Study Notes

James 4:11-17


In our last study of the book of James, we covered the first ten verses of chapter four. James pointed out that conflicts arise between people because there is a conflict inside of people. This comes from the fact that what we want doesn't always line up with what God wants for us. We become envious of others who have what we want, and we get angry with people who don't give us what we want.

James told us how to deal with this problem. We've got to pray, asking if what we want is in line with what God wants for us. We've got to humble ourselves and repent for sinful desires, plans, and lusts. If we do this, God will give us the pleasures that He knows are good for us. If we humble ourselves, He will exalt us.

Now, as we finish chapter four, picking up in verse 11, he continues in the same vein, addressing both conflicts between people and our own plans and desires being in conflict with God's will.

4:11-12 Speaking Against One Another

When we have a conflict or quarrel with someone, our natural tendency is to talk about it with other people. And naturally, we're not going to present the other person in the best light - we're going to point out his or her problems, bringing people over to our side of the conflict.

We as Christians are especially guilty of this. We've become experts at pointing out people's faults and talking freely about the sins of others. We've refined the art of judging and jumping to conclusions and listening to the terrible talk of others.

Now, is this to say that we are never to mention the bad things that people do? How could we warn our children against imitating the wrong behavior of others? How could we bring education to other Christians about sin? Is there some kind of balance that might be struck?

Actually, the Greek scholar Spiros Zohiates sheds some light on this mystery. He writes that the word for "one another" actually "refers to the person and not to the actions of that person." In other words, it is not wrong to say, "He said this and it was a lie." It is not wrong to say, "She did this and it was immoral." But it is wrong to say, "He's a liar through and through." Or, "She is the epitome of carnality." You see, when we do that, we are going beyond judging the actions, and we've begun to judge the person.

God alone is able to judge the person, we cannot. We can know what actions and words are sinful, but we cannot know the heart of a man.

Jer. 17:10 "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind..."

God sees the inside, and He alone is able to judge.

Against The Law

James says that by speaking against others, by judging them, we are speaking against the law, judging the law. Don't mistake this for the Old Testament law. In fact, this is the same law to which James has referred twice before. It is the perfect law of liberty (1:25), the royal law (2:8). This law is the law of love. James and Paul the apostle agreed on this point,

Rom. 13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of {the} law.

When we speak against others, when we judge them, we are violating the law of love. We are actually speaking against and judging that law, saying, "Love is not necessary in this case. I don't have to love my neighbor. Just because God spoke it doesn't mean I have to obey it. I am exempt from this law."

James goes on to illustrate more of this rebellious attitude towards God's sovereignty in our lives.

4:13-15 Presumption Of The Future

There are areas of our lives that we want God to have control over. We want His protection and we want His assurance of salvation. But when it comes to making plans, we'd just as soon come up with these on our own. Certainly, we think, we've got a better handle on what we want and need than God does.

Thus, we make our own plans. "Tomorrow I plan to accomplish this. I'll have a transaction in the morning, a business deal at lunch, and a deposit late in the day."

And yet, how presumptuous it is to live life like this! We don't know what will happen five minutes from now, much less tomorrow. The proverb says,

Prov. 16:9 The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.

You can have the most grandiose plans, but what is going to happen is what the Lord has ordained. Jesus taught a parable, saying,

Luke 12:16-20 ..."The land of a certain rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years {to come;} take your ease, eat, drink {and} be merry."' "But God said to him, ‘You fool! This {very} night your soul is required of you; and {now} who will own what you have prepared?'

Every single day, there are earthquakes, accidents, and heart attacks. Fortunes are made and lost. The unexpected is always happening. Everybody dies, and not a lot of us know when that's going to be. Our lives are just a vapor, with the number of days being dictated by the Lord.

David came to this grim realization and wrote Psalm 39 as a result. He was so worried about having control of his tongue that he decided to say nothing for a time. He said nothing bad, but also said nothing good. Finally, he spoke:

Ps. 39:4-7 "LORD, make me to know my end, And what is the extent of my days, Let me know how transient I am. Behold, Thou hast made my days {as} handbreadths, And my lifetime as nothing in Thy sight, Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah. Surely every man walks about as a phantom; Surely they make an uproar for nothing; He amasses {riches} , and does not know who will gather them. And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in Thee."

David knew that this life is short, that riches didn't mean anything. He knew his future was in the hands of God.

How prideful and arrogant, then, it is to say, "I'm going to do this or that tomorrow. My life has this in store for me." We must be in constant submission to the Lord, saying, "If it is the Lord's will," for we do not know what a day holds.

4:16 Boasting

Our pride and arrogance is demonstrated not only in our plans, but in our boasting. It never ceases to amaze me how prideful people can be about their own abilities. Musicians and athletes, politicians and professors have offended God with their evil boasting.

Paul asked the Corinthians,

1Cor. 4:7 ...What do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

Saints, none of us created ourselves. I can make music, but only because the Lord has ordained it. You might be a great basketball player, but only because the Lord has given you the strength. Someone next to you might have a great mind for business, but only because that mind is a gift from God.

We have no control, and cannot do anything to keep it. The basketball player may one day hear, "You'll never walk again." The singer may receive the news, "Your vocal chords are paralyzed." The businessman may lose his mental capacity in an accident.

The book of Galatians says,

Gal. 5:26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

There is nothing in ourselves that we can boast of, for nothing in ourselves comes from us. Therefore, the Scripture says,


4:17 The Right Thing To Do

So far in this book, James has talked a lot about the right thing to do.

We are to have joy in trials and be content in our financial circumstances.

We are to pray and confess our sin.

We are to live peaceably and righteously.

We are not to show partiality to people because of their outward appearance.

We are to keep our mouths under control and seek God's wisdom.

There have been a lot of difficult lessons in this book, but we know they are right. The Lord would ask each of us, "are you applying them? Have they become part of your life? Are these things effecting the way you walk with Me?"

James 4:17 Therefore, to one who knows {the} right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.

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