The Epistle of James --Part 11

The Epistle of James
Part 11

Earl Miller

Earl Miller’s exposition of the Epistle of James is the result of much biblical research and diligent application to the Word of God. These articles by this faithful servant of the Lord merit close study, and also personal application to Christian living.

The Ten Guide-Posts

James 4:1-17

Having passed sentence upon the shameful conduct into which Christians sometimes fall, James begins to set forth ten guide-posts as a sure way to recovery from this sad state of affairs, and a guarantee against falling into such conduct again.

1. “Submit yourselves, therefore, unto God.” Submission to God is a sure deterrent to the lust of the flesh. The Christians above referred to found themselves hopelessly engulfed in the lusts of the flesh. The first guide-post for recovery, therefore, is submission to God. Notice, first of all, that the plural is used, “submit yourselves” not “submit yourself.” They are all included in this command. We are so prone to put the blame on someone else and clear ourselves. If the other person would only repent and make restitution, things could be cleared up shortly. Since the other person is at fault, he should apologize first. So the reasoning goes, it is always someone else, and never ourselves. But the command is addressed to all, not just to one person. It always takes two to quarrel.

The etymology of the Greek word “hupogeete” translated into English by “submit,” is very instructive. It is a compound word, made of the preposition “hupo” and the verb “tassomai,” meaning “to put oneself in order.” The verb is the imperative of the second aorist passive. While the verb is passive, it is a deponent verb, and deponent verbs are passive in ending but active in meaning. So the responsibility of setting themselves in order under God rests definitely on those Christians.

The guide-post of submission to God points the way out of any shameful state into which Christians may fall. If we fail to submit to God, He may have to deal harshly with us. In 1 Corinthians 11:31-32, Paul says, “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” God’s laws cannot be broken. If we commit sin, that sin must be judged. Either we judge ourselves, or God will judge with His chastening hand.

2. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Here we are definitely commanded to resist the devil. The Greek word translated “resist” also means “to oppose, to stand against.” How can we resist, oppose, or stand against the devil who is mightier than we are? Peter says, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, like a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour; whom resist steadfast in the faith.” We are to resist him steadfastly in the faith. We are told in Ephesians 6:16 that faith is a shield which quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked one. Jesus, in His temptation in the wilderness, resisted Satan steadfastly with the Word of God. Three times Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy to overcome His temptations. Satan cannot stand up against the Word of God. We use the shield of faith to quench his fiery darts, and the Word of God to oppose him, or stand up against him.

3. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” This third guidepost follows directly the one on resisting the devil. The spiritual realm tolerates no vacuum. This sphere must be filled whether by Satan or God. When Satan is resisted to the point where he will flee from us, God fills the vacuum left by his absence. We are commanded to draw near to God. This a Christian can do; a sinner cannot draw near to God. He must be saved first. But when a Christian draws near to God, he finds that God is nearer to him than he is to God.

The Greek word translated “draw near” is an imperative first aorist verb, which refers to point action in past time, not a continuous action. In the case of these Christians who had been quarreling with each other, if, in following the guide-posts of submission to God and resisting the devil, they had drawn near to God, their action once accomplished would need no repetition. In other words, they do not need to continually draw near to God; they are continuously in that near place until some other departure into sin should remove them from that near place.

4. “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners.” Christians have need of cleansing their hands. Those to whom James was writing had bitter fights and contentions among themselves so James admonishes them to cleanse their hands. Hands do commit sin, but not of their own accord. Hands obey the will of him whose they are. So cleansing the hands goes deeper than simply putting them under a hydrant to remove defilement. The will must also be involved. Consequently, cleansing the hands is closely related to the guide-post that follows, that of purifying the heart.

5. “Purify your hearts, ye double-minded.” Clean hands and a pure heart go together; you cannot have the one without the other. Out of the heart come the issues of life. The root idea of sanctify is “to set apart, or to separate.” Thus a purified heart is separated from sin and set apart to God. Purity of heart would put an end to all fightings that could come among Christians.

