Oak Grove Baptist Church

Striving to become the church of choice for this generation.

James 4:1-3

How to Live with Faith and Humility

Scripture Outline

  1. How to Pray Without Pride (Jas_4:1-3)
  2. How to Become Humble (Jas_4:4-10)
  3. How to Escape Judgment (Jas_4:11-12)
  4. How to Plan for the Future (Jas_4:13-17)


Humility is of great importance to James. It is the major focus of this fourth chapter. We are told that only as we humble ourselves in the sight of God will we be lifted up by the Lord (Jas_4:10).

Although James makes that direct statement about humility, he also makes many indirect statements which have great bearing upon Christian living. As usual, his teaching is both practical and workable. He is concerned that humility should be integrated into the lives of all of us who are sincere about following Jesus as Lord.

How to Pray Without Pride

James begins his teaching regarding the conflict of pride and prayer by posing an important question, "Where do wars and fights come from among you?" The basic assumption is that such conflicts are taking place within the interpersonal relationships of his readers.

The word James uses for "war" is pólemos, which means just that: war or battle. The word translated as "fights" is máchē which can also be correctly translated as strife, struggles, or quarrelings. To be sure, both of these words denote interpersonal conflicts.

James not only poses the question; he gives a very graphic and appropriate answer. Simply stated, we are involved in conflicts because of our desires for pleasure or lusts that are in conflict within our very selves. We are at war inwardly so it is natural for us to be at war outwardly.

The word translated as "desires for pleasure" or "lusts" is the word hēdonḗ from which we get the English word "hedonism." In His parable of the sower, Jesus warned about the thorns of riches and the pleasures of this life which would come and choke the Word of God in our lives (Luk_8:14). Paul describes us who are now living in Christ as those who once served various lusts and pleasures (Tit_3:3).

In verse Jas_4:2, James proceeds to describe the manifestations more specifically. He makes three specific statements concerning the dilemma of aggressively desiring but never getting what is desired. His is a description of the paradox of sin—always seeking but never finding, always desiring but never being fulfilled.

"You lust and do not have." The word that James uses for "lust" is different from that which he used in verse Jas_4:1. Here the word is epithuméō. It means "to long for or to set one's heart's desire upon something or someone." It is sometimes translated as "covet."

The word can denote a negative form of lusting such as looking "at a woman to lust for her," as Jesus warned against (Mat_5:28). Or it can be used positively to desire the right or godly thing, as in the statement made by Jesus at the Last Supper: "I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luk_22:15).

The problem that Jesus describes is that we often desire something, but often we do not get it. In the most negative of terms, people who covet something or somebody do not receive the same without taking some kind of initiative. That brings James to his second statement.

"You murder and covet and cannot obtain." When a person covets, he or she often has to use evil means to get what they want such as stealing, scheming, or even killing. James gets directly to the point by describing killing or murder as the human solution to the sin of coveting. The word used for covet in this phrase is zēlóō from which we get our word zealous. The best translation is "to be moved with envy." Murder is the ultimate result of coveting and envying.

Yet, according to James, even with murder and envy we cannot obtain what we actually want. Again, we see the futility of sin. It promises us so much but gives us so little. Indeed, there are the pleasures of sin for the moment, but deep and lasting fulfillment can never come from sin—including lusting, coveting, and envying.

"You fight and war." James returns to his opening statement in verse Jas_4:1. The result of lusting and murdering and coveting and not obtaining is more and more conflict—fighting and warring! And, although each of these words is a description of the life lived in the flesh without Jesus as Lord, James is acknowledging also that such wars and fightings also take place within the church. As Christians, we are plagued by a residual of our old nature which brings us to lusting, fighting, and conflicting.

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of working on the staff of the great evangelist, Billy Graham. My first assignment was to work with Charlie Riggs, a veteran of many evangelistic crusades and a man who walked closely with God.

One day, as we were talking about conflicts within the church, Charlie shared an insight with me which I shall never forget. He quoted from Pro_13:10 which contends that "by pride comes only contention." I have found it to be so. Where there are conflicts and fightings and warrings within the church, the sin of pride is always present.

It is pride that makes us lust and covet and envy and murder and fight and war. Pride is to the life of the flesh what humility is to the life of the Spirit. It is at the very foundation of the lifestyle which displeases God. Pride always brings contention.

Have you ever noticed how the obvious in life can totally elude us? In our society, it seems that we have majored in making the simple complicated. To the contrary, Jesus had a great knack for making the complicated simple so that even I can understand it.

The teaching of James at this point is so simple, it is almost embarrassing to repeat it. In short, he is saying, "You can lust and covet and fight and war and murder and do anything else, but there is only one reason you do not have; it is because you do not ask" (Jas_4:2). And, I might add, we should not merely "ask," we should "ask God!"

Is it not true that one of the great problems of our prayer lives is simply the fact that we don't pray? In the flesh, we do all the things which James enumerates such as lusting and fighting and warring. These things are natural for us to do. After all, haven't we been taught to "look out for number one—me?" And haven't we been told that "God only helps those who help themselves?" And so, even as Christians often we are tempted to try to get things through natural or fleshly means.

James is calling us back to the basics of Christian discipleship. He is reminding us that we no longer need to use tools of sin. They don't work well. Instead, God has entrusted to us spiritual tools—including prayer. We, ourselves, are no longer the source for our success. The Lord wants to be our Lord, not only in word but in deed. He simply desires to provide for us. He loves us and wants what is best for us.

