother is really putting ourselves in the Lord's place! This shows the seriousness of judging our brother. The person who has judged his fleshly and worldly spirit will cease to speak against his brother. It is another evidence that his faith is real.
Vss. 13-17—The second thing that would give evidence that a person has truly judged his worldliness is in his ceasing to live in independence of God. James' closing remarks in chapter 4 are a rebuke of the self-confident and independent spirit that prevailed among these professed converts from Judaism.
These people professed to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, but the manner in which they were living betrayed that they did. They were making their plans like a person of the world who didn't know the Lord—without reference to God. As an example, James says, "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain; whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow" (vs. 13). Since neither they, nor we, know what a day holds for us, to make such a boast is sheer folly. All such language indicates arrogance and self-confidence, and is the epitome of the spirit of the world. As mentioned, it is really planning our lives with the Lord left out. Solomon rebuked this worldly spirit when he said, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Prov. 27:11Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)). Egypt is a type of this aspect of the world; it signifies the world in its independence of God. The Egyptians didn't wait upon God to send rain for their crops, as the Israelites did (James 5:77Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. (James 5:7)); they irrigated their land so that they didn't have to be dependent upon God (Deut. 11:1010For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs: (Deuteronomy 11:10)).
They may have thought that a person should involve the Lord in his or her life when it comes to spiritual things, but in secular things one needn't bother the Lord with mundane trivialities. However, this reasoning betrays a lack of understanding. Quite to the contrary, the Lord is interested in the everyday decisions of a believer's life. He wants to help us make right decisions in the fear of God that we might be preserved from the many pitfalls in life, and thus be a part of every aspect of our lives.
In rebuking this independent spirit, James makes reference to the brevity of life on earth. If we live our lives for temporal things only, without the Lord being part of it, our life will be but "a vapour" (vs. 14). A vapour is something that not only lasts for "a little time," it also is something that has no substance to it. Hence, James' point here is that a life lived without reference to the Lord is an empty life. This is a pity because life is so short, and wasted time cannot be retrieved.
He is not saying that a Christian shouldn't make plans in life. The Apostle Paul surely did, but he added to his plans the words, "If the Lord permit" (1 Cor. 16:5-85Now I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia. 6And it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go. 7For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. 8But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. (1 Corinthians 16:5‑8); Rom. 10:11Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. (Romans 10:1)). This shows that he submitted his plans to the Lord. As Christians, we are not "of" the world, but we are "in" the world, and thus, we cannot help but have interactions with worldly people in it (John 17:14-1614I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17:14‑16)). Since we live in the world, our business affairs and earthly responsibilities should be carried out in humble dependence on the Lord. James, therefore, suggests that they should say, “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” This brings the Lord into each situation in a practical way. This kind of humble dependence will manifest the reality of a person's faith.
Vs. 17—He closes this subject with the following statement: "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." He does not say that to do evil is sin, but not to do good is sin. This shows that sin is not only doing that which is wrong, it is also not doing that which we know to be right. We might call this "the sins of omission." Hence, with knowledge comes responsibility. This doesn't mean that we should close our eyes to light and knowledge (truth), but that we should seek grace from God to do what we know is right. The point here is that the opportunity to "do good" makes us responsible to do it.