James 4

1 It is apparent that there was much strife in the church, specifically the Jewish Christians, to whom the letter is addressed. James indicates that they suffer from an infection of worldly wisdom. The source of the conflicts, both small and great, is in their selfish desires. They had in mind to satisfy their own wants and needs rather than focusing on the desires of God and the needs of others. This attitude leads to conflicts between individuals that can grow large enough to split and destroy entire congregations.
2 The world seeks to have all of its desires fulfilled. Their desires will never be satisfied because they do not ask God to help them be fulfilled. Without godly thinking to restrain them, the world goes from desire, to willingness to take, to outright violence in its attempt to fulfill its desires. Such a progression should never happen among God's people. Notice that there is nothing said here about the merit of the thing attained. It is the unchecked desire for the item that leads to strife.
3 Of course, many come to God and beg that their desires be fulfilled, but He does not do so. Why? Because the requester is more interested in having his own desires fulfilled than the desires of God. We must remember that it is not the thing desired that is the problem -- it is the desire itself. For example, we generally commend people who are willing to take on leadership roles in the church. However, if the desire of the individual is to enjoy the position of authority rather than help God's people, then his motivation is wrong. God may prevent him from attaining the position, or may allow him to attain it and have everyone involved learn from the strife that results. In another example, we could look at asking God for money. It is clear that the desire for money leads to all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:9-10), but money is also useful for the advancement of God's kingdom. It should be obvious that it is not wrong to ask God for resources, but we must be very aware of our motivation. How one desires to use a resource God has given him is more important than the resource itself. A misuse of resources breaks the relationship with God and the relationships with people.
4 To befriend the world means to accept its wisdom. However, worldly wisdom opposes God. Thus, when one lives by the world's standards, he is openly hostile to God, even if the compromise seems benign. Anyone who has vowed to follow God but then turns to worldly wisdom is as unfaithful to God as an adulterous wife is unfaithful to her husband.
5 God watches His relationships with people jealously, not wanting anything to interfere with them. How much more He longs for the return of "worldly" Christians similar to a husband who wants his adulterous wife, whom he still loves, to redevote herself solely to him.
6 James quotes from Prov 3:34. Sadly, most Christians will stumble into worldly thinking, but God is gracious to receive us back when we acknowledge our errors and humbly return to Him. Those who remain worldly will continue on, having too much pride to seek God or even acknowledge that they have offended Him. God will openly confront them, either during their life or on Judgement Day.
7 These four verses explain how one can be humble before God. The most important aspect of humility is submission to God. "Submit," here, is a military term that describes how a soldier submits to his commanding officer. He is to obey -- immediately and completely.

A second aspect of submission is resisting God's enemies, specifically Satan. Jesus gives us the best example of how to resist the devil in Luke 4:1-13. The Christian should not only know what Scripture says, but how to apply it correctly when Satan attacks. We must also rely on the Holy Spirit to help us stand our ground. When the devil sees that he can not win, when he sees that we are in the presence of God, he will have to leave. He will be powerless before us when we are empowered by God.

8 Another important aspect is our relationship with God. We are not merely soldiers, expendable pawns, in God's army. We are His children, whom He loves dearly. We are His friends, and He wants to relate to us on a personal level. God already holds out His hands to us. When we respond to His invitation, He responds by drawing us closer to Himself.

When we come to God, we must cleanse ourselves of those things that make us "dirty" before God. Of course, this cleansing is only possibly through the sacrifice of Jesus, but it is also necessary that we make an effort to change our habits and attitudes (related to our hands and hearts). We can not sit on the fence and draw wisdom from both the world and from God. God shows us that His wisdom is far superior to worldly wisdom. We must give up the worldly way of thinking and devote our minds to the knowledge of God.

9 When we see the sin in our lives, we should be grieved in our hearts even to the point of outward expression. Whatever "joy" we might have had in worldly thinking should turn to gloom when we realize that such wisdom ends in eternal destruction. Whatever humor we found in worldly thinking should sicken us with grief when we recognize the seriousness of sinful living.
10 The only remedy is to turn to God. He will then turn our grief over sin into true joy when we find forgiveness in Him. People are doomed if they remain in their sins, but when they submit humbly to God, they find eternal life.
11 Christians have the responsibility to expose sin and the cure that comes with the Good News of Jesus. However, some expose sin and then condemn the person instead of showing them how to be reconciled with God. We must remember that the final assessment of a person's life rests with God alone. We are to be discerning, but not judgmental. There may even be times when we must separate ourselves from backsliden brothers, but it should always be with the hope that we will be reconciled to them again when they recognize their mistakes and return to God. We also need to remember that we have our own tendencies to sin, so should approach any situation with humbleness, knowing that no person can be saved by their own power. Only God can forgive sins and bring us to Him.
12 God is the only Lawgiver. He has the authority to tell us how we should live. After all, He made us and knows exactly what we need to do to live fulfilled lives as human beings. God also has the ability to enforce what He commands. Through the sacrifice of Jesus He has made it possible for people to have a good and eternal relationship with Him. For those who refuse to believe, He will destroy by forever separating them from Himself and His good and loving characteristics. As Christians, we should recognize that we could not save ourselves, much less someone else. We should also recognize that we have neither the authority nor ability to judge other people. If someone decides to take on this responsibility, he tries to replace God's perfect Law and His management of it. Thus, by definition, such a person sins and falls under the very condemnation he pronounces if he never humbles himself before God.
13 Continuing with the theme of humility, James turns from the treatment of others to how people plan their lives. Just as people will judge others as if they were the final authority, some will plan their lives without considering what God might have planned for them. This specific example pictures arrogant business people, but arrogance in planning can occur in any area of life at any level.
14 The arrogant planner lives life in the presumption that his plans will succeed. This is usually based on the idea that if one works hard and believes in what he is doing he is bound to succeed. However, this kind of thought pattern is sinful because it focuses only on the person's ability and so-called "luck." The presumptuous planner gives no thought to the shortness of his life or the compatibility of his goals with God's will.
15 The godly planner allows God to guide his future. He still makes plans, but he remains sensitive to how God is leading him and how He might change his direction and goals. This attitude also fosters thankfulness whether the plans succeed, change, or fail. When plans succeed, the godly planner will glorify God. If the plans do not succeed, the godly planner will glorify God with his submissive attitude and perseverance.
16 Boasting about one's self is sinful because it ignores God's granting of skills and opportunities.
17 James pauses a moment to emphasize that his audience needs to consider what he has said. It should have been clear to them before, but James has taken great pains to emphasize the importance of godly wisdom. Christians need to leave the worldly wisdom that fosters spiritual laziness, selfishness, and general disregard for God. Instead, we should be led by the Spirit to act, prevent conflicts, and consider God's will when we make plans for our lives. The person who ignores these exhortations proves himself to be opposed to God.