Therefore, we do not need to be anxious or worry or fight or scheme or murder. We simply need to ask. We need to walk in the Spirit and commune with Him and ask for what we need. He has promised to supply all of our needs (Php_4:19). But so often our lives are empty and we go without what He longs to give us, simply because we do not ask!

In verse Jas_4:3 James now leads us to the most challenging problem of all. This is the problem of asking God for something and not receiving it because we have asked for the wrong reason or with the wrong motive.

The problem with sin is the problem of missing the mark. That is the problem which James is identifying—to ask amiss. The phrase, "ask amiss," is translated from the Greek word kakōs, which is usually translated in the Scripture as "diseased" or "sick," as in Mar_1:32.

In other words, we can ask God for things with "sick" or "diseased" motives. In fact, James identifies what such motives are. He says that we ask amiss "that you may spend it on your pleasures." We are back to the word hēdonḗ which we found in verse Jas_4:1. Our lusts or our desires for pleasure are not acceptable motives for prayer. They are characteristics of the flesh—not the Spirit. Like all sin, they will lead us to death rather than life.

In contrast, John shares with us the proper motive for prayer when he writes, "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (1Jn_5:14). The focus of Christian living and the motive of prayer are the same—God has called us to forsake doing our own thing and to seek to do the will of God. Only then can we be fulfilled and only then will God answer our prayers.

James 4:4-10

How to Become Humble

Humility is essential to Christian discipleship. Jesus spoke about the importance of humility on a number of occasions, including the time He called a child to Him and said, "Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Mat_18:4). Jesus also said, "Whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Mat_23:12). Following in the footsteps of his Master, Peter teaches us to "be clothed with humility" (1Pe_5:6).

James shares our Lord's deep concern that His followers walk humbly before Him. In the most practical and helpful way, James tells us not only that we should be humble, but also how to do it. James gives us three "how to" steps which will enable us to walk humbly with God.

First, resist the devil (Jas_4:7-9). We can never be truly humble if we are not willing to actively resist the devil. Not to do so is to be an adulterer or an adulteress (Jas_4:4). To be involved in friendship with the world is to be at enmity with God (Jas_4:4).

The Greek word for "enmity" is a very strong word, échthra, which is sometimes translated as "hatred." If that is so, James is saying that anyone who is in love with the world (a friend of the world, phı́los) hates God. In fact, that is the closing statement of verse Jas_4:4, "Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

What a powerful and sobering statement. And, if that were not enough, James proceeds to substantiate that contention by presenting some very strong supporting evidence from the Scriptures. His first statement has caused much discussion among biblical scholars since it is not a direct quotation from the Old Testament Scriptures but rather seems to be a paraphrase of biblical truth.

Some scholars relate the phrase, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously" to Gen_6:5 while others refer to Gen_8:21 (Jas_4:5). However, it seems more likely that James is referring to the concept of God being a jealous God (Exo_20:5) Who will not share His allegiance with another. In other words, we cannot serve two masters. We must serve God alone!

In the sixth verse, James quotes from Pro_3:34 which states, "Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly." The statement of James is clear, "God opposes the proud." You cannot be living by pride and be accepted by God. But the promise is also clear. "God gives grace to the humble."

It was that promise which Christ made to the apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2Co_12:9). The grace of God is readily available to all who will trust in the Lord and follow Him. But He opposes the proud. We must resist the devil. We cannot be a friend of Christ and of the world. The two are in opposition to each other.

In addition, James gives some very specific suggestions regarding how we should resist the devil. In verses Jas_4:8 and Jas_4:9, he enumerates four specific steps we should follow in resisting the devil (Jas_4:8-9).

1. "Cleanse your hands, you sinners." This is an appeal to our outward lifestyle. Our conduct must be clean.

2. "Purify your hearts, you double-minded." This is another reference to our motives. Our spiritual hearts and motives must be pure before God. We must allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives and must forsake being double-minded (Jas_1:8).

3. "Lament and mourn and weep." This is an obvious reference to the act of repentance. We must not only acknowledge the existence of our sins, but we must feel sorry that we have sinned against God. We need to weep tears of repentance.

4. "Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom." This is a continuation of his call to godly repentance. He is not commanding us to forsake the joy of the Lord. Instead, he is asking us to depart from the shallow laughter and temporary joy that comes from the life of sin.

The summation of all this teaching is simply that we need to quit playing games with the devil and with sin and become serious about forsaking sin. We need to resist the devil in every area of our lives. We cannot play with the fire of sin without being burned. We cannot please God while we are playing games with Satan. We need to declare war on him. We need to resist him.

And, as we do, the promise is clear—he will flee from us. Through Jesus Christ, we are assured of victory over the devil. We cannot resist him in the flesh, but we can do so as we live in the Spirit! For example we should use the shield of faith with which we will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph_6:16). Resist the devil—and he will flee from you!

As we have just discussed, the first step toward the life of humility is to resist the devil who is the source of all pride. The second step is to draw near to God (Jas_4:8) who is the source of all authentic humility.

We begin our relationship with God by submitting to Him (Jas_4:7). And that is the way we walk with Him day by day. He is the Lord—the Master, and we are the servants—the willing slaves. In order to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luk_9:23). There is no other way to be a Christian. Our wills need to be committed to know the will of God and to do it.