James uses the word “double-minded” in describing these Christians. The Greek puts it in a unique way, a “two souled man.” A double-minded man is one who has two souls, one for God and the other for the world. In the first chapter, James said that such a man is unstable in all his ways.

6. “Be afflicted.” This Greek word has come to mean, “to endure hardship, to bear toil and troubles.” These Christians were in a sorry state of affairs. They stood in danger of being consumed one of another (Gal. 5:15). When Christians begin to quarrel and contend among themselves, they are giving an occasion for Satan to obtain an advantage over them. One of the most effective ways Satan has of attacking God’s purposes in the Church is to cause Christians to contend with each other. This mars the testimony in such a way that it will take years, or even generations to erase the damage done. This word describes the condition of those who have sinned against God; they are carrying a heavy load. Being afflicted is the first step leading to repentance. If the load they are bearing becomes heavy enough, it only hastens repentance and restoration to God.

7. “Mourn.” Mourning is a good trait for Christians. There was every reason for those to whom James was writing to mourn. Real heart distress leads to mourning. One of the beatitudes goes, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Jeremiah 31:13 says, “For I will turn their mourning into joy.” Mourning is to express deep sorrow or grief. And certainly fighting Christians have much reason to mourn. If their being distressed results in mourning, there is hope. They are then in a position to be comforted, and their mourning turned into joy.

8. “Weep.” This is a command as much as the seven guide-posts going before have been. Weeping is closely related to mourning. To weep is to shed tears, often bitter tears. When Peter realized what he had done that night he denied his Lord three times, he went out and wept bitterly. Peter had a better introduction to himself that night than ever before. It took this very experience to prepare him for the shepherd able to feed God’s sheep and lambs. If we have never wept bitterly over our own doings, we are not likely to become good shepherds over God’s sheep.

In connection with mourning and weeping, James further exhorts, “Let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness.” There may have been mirth and joy among these fighting Christians, and, if so, their laughter should be turned into mourning, and their joy into heaviness.

9. “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.” Humility is a priceless Christian virtue. It is pride and arrogance of heart that causes Christians to fight. If the Christian virtue of humility is cultivated by a group of Christians, they can never fight. The verb “humble yourselves” is in the passive voice in the Greek, and could be translated “be humbled.” The humbling does not come from within, but from an outside source. The outside source is God through His Holy Spirit. Man would hardly be able to humble himself, but the Holy Spirit is able to humble him in the sight of God. When this humbling is accomplished, God can lift him up.

“Speak not evil one of another, brethren.” This is the last of the guide-posts pointing the way to full restoration to God after a fall into dismal fighting and contending. The Greek word translated “speak not evil” comes from the verb “laleoo,” which means “to speak.” There is another Greek word for “to speak” which is “legoo.” The word “legoo” is always used for logical, coherent, and carefully thought-out speech. Now “laleoo” may be used for both kinds of speech. But when thoughtless, incoherent speech is referred to, “laleoo” is always used, never “legoo.” So the use of this particular Greek word leads one to assume that the admonition James gives here is for Christians not to speak loosely against each other. The words used here are not present indicatives, but present participles. A participle describes rather the nature or characteristic of the one in question. One could perhaps bring this out more clearly by translating the clause, “He whose nature it is to speak evil of his brother.” James does not refer to an occasional slip of the tongue, but a constant, habitual criticizing or speaking evil of another.

James concludes his dissertation against speaking loosely against each other by saying, “He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law; but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver who is able to save and destroy. Who art thou that judgest another?” Speaking evil of one’s brother is the equivalent of speaking evil against the law and judging the law. Who would dare to speak evil of the law or to judge it? Many are unconsciously doing it. In that case, he would cease to be a doer of the law, and become a judge of the law. But there is but one Lawgiver, and He is able to save or to destroy. So if you speak evil of, or judge your brother, beware!