Submitting to God can sound cold and nonrelational. But it is not! God calls us to a relationship of love, trust, grace, forgiveness, openness, and all the other marks of a loving relationship. And yet, He will never force His love upon us. As someone has said, "God is not a divine rapist." He does not coerce or manipulate. He loves and invites and responds.

That is the context of, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (Jas_4:8). What a wonderful invitation and what an incredible promise. It takes risk to reach out to another or to attempt to draw near to someone else. God has promised not to "back off." He is always ready to respond appropriately to us with His love and grace.

As we draw near to Him and allow Him to draw near to us, a marvelous thing takes place. Jesus refers to this phenomenon as "abiding" in Him and He in us (Joh_15:4-5). As we are possessed more and more by Christ Himself, His character increasingly supplants ours. We become more and more like Him. As we die to self and are filled with the Holy Spirit, the "fruit" of the Spirit flows from our lives. We become more and more like Jesus—including becoming more and more humble. His humility becomes ours.

The third step we are to take is to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord (Jas_4:10). The steps are clear. If we are to be humble, we must begin by emptying ourselves of self and sin by resisting the devil. Next, that emptiness must be filled by the Holy Spirit as we draw near to God and we allow Him to draw near to us and to fill us to overflowing with Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Only then can we accomplish the admonishment of James to humble ourselves. We cannot do so in our own strength. It is impossible for us to humble ourselves by our own cleverness or ingenuity. We need the power of God Himself.

A person who is truly humble is a person who has turned from sin and the devil and is walking with God. Authentic humility comes from God. A humble person is one who has seen himself as he really is in the sight of God, has repented of his sin, and is following Jesus as his Lord.

The promise to such a person is also clear. As we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, "He will lift you up" (Jas_4:10). It is never God's desire to "put you down." It is sin that leads us down to death and destruction. The Lord delights in lifting you up. Indeed, he who humbles himself will be exalted.

James 4:4-10

How to Become Humble

Humility is essential to Christian discipleship. Jesus spoke about the importance of humility on a number of occasions, including the time He called a child to Him and said, "Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Mat_18:4). Jesus also said, "Whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Mat_23:12). Following in the footsteps of his Master, Peter teaches us to "be clothed with humility" (1Pe_5:6).

James shares our Lord's deep concern that His followers walk humbly before Him. In the most practical and helpful way, James tells us not only that we should be humble, but also how to do it. James gives us three "how to" steps which will enable us to walk humbly with God.

First, resist the devil (Jas_4:7-9). We can never be truly humble if we are not willing to actively resist the devil. Not to do so is to be an adulterer or an adulteress (Jas_4:4). To be involved in friendship with the world is to be at enmity with God (Jas_4:4).

The Greek word for "enmity" is a very strong word, échthra, which is sometimes translated as "hatred." If that is so, James is saying that anyone who is in love with the world (a friend of the world, phı́los) hates God. In fact, that is the closing statement of verse Jas_4:4, "Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

What a powerful and sobering statement. And, if that were not enough, James proceeds to substantiate that contention by presenting some very strong supporting evidence from the Scriptures. His first statement has caused much discussion among biblical scholars since it is not a direct quotation from the Old Testament Scriptures but rather seems to be a paraphrase of biblical truth.

Some scholars relate the phrase, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously" to Gen_6:5 while others refer to Gen_8:21 (Jas_4:5). However, it seems more likely that James is referring to the concept of God being a jealous God (Exo_20:5) Who will not share His allegiance with another. In other words, we cannot serve two masters. We must serve God alone!

In the sixth verse, James quotes from Pro_3:34 which states, "Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly." The statement of James is clear, "God opposes the proud." You cannot be living by pride and be accepted by God. But the promise is also clear. "God gives grace to the humble."

It was that promise which Christ made to the apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2Co_12:9). The grace of God is readily available to all who will trust in the Lord and follow Him. But He opposes the proud. We must resist the devil. We cannot be a friend of Christ and of the world. The two are in opposition to each other.

In addition, James gives some very specific suggestions regarding how we should resist the devil. In verses Jas_4:8 and Jas_4:9, he enumerates four specific steps we should follow in resisting the devil (Jas_4:8-9).

1. "Cleanse your hands, you sinners." This is an appeal to our outward lifestyle. Our conduct must be clean.

2. "Purify your hearts, you double-minded." This is another reference to our motives. Our spiritual hearts and motives must be pure before God. We must allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives and must forsake being double-minded (Jas_1:8).

3. "Lament and mourn and weep." This is an obvious reference to the act of repentance. We must not only acknowledge the existence of our sins, but we must feel sorry that we have sinned against God. We need to weep tears of repentance.

4. "Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom." This is a continuation of his call to godly repentance. He is not commanding us to forsake the joy of the Lord. Instead, he is asking us to depart from the shallow laughter and temporary joy that comes from the life of sin.

The summation of all this teaching is simply that we need to quit playing games with the devil and with sin and become serious about forsaking sin. We need to resist the devil in every area of our lives. We cannot play with the fire of sin without being burned. We cannot please God while we are playing games with Satan. We need to declare war on him. We need to resist him.

And, as we do, the promise is clear—he will flee from us. Through Jesus Christ, we are assured of victory over the devil. We cannot resist him in the flesh, but we can do so as we live in the Spirit! For example we should use the shield of faith with which we will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph_6:16). Resist the devil—and he will flee from you!

As we have just discussed, the first step toward the life of humility is to resist the devil who is the source of all pride. The second step is to draw near to God (Jas_4:8) who is the source of all authentic humility.

We begin our relationship with God by submitting to Him (Jas_4:7). And that is the way we walk with Him day by day. He is the Lord—the Master, and we are the servants—the willing slaves. In order to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luk_9:23). There is no other way to be a Christian. Our wills need to be committed to know the will of God and to do it.

Submitting to God can sound cold and nonrelational. But it is not! God calls us to a relationship of love, trust, grace, forgiveness, openness, and all the other marks of a loving relationship. And yet, He will never force His love upon us. As someone has said, "God is not a divine rapist." He does not coerce or manipulate. He loves and invites and responds.

That is the context of, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (Jas_4:8). What a wonderful invitation and what an incredible promise. It takes risk to reach out to another or to attempt to draw near to someone else. God has promised not to "back off." He is always ready to respond appropriately to us with His love and grace.

As we draw near to Him and allow Him to draw near to us, a marvelous thing takes place. Jesus refers to this phenomenon as "abiding" in Him and He in us (Joh_15:4-5). As we are possessed more and more by Christ Himself, His character increasingly supplants ours. We become more and more like Him. As we die to self and are filled with the Holy Spirit, the "fruit" of the Spirit flows from our lives. We become more and more like Jesus—including becoming more and more humble. His humility becomes ours.

The third step we are to take is to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord (Jas_4:10). The steps are clear. If we are to be humble, we must begin by emptying ourselves of self and sin by resisting the devil. Next, that emptiness must be filled by the Holy Spirit as we draw near to God and we allow Him to draw near to us and to fill us to overflowing with Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Only then can we accomplish the admonishment of James to humble ourselves. We cannot do so in our own strength. It is impossible for us to humble ourselves by our own cleverness or ingenuity. We need the power of God Himself.

A person who is truly humble is a person who has turned from sin and the devil and is walking with God. Authentic humility comes from God. A humble person is one who has seen himself as he really is in the sight of God, has repented of his sin, and is following Jesus as his Lord.

The promise to such a person is also clear. As we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, "He will lift you up" (Jas_4:10). It is never God's desire to "put you down." It is sin that leads us down to death and destruction. The Lord delights in lifting you up. Indeed, he who humbles himself will be exalted.

James 4:13-17

How to Plan for the Future

James gives us very practical advice regarding how to plan for the future. However, before sharing that counsel, he considers three specific sins which would prevent us from planning for the future according to God's will.

The sin of presumption (Jas_4:13-15). The sin of presumption is an arrogant display of pride. James warns about this sin within a context very familiar to his readers. He uses the analogy of a Jewish merchant who makes his plans to go to another city, spends a year there by buying and selling, and then returns home with a profit.

This merchant presumes that his plans are his to make, and that God has nothing to say about it. He plans, and it is done. Solomon warned about such presumption as he shared the proverb, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth" (Pro_27:1).

We tend to forget that we are mere human beings who are finite. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. Only God has that ability. He alone is infinite and all-knowing.

James tells us not to be presumptuous about our plans, but we should also not be presumptuous about life itself. Life is like a vapor or mist which appears for awhile and then vanishes away (Jas_4:14). Our lives are not in our hands. They are in God's hands.

Jesus reminded us of this important truth as he presented a graphic parable of a rich man who was so wealthy that his barns were filled to overflowing. He said to himself, "I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods." But the Lord said, "You fool! This night your soul will be required of you" (Luk_12:15-21).

It is presumptuous to think that we can live and plan without God. Presumption denies who we are, who God is, and how much we need God day by day. Indeed, life is a gift of God which comes by His love and mercy.

The sin of boasting (Jas_4:16). The second sin about which James warns us is the sin of boasting. The Greek word for boasting is alazoneı́a which finds its roots in the characteristic of a wandering quack which was not unlike the medicine man of the frontier days in America. This quack offered cures which were not cures; he boasted of things which he was unable to do.

That provides a graphic description for the sin of boasting. This sin is based upon the invalid assumption that we are able to control our own destiny; that we have the power to determine the course of our own lives.

Interestingly enough, the word "boasting" appears just two times in the New Testament—in this James passage and in 1Jn_2:16 where it is translated "pride of life." James says that this boasting is evil. This is the same word for evil, ponērós, which is used in the prayer which the Lord taught His disciples in saying, "deliver us from evil" (Mat_6:13). And it is the same word that James uses in warning us about becoming "judges with evil thoughts" (Jas_2:4).

The sin of omission (Jas_4:17). Finally, James warns against the sin of omission when he writes, "To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (Jas_4:17). Without a doubt, this is a most difficult form of sin with which to deal.

Sin is missing the mark by not only doing wrong, but by failing to do what is right. Again, James is urging us to be "doers." To know what is right and then not to do it is a form of disobedience. The Lord gives us a commandment, and we either ignore it or simply fail to do it.

Jesus shared a prime example of such a person in His parable of the talents. Two of the men who received talents from their master invested them wisely and received great reward from their master who was well-pleased. However, one of the men buried his talent and simply returned to the master what he had received. With him, the master was exceedingly displeased and punished him harshly (Mat_25:14-30).

The man had sinned against his master and against himself. In fact, this is one of the great sins of contemporary Christians within our society. God has given us so much, and we often do so little with it. We miss the mark repeatedly because we fail to do what the Lord is calling us to do.

After identifying the three specific sins, in verse Jas_4:15 James shares with us a practical formula which we should use in making our plans for the future. This simple and important formula contains one basic contention, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that."

Instead of presuming or boasting or missing the mark by failing to do God's will, we should commit ourselves to the Lord and to doing His will. Our planning is based upon the conviction that our lives and our future are not in our own hands but in the Lord's! We need a dual sensitivity to the world around us and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The phrase the apostle Paul shared, "If the Lord will permit" (1Co_16:7) was more than literary style—it was the conviction of his life. And so it should be the conviction of our lives. The great Latin phrase, Deo volente (God willing), should become the motto of our lives. We should live with utter dependence upon the sovereign will of God. Our lives are His, and the future is His.

Several years ago, a Presbyterian pastor friend of mine died very suddenly in the prime of his life. As I phoned his wife long distance to express our sympathy and love for her, she shared a wonderful story. At that time of deep grief, she was finding her greatest source of comfort to be coming from the words of a poem which her husband had written shortly before his unexpected death. The title of that poem, which was its major theme, is a wonderful commentary on this passage of James and upon authentic godly planning for the future. "Whate'er my God ordains is right! I trust Him utterly!"

James 3:1

How to Live with Faith and Wisdom


Scripture Outline

  1. How to Live as a Teacher (Jas_3:1)
  2. How to Tame Your Tongue (Jas_3:2-12)
  3. How to Live with Wisdom (Jas_3:13-18)


As faith is central to the teaching of James, so is God's gift of wisdom. In fact, some biblical scholars compare the Book of James to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament both in relationship to content and to literary style.

In the truest sense, all of the Book of James deals with the practical application of God-given wisdom. In the first chapter, James refers to the need for God-given wisdom. He invites his readers to acknowledge the need for wisdom, ask God for it, and he says then it will be given (Jas_1:5).

In this chapter, he goes beyond those instructions to deal with the very issue of what God-given wisdom is and how we can recognize it. Of course, this teaching must be combined with that of the first chapter as well as with all of the related teaching in his letter regarding the "how to" of practical Christianity.

The third chapter of James deals with three specific matters which require God-given wisdom. The first is the awesome responsibility of serving as a teacher. The vital need to control one's tongue is the second, and then he teaches specifically about the unique quality of God-inspired wisdom.

How to Live as a Teacher

As James has been involved in his deep and passionate teaching regarding the relationship of faith and works, he now seems to change gears suddenly as he addresses a very important subject in just one sentence.

Although his words are few, his teaching regarding the awesome responsibility of serving as a teacher is very important. No other passage in all of the New Testament is as potent in its focus upon the great responsibility of being a teacher of Christian truth and lifestyle. It appears that James is teaching two major truths which are intertwined one with the other.

1. Not many of you should become teachers (Jas_3:1). Within the New Testament church, the role of teaching was looked upon as the exercise of one of the leadership gifts given by the Holy Spirit. In Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus, he refers to the spiritual gift of teaching as one of five leadership gifts given by the Lord to His church. The gift of teaching is clarified within that context along with the gifts of serving as apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor (Eph_4:11).

Interestingly enough, this is the only reference of James in his entire letter to the gift or role of teaching. Although biblical scholars speculate as to why he speaks concerning this matter within this context, the more important focus seems to be, "What is he saying to us?" Or, even more importantly, "What is God saying to us regarding the important role of teaching within the church?"

It appears that some of his readers may have been facing the temptation of becoming teachers when they were not actually called of God or given the spiritual gift of teaching. James is certainly not discouraging those who have received that calling and have that gift.

He is simply reminding his readers that few of us are called to be teachers. The leadership gifts are not given to all the members of the body. And the gift of teaching is given but to a few. As true of any ministry, we should become involved in teaching only when we are called of God and gifted by the Holy Spirit to do so.

An appropriate paraphrase of the teaching of James in this context might be, "Brothers and sisters, God has not seen fit to call many of us to be teachers. Don't be in a hurry to become teachers unless you are certain that God has called you and has entrusted to you the spiritual gift of teaching. Be content with whatever gifts and calling God gives to you. Don't try to be what you are not; joyfully be what God has called you to be. Use your gifts in ministry to others and to the glory of God. If you teach, do it to the glory of God; if you do not teach, do it to the glory of God. Only then can you be truly fulfilled."

2. Teachers shall receive a stricter judgment (Jas_3:1). As a part of the warning that James shares regarding the great responsibility of teaching others within the church, James presents the sobering information that those who teach will be judged more strictly than others. This statement raises at least two important questions. The first question is, "Why would a teacher be judged with greater strictness?" And the second question would be, "Who is going to do the strict judging?"

At least two principles of Scripture will help us to answer the first question adequately. The first is a principle taught by Jesus, "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Luk_12:48).

In other words, both God and man require more from those who have been given more. When God calls a person to a place of leadership, much is required of that leader from God. And when one is given the great privilege and responsibility of teaching the truth of God's Word, there is little wonder that God would require a high standard of excellence and faithfulness.

Second, there is the principle of sowing and reaping which is very relevant to what James is teaching. The principle is as follows, "For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Gal_6:7).

Usually, teachers reproduce themselves in the lives of their students. A false teacher could do great harm by creating mediocrity in the lives of the people of God and by actually leading them astray. Much is written in the New Testament as a warning against false teachers, including the epistles of Jude (p. 261) and 2 Peter (p. 225).

A false teacher or an inept teacher would be "tearing down" the lives of the believers. A teacher who is called of God and gifted of God and who is properly equipped will have the joyous privilege of building the lives of God's people and of building the body of Christ. The biblical model for this style of teaching leadership is found in Eph_4:11-13. Such an act of teaching results in the body of Christ being built up, becoming unified in faith, having the knowledge of Christ, and ultimately growing to become more and more like Jesus.

No wonder James shared his timely warning against those who would teach when they were not called to do so.

Concerning the second question, "Who is going to do the judging with greater strictness?" there seem to be two possible answers. Both of them have some probability. First, there is the obvious reality that God will judge those who teach His Word and His truth. This fact could be documented throughout Scripture, including the statement of Paul, "So then each of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom_14:12).

Second, there is the strict judgment that shall come from our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those whom we are teaching. There are many warnings in the New Testament concerning false teachers such as Peter's prophetic statement, "There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them…" (2Pe_2:1).

In summary, teachers should expect strict judgment from their brothers and sisters in Christ and from the Lord Christ Himself. To teach is a marvelous privilege and an awesome responsibility!


James 3:2-12

How to Tame Your Tongue

The tongue is difficult to tame. In fact, James says it is humanly impossible to tame the human tongue. Yet, within that context, he shares some great insight as to how the tongue can be tamed by God.

James begins this section of teaching by exposing our human tendency to stumble in many things. He points to the ultimate solution which would enable us to overcome this stumbling. He contends that anyone who could stop stumbling in word would be a perfect person. If we could control our tongues, we could bring our whole body under control (Jas_3:2).

James proceeds to share a long and seemingly disjointed discourse on the problem of taming or controlling the tongue. However, it is possible to organize his teaching into three specific contentions which will help us understand "how to tame our tongue."

1. No one can tame the human tongue (v. Jas_3:2). James presents the problem or the need very clearly. In fact, his statement is so clear and is supported with so much evidence that the reader faces the possibility of misinterpreting what James is attempting to teach by concluding that he is fatalistic toward the probability of taming the tongue. To the contrary, he is simply attempting to establish the impossibility of the tongue being tamed by mere human endeavor. To establish that fact, he makes four specific contentions regarding the tongue.

(1) The tongue is a little member but boasts great things (Jas_3:2-5). To illustrate this point, he uses three practical examples which his readers would fully understand. First, he refers to the bit in the mouth of a horse. Although very small, it is very significant. By using the bit, the horse will obey us and will turn whatever direction we wish.

Then, there is the example of the rudder of a ship. It, too, is very small in comparison to the size of a large ship. But it also has great significance. By using the rudder, a ship can be turned and controlled.

Finally, there is the small fire. A very small fire or even a tiny spark can ignite a huge forest. What incredible power and significance belong to all three of these small things.

With a bit, one can control a horse; with a rudder, one can control a large ship; and with a spark, one can ignite a huge forest and destroy it by fire. So it is with the tongue; it is very small but very powerful and significant. If one can control it, one can control the whole body. Such a person would be perfect (Jas_3:2).

(2) The tongue is a fire—set on fire by hell (v. Jas_3:6). After establishing the significance and power of the tongue, James proceeds to address its great potential for destruction. His contention contains three specific statements regarding the destructiveness of the tongue.

First, as a fire, the tongue is "a world of iniquity" (Jas_3:6). The word "iniquity" is adikı́a in Greek, a very strong word denoting moral unrighteousness. It is the same word used by Paul when he states, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2Ti_2:19).

Second, "The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body" (v. Jas_3:6). As a world of iniquity, the tongue cannot be held in isolation. It corrupts the entire body. Just as a rudder affects a ship and a bit affects a horse, so the tongue affects the body and brings corruption. It defiles the whole body.

Third, the tongue not only corrupts the body, it sets on fire the entire course of one's life (Jas_3:6). In other words, the tongue does not merely affect the physical body of a person, it brings corruption to our total life. It affects not only what we do but what we are. And the source of this fire is hell itself.

Once again James advances his basic contention that all evil comes from the devil. He is the source of the evil which plagues our tongues. No wonder we cannot control the tongue. In our own strength, we are incapable of overcoming evil. Such a person would have to be perfect.

(3) The tongue is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison (v. Jas_3:8). James now levels his strongest attack of all on the evilness of the tongue. It is not only evil, it is an unruly or restless evil. It is the kind of evil which is not merely passive but is actively on the attack. And it is a deadly poison. It is poison, iós, like the poison of a deadly snake (Rom_3:13).

(4) The basic conclusion: No one can tame the tongue (Jas_3:10-12). The tongue is an enigma; it is a defilement of the natural order created by God. A spring doesn't flow with both fresh and bitter water. Nor do fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring. Nor does a fig tree bear olives or a grapevine bear figs (Jas_3:11-12). Yet out of the same mouth can proceed both blessings and cursings (Jas_3:10).

The conclusion of James is clear. The significance and influence of the tongue is great. It is a little member, but it has great power. It is a destructive fire which comes from hell. It corrupts one's entire life. It is an unruly evil, full of poison that is just as deadly as the venom of a snake! This can lead us to but one conclusion, according to James—no one can control the tongue!

In contrast, man can tame about everything else in all of creation, including every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and creature of the sea. All of them have been tamed by mankind (Jas_3:7).

James' confusion in this matter is righteous before God. It should not be so; blessings should flow freely from our mouths—but not cursings. We have been created in God's image to bring glory to Him. Yet, because of sin, we are a strange mixture of good and evil. And our tongues betray us by expressing both blessings and cursings. No one can tame the tongue.

2. If we could tame our tongue, we would be perfect (Jas_3:2). At the very beginning of this passage, James sets forth a hypothetical statement which can be very confusing to us. He states that if a person could tame his tongue, or bring it under control, such a person would be perfect.

This contention seems to stand in sharp contradiction to his later contention which states, "But no man can tame the tongue" (Jas_3:8). In actuality, there is no conflict at all. James is drawing us back to God once again. His overwhelming evidence regarding the wickedness and destructiveness of our tongues establishes the fact that we are helpless in the human realm.

But we have great hope and potential in the spiritual realm. The problem with our tongues is a spiritual problem. They have been under the control of our sinful nature. All evil comes from Satan, and he has taken control of the tongues of human beings.

But, James teaches us, God is the source of all good and He is available to help us in every situation (Jas_1:16-18). If we need wisdom, we need only to ask for it (Jas_1:5). This brings us to the third and final contention of James concerning the tongue.

3. God is perfect—He alone can control our tongues. The first two contentions of James regarding the tongue are stated very clearly. This third contention comes by inference. It is related to all of the teaching which James has shared up to this point of his letter. Our reasoning is as follows:

Only God is perfect. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him alone (Jas_1:16-18). Only a perfect person could control his tongue (Jas_3:2). Such a person could not only control his tongue but also his total being. Since God is the only One who is perfect, He is the only One who can control the tongue. Our deep need is to be possessed by Him so that He can forgive all of our sin and enable us by the power of the Holy Spirit to control our tongues and our total being.


James 3:13-18

How to Live with Wisdom

"The greatest good is wisdom" according to St. Augustine. Those words would be a fitting summary for the teaching of James on the vital subject of the wisdom from above. James contends that this wisdom is not merely something which is intellectually understandable; it must be demonstrated practically in Christian lifestyle. This "wisdom" is sophı́a, which A. T. Robertson refers to as practical knowledge.

Earlier in his letter, James gives us guidance in how to ask for wisdom from God. He assures us that as we ask, we shall receive (Jas_1:5). Now he helps us to understand what wisdom from above is and how it should be used. First, we need to recognize the wisdom which is earthly as opposed to that which is godly. Good and evil are contrasted throughout Scripture. As we have seen, James is involved in this comparison repeatedly as he presents the practical examples of Christian lifestyle. Within the context of his consideration of wisdom, he shares a very vivid description of the wisdom which comes from below. The characteristics of such wisdom are as follows:

Bitter envy (v. Jas_3:14). The Greek word for "bitter," pikrós, is the same word James uses to describe the bitter water which comes from the spring (Jas_3:11). The word denotes a sharp, pungent characteristic. Envy is zēlos, which can also be translated as jealousy or zeal. In verse Jas_3:16, James contends that such envy leads to confusion and every evil thing.

Self-seeking (Jas_3:14). This word in Greek is eritheı́a, which is better translated as "strife." The most graphic translation of the word would be "faction" or those involved in "party split." This is the expression of mankind's sinful nature which is preoccupied with the indulgence of wanting our own way—doing our own thing. It creates the "we-they" syndrome with which we are all so familiar. It is selfish ambition at its worst.

Boasting (v. Jas_3:14). The word for "boast" is one with special meaning, katakaucháomai, which denotes not only boasting but boasting against or glorying against something. In this case, James says that it is a boasting against the truth. As we have seen, the Spirit always leads us to truth while the evil one leads us to oppose the truth—even in our boasting.

Lying (Jas_3:14). "Lie" in Greek is the word pseúdomai, which means "to utter an untruth or to attempt to deceive by falsehood." From the same root we get such words as false, false teachers (2Pe_2:1), false prophets (Mat_7:15), and false witness (Rom_13:9). The prefix pseudo has become a part of our English vocabulary. We use it to denote something which is false or someone who is attempting to deceive us. James tells us that the wisdom from below attempts to lie against the truth.

As James concludes his graphic description of some of the characteristics of the wisdom from below, he focuses upon three sources of that wisdom. He lists three specific sources (Jas_3:15). (1) Earthly: To be earthly, epı́geios, is simply what the word implies. Such wisdom comes from the worldly system or from the earth. As James says, it does not come or descend from above (v. Jas_3:15). (2) Sensual: Rather than originating in the spiritual realm, this wisdom from below originates in the natural, the animal, the flesh: psuchikos. As Jude teaches, the sensual is opposed to the spiritual (Jud_1:19). (3) Demonic: This term needs little definition. James states that the wisdom from below comes from the devil himself. Indeed, it comes from below and not from above.

Finally, after identifying the characteristics and the sources of this wisdom from below, James proceeds to identify two results which are manifested when this kind of wisdom is present (Jas_3:16). First, where there is envy and self-seeking, confusion is present. The word translated as "confusion," akatastasia, means commotion or tumult. This is a condition that reflects instability and disorder. Godly wisdom brings peace, but earthly wisdom brings confusion. In addition to confusion, James contends that every evil thing will be present as a result of the wisdom from below. In other words, rather than giving a long, specific list of the various forms of evil that will be present, James simply summarizes and includes them all with his inclusive statement "every evil thing." Righteousness will be absent, and every evil thing will be there!

After describing the characteristics, sources, and results of the wisdom which comes from below, James is just as specific in detailing that wisdom which is from above (Jas_3:17, Jas_3:18). He provides for us the most comprehensive and helpful definition of wisdom found in all of literature. Of course, this is the quality of wisdom from above; it is godly wisdom. The definition includes the following descriptions (Jas_3:17):

Pure. In the first place, the wisdom from above is pure, which is hagnós. This quality of purity means "chaste, clean, innocent or perfect." It comes from the same root word as do the words holy, hallow, and sanctification.

Peaceable. Next, the wisdom from above is peaceable, which is eirēnikós coming from the root eirḗnē which means "peace or quietness or rest." The words "pacify" and "pacific" come from the root. Godly wisdom is peaceable or "at one."

Gentle. To be "gentle," epieikḗs, is to be patient or considerate. It is the very spirit of Jesus Christ (2Co_10:1). Paul compares the quality of being gentle with not being a brawler (Tit_3:2).

Willing to yield. This Greek word, eupeithḗs, is used but once in all the New Testament. It means literally "easy to be entreated." Various translators have attempted to find a contemporary word or phrase which would open its meaning to us. Some of those attempts are "open to reason," "conciliatory," "easily persuaded," and "ready to be convinced."

Full of mercy. The word for "mercy," éleos, is not used in the New Testament except in reference either to God Himself or to godly people. Mercy is a part of the very character of God. God is the source of mercy (2Ti_1:2), and God is rich in mercy (Eph_2:4).

Full of good fruits. Karpós is the word translated simply as "fruit." The wisdom of God is full of good fruits according to James. Jesus said that only as we abide in Him can we bring forth much fruit (Joh_15:4-5). Paul describes the "fruit of the Spirit" for us in Gal_5:22-23, and he refers to the same in Eph_5:9.

Without partiality. Adiákritos is derived from diakrino which is usually translated as "partial" or "to judge." James warns against the sin of partiality earlier in his letter (Jas_2:1-9). The wisdom from above shows no partiality or favoritism.

Without hypocrisy. Anupókritos is an assumed derivative of hupokrı́nomai, which means "to pretend" or "to act under a false part." It comes from the same root as our words "hypocrite" and "hypocrisy." As we know, Jesus spoke out loudly and clearly against hypocrisy—especially in the lives of the supposedly religious scribes and Pharisees (Mat_6:2, Mat_23:13, etc.). Godly wisdom is without pretense or hypocrisy. Since it flows from God, it manifests itself in truth and sincerity.

True justice (v. Jas_3:18). The final verse of this chapter is most interesting. After listing specific characteristics of godly wisdom in verse Jas_3:18, James makes a concluding statement which can be summarized under the heading "true or godly justice." The wisdom from above is concerned with justice and peace. As this wisdom is sown in peace by those who make peace, true justice is manifested.

As we have seen, James is always concerned that his teaching is practical and usable. He is concerned with our understanding the truth of God's Word and living it by faith. The same is true of his teaching concerning wisdom. Godly wisdom is not only to be recognized; it is to be lived.

In order to be able to understand how we should be living and enjoying this life of wisdom, let us pose the two questions that James answers for us.

The first question is, "How and where do we get this wisdom?" We have already found the answer to this important question in our study of the first chapter. James answers the question concisely and graphically. If any of us falls short of wisdom, we should ask God for it, and He will give it to us generously and without reproach (Jas_1:5).

"Who is actually wise and understanding?" is the second question. Once again, James answers the question directly. The one who shows "by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom" (Jas_3:13). In other words, the one who actually possesses godly wisdom is the one who is manifesting good conduct and works in his or her daily lifestyle. Of course, this is done in humility.

Jesus said that we would know people by the fruit of their lives (Mat_7:16). People who possess godly wisdom will not be able to hide it. Godly wisdom will manifest itself in the actions of their lives. The characteristics of such wisdom will stand in sharp contrast to the expression of the wisdom which comes from below.

I have known many godly men and women who have had little formal education but were wise beyond human comprehension. For example, we had such a woman come to faith in Christ in a parish which I served early in my ministry. She had very limited mental capacities and a very simple faith in Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. She became an effective prayer warrior who grew significantly to become more and more like her Lord.

As she grew in spiritual stature and wisdom, I found myself turning to her often for spiritual counsel and prayer. In fact, when I faced a major spiritual decision, I usually turned to her for her wise counsel rather than to my pastor or therapist friends.

She had genuine wisdom and understanding which comes only from God! And that same wisdom is available to us as we trust in Christ Jesus.



Conference Call Instructions

Bible Study Conference Call

Welcome, to the Oak Grove Baptist Church Weekly Bible Study Conference Call.

You can join the conference by dialing: (404) 891-6338 after prompted enter the conference ID# (which is the church telephone number) (770)775-4749. When prompted give your name and remain on the line for the conference to begin. The conference will begin when the host joins the conference and when two or more participants are online, please be patient while listening to the